Our top picks of timely offers from our partners

More details
UFB Secure Savings
Learn More
Terms Apply
Up to 5.25% APY on one of our top picks for best savings accounts plus, no monthly fee
Accredited Debt Relief
Learn More
Terms Apply
Accredited Debt Relief helps consumers with over $30,000 of debt
LendingClub High-Yield Savings
Learn More
Terms Apply
Our top pick for best savings accounts for its strong APY and an ATM card with no ATM fees
Choice Home Warranty
Learn More
Terms Apply
Protects 25+ systems & appliances. Free quote + $50 off + 1 month free
Freedom Debt Relief
Learn More
Terms Apply
Freedom Debt Relief can help clients get started without fees up front
Select independently determines what we cover and recommend. We earn a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links. This commission may impact how and where certain products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). Read more about Select on CNBC and on NBC News, and click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.
Credit Cards

The best ways to book domestic flights using Amex Membership Rewards points in 2024

American Express Membership Rewards offers several sweet spots that can help you save on flights.

Share

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

American Express Membership Rewards points are some of the best rewards to earn if you're interested in domestic travel within the U.S.

A large reason why Amex points are so valuable is because of their flexibility. With 18 airline partners, you can use Amex points to book awards with most major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta, United and JetBlue to name a few. If you can't find open award seats on the days you want to travel, no problem. You can book any seat that's available to buy with cash and use Amex points to pay for the ticket when you book through the Amex Travel Portal.

Below, CNBC Select details the best ways to redeem Amex points to fly for free (or nearly free) across the U.S.

Best Amex cards for earning Membership Rewards points

American Express has a strong lineup of both personal and business cards that earn transferrable Membership Rewards points.

The cards with some of the best benefits and highest welcome bonuses include:

The Platinum Card® from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1X points on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.

  • Annual fee

    $695

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit Needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees, terms apply.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on AmexTravel.com and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases. Also, earn 1.5X points (that's an extra half point per dollar) on each eligible purchases at US construction material, hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership

  • Annual fee

    $695

  • Intro APR

    N/A

  • Regular APR

    19.49% - 28.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points at Restaurants (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 per year, then 1X point per dollar

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for 12 months on purchases from date of account opening

  • Regular APR

    18.49% - 26.49% variable; APRs will not exceed 29.99%

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Booking domestic flights with Amex points

You can only transfer Amex points to three U.S.-based airline programs: Delta SkyMiles, HawaiianMiles and JetBlue TrueBlue. However, by taking advantage of airline partnerships, you can use Amex points to book award flights with other major carriers, including United Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

In most cases, you can move your Amex points to partner airlines at a 1:1 ratio in 1,000-point increments. Occasionally, Amex even offers bonuses for transferring points to select partners. Keep in mind, transferring Amex points is a one-way street. Once you've moved your points to a partner, you can't send them back to your Amex account. 

Many transfers are instant, so you can find an open award flight first and then transfer points to the airline. A handful of frequent flyer programs even allow you to put awards on hold while you wait for the points to transfer.

These aren't the only ways to use Amex points for flights within the U.S., but they represent the best combination of value, flexibility and ease of booking.

Booking United flights with Amex points

Amex Membership Rewards points don't transfer to United MileagePlus, but you can book United award flights through United's Star Alliance partners, such as Avianca LifeMiles and Air Canada Aeroplan.

Better yet, sometimes, these programs charge far fewer miles than United would through its MileagePlus program for the same flights. For example, CNBC Select found United Airlines "saver" economy award flights between Chicago (ORD) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU) for 15,000 miles each way. Keep in mind, United doesn't have a fixed award chart, so its award prices can vary.

The exact flights are available through Avianca LifeMiles for half the price — just 7,500 miles each way. With Air Canada Aeroplan, you'd only need to transfer 10,000 Amex points, and that price holds even if you add in a connection, whereas LifeMiles may charge more for connecting itineraries.

Air Canada

Comparing prices will take a little legwork because Avianca LifeMiles does not publish an official award chart for partner awards and charges an award booking fee of up to $25 in addition to the taxes. To find the price of a specific flight you'll have to roll up your sleeves and directly search the route on LifeMiles.com.

Meanwhile, Aeroplan has a distance-based award chart for flights within North America and charges a flat $39 CAD (roughly $29 USD) per-person partner booking fee in addition to the taxes.

Aeroplan award chart for partner flights within North America

Distance (miles) Economy Business
0 - 5006,000 pts15,000 pts
501 - 1,50010,000 pts20,000 pts
1,501 - 2,75012,500 pts25,000 pts
2,751 +22,500 pts35,000 pts

Don't miss: How to access United Club airport lounges

Booking Delta flights with Amex points

The simplest way to book Delta flights with Amex points is by transferring your points to Delta's SkyMiles loyalty program.

Delta SkyMiles uses dynamic award pricing, so you'll often get a relatively consistent value of 1.2 cents per mile, although you can sometimes get a higher value than that. For instance, Delta also has ongoing SkyMiles Award Deals and runs regular flash sales often featuring domestic flights for 5,000 miles one-way or less.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

That said, there are times when transferring your points to one of Delta's SkyTeam alliance partner airlines may be a cheaper option. Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club and Flying Blue (Air France and KLM), can both be better programs for booking Delta flights in some situations.

Unlike the SkyMiles program, Virgin Atlantic has fixed, distance-based redemption rates for Delta awards. If you're not sure what zone your flight falls into, the Great Circle Mapper is an excellent tool for determining the distance for any route.

The cost of your award is calculated based on the distance flown per segment, so if you have a connection you're essentially paying for two one-way awards. However, there are plenty of nonstop flights where booking with Virgin Atlantic is cheaper.

For example, we found one-way Delta flights from Atlanta to Las Vegas for 23,000 miles plus taxes through SkyMiles. Some of the exact flights were available to book through Virgin Atlantic for 18,500 Virgin points and the same taxes. To see what Delta awards are available to book with Virgin points, you can search directly with Virgin Atlantic.

Flying Blue has dynamic award prices and these flights from Atlanta to Las Vegas cost fewer miles but have higher taxes.

KLM

Don't miss: How to access Delta Sky Club airport lounges

Booking American Airlines and Alaska Airlines flights with Amex points

British Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance and you can use its Avios points to book awards with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

The award chart for partner airlines is based on the distance flown per segment, so shorter nonstop flights cost less, and connecting flights cost more. British Airways uses a separate chart for awards that involve flying with more than one partner airline. However, for most domestic flights you'll likely be traveling with a single partner airline, and here's what you'll pay:

British Airways partner award chart for U.S. domestic flights

Distance Economy Business class
Up to 650 miles8,25016,500
651 - 1,15011,00020,500
1,151 - 2,00014,50029,000
2,001 - 3,00016,00042,000
3,001 - 4,00020,75062,000
4,001 - 5,50025,75077,250
5,501 - 6,50031,00092,750

Once you know how many British Airways Avios points you'll need, you can search on the British Airways site to see what awards are available.

Although not a part of the Oneworld alliance, you can also book American Airlines awards through the Etihad Guest program. However, most flights will cost more points than you'd pay with British Airways. The one exception is flight segments of up to 500 miles, which cost 6,000 Etihad miles in economy and 10,000 in business class.

While online redemptions will become available soon, you currently have to call in to book American Airlines awards with Etihad miles. Before you call, you should search on another partner's site, such as British Airways, to find the saver awards that are open to partner bookings.

If you're searching on the American Airlines website, you can identify saver awards by looking for the booking code "T" for economy, "U" for business class and "Z" for first class. You can find the booking code under the details section of the search results.

Pay with Amex points

The biggest drawback to booking flights with points or miles is most airlines limit the number of seats you can book with points, especially through partner programs. The most convenient flight schedule or the most popular travel days will be harder to book with rewards.

However, you can circumvent these restrictions, and book any open seat, when you pay with Amex points using the Amex Travel Portal. You simply search for flights through Amex Travel, the same way you would with another online travel agency like Expedia.

When it comes time to pay for the airfare, you can use your Amex points to pay for all or some of the costs. With this option, you'll have unlimited flexibility and you'll even earn frequent flyer miles on your flight.

You'll want to price-check any flights you book through Amex Travel to ensure you're getting the best deal. You have to call to book with certain carriers, like Southwest or Spirit Airlines, but the phone agent may not be able to book the cheapest or most direct flights for you.

When booking flights with the Amex travel portal you typically get a value of one cent per point. However, the deal is sweeter for anyone with the Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

Amex Business Platinum cardholders receive a 35% points rebate (up to 1,000,000 points per calendar year) on eligible airfare booked using Amex's Pay with Points program. Eligible airfare includes any business- or first-class flight and flights with your selected airline, which is the same airline you choose for your card's airline fee credit of up to $200 each year. 

Things to know about booking awards through partner airlines

Amex Membership rewards transfer to 18 airline frequent flyer programs and three hotel loyalty programs, allowing you to pick and choose the best program for the specific trip you want to book. Amex's transfer partners include the following:

  • Aer Lingus AerClub
  • Aeromexico Premier
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Choice Privileges
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Bonvoy

While partner airline programs can unlock access to exceptional deals, there are tradeoffs. Not every award flight is open to partner bookings. Partner programs only have access to the lowest priced saver level awards so it's often more difficult to find awards to book with partner miles.

Also, If you need to cancel or change a partner award booking, it's not always a straightforward process. You'll need to contact the airline you booked through, not the airline you're traveling with. 

For example, you need to contact Virgin Atlantic Flying Club to change a Delta flight booked with Virgin points. That ticket would also be subject to all of Virgin Atlantic's rules. In some cases, this is an advantage but not always.

Outside of the miles or points cost, there are other things to consider when choosing a partner program to book through. Some airlines allow stopovers for free or a small fee on award tickets, although this rarely applies to U.S. domestic flights. The change and cancellation fees also vary from one airline to the next. By understanding the opportunities, and costs, outside of just the points you're using to book your flights, you'll be able to choose the best overall deal for your trip.

Find the best credit card for you by reviewing offers in our credit card marketplace or get personalized offers via CardMatch™.

FAQs

American Express Membership Rewards points are worth 0.5 to 1 cent per point for most redemptions, but you can easily get 2 cents or more in value per Amex point by using them to book travel through an airline or hotel transfer partner.

American Express Membership Rewards points are earned by spending on eligible American Express rewards cards. The quickest way to earn a large number of points is by taking advantage of welcome bonus offers when opening a new card.

While American Express Membership Rewards points can't be redeemed for straight cash back, they can be used to offset card charges at a rate of 0.6 cents per point through Cover Your Card Charges. You will get a statement credit in your account that reduces your card balance. However, you can get far better value from your points when using them for travel.

Bottom line

Although Amex Membership Rewards points only transfer to three U.S.-based airlines (Delta, Hawaiian and JetBlue), you can use Amex points to book awards with all of the largest U.S. airlines.

By strategically transferring Amex points to partner airlines, you can use Amex points to book flights with United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and others. Even if you have frequent flyer miles saved up with your favorite airline, you may be better off booking with Amex points. In many cases, these awards are cheaper than if you used miles to book directly with those airlines.

Subscribe to the CNBC Select Newsletter!

Money matters — so make the most of it. Get expert tips, strategies, news and everything else you need to maximize your money, right to your inbox. Sign up here.

Why trust CNBC Select?

At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every credit card rewards guide is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of travel rewards. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics.

Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cardsbanking and money, and follow us on TikTokFacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

For rates and fees of the Platinum Card from American Express, click here.  

For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Card from American Express, click here.  

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, click here.  

For rates and fees of the American Express Business Gold Card, click here.  

For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express, click here.  

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
Chime
Learn More
Terms Apply
Chime offers online-only accounts that minimize fees plus, get paid up to 2 days early with direct deposits
Find the right savings account for you
Learn More
Terms Apply
Help your money grow by finding the savings account that offers the best rates and features for you