May 18, 2022
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In this post I wanted to recap my favorite way of earning Amex Membership Rewards points that doesn’t involve credit cards. I’m talking about the ability to earn Amex points for online shopping through Rakuten, and that’s also why Rakuten is my favorite online shopping portal.

What is Rakuten?

Online shopping portals can be a great way to pick up additional miles & points for purchases you’d make anyway. Just for following a specific link you can earn bonus points or cash back in addition to the rewards you’d earn for credit card spending.

Whenever I make an online purchase I always check to see which shopping portal has the best bonus. Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates) is one of the largest online shopping portals, and also my absolute favorite, both thanks to the great interface it offers, and more importantly thanks to the ability to earn Amex Membership Rewards points, which offers disproportionate value. In this post I wanted to take a closer look at how that works.

In 2019, Rakuten introduced the ability to earn Amex Membership Rewards points in lieu of cash back for online shopping. This feature is available to anyone who has an Amex card that earns Membership Rewards points.

This isn’t just great because some of us would rather save up toward our next travel adventure rather than get cash, but it’s also great because of how it offers outsized value. While there are some airline-specific shopping portals, being able to earn a transferable points currency for online shopping gives you so much more flexibility.

Redeem Amex points for Lufthansa first class

Should you earn Amex points with Rakuten?

With Rakuten you can earn one Amex Membership Rewards point in lieu of one cent cash back. In other words, if a retailer is offering 10% cash back, you’d instead earn 10 Membership Rewards points per dollar, which is incredible.

Personally I value Membership Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, so to me that increases the value of the rewards by 70%, since I can get a lot more value with one Amex point than with one cent.

How should you decide whether you’re better off earning cash back or Amex points?

  • If you’re good at redeeming points, and/or would like to save up for a travel adventure that involves travel in first & business class, this is the best option
  • Meanwhile if you aren’t good about redeeming points and just want to earn cash back that you can spend however you’d like, then the cash back option is better

Just to give an example, you could transfer 60,000 Amex points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Blue, and then redeem for a one-way first class ticket on All Nippon Airways from New York to Tokyo (there are still travel restrictions in place with Japan, but this is intended to illustrate the potential value).

Given that your opportunity cost is one cent per Amex point, that’s like “paying” $600 for such a ticket, when it would cost more than 10x as much if paying cash.

Redeem Amex points for All Nippon Airways first class

How to register to earn Amex points with Rakuten

How do you actually register to earn Amex Membership Rewards points rather than cash back through Rakuten? First of all you’ll want to sign-up for a Rakuten account, and you’ll want to do that through a refer-a-friend link, so that you get a bonus for your first purchase.

Once you have an account, the process of converting your account to earning Amex points rather than cash back is easy. Log into your account, and click on the “Account Settings” section.

You’ll then see a section asking how you want to be paid, and select the third option, which is “American Express.”

You’ll then get to a screen confirming this is what you want to do.

You’ll then be asked to log into the Amex account with which you want to earn Membership Rewards points (this has to be a US account that is enrolled to earn Membership Rewards points).

And that’s it! You should then see that your account reflects that you’re earning Amex points.

Going forward, you should see that the rewards section of your account shows your earnings totals both in terms of cash back and Amex points.

There are a few things to note about earning Amex Membership Rewards points through Rakuten:

  • Even after making the switch with your earnings preference, the rewards you see with retailers will continue to show cash back, but will automatically be converted into points
  • Existing rewards earned won’t be converted into Amex points, but rather this preference will just be applied to purchases going forward
  • You don’t actually have to pay with an Amex card in order to earn Amex points through Rakuten; you can pay with any credit card
Redeem Amex points for JetBlue Mint

How often do you get “paid” with Rakuten?

If you make a purchase through Rakuten you should see it show in your Rakuten account within hours. However, you only get “paid” (whether in cash or points) once every three months. Assuming you have a balance of at least $5 (or 500 Membership Rewards points) you’ll get paid as follows:

  • For activity between January 1 and March 31, get paid on May 15
  • For activity between April 1 and June 30, get paid on August 15
  • For activity between July 1 and September 30, get paid on November 15
  • For activity between October 1 and December 31, get paid on February 15

Rakuten’s refer-a-friend program

If you’re new to Rakuten, make sure you sign-up through a refer-a-friend link, so that you can earn a reward for your first activity. Rakuten is currently offering a best-ever $40 bonus for new members, where you receive that reward if you make a purchase of at least $40. That’s a way to basically get $40 worth of stuff for free, as you can even purchase gift cards.

See this post for everything you need to know about the Rakuten refer-a-friend program.

Redeem Amex points for SWISS business class

Bottom line

Rakuten is my favorite online shopping portal thanks in large part of the ability to earn Amex Membership Rewards points in lieu of cash back for online purchases. Given the conversion rate, by my valuation this increases the value of rewards by around 70%.

If you’re into earning travel rewards, make sure you’re using Rakuten to get as much value as possible. If you’re not yet a Rakuten member, make sure you sign-up through a refer-a-friend link, so you can earn the biggest bonus possible.

Anyone else love Rakuten for the ability to earn Amex points?

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