Being a Kiwi in the Points earning game is no easy feat. We don’t have the mass of population for airlines or corporates to fight over our loyalty for, and with a less dynamic market, we end up missing out on a lot of the great offers available in other countries.
However, we do have the New Zealand American Express Membership Rewards Program, which at least gives us access to a number of alternative reward options beyond our home airlines.
I’ve been using the New Zealand American Express Membership Rewards Program since 2002, back when hardly anyone in New Zealand accepted American Express. It’s where I have focused most of my efforts in collecting points ever since, and is the one of the first banks rewards program I would advise anyone who wants to spend a little time understanding the value of ‘flexible points programs‘ to look at.
There are two cards available for earning points to the New Zealand American Express Membership Rewards Program – the Platinum Edge Credit Card and Platinum Charge Card.
These are distinctly different cards, but both have the ability to offer the smart user great value and often come with appealing sign-up offers for new customers.
The aim of this guide is to cover everything you might want to know about starting out with American Express Membership Rewards in New Zealand.
Why choose Membership Rewards?
With this guide, I’ll try to explain how the Membership Rewards Program works and how best to utilise the points earned for the most value.
These are some of the reasons points-collectors like the program:
- No points expiry as long as your Membership Rewards account with American Express is active
- Cards with different category-based earn rates, such as bonus points on travel or at supermarkets
- One of the highest earn rates for Air NZ Airpoints and Qantas points on domestic spend
- The ability to transfer to alternative Airlines points programs like Virgin Australia Velocity and Singapore Airlines
- The best way to earn Starwood Preferred Guest points, Hilton Hotel points from credit card spend in New Zealand
- The ability to accrue points in a way that allows you to look at the right program’s redemption opportunities for your future travel needs – you can defer the decision as to where to transfer your points until you want to use them.
The Membership Rewards Basics
American Express Membership Rewards points are collected from everyday spend using associated New Zealand American Express Credit/Charge Cards. Points can be used to redeem travel, gift cards, card statement credits, or transferred to numerous partner loyalty program.
The Membership Rewards Card Range
The American Express Platinum Edge
The Platinum Edge Credit Card is a value-oriented card and will help cardholders to earn maximum points for most people when utilised effectively. I personally have used the Platinum Edge for about four years and use it for my main card spend almost everywhere American Express is accepted.
It comes with a free domestic return flight with Air New Zealand – easily outweighing the value of the annual fee, even in renewal years after any initial signup bonus.
Along with the flight, you also receive free domestic and international travel insurance, and a few other American Express program perks which may or may not be worth looking at depending on your preferences.
The general earning ability of The Platinum Edge card is 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent, and earn rates are bumped up for ‘major supermarkets’ and fuel purchases – 3 Membership Rewards per $1 spent at Supermarkets, and 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 at Petrol Stations.
The beauty of the bonus points earned at Supermarkets is that it’s possible to purchase gift vouchers for many other retailers – the Platinum Edge can then open up triple points at places like The Warehouse, Mitre 10 Mega and a number of other mainstream stores in New Zealand.
The Platinum Edge is a great points-earner for many people. The 3:2:1 rate is excellent for the everyday card user – American Express is universally accepted in supermarkets and petrol stations so it makes sense to utilise the bonus earn rates on offer by having it in your wallet.
The American Express Platinum Charge Card
The Platinum Charge Card is for those with a high cost, high return strategy in the world of accruing points. The large signup bonus, $200 travel credit and complimentary night stay with Le Club Accor Hotels in New Zealand or Australia are great benefits.
Possibly of most value though is the complementary membership for you and a supplementary card holder to over 800 Priority Pass Airport Lounges worldwide including Auckland’s Emperor Lounge.
With the ability for a guest to accompany both main and supplementary cardholders into the Priority Lounges, a frequent flyer could likely cover the annual fee with these benefits alone.
The Charge is for those who want the large Membership Rewards sign up bonus, big spenders, and who are after the large list of ancillary benefits.
There’s are other benefits too, and while many people would get use of at least some of them, everyone needs to assess the value of this card versus the annual fee for themselves before considering it.
Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
This is where I see the most value in the New Zealand American Express Membership Rewards Program. There are 9 direct transfer partners from any Membership Rewards account – 7 international airlines and 2 hotel loyalty programs.
I have listed them below for your reference, including their current transfer rates so you can make some of your own calculations:
|Program Conversion Rates||Membership Rewards|
|Air New Zealand||175:1|
|Virgin Australia Velocity Points||2:1|
|Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles||2:1|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||2:1|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints||100:33|
|Hilton Honors Points||1:1|
Special Mention: Starwood Preferred Guest Program
Also worth highlighting is the opportunity to transfer Membership Rewards points to a large number of other airline award programs worldwide via transfers to the Starwood Preferred Guest Points Program.
I won’t be going into the details of Starwood in this guide, but in short Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the loyalty program for the Starwood portfolio of hotels, with brands like Sheraton and Westin. The fact that there are no SPG hotels in New Zealand anymore is not a problem for using this program to access other international airline loyalty programs, which are available by another transfer from SPG.
Starwood has 34 international airline transfer partners, most with a 1 Starpoint = 1 airline point/mile transfer rate, and a 25% bonus for transfers of blocks of 20,000 SPG points.
Given the 3:1 earn rate at supermarkets for the Platinum Edge, and effectively a 1:3 transfer rate for Membership Rewards to SPG, I know that any general grocery shopping I do will earn me around 1 Starpoint per dollar.
This is equal to one American Airlines AAdvantage mile, and the same for other international frequent flyer programs.
This is a good opportunity for savvy points-collectors, as these other programs points or miles can provide much better value redemptions than those of more local frequent flyer programs Qantas or Velocity Points, and much better value than our own Air New Zealand’s Airpoints program.
Add to this the fact that you can also purchase Starpoints points, often with a sale promotion and transfer points between accounts with the same address, there are many uses to be explored.
Membership Rewards vs Air New Zealand Airpoints or Qantas Frequent Flyer direct earn cards
There are a number of Air NZ Airpoints direct earn credit cards out there in the New Zealand market along with a Qantas direct earn option. These may be fine for those who are loyal to a single airline. I, however, value the opportunity to keep my options open with the use of Membership Rewards cards.
When factoring in spending habits and ultimate value of points, it’s likely that Membership Rewards points would also be a far better choice for those with more flexible rewards in mind than just Air New Zealand or Qantas – if a premium hotel reward, rather than airline experience sounds more your thing, then a Membership Rewards card could be a great place to start.
Membership Rewards and some transfer partners also occasionally run transfer bonuses of 15%-20%, timing transfers to take advantage of these offers add the benefit of increasing the value of your points in the process.
Ultimately, I suggest you look at your own particular travel and spending habits – if you like to try out different airlines and fares to suit your needs, or just don’t fly much at all, then a more flexible card reward scheme may do the trick.
Having the avenue to transfer points over to a number of International Airline programs when an enticing redemption opportunity comes along really puts the power back in your hands. And for the Kiwi traveller who has long been left out in the cold, that’s a great feeling.
Acceptance of American Express by New Zealand Retailers
For those who are wary about limited acceptable of American Express, I agree American Express in New Zealand (much like Australia and the US) is not accepted by all merchants.
Some retailers may charge an additional fee, and as such, any savvy points-earners would have both an American Express card plus a Mastercard or Visa to use on occasions when American Express is not accepted.
Personally having an American Express card for nearly 15 years, I have witnessed the change in availability for it’s use within the New Zealand retail sector.
Are we able to use American Express everywhere? No. But given many of my points come from Supermarket and Gas Station spend, and all of these accept American Express, then using my American Express for points earn from other retailers who also accept the card is a bonus.
Conclusion: Is Membership Rewards for me?
The flexibility to store points earned from everyday spending, then being able to transfer to a number of partners when a great value redemption opportunity arises, unlocks the power of the New Zealand American Express Membership Rewards Program compared to other options out there.
Playing the points game, particularly in New Zealand, requires considerable patience and access to as much relevant information as you can find to maximise your points earn. But in turn this can provide access to great rewards at a fraction of their cash value.
Flexibility is really important to access these rewards, and with NZ Membership Rewards partnering with Air NZ Airpoints, Qantas Frequent Flyer, Virgin Australia Velocity, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (and more), there’s coverage of most major Alliances and domestic/trans-tasman operations too.
The ability to transfer points to the Starwood Preferred Guest Program is easily my favourite of these partner options.
All up, American Express Membership Rewards is a very useful credit card rewards program, and deserves serious consideration.
A comment on NZ Membership Rewards vs Membership Rewards programs overseas
For those who are informed on both the Australia and NZ loyalty program markets, it’s a fact that the New Zealand Membership Reward Program partner transfer rates are significantly lower than those for the Australian program.
The reason for that is not clear, but the purpose of this guide is not to provide a comparison of New Zealand Membership Rewards vs it’s overseas namesakes as most NZ residents won’t have access to overseas cards or rewards programs.
By comparison in the NZ market, Membership Rewards is a rewards program worth knowing about with a range of unique transfer partners. While it’s unlikely, we remain hopeful that at some point American Express will improve the points transfer rates to be more comparable to those seen overseas (it has happened with a couple of programs before).
If you have any comments, or specific feedback on Membership Rewards in New Zealand that you’d like Amex to see, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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