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 Platinum Card currently offers 75,000 MR points after you spend $7,000 in the first three months, with a $499 annual fee.
The American Express Platinum Card currently offers 25,000 MR points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. The first-year annual fee is effectively $499 ($699 offset by a $200 travel credit).
The American Express Business Gold Card currently offers 40,000 MR points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. The annual fee is $250.
The American Express Gold Rewards Card currently offers 30,000 MR points after you spend $1,500 in the first three months (and if you add a supplementary card at the time of application). The annual fee is $150.
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.
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
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
- 3 MR points per dollar spent on dining
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on travel purchases (flights, hotels, etc.)
- 1 MR points per dollar spent on all other 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.
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:
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)
Marriott Bonvoy (1:1.2)
Hilton Honors (1:1)
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?
A handful of American Express products earn a particular type of MR points known as MR Select points.
The American Express Cobalt Card currently offers 30,000 MR Select points in the first year, split up into 2,500 MR Select points for each of the first 12 months that you complete a $500 monthly spending requirement, with a $120 annual fee that’s also split into 12 monthly payments of $10.
The American Express Business Edge Card currently offers up to 52,000 MR Select points in the first year. You’ll earn 40,000 MR Select points upon spending $5,000 in the first three months, as well as 1,000 MR Select points for each of the first 12 months that you complete a $3,000 monthly spending requirement. The annual fee is $99.
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 Bonvoy program.
(Note that these points were originally introduced as “MR Select points” when the Cobalt first launched in 2017, although American Express recently seems to have moved towards simply calling them “Membership Rewards points”, even though they still can’t be transferred to airlines.)
Read more: The Best Ways to Use Amex Cobalt Points
In September 2020, American Express launched their first ever transfer bonus to Marriott Bonvoy, allowing you to earn a 25% bonus with every transfer. While this is a good opportunity to transfer MR points, it’s an exceptional opportunity to transfer MR Select points.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get American Express business credit cards?
Yes, you can get the business credit cards from Amex even if you aren’t a small business owner in the traditional sense. In general you do this by signing up as a sole proprietorship, the type of business entity that refers to a business being operated solely within your name.
How do American Express referrals work?
Every American Express cardholder can take advantage of the Refer a Friend feature and earn additional bonuses when someone applies via their referral link. The exact amount of the bonus varies depending on which card product is used to originate the referral.
How do you link a new loyalty program to American Express Membership Rewards?
Navigate to “View and Redeem Points” from your American Express dashboard, and then “Frequent Travel Participants” under the “Travel” drop-down menu. If you have multiple Membership Rewards accounts, you’ll have to select the specific account you want to use under “My Points”.
What is the difference between Membership Rewards, MR First, and MR Select?
The first two are virtually identical, whereas MR Select points are different from the others in that they cannot be transferred to frequent flyer programs.
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.