American Express Membership Rewards
- Best ways to earn:
- American Express Business Gold Card: 40,000 MR points for $0
- American Express Platinum Card: 60,000 MR points for $299
- American Express Business Platinum Card: 75,000 MR points for $399
- American Express Gold Rewards Card: 25,000 MR points for $150
- American Express Cobalt Card: 30,000 MR Select points for $120
- Best ways to redeem:
By far the most compelling rewards currency for Canadians is Membership Rewards (MR) by American Express. MR points excel in pretty much every metric: they are extremely easy to earn, they offer very good value on the redemption side, and as a transferable points currency, the flexibility they provide is unparalleled. If you had to pick one rewards program in Canada to concentrate on, Amex Membership Rewards should be a no-brainer.
Earning Points via Signup Bonuses
Membership Rewards points are some of the easiest points to earn in the Canadian miles and points landscape. The four Amex cards in the MR family all offer very compelling signup bonuses and referral bonuses.
- The American Express Business Gold Card currently offers 40,000 MR points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Pay no annual fee for the first year if you sign up via Canada Post.
- The American Express Platinum Card currently offers 60,000 MR points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. The first-year annual fee is effectively $299.
- The American Express Business Platinum Card currently offers 75,000 MR points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months, with a $399 annual fee. This special offer is again only available via Canada Post.
- The American Express Gold Rewards Card currently offers 25,000 MR points after you spend $1,500 in the first three months. The annual fee is $150, although you can get it waived if you apply via Perkopolis.
In my opinion, these bonuses blow other Canadian credit cards out of the water. The lowest signup offer of the bunch, that of the Gold Rewards Card, is 25,000 MR. The highest signup bonus is a whopping 75,000 MR on the Business Platinum Card. These easily outshine the bonuses offered by other Canadian banks, where you'd be lucky to find an signup offer of just 25,000 points.
Earning Points via Daily Spending
Now let's look beyond the bonus offers. What about the return you get on your spending? Here, again, the MR program is outstanding. Depending on the specific card you hold, the earning rates are as follows.
- Gold Rewards Card:
- 2 MR points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, drug stores, and travel purchases (flights, hotels, etc.)
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Business Gold Card:
- 2 MR points per dollar spent at up to three "business merchants" of your choice from a pool of over 40 merchants
- 1 MR points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Platinum Card: 1.25 MR points per dollar spent on all purchases
- Business Platinum Card: 1.25 MR points per dollar spent on all purchases
As you can see, the earn rates are very compelling, especially if you hold more than one MR-earning card. For example, if you held the Gold and Platinum cards, you'd use your Gold card at the 2x-earning categories and the Platinum for everything else in order to maximize your return.
Does Amex MR stack up just as well on the redemption side of the game? After all, it would be no good earning 2 MR per dollar spent if one MR point were worth, say, less than a dollar. Then you'd be much better off just using a 2% cashback card.
Fortunately that's not the case, and the Membership Rewards program offers outstanding redemption opportunities as well. This is primarily because it's a flexible, transferable rewards currency.
You can transfer your MR points at a 1:1 ratio to the following frequent traveller programs:
- British Airways Executive Club
- Hilton Honors
Among these partners, typically Aeroplan and British Airways Avios provide the most value, and is where most Amex MR participants tend to transfer their points.
You can also transfer your MR points to the following programs at rates other than parity:
- Alitalia MilleMiglia (1:0.75)
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (1:0.75)
- Delta SkyMiles (1:0.75)
- Etihad Guest (1:0.75)
- the Marriott loyalty program (1:1.2)
Out of these partners, typically the Marriott program offers the most value to Canadian points collectors. Asia Miles and Delta SkyMiles can be used for their occasional sweet spots as well.
The benefit of a transferable points currency is that it drastically broadens the set of options available to you.
Each frequent flyer program has its sweet spots, and transferable points currencies allow you to optimize these sweet spots to get your desired travel plans at minimal cost.
Another benefit of earning transferable points is that you are more protected from devaluations. It's important to realize that any company can unilaterally change the rules of their loyalty program at any time.
If you hoarded a bunch of Aeroplan miles, and Aeroplan changed their reward chart overnight to make redemptions a lot costlier, you'd have no recourse at all, and would probably be quite upset.
But if you amassed MR points instead, you'd be slightly less affected by such a change, because you'd still potentially have many other avenues to redeem your points for good value, such as British Airways Avios and the other transfer partners.
What About MR Select Points?
The American Express Cobalt Card earns a particular type of MR points known as MR Select points. Indeed, the card offers you 2,500 MR Select points every month when you put $500 in spending on the card, as well as the ability to earn 5x the MR Select points on dining and groceries and 2x the MR Select points on gas, transit, and travel purchases.
30,000 MR Select points for $120
Read the review
The only difference between MR and MR Select points is that you can't transfer MR Select points to airline partners. You can still transfer them to hotel partners such as Marriott, meaning that MR Select points remain very useful for those who participate in the Marriott program.
Besides transferring to partners, the other potentially useful way to use MR Select points (and indeed MR points as well) is through a unique redemption program that Amex operates in-house...
Amex Fixed Points Travel
One of the unique alternative ways to spend MR points is the Fixed Points Travel scheme that Amex recently introduced.
Basically, you can use a fixed amount of points towards the base ticket price of a regular cash ticket, up to a certain maximum. The number of points required and the maximum ticket price depends on the geographical region you are visiting (you can only book roundtrip flights that originate in Canada).
Here's the redemption chart for economy class:
And here's the redemption chart for business class:
The trouble with "fixed points" schemes like this is that the value you get from your points is also fixed.
If you scrutinize the above chart, you'll see that with Amex Fixed Points Travel, you'll be getting at most a 2% return. Meanwhile, you can easily get much more than that by transferring your MR points out to Aeroplan, Avios, or the Marriott program.
Amex Fixed Points Travel might work in a pinch if you're struggling to find award availability with the airline programs, but it should be treated as a backup option rather than an ideal use of MR points.
Membership Rewards is in my opinion the strongest rewards program in Canada. Points are easy to earn, and Amex continues to eagerly offer generous signup and referral bonuses. Meanwhile, the program's wide array of transfer partners allow you to piece together your travel plans through several frequent flyer or frequent hotel guest programs.
Any questions? Contact me.