Membership Rewards is a credit card loyalty program operated by American Express for the benefit of its cardholders. AmEx has the largest range of credit cards and charge cards on the Australian market, and every one of them earns loyalty points. While several cards earn either Qantas or Velocity Frequent Flyer Points exclusively, most earn Membership Rewards points only, or offer a choice between Membership Rewards and Qantas Frequent Flyer Points.
How Membership Rewards credit cards work
Membership Rewards credit cards are issued by — and exclusively available in Australia from — American Express.
Not every credit card from American Express earns Membership Rewards points since some of them are linked with Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity Frequent Flyer.
Like most rewards programs in Australia, there is no fee to enrol into Membership Rewards, although Membership Rewards credit cards typically have an annual fee (so they aren't free).
Although earning Membership Rewards points is beneficial, perhaps their most useful — and often overlooked benefit — is the ability to transfer points to other airline rewards programs. This is like having an ace up your sleeve, given how difficult it can be to find good reward seat availability without booking months in advance.
How to compare Membership Rewards credit cards
When comparing Membership Rewards credit cards, it's important not to focus solely on the number of points that can be earned. Consider the value of complimentary benefits offered as well. These benefits, such as travel insurance, airport lounge access, and purchase protection, can be worth hundreds of dollars if utilized. Keep in mind that not all cards offer the same benefits, so it's important to compare the details of each card to determine which features have the most value for you.
Membership Rewards earn rate
When it comes to earning Membership Rewards points, the earning rate varies from card to card. The earn rate is typically expressed as a ratio, such as one point per dollar spent on eligible purchases. Generally, premium cards with higher annual fees tend to have a higher earning rate. Additionally, some cards may earn points at a higher or lower rate depending on the type of purchase or if there is a promotion running, like American Express Shop Small.
Sign up bonus points
From time to time, AmEx will offer large numbers of bonus Membership Rewards points to new customers applying for specific cards. There will usually be a target spending level to be reached in the first three months in order to qualify for the bonus points, e.g. 80,000 bonus points for spending $1,500 in the first three months.
Membersip Rewards earning caps
This is yet another point of difference with AmEx’s competitors.
Many cards have a set earning limit each month. Once that limit is reached (e.g. $3,000 spending in a single billing cycle) no further points can be earned until the beginning of the next monthly billing period.
Other cards may not have an absolute points cap, but set a monthly spending threshold, after which the points earning rate declines sharply (e.g. a drop from 2.0 points to 0.5 points per dollar once a monthly threshold of $2,000 spending is reached).
But AmEx cards have neither a points cap nor a points threshold. The advertised points earning rate remains the same throughout the month, no matter how much you spend. AmEx cardholders can make major purchases, such as technology, household appliances and travel, secure in the knowledge that every dollar they spend will earn points at the initial rate.
Membership Rewards tiered earn rates for specific spending types
The Membership Rewards points earning rate varies from card to card, with cards having a higher annual fee usually earning points at a faster rate. Most cards then apply this individual rate to all eligible purchases (with the exception of government purchases described above).
However, some AmEx cards have a tiered earning rate, depending on where you do your spending. E.g. 3.0 points per dollar for supermarket spending, 2.0 points at petrol stations, 0.5 points for government and telco spending, 1.0 points for everything else.
Earn points for government purchases
Once again, many rewards cards do not award loyalty points for government spending (e.g. ATO payments, local government rates, Australia Post). But AmEx does give you points for government purchases, albeit at a rate lower than that granted for other purchases – usually 0.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar.
Are Membership Rewards credit cards hard to get?
Given the limited range of credit cards that earn Membership Rewards points and their relatively high minimum criteria, getting approved for a Membership Rewards credit card is more difficult.
Do Membership Rewards points expire?
Unlike many of its competitors, AmEx does not set a date by which points must be used before they expire, e.g. 36 months from the end of the year in which they were earned. You can keep your Membership Rewards points intact until you are ready to spend them, or until you have acquired enough of them for your chosen redemption.
Do balance transfers earn Membership Rewards points?
No. Balance transfers — which American Express seldom offer — do not earn Membership Rewards.
Do cash advances earn Membership Rewards points?
No. Cash advances, or any transaction classified as a cash advance, such as buying foreign currency, do not earn Membership Rewards points.