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The best way to spend your Amex points, according to the experts

The best way to spend your Amex points
The best way to spend your Amex points

American Express, or “Amex”, credit cards have made their way into millions of wallets since they first landed in Britain in 1963. Sixty years on and there are still tricks little known to most users that can boost your points far more than you might think.

In their flashy platinum, gold and British Airways branding, Amex cards have become one of the most popular cashback and rewards cards, as well as a status symbol. But are Amex as good as they seem, and are they worth it for everyone?

Here, Telegraph Money explains everything you need to know about the cards and how you can make the most of your points.

Where is Amex accepted?

You can use your Amex card in a large number of retailers across the country, and 66 million businesses globally, but not everywhere.

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For example, it’s accepted at every major supermarket chain in the UK, including Aldi and Lidl. You can also use your card at the Post Office, Argos and Airbnb (in most countries).

In the past few years B&M, Timpson, B&Q, H&M, Dulux and Lego have also started taking Amex payments. In 2023, Amex signed acceptance agreements with a host of further retailers including Savers, McColl’s and Morrisons Daily convenience stores.

Acceptance in charity shops has also recently expanded, and attractions such as Chester Zoo, The London Dungeon and Alton Towers now take Amex payments.

Where can I use Amex points?

The Amex Membership Rewards scheme is available with certain cards, where you can earn points with eligible card spending.

You can spend your Amex Membership Rewards points online at over 1,000 retailers including Currys, Amazon and Holland & Barrett, order gift cards from a number of well-known brands and book travel on the American Express Travel website.

You can also use the points as credit to clear your credit card balance.

Alternatively, points can be donated to more than 9,000 charities via JustGiving or transferred to other travel and hotel loyalty programmes, such as Avios, Virgin Points, Emirates Skywards, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors points. Amex points converted to Avios can then be switched for Nectar points, too.

The points you earn depend on what card you have, but the basic offering is typically one point per £1 spent on purchases. There is usually a generous bonus for signing up, which is currently as high as 60,000 points on the Platinum card.

Is it actually worth getting an Amex card?

Not for everyone, according to Rob Burgess, editor of travel and credit card rewards website Head for Points.

While the lure of bonus points for signing up and making purchases are attractive, when it comes to spending them, the best rewards – flights, hotel rooms and Eurostar seats – require high levels of points.

Mr Burgess said: “Unless you are spending £100,000 a year on credit cards, Amex points are likely to be used to top up an existing Avios or other travel rewards balance, rather than provide 100pc of the points you need for a free flight or room.

“Once you’ve spent your card sign-up bonus, most people will struggle to generate enough points for free flights or hotel rooms purely from card spend.”

But if you’re not interested in travel, the best reward is probably a little known trick transferring Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios to Nectar, Sainsbury’s loyalty reward scheme, which gets you 0.66p of Nectar points per Amex point.

This beats the 0.45p per Amex point if you take statement credit and 0.5p per Amex point if you redeem for retailer gift cards. Oddly, it also beats the 0.5p per Amex point you get if you move Amex points directly to Nectar.

Secondly, customers should be mindful of the cost of borrowing on an American Express card.

Mr Burgess said: “As all Amex cards have high interest rates compared to the cheapest cards on the market, they’re not a great option for anyone who doesn’t repay their bill in full every month. This knocks out the 65pc of the UK population who don’t clear their balance every single month without fail.”

Thirdly, as Amex isn’t accepted everywhere, you’ll always need to take an alternative debit Visa or Mastercard card out with you anyway.

Would an Amex card work for me?

With some cards, you can work out yourself if they are worth it based on your spend and the points you can earn.

There are 16 Amex cards to choose from, so it can be quite tough to know which one best suits you. You need to make sure you pay them off in full each month as, in most cases, the interest rates are comparatively high.

Here is a selection of the most popular and their benefits.

Amex Rewards Credit Card

One of the most basic of Amex credit cards is the Rewards card. It doesn’t have an upfront cost.

New members receive 10,000 Amex Rewards points if they spend £2,000 in their first three months. For everyday use, you earn one point for every £1 spent. You can also earn 4,000 points if you invite a friend and they are approved for a card.

The Amex Rewards Credit Card’s representative APR is 31pc variable.

Amex Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card

The Amex Gold card is free in the first year, but has an annual fee of £195 from year two onwards. In exchange, there are freebies and potential extra points up for grabs.

New cardholders usually get a bonus of 20,000 Rewards points for spending £3,000 in the first three months. However, for a limited time you can get a bonus of 30,000 points. Until July 16, new Amex Gold cardholders can earn 25,000 (boosted from the usual 20,000) for spending £3,000 in the first three months, and a further 5,000 points when making a transaction of any amount in the 15th month of having the card.

The 30,000 points can be used to redeem £150 in gift vouchers, used to offset purchases made on the card or used against flights and hotels with American Express Travel.

You can get three points for every £1 spent on American Express Travel (where members can book flights, hotels and make other travel purchases), two points for each £1 spent directly with airlines, and one point for every £1 spent elsewhere.

You can also get up to 12,500 bonus points each year.

The card comes with four free Priority Pass airport lounge visits each year, and the chance to get £5 back on eligible Deliveroo purchases twice a month.

The Amex Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card has a representative APR of 88.8pc variable.

Amex Platinum Card

The next step up the ladder after gold is the platinum card, which comes with an annual fee of £650. This is predominantly aimed at big spenders who travel a lot.

For the high  price, there are a number of perks available, which repeat each year, including Priority Pass airport lounge access, £150 credit to spend at UK restaurants, £150 credit to spend at international restaurants, £100 Harvey Nichols credit and worldwide family travel insurance. The credit benefits alone add up to £600, more than covering the cost of the card – but they may not appeal to everyone.

If you spend £6,000 in the first three months on the Amex Platinum Card you can earn 40,000 Amex Membership Rewards points.

The Platinum Card has a representative APR of 704.6pc variable.

The best ways to spend your Amex points

Transfer your points to air miles

Consider switching Amex Membership Rewards Points to airline miles. The value depends on which scheme you opt for but expect 1:1 conversions for Avios, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Flying Blue, Qantas and SAS, and 3:2 for Singapore Airlines.

The value of your points will depend on a number of factors including your destination, cabin and what class or airline you’d opt for if you weren’t using points.

Be mindful, only high spenders will be able to earn enough air miles purely from card spend to get premium cabin free flights.

Switch to Club Eurostar points

Club Eurostar lets you use points on any train – if there is a seat available, you can pay for it in points. Mr Burgess values one Club Eurostar point at 12p and the 15:1 transfer rate from Amex points to Club Eurostar points means you are getting 0.8p per point.

He said: “As with airline miles, you will find that your points have substantially more value if your lifestyle means that you are likely to need to travel at short notice when cash fares are higher.”

Convert to Nectar

Swap your Amex points to Avios and then to Nectar and get 0.66p per point if you use them at Sainsbury’s, eBay or Argos.

You can convert 50,000 Avios per month to Nectar at a rate of 300:400. This is more lucrative than transferring Amex points directly into Nectar which only gets you 0.5p per Amex point.

Converting via Avios first results in a 32pc increase in points.

Amex does also offer a designated Nectar Credit Card, which is free in the first year (£30 in year two onwards).

New members can get 20,000 Nectar points when they spend £2,000 in the first three months. You earn two Nectar points for every £1 spent.