American Express Travel Related Services Co. is broadening its Membership Miles relationship with five major hotel chains.
Beginning in July, cardmembers will be able to transfer their miles into the frequent guest programs of the participating hotels, American Express announced.
The hotels are Marriott hotels, resorts, and suites; ITT Sheraton hotels, inns, resorts, and casino.s; Hilton Hotels Corp.; and Westin Hotels and Resorts.
Beginning in October, members will be able to use their miles at any of the Stouffer/Renaissance hotels and resorts.
Previously, these hotel chains allowed cardholders to redeem their miles for free stays at only some of their hotels.
With the new partnership, all hotels in the five chains will be eligible.
American Express customers will also be permitted to enter the hotels' proprietary frequency programs, which offer a variety of amenities and additional benefits beyond a free room.
For example, the Marriott Honored Geest Awards program offers upgraded services, such as a 10% gift shop discount and the opportunity to earn points that can be redeemed with Marriott's partners, which include five airlines and a rental car agency.
Stanley J. Dale, editor and publisher of Mileage & Points, a newsletter based in Phoenix, Ariz., said that the decision to add hotel partners to Membership Miles was necessary because "American Express needed to strengthen its competitive position."
Citicorp's Diners Club charge card competes directly with Membership Miles because it targets the travel market, and it allows cardholders to accrue points that can be transferred to several frequency programs.
While American Express is more widely accepted than Diners Club, Mr. Dale said the Citicorp card was better "because it had more partners [and therefore] offered more flexibility."
Before the hotel partnership was formed, Membership Miles could be transferred to only six airlines' frequent-flier programs, including Delta, USAir, and Continental. In addition, American Express negotiated deals for its miles with some cruise companies.
Membership Miles, launched in 1991, is available to all American Express cardholders in the United States for a $25 fee, which is waived for the first year. Only platinum cardholders do not have to pay the fee.
Cardmembers earn one program mile for every dollar charged on an American Express card. Once $5,000 in combined spending on all enrolled cards is reached, cardholders can transfer their miles to any of the participating partner programs.