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American Express Membership Rewards Program: U.S.A. versus Canada (updated on August 28, 2021)

It has been almost 5 years since I last update this post. In light of American Express Canada’s new partnership with Air France, KLM Flying Blue, I thought it was a great opportunity to update this post. This post compares the Canadian and U.S. American Express Membership Rewards programs. A lot has changed in the last 5 years, so let’s get going.

Earning Membership Rewards

First off, let’s start with listing out all the charged and credit cards that allow cardholders to earn Membership Rewards points. I ranked the cards below based on their current annual fees and mentioned their current sign up bonus offers afterwards.

Canadian Cards

Note that the fees are listed in Canadian dollars.

  • American Express Green Card (no annual fee, 10,000 sign up bonus)
  • American Express Cobalt Card ($12.99 monthly fee; 50,000 sign up bonus)
  • American Express Business Edge Card ($99 annual fee; 57,000 sign up bonus)
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card ($250 annual fee; 50,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Business Platinum Card ($499 annual fee; 75,000 sign up bonus points; 75,000 when referred)
  • American Express Platinum Card ($699 annual fee; 80,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Centurion Card ($7,500 initiation fee; $2,500 annual fee; unknown sign up bonus)

United States Cards

Note that the fees are listed in U.S. dollars.

  • American Express Blue Card (no annual fee; no sign up bonus)
  • American Express Business Blue Plus Card (no annual fee; 15,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express EveryDay Credit Card (no annual fee; 10,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Green Card ($95 annual fee; 25,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express EveryDay Preferred Credit Card ($95 annual fee; 15,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Business Green Card ($150 annual fee; 45,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Gold Card ($250 annual fee; 60,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Platinum Card ($695 annual fee; 100,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card ($295 annual fee; 80,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Business Platinum Card ($595 annual fee; 120,000 sign up bonus points)
  • American Express Centurion Card ($7,500 initiation fee; $2,500 annual fee, unknown sign up bonus)

Frequent Traveler Participants

It is no secret that the best use of Membership Rewards is to transfer them to frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs, especially when there is a transfer bonus to top it up. Below is a list of the transfer partners for both countries.

Canadian Airline Partners

The partners are listed in alphabetical order. Secondly, we mentioned minimum number of Membership Rewards points required to transfer before the conversion ratio. In brackets, we added the approximate transfer time.

  • Air Canada (Aeroplan): 1,000 points = 1,000 points (30 minutes)
  • Air France (KLM Flying Blue): 1,000 points = 750 miles (3 days)
  • Alitalia (MileMiglia): 1,000 points = 750 miles (5 days)
  • British Airways (Executive Club): 1,000 points = 1,000 Avios (5 days)
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles): 1,000 points = 750 miles (5 days)
  • Delta (SkyMiles): 1,000 points = 750 miles (30 minutes)
  • Etihad (Guest Miles): 1,000 points = 750 miles (3 days)

Unlike the United States, Canadian cardholders rarely have any transfer bonuses. Once in a while, we may see a transfer bonus to Executive Club.

Canadian Hotel Partners

For hotel partners, Canadians have the benefit of two valuable options.

  • Hilton Hotels and Resorts (Hilton HHonors): 1,000 points = 1,000 points (5 days)
  • Marriott Hotels and Resorts (Marriott Bonvoy): 1,000 points = 1,200 points (5 days)

UPDATED (per comment section) We have yet to see hotel transfer bonuses in Canada. There was a sweet 30% Marriott transfer bonus earlier this year. But for the most part, we have not historically seen hotel transfer bonuses. Hopefully this year is a preview of what’s to come.

U.S. Airline Parnters

We listed the U.S. airline partners alphabetically, with the minimum American Express Membership Rewards points transfer requirement first, and then its conversion ratio to the frequent flyer program. As you can see, the U.S. has a much longer list, along with a more favorable transfer bonus.

  • AeroMexico (Club Premier): 1,000 points = 1,600 miles
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan): 1,000 points = 1,000 points
  • Air France (KLM Flying Blue): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Air Lingus (Aerclub): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Alitalia (MileMiglia): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA Mileage Club): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Avianca (LifeMiles): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • British Airways (Executive Club): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Delta (SkyMiles): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Emirates (Skywards): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Etihad (Guest Miles): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Iberia (Iberia Plus): 1,000 points = 1,000 Avios
  • JetBlue Airways (TrueBlue): 250 points = 200 points
  • Qantas (Qantas): 500 points = 500 points
  • Singapore Airlines (Krisflyer): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles
  • Virgin Atlantic (Flying Club): 1,000 points = 1,000 miles

U.S. Hotel Partners

  • Choice Hotels (Choice Privileges): 1,000 points = 1,000 points
  • Hilton Hotels and Resorts (Hilton HHonors): 1,000 points = 2,000 HHonors points
  • Marriott Hotels and Resorts (Marriott Bonvoy): 1,000 points = 1,000 points

For the most part, it seems like the United States program has a better and more transfer options, as they mostly have 1:1 ratios. The one off program for Canadians is the Marriott Bonvoy program, where we actually have a better transfer ratio.

I am very glad to see KLM Flying Blue added to the Canadian list, mostly because it shows that they are willing to expand their partnerships and hopefully more to come!

Travel Purchases

Alternatively, instead of transferring Membership Rewards points to loyalty programs (mentioned above), there is an option to use points (like cash) to book for travel.

In the US, they call it Pay With Points, where they have a calculator to let you know how much your points are worth, depending on which card you have.

In Canada, we have a Fixed Points Travel program. The chart looks like this:

  • 15,000 points (maximum $300 base ticket price) within Canada/U.S. (short haul, popular routes)
  • 20,000 points (maximum $300 base ticket price) within Canada/U.S. (short haul, adjacent Canadian Province/Territory/U.S. State (except Alaska))
  • 40,000 points (maximum $700 base ticket price) within Canada/U.S. (long haul)
  • 50,000 points (maximum $800 base ticket price) within Canada to Alaska, Bermuda, Caribbean, Central America, Hawaii or Mexico (long haul)
  • 60,000 points (maximum $900 base ticket price) within Canada to Europe
  • 100,000 points (maximum $1,700 base ticket price) worldwide

It does take some math to calculate the best return for your points. As you will want to calculate the cent per point, and compare it to transferring to a travel partner. Note that paying for travel with points does give more flexibility, as we do not have to worry about blackout dates or award availability.

Redeem for Gift Cards and Merchandise

There are many options to redeem points for gift cards and merchandise, but they are usually very low value compared to spending points on travel (mentioned above: transfer partners or paying for travel). Sometimes, there are discounts when redeeming points.

In Canada, there is a Point Drop page that reduces the number of points required for a reward redemption.

The U.S. has a Special Offers page for their reward discounts.

However, even with the discounts, generally redeeming for gift cards or merchandise you give you less than 1 cent per point back in value, which is much lower value that what you would get from travel rewards. So I would use my points on these options unless I really do not plan to travel.

Conclusion

All things considered, I still find Canadian Membership Rewards program relatively competitive compared to the one in the United States.

In terms of suggestions to American Express Canada. It would be down to two things, either expanding their transfer ratios or adding more partnerships. Of course I would love them to do both. But if I had to choose one priority, it would be to add more partners first. I find expansion the more difficult part. Once they establish the partnerships, over time, they can increase the transfer ratios to make it even more competitive, to put the icing on the cake!

What are your thoughts about the comparison between the two programs? Please let us know in the comment section below!

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Pointshogger aims to provide analysis and updates on earning loyalty reward points and maximizing the value of your points. We hope to inspire our readers to experience the joy of travel and make the most out of what they've already got!

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