Money at 30: Making My First American Express Points Redemption

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Money at 30: Making My First American Express Points Redemption

Shockingly, it’s now been nearly two years since I opened my American Express Platinum card. Getting this card was a big deal for me as it was not only my first time getting a card with an annual fee (and a hefty one at that) but also marked my first foray into dealing with point currencies — in other words, managing rewards that had a flexible value as opposed to just straight cashback. Whether due to my novice status or just a lack of appealing options, I hadn’t actually used any of the Membership Rewards points that my Platinum and, later, Gold card earned… until last week.

So what led to my inaugural redemption, what was the entire process like, and did I get a good deal? Let’s dive into those details and more:

Making My First Membership Rewards Redemption via Transfer Partners

What led to my redemption plan

This whole thing started when I realized that I still need a room in Austin for this year’s FinCon. While naive me figured this would be easy enough, I soon learned that my procrastination meant that rooms in the discounted block had seemingly sold out. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the going rate for my stay came out to around $300 per night. With taxes factored in, the final total was going to come in just shy of $2,000 depending on what booking option I used. Ouch.

That’s when it occurred to me that perhaps I could tap my Amex Membership Rewards points to book the room instead. The only problem there was that I didn’t want to completely decimate my bank of points to comp what is, at the end of the day, a business trip. So, it was back to square one.

Before I had a chance to start exploring other, nearby but not as convenient lodging options, I got an email from Hilton alerting me to a sale they were having on Hilton Honors points. As it turns out, with this limited-time deal, you could buy up to 80,000 points and earn a bonus equal to the number of points you purchase. In other words, 80,000 points purchased instantly became 160,000. Curious, I decided to see just how much this would cost. The answer? $800. Although my initial reaction was a bit of sticker shock, I soon realized that this might actually not be so bad if it got me at least in range to what I’d need for my Austin room.

With that, the next step was to see how many points it would take to book the room for the nights I needed. As I learned, it would be 60,000 points a night — meaning that, even with the 160,000 points, I thought I’d only be about half of the way to where I needed to be. However, I then noticed one of the Hilton Honors perks is that, if you book a room entirely with points, the fifth night is free. So, since I was planning to stay five nights, the total would “only” be 240,000 points instead of 300,000. I was getting closer.

Finally, armed with this info, I decided to do some math. If I bought 160,000 points and added those to the approximately 40,000 Hilton Honors points I had already banked, I’d only need another 40,000 to complete my purchases thanks to that “fifth night free” perk. That’s where American Express comes in.

Transferring my Membership Rewards points

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t remember what the transfer rate was for American Express Membership Rewards points being converted to Hilton Honors points. As it turns out, it’s 2:1, meaning that you’ll get 2 Hilton Honors points for every 1 Amex point. Thus, to make up the other 40,000 points I needed for my room, I’d have to transfer 20,000 Membership Rewards points. More accurately, since I actually had 42,000 Hilton points saved up, I’d be tapping 19,000 MR points to top off my Hilton Honors.

After nervously buying my Hilton points and seeing those points post immediately, it was time to make my first points transfer. Luckily, this was pretty easy to do as the Amex site made it very clear how many Amex points I’d be spending and how many Hilton points I’d be getting. But, before I go to that point, I had to link my Honors account. This was as simple as selecting and verifying my Amex card and then entering my Honors account number.

Once I had linked my Hilton Honors and looked over my proposed transfer half a dozen more times, I clicked “confirm.” Sure enough, right after I got the confirmation page, I refreshed my Hilton account and saw that the points had already been applied. From there, all I had to do was select my room, confirm my details, and — 240,000 points later — I had booked my first points redemption!

Process annoyances and concerns

While the process of this redemption was pretty easy overall, I did run into a couple of minor issues. Specifically, they were on the Hilton end of things. In particular, I didn’t appreciate that I couldn’t fully “price out” my stay until the points were already in my account. This is to say that, although I trusted that the fifth night free would mean that the total points needed was 240,000, I couldn’t confirm this since Hilton would see my point balance and quote me a mixed “points and cash” rate instead. Because of this, I was horrified that this entire cockamamie scheme would fall apart. Thankfully, it didn’t.

To reiterate, everything went swimmingly on Amex’s end so it hardly seems fair to drag them into this… but I feel I need to mention it.

Was this a good redemption?

Now for the million-dollar question: was this a good use of my points? Surely this will depend on who you ask. But, for me, I’ll say I was quite pleased with what I paid and the value I got.

Instead of paying between $1,700 and $2,000 for my five-night stay, I paid $800 in cash plus 42,000 earned Hilton Honors points and 19,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. While I’m failing at properly calculating how much per point in value that works out to, what I can tell you is that I avoided a $2,000 hotel stay by spending just $800, using points I had no other plans for, and topping those off with a reasonable number of points from my still-over-200k points balance. Put another way, the Amex points I used amounted to just one-third of the welcome bonus I got from my Gold card. Therefore, I feel this was a great way to dip my toes into the point pool — and I’m relieved to now have my FinCon hotel room.

Final Thoughts on My First American Express Membership Rewards Points Redemption

Despite my first redemption being a relatively small one, I’m pretty thrilled with the results. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how different promotions and perks could be combined to create the best possible scenario for me. In this case, Hilton’s points sale and their ongoing “fifth-night free” promotion did the heavy lifting, allowing my Amex points to swoop in at the end and save the day.

Of course, as well as I feel that my experience went, I do want to advise that other potential point redeemers do their research and run the numbers before making their final decision. For example, while viewing Hilton properties, I was surprised to see that some rooms that were far less expensive when it came to cash cost the same number of points per night as my room. And, once again, the value I got from my redemption would have been greatly altered if I weren’t able to take advantage of the fifth-night promo.

With one Amex transfer partner redemption under my belt, I’m definitely excited about exploring future possibilities — and, when those happen, you can expect to hear all about them.

Author

Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at https://moneyat30.com/

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Annual fees can be pricey but with a little creativity and mix and matching, you’ll surely get your annual fee’s worth and even more.

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