What kind of cool travel getaway can you go on with 150,000 Membership Reward points? How about a romantic trip for you and yours truly to a tropical car-free island in Mexico where you go swimming with the world’s largest fish and bring back video of your underwater adventures and top it off with a Mexican feast and tequila distillery tour.
That’s the trip Spot Cool Stuff chose when American Express challenged us to create a WOW factor getaway with 150,000 Membership Rewards points.
With Pay With Points, available through American Express Travel, you aren’t limited to exchanging points for airplane tickets. You can also book hotels, resorts, rental cars, cruises and vacation packages. And you aren’t even limited to those. Link your Membership Rewards account to Amazon.com and you can use your points to buy anything that the internet retail metasite sells. Or you can select deals on the shopAmex website. And even those aren’t your only options. How about meals at any restaurant bookable through Open Table? Or dining, music, and theater rewards available specifically for American Express charge cardmembers? Or movie tickets? Or mystery trips?
So many choices. So little time. In the end, our travel editors decided to use Pay With Points available through American Express Travel to journey to Mexico’s Isla Holbox. Over the next week, we’ll publish reviews of our experience. Click below to check those out . . .
. . . or sign up for an American Express charge card (if you don’t already have one) and use Membership Rewards to create your own cool experience. Here’s the inside scoop on how we pulled off ours:
How We Spent Our Membership Rewards Points
Day 1: Arrive early at Cancun Airport. Drive a rental car to Chiquila and take a ferry to Holbox Island.
Day 2: Go snorkeling with whale sharks, taking underwater video with a new diving mask.
Add up our two air tickets, rental car, hotel, video camera diving mask, top quality road map and tequila tour dinner and our cool Mexico getaway came out to 146,414 Membership Rewards points. Had we used our regular airline credit card frequent flier program it would have cost 229,600 miles—and that’s without the map, video camera mask and tequila-saturated dinner. Our only out-of-pocket costs were for one lunch, one dinner, parking, island ferry and whale shark tour.
|Item||Cost With Membership Rewards||Cost With Typical Airline Credit Card1|
|Plane ticket||Two Boston-Cancun round trip tickets||34,900 x 2 points2||70,000 x 2 points|
|Rental car||Compact car for one week from Cancun airport||11,820 points||33,500 points|
|Resort hotel||Premier pool view room at La Nubes de Holbox||47,578 points||56,100 points|
|Underwater video mask||Liquid Image Explorer Series 5.0MP3||9,900 points||not available|
|Road map||National Geographic Northern Yucatan map3||1,016 points||not available|
|$50 Open Table Card||Dinner and Tequila Tour at La Destileria||6,300 points||not available|
1 Costs can vary a bit from one airline card to another. We assumed travel with a large, recently merged airline based in the United States for the values in this chart.
2 Based on a ticket booked through American Express Travel on our specific travel dates. Membership Reward points required depend on the departure airport and specific dates of travel.
3 Purchased using Membership Rewards on Amazon.com.
Tips For Spending Your Membership Rewards Points
Pay With Points, available through American Express Travel, offers a huge array of point spending possibilities. With so many options, figuring out the best way to take advantage of the program can be a bit of complicated. Our rundown of some of what you can get using Membership Rewards.
There are three ways to purchase airline tickets using Membership Rewards:
Direct booking. Go to the American Express Pay With Points website and search for airfare exactly as you would at any other travel booking site. The points from your Membership Rewards account will automatically be deducted. There are absolutely no blackout dates or airline restrictions. Another huge advantage booking directly through AmEx: You’ll earn frequent flier miles on your trip!
Transfer Membership Rewards points to your airline frequent flier account. Flying from Saskatoon, Canada to Siem Reap, Cambodia? Booking on some routes (especially to/from small out-of-the-way airports) require fewer airline frequent flier miles than Membership Rewards points. For such cases, you can use your AmEx points to “buy” flier miles. That’s also a great option if you want to use up your frequent flier miles but don’t have enough for your trip.
Purchase airline certificates. American Express airline partners often offer special deals. If your travel plans are flexible you can stretch your Membership Reward Points far. Literally far. At the time of writing, for instance, South African Airways were offering a deal: 95,000 points for a certificate good for one round trip ticket from the USA all the way to Africa. Through the frequent flier program of South African Airways (or that of another Star Alliance carrier) the same trip would take require 130,000 frequent flier miles.
Hotels & car rentals
As with air tickets (above), you can directly book hotels and rental cars on the American Express travel website. Or you can convert your Membership Reward points to another loyalty program (eg. Starwood Hotel’s SPG) and make your reservation through them. We found it worth researching both options to see which is the most efficient for your purposes.
Cruises & vacation packages
Cruises include the offerings from the major cruise lines and also river cruises in Europe, Russia and Egypt.
For vacations, you can put together your own airline and hotel package. If your feeling adventurous you can use your points to pay for a Nextpedition custom made mystery trip.
American Express has a huge number of shopping partners, from Adams Golf to Zynga4, keen to exchange your Membership Rewards points for good and services. In addition to those, you can Pay With Points on anything sold through Amazon.
4 Zynga is a developer of social games for kids. We didn’t know who they were either.
Dining & entertainment
As is the case with shopping (above), American Express partners with a variety of dining and entertainment brands. Use points for movie tickets through AMC Theaters or Regal Cinema, concerts through Ticketmaster.com, entrance to SeaWorld or dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. And those are just some of the options.