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 Business Platinum Card from American Express currently offers 80,000 MR points after you spend $6,000 in the first three months, with an additional 25,000 MR points after making a purchase between months 14 and 17. It comes with a $499 annual fee.
The American Express Platinum Card currently offers 80,000 MR points after spending $6,000 in the first three months, with an additional 25,000 MR points after making a purchase between months 14 and 17 . The first-year annual fee is effectively $499 ($699 offset by a $200 travel credit).
The American Express Business Gold Rewards Card currently offers 65,000 MR points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months, with an additional 10,000 MR points after making a purchase between months 14 and 17. The annual fee is $199.
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.
5 MR points per dollar spent on all groceries and dining
- 3 MR points per dollar spent on streaming services
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on gas, transit, and travel purchases
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on gas, groceries, drugstore, and travel purchases
- 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, Cobalt, and Business Platinum cards, you’d use your Cobalt card at the 5x-earning categories, the Gold card at drugstores, and the Business 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)
- Flying Blue (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.
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”.
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.