Our guide to the Membership Rewards program

Membership Rewards is the American Express in-house customer loyalty program. In general, as you use your American Express card for purchases you collect points in the Membership Rewards program. These points can be redeemed for a wide variety of travel, shopping and entertainment rewards. You may also be able to transfer points to other loyalty programs such as Airline or Hotel Guest Transfer Partners.

It is worth noting that the Membership Rewards program comes in a number of flavours. This affects some of the features of the program. Please note though, that the particular version of the program you will be in is largely determined by the specific card that you hold. The choices are

Program Cards
Ascent Platinum Edge
Ascent Premium Platinum Charge
Choices
David Jones David Jones co brand cards
Gateway Essentials
Sprirt Qantas Branded Corporate or Business cards

 

Across the programs, there is some variation on the points earning rates, together with variations on what redemption options are available. The difference in earnings rates, together with variations in redemption options will likely determine which card is most suitable for your own set of circumstances.

There is another program, Sprit, but that is restricted to corporate cards

Best use of Points

When collecting points in Membership Rewards, there are generally a number of options for redeeming points. Generally, you can redeem points for gift vouchers, good and services, or convert to a another partner program

When you work through the maths, you will often find that it is the transfer of points that give the best value for your points. I will explore why this is so in another post. For the purpose of this post, however, I will use the points transfer as the main aim of holding one of these cards, and compare them on that basis.

Generally, the Ascent and Ascent Premium programs are the most flexible, providing a number of redemption options. The Ascent program is largely the default program, although holders of the Platinum Charge card will be enrolled in the Ascent Premium program. This is largely the same as Ascent, but has a few differences:

The Ascent Premium has a couple of improvements over the standard Ascent program:

  • The ability to transfer points to Qantas on demand, making it one of the few programs in the market that does not have an automatic sweep.
  • An improved transfer rate of 1:1 transfer to Emirates Skywards, compared with the standard Ascent transfer rate of 4:3

As for the other programs, the following briefly summarises the differences between the program and Ascent

  • Choices does not allow for redemptions transferring points to airlines or hotels
  • David Jones & Gateway have different transfer rates to partner travel programs.

Earning Rates

American Express used to have a fairly flat earning structure – however, in recent years that have generally moved to a system where the number of points varies depending on the category or merchant that you are spending at. The following table shows the structure for the various cards

Earn Rate per dollar Platinum Edge Platinum Charge Essentials David Jones
4 points David Jones (Platinum card)
3 points major supermarkets restaurants in Australia11 major supermarkets and petrol stations
2 points major petrol stations airlines, accommodation and spend in foreign currency11 David Jones

(Standard Card)

1 point Anything not in other categories Anything not in other categories Anything not in 0.5 points category Anything not in other categories
0.5 points Utilities, insurance (except those issued by American Express), telecommunication providers and government bodies in Australia Utilities, telecommunications companies, non American Express provided insurance and government bodies11 utilities, insurance, telecommunications providers and government bodies in Australia

 

The above table does suggest that you should consider your spending habits in deciding which American Express card is most appropriate for your circumstances.

Transfer Rates

The best value in points is generally obtained by transferring to one of the travel partners, and then redeeming for flights or hotel stays from there. This generally gives a bigger return than redeeming for gift cards or merchandise. As a result, I will concentrate on the redemption rate to other programs.

The following table shows the transfer rates that can be achieved:

Program Ascent Ascent Premium David Jones
Virgin Australia Velocity Points 1:1 1:1 2:1
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles 1:1 1:1 2:1
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 1:1 1:1 2:1
Emirates Skywards 4:3 1:1 2:1
Malaysia Airlines Enrich 1:1 1:1 2:1
Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints 2:1 2:1 2:1
Hilton HHonors Points 1:1 1:1 2:1
Qantas Frequent Flyer N/A 1:1 1:0.75 (Qantas Option)