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If you’re serious about earning travel rewards, then you need to focus on one of the flexible travel rewards programs offered by several of the major credit card companies. Two of the most popular programs are American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no one program that’s right for everyone.

Let’s take a closer look at these programs and see which one might be best for your needs.

American Express Membership Rewards for Travelers

American Express’s Membership Rewards program is older than Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, but it’s changed a lot to stay competitive. It currently allows you to transfer your points to miles with 19 different frequent flyer programs including Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Delta, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Qantas, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic. You can also transfer your rewards to points with Marriott, Hilton, and Choice hotels.

RelatedChase Sapphire Preferred or United Explorer Card: Which Should United Flyers Get?

One of the strengths of the Membership Rewards program is that American Express offers regular transfer bonuses that can allow you to receive more than one frequent flyer mile per point redeemed. Another strength is its credit cards that offer you plenty of Membership Rewards points for your spending. For example, the American Express® Gold Card offers you an amazing 4x points on up to $25,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets, and 4x points at restaurants worldwide.  For small business owners, the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express features 2x points on your first $50,000 spent each year (then 1X). And the famous Platinum Card® from American Express offers you 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

Weaknesses include a lack of strong domestic airline transfer partners and the fact that you only get a minimal one cent per point when redeeming your points for most travel reservations. Exceptions include getting 35% of your points back when you use your Business Platinum® Card from American Express to book flights from a qualifying airline, and 25% of your points back when you use your American Express® Business Gold Card to do the same.

Chase Ultimate Rewards for Travelers

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program currently offers ten airline and three hotel partners including United, Southwest, British Airways, Hyatt, Singapore, and Air France/KLM. While this is fewer airline partners than American Express, they represent several unique options including United, Southwest, and Hyatt that aren't transfer partners of any other programs.

Related: The American Express Rewards Cards Every Traveler Needs

Another advantage is that many Chase cards earn Ultimate Rewards points. Most people start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card which allows you to transfer your rewards to airline and hotel partners, or redeem them for 1.25 cents each towards travel reservations reservations through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Other options include the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. And there are still other cards marketed as cash back Chase products, such as the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Business Cash Credit Card, and Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card that actually offer Ultimate Rewards points that you can combine with your other accounts. You can think of these cards as being part of a ‘Chase Ecosystem’ that allows you to earn Ultimate Rewards points in many ways.

Amex vs. Chase: Which Card Is Right for You?

These are both very valuable programs, and you don’t even have to pick between them. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each, you can decide to pick one, the other, or both of them for your award travel needs.


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