Membership Rewards Ending ‘Points Advance’ Benefit on June 30

I received an email from American Express Membership Rewards yesterday titled, An Important Update About The Membership Rewards Program. Eek. An important update.

When I opened the email the graphic said, “A Quick Update” and the email simply read,

We are writing to let you know that the most recent version of our Terms and Conditions is available online.

You can also learn more about the Membership Rewards program, including how to get and use points, at membershiprewards.com/abouttheprogram.

I figured they’d changed something in the program terms, the subject line was alarming, but scrolling through I’ve found only one thing that’s obviously different than what I had understood before: that the “points advance” feature of American Express Membership Rewards cards is “Available until June 30, 2013.”

American Express lets you borrow points beyond those you’ve earned in your account. This feature used to be automatic and accessible on the Membership Rewards website (you could just transfer more points than you had to a frequent flyer program, and the website would take care of the rest). Now you have to call if you want to access a points advance. But it’s a useful feature of the program.

Depending on the card you have you can borrow 5,000, 15,000, or 60,000 points.

The generally lower-end cards have a 5000 point cap, common mid-tier cards like Premier Rewards Gold and Business Gold Rewards are capped at 15,000, and the Platinum and Centurion cards allow advances of 60,000 points.

When you borrow points you have 12 months to earn those points back. Any points not earned back within a year are supposed to be charged at the points purchase rate of 2.5 cents apiece.

The ability to borrow (rather than outright buy) points was a useful feature, though not one I’ve personally taken advantage of. I don’t see the harm since American Express would bill cardmembers who didn’t earn the points back. Perhaps they saw risk of putting out the expense for redemptions and not being able to collect from cardmembers who cancelled their cards.

Regardless, it’s sad to see flexible options like this one disappearing.

Separately I also see that the option to purchase points is limited to 500,000 in a year for most cards. Somehow I didn’t realize there was a limit so it’s possible this is new but more likely that I had viewed buying 500,000 points at 2.5 cents apiece as akin to unlimited. And even if new it’s not a significant restriction.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is a real bummer. I like to use the point advance when MR rewards run the bonus promos on Avios and recently on Hilton’s Landpesos. It’s a great option when your short on points or if you need to top off an account for an award.

  2. I would rather buy the points in advance to top off an award. $25 for 1000 points is better than spending $1000 for 1000 points.

  3. @oneeyejack: But you’re really not spending $1000 for 1000 points, your spending $1000 on whatever you are purchasing and getting the points for it. You actually save $25.

  4. This is terrible! I do this on a regular basis and never worry about how many points I actually have in MR. With the Platinum card, I can borrow 60k a year. At least we all have 3 months.

    With Hilton categories going up, Marriott categories going up and now this, so much strategizing to do!

  5. Thanks for the heads up! I hadn’t seen the notification yet that this was going away. I have yet to take advantage of the points advance, but it was nice to know that it was there at 60k for me.

  6. Thank you ever so much for your timely post. I received the email last night and hadn’t looked into it yet.

  7. Must be why I dumped going AMEX Platinum for going CITI Prestige. The value of the AMEX brand is going the way of the Skypeso.

  8. bummer, I use the points advance feature regularly. As for the 500k limit, it was there about a month back when I looked into it.

  9. Now if only they’d go on and offer a transfer bonus to DL Skymiles before the end of June… I’d love to maximize the borrow benefit to get to a nice round transfer #.

  10. Just used points advance today on a brand new account first 2 agent’s said need to have the card for 6 months in order to use this feature called again and got a really nice agent who helped me and said the system will only advance the points if I have at-least 1 point in the account she was kind enough to add 100 points as a gesture and than advanced the points I was amazed with the customer service received by this agent sad to see this option will soon go away, as per the 500,000 limit its was always there

  11. @AlohaDaveKennedy – What advantage does the Citi Prestige offer? Lounge perks don’t seem so hot, and aren’t Citi Thank You points less valuable than Membership Rewards?

  12. Tried to transfer points to miles more than I had and it just kicked it back and said I didn’t have enough.

  13. Got the email yesterday and read it for a few minutes but couldn’t discern the actual changes buried in the fine print. Thanks for spelling out the change. Why is it that companies feel the need to try to fool us rather than spelling out how they are fleecing us.

  14. @Gary – you wrote “Now you have to call if you want to access a points advance.” I read T&C and didn’t notice any reference to calling (as opposed to initiating it online) to exercise this feature. Where did you find it?

  15. I also noticed in the section, “Getting Points”, the following transactions aren’t eligible purchases and you won’t earn points for them: “Purchases and loads of reloadable prepaid cards”. Is this new language? Does this exclude VR?

  16. Miles:

    $200 airline spend per calendar year (think $400)
    International companion pass (value at least $400)
    Domestic lounges are so-so, but I’m doing Aegean for domestic and Prestige for International)
    $100 Global entry
    30k TYR for $2k spend (value at least 300), more for higher level
    I make a decent 300%+ RoI on my $350 annual fee) without the risk of The Spanish Inquisition and have a balanced portfolio of TYRs, MRs, URs and FlexPerks.

    Miles said,

    @AlohaDaveKennedy – What advantage does the Citi Prestige offer? Lounge perks don’t seem so hot, and aren’t Citi Thank You points less valuable than Membership Rewards?

  17. Just called MR via the AMEX Platinum line – alarming as they would not give the advance over the phone unless it’s in connection with a specific redemption you are requesting. Did confirm that the option to obtain an advance is no longer available online.

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