What is the value of American Express Membership Rewards Express Program Points?

There are actually 2 tiers of the American Express Membership Rewards Program—the MR tier (this is the “full” program) and the Express Tier (which is identical to the MR tier except that you can’t transfer points to other frequent flyer/hotel programs). The Express Rewards program typically applies to AMEX cards that don’t charge annual fees, such as Blue from American Express®.

Since the Express Program offers fewer redemption options than the full MR tier, you might feel like you’re getting hit below the belt (and it turns out to be true!) as the value of the points earned in the Express program is worth less than the same number of points earned through the MR program.

The American Express Membership Rewards Express Program offers a number of ways to redeem points, including cash and non-cash gift cards, booking of flights directly, shopping, etc. As such, to assess the value of the program, we need to assess the value of each redemption option, and determine the best redemption approaches.

By the way, if you’re simply looking for an awesome Amex rewards card, check out our review of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card From American Express. As a bit of plastic foreplay, with this card you’ll get 6% cash back at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, 3% cash back on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations and select major department stores, and 1% cash back on other purchases.

Value of Amex MR Express Points When Redeeming for Various Rewards

As you can see from the table below, the highest value attainable for the Express Rewards Program is $0.01–before adjusting for non-cash penalties. However, on an adjusted basis, we estimate the highest cash-equivalent value you can get from these points is $0.0090 per point. This is because there is no way to get direct cash out of this program at $0.01 per point, and cash is always superior all else equal. The next best option is gift cards, but since gift cards are never as good as cash-in-hand, we apply a penalty to adjust for this fact.  For an explanation of why we apply this penalty, check out our post Why does PlasticIQ Penalize the Value of Non-Cash Rewards?

Dollar Value of American Express Membership Rewards Express Points for Various Redemption Strategies
Award Type Approx. Street Value Points Required to Purchase Dollar value of 1 point
4 AMC gold tickets $42 4,300 $0.0097, but $0.0090 after 7% non-cash penalty
$50 AMEX cash card $50 10,000 $0.0050
Purchase of airline tickets (“Pay with Points” program) price of ticket 2 points/dollar $0.0050
Koss Sparkplug headphones $12 (includes shipping via Amazon 2,900 $0.0041
25 iTunes downloads $25 3,000 $0.0083
XBox 360 headset $20 (Amazon) 4,200 $0.0047
Various gift cards $25 2,500 Nominal value of $0.01, but PIQ penalizes by 10% (see below) so valued at $0.0090.
$50 traveler’s cheques $50 10,000 $0.0050

The Giftcard Black Hole

One way to earn a nominal value of $0.01 per Express Point is to get a gift card. However, we firmly believe that gift card nominal values should be penalized for the following reasons.

  • Gift cards limit your ability to comparison shop. You are stuck with that merchant.
  • There is a small risk (but moreso in this economic environment) that any given retailer could go belly-up.
  • According to an article on unused card values by consulting firm Tower Group, $8B was lost by consumers in 2006 who let their gift cards go unused (lost, expired, ignored).

So PlasticIQ believes gift cards should be valued, generally, at 90% of their face value. To validate our discount, PIQ investigated completed sales of gift cards on EBAY and discovered that most sales closed at around 80-85 cents on the dollar—so our 90 cents on the dollar estimate seems reasonable, maybe even generous.

If you want to read a little more about PlasticIQ ranting on gift cards, you can read our post, 5 Reasons Why Gift Cards Suck.

Pay With Points Option

The American Express Membership Rewards Express program also allows you to purchase airline tickets directly with their “Pay With Points”program.   However, a little-published fact (until after you get the card!) is that, unlike with full Membership Rewards points, the MR Express points redeem at only 50% of full value–a crushing blow to the value of the Express Program (thanks to a reader, Rob, for pointing this out!).  For example, to buy a $200 airline ticket, you’d need 40,000 MR Express Points.

The Final Analysis

In conclusion, PlasticIQ estimates the value of an American Express MR Express point to be just a bit south of $0.01 per point—we’ve placed a value of $0.0090 per point, as we assume that the primary mode of redemption/usage of points will be through gift cards.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

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  • Sarah

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  • Rob

    It’s not just about the point’s value: It’s about how much the point cost you in the first place, as well!!!!!!

    I have a Zync card – a Membership Rewards Express based card. The value of the Express points for travel is actually less than stated above. It is $0.005 per point (not $0.01 as the regular MR program) when you “Pay with Points” to buy a plane ticket, book a hotel or cruise. That means that you half the purchasing power for travel than the MR program. Still, gift cards can get 1 point to $0.01 value.

    However, given the fact that now they annual fee for a Zync is at $15, it may be worth it for some. For me, the big value is that I can rake up points really fast using some off their custom “packs” or add-ons, so far earning me a great bonus from what I would make when using a regular MR card – after the math is done, I’m getting about $0.013 per point – because the point was cheaper for me to get ;)

  • admin

    Rob, thanks for your reply. I’d like to address a your points, one at a time. Firstly, great point about Express Points only being worth $0.005 per point, you are right, and I’ve updated the post to reflect this.

    On your second point, about “getting about $0.013 per point”–you are actually confusing concepts here. The value of the points is still the same–$0.01 per point–but you are just getting *more of them*. You are mistakenly linking the extra points you earn with a specific amex card–in this case the Zync Card–to the value of an individual point. Just because you may earn 2, 5 or even 10 points on every dollar you spend on a given category of purchases, doesn’t change the value of each one of those points. You have to separate the *earning of points* from the *redemption of points*.

    All that said, you rightly are pointing out that some cards are better than others due to the fact that they give you more points for every dollar you spend. And that is the whole purpose of the PlasticIQ Ranking Engine (which you can start using right from our home page). The PIQ Ranking Engine actually takes into account, for each card in our database, the number of points you earn per dollar spent, by spend category, then applies the dollar value per point, to arrive at a total value for each credit card (after also taking into account any interest expenses, annual fees, etc). If you really want a more detailed understanding of how it works, check out the “how it works” link from our homepage.

  • Alan

    Thanks for your post guys. I’ve been researching the best-value rewards card for a while, and in the Amex category, I’ve chosen the Zync and the Green for their lower annual fee and decent rewards. However, I’ve also come across a few other credit cards that seem to have the same level of rewards, most notably Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire. Now I have a big dilemma: Why should I pay a $25 (+ more $ for packs) for the Zync, or $95 for the Green Amex when I can get the same rewards on a card with no annual fee? I do like the Amex cards, but can’t yet convince myself to “lose” $95 per year when I can save it. Perhaps Amex has certain advantages over the Chase cards that I’m not aware of. Your advice is appreciated.

  • admin

    Alan, you are 100% right to be skeptical of cards like Green and Zync, for many of the reasons you have outlined. In fact, Zync is one of the lowest-ranked cashback cards in our database, even with the addition of various style packs. You can check out our review of the Zync Card. to get a better feel for its shortcomings.

    If you’re interested just in AMEX cards, try the Fidelity Investment Rewards Card. It’s a killer cash-back card and ranked #2 in our PIQ Ranking Engine across all cashback cards.

    You can also look at Blue Cash from Amex. It’s another solid choice, and far superior to Zync or Green.

  • Mel Hausner

    Thanks for this info. Amazingly, you cannot find this out from American Express. (If you can, I’d be interested – I tried.) For their gift cards, one of their FAQ’s (#9) is: How much do they cost? No real answer is given. At this point, I’m interested in the best value for cashing them in. Amazon says they’ll accept them as payment, but as usual, no conversion factor is given. Sounds like a truth in advertising problem all around. Very spooky.

  • R.J. Denton

    The American Express agreement with Amazon.com, allowing you to shop on Amazon with points, has decreased the value of points tremendously. My my 147,000 points is only worth $1000., not $1450.

    I get so tired of the changing of the rules without notice nor apology. It’s with everything.

  • mk

    just to correct- i got an airline ticket – cost of 1375$ ticket for 137500 amex rewards points. So thats a .01 exchange. But the better deal is i I will got over 25000 airline miles (long haul miles and bonus miles for status) on that ticket because amex treats it as a purchase of ticket and the airline gets paid (1375 goes on your card as a charge so the airline does not treat it as a reward and you get all your rewards/upgrade benefits on the ticket)…amex then gives u a 1375 credit for use of points to settle the ticket..so in a way I realized more than .01

  • admin

    Mk, thanks for your comment. Couple of quick responses. Firstly, I think you may be mixing Amex Express Points versus full Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points. Express points only deliver half the buying power of full MR points when it comes to using the “pay with points” option to get airline tickets. BUT–your overall point is an awesome one! Basically, that a rewards program which allows you to use your points to *buy* airline tickets is superior to a rewards program which gives you free tickets, all else equal….(because, as you rightly point out, you are also earning the miles in the former case). I actually need to think about how to build this logic into the PIQ Ranking Engine–there should be a bump-up in the value of points for specific cards when the redemption is in the form of airline tickets.

  • Ben in Clyde Hill

    At the moment (1/21/2011), you can purchase AMEX gift cards that value a point at $0.0063 (much less than $0.0090). On the other hand, you can purchase a Neiman Marcus gift card (e.g. $500 card for 50,000 points) that value a point at $0.0100. But then what are you going to buy at NM, whose products are fairly specialized and whose prices are pretty high? ;-)

  • admin

    Ben, the $0.0063 value you quote doesn’t seem to be available to everyone. I just went to the MR site, and all of the Amex cash gift cards are valued at $0.005. But either way, the value is really bad, so not a critical distinction. As for the NM gift card being worth $0.01, yes the nominal value would be that. However, PIQ prefers to discount the value of gift cards by at least 10% (also consistent with their value in the marketplace, just see what they sell for on Ebay). Gift cards suffer from: expiration, loss, unspent residual value (that last $3 that sits on the card and you forget about), possibly the issuer going out of business, etc. We always prefer cash!

  • renee

    I want to ask about linking cards I have not done it, but a rep.from Amex says if you get a new Amex card with better rewards value you can link card points and redeem on the better card. if you get say fidelity Amex could you link your current Amex card points and use the points through that?

    I’m not interested in paying any annual fees for any credit cards. But could this be a way of redeeming a better point value since we have a lot of points and do not like the value on our express reward card. I there draw backs for doing this?

  • Zach

    I think it’s essential to point out that the Zync card is a CHARGE card, and it will affect credit scores slightly differently than a CREDIT card. While it will not positively affect your Utilization Ratio (30% of FICO) positively because it is not Revolving Credit, it will affect Types of Credit (10% of FICO) positively for the same reason.

    FICO places value on a person being able to manage different types of credit, which is why it makes up 10% of the score. Charge cards are Open Credit and this helps out by giving you more types of credit. This is the only reason I originally looked into Amex charge cards at all, and the reason I now have an Zync card in addition to my revolving credit, traditional credit card.

    So I can help out my credit score for only $25/year and as long as I spend $2,500 it doesn’t cost me anything. Well, $2,778 if you account for your non-cash penalty. So this sites recommendation of the Amex Blue Cash Prefferred card is misleading for me or anyone looking to help their credit score in the same manner as myself.

  • admin

    Zach, thanks for the detailed reply. The PIQ ranking enginer and our content is currently much more focused on maximizing rewards, and less so on improving/repairing credit, though both are worthy goals that ought to be addressed. Some time ago I specifically added a call-out on our review of the Amex Zync card indicating that while the card wasn’t a winner for folks seeking rewards, it offered significant value for those looking to build/repair their credit.

    It’s great to hear from my readers on this front, and it’s clear there is demand for this knowledge/perspective. I’ll definitely be working to build out much more educational content (and card recommendations) around credit score improvement in the not too distant future.

  • http://none Tony

    There are companies out there that pay cash for American Express points at a little over $.01 per point if you have lots of points to cash in.

    I did this recently. Beats the gift card and redemption choices. Not sure what is paid for other credit card points like VISA or airline points but to me cash is the best thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miaohuax Miaohua Xu

    As owner of rewards2cash.com, I really suggest you to check it out since it gives you around 1.16 – 1.22 cents for each Membership Rewards or Membership Rewards First (we don’t accept MR express).nu00a0

  • Alex’s Experiences

    Why exactly do you discount gift cards by 10%? A gift card to somewhere I shop a lot is no different from cash.