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The Rebuttal to My Own Post on Criticizing American Express

Few months ago I published a post What Amex Needs to Do NOW in Order to Stop Playing Second Fiddle to Chase It generated a lively discussion in the comments section. Most people agreed with me, but few came to Amex defense. To the latter group, this post is for you!

The truth is, Amex is actually doing a lot of things right. No, you won’t convince me that Membership Rewards program is nearly as strong as Chase Ultimate Rewards. It just isn’t, sorry. Sure, there is a plethora of partners, but who cares about AeroMexico and El Al airline programs? Chase has all the good ones, or at least the ones people are interested in. Not to mention, the Hyatt 1:1 transfer option. See my detailed comparison between MR and UR programs here

Still, there are areas where Amex is far superior to Chase.This is especially true for middle-class families who like to constantly switch credit cards (aka people like me). Few areas where Amex shines:

1) It has cards like Amex Everyday and Blue Business Plus

The latter is a really great option for those with business expenses because you earn 2 points per dollar on everything, on up to $50k per year. My sister-in-law asked me what card she should get for her accounting firm, and this is actually the product I recommended.

It’s simple, straightforward and best of all, there is no annual fee. The card earns real transferrable Membership Rewards points. Granted, she got a targeted offer of 20k points, while my affiliate link gives nothing. So, you may want to wait and see if that offer comes back before using up your valuable credit pull.

Amex Everyday isn’t nearly as lucrative, but it serves one important purpose. If someone has a big stash of MR points, this personal card will keep them safe even if you choose to cancel another MR-earning product.  This is very important because with Chase you are stuck with paying either $95 or $450 for a premium card.

Neither option is ideal for someone who hates annual fees (which all of us should!) The affiliate link on this card comes with 10,000 points, but some have gotten higher targeted offers. (Heads up! Some folks have been able to pull up a link for 100k points after spending $3k in 3 months on Amex Platinum card via CardMatch tool. This is a very good deal and I definitely recommend you consider applying. I’m not allowed to include an affiliate link for CardMatch tool (I think?), but you can easily find it on my site.)

Recently, Amex has introduced some strong language indicating that they can basically confiscate your MR points for any reason. Obviously, this is worrisome. That being said, I seriously doubt that normal consumers will be affected. I think they are primarily going after MS crowd and those who abuse various loopholes. Sure, applying for one or two new Amex credit cards per year may attract unwanted attention, but I really doubt it. Of course, I can’t guarantee anything, so use your own judgement.

To sum all of this  up: if you have very little non-bonus spending, hate paying  annual fees, and want to have transferrable currency on hand, Amex MR program is worth looking into. I love UR points, but to me $95 fee each year (at the minimum) simply kills the deal.

2) Transfer bonuses 

This is the biggest strength of MR program. Chase is yet to run any specials on transfers. Amex has been on a roll lately: 30% bonus on Virgin Atlantic and 25% bonus on transfers to Jet Blue (both end today!)

When it comes to Jet Blue, some will say that normal transfer ratio is somewhat poor at 250=200, so the bonus is no big deal. And that’s true to an extent. But if you are fairly certain that you will fly on Jet Blue in a near future, then 1:1 ratio is pretty good.

I actually just transferred 2,250 MR points to my husband’s Jet Blue account. Why? We will be flush with Jet Blue currency pretty soon, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to dump this small stash there while the ratio is 1:1. Who knows, someday it may give us just enough points for a specific award.

Considering the fact that you can get around 1.5 cents per point, it’s a respectable return on your MR currency. Plus, don’t forget, there is no annual fee to worry about. Well, for those of you who hold the cards I’ve mentioned in my previous point.

3) Access to Delta and Jet Blue programs

If you happen to live near a hub of either one and usually fly domestic coach, MR is your guy (or gal, depending on who you ask). Some Delta economy flights run at 5,000 miles one-way, and Jet Blue can be dirt cheap as well.

If you are after business/first class redemptions, then comparison between UR and MR programs is probably a wash without taking bonus on transfers into consideration. Though some have been able to get a great deal on Mint (Jet Blue business class) via points. It always pays to check because you may be pleasantly surprised.

I do love the fact that Chase UR program partners with Hyatt and Southwest. But let’s face it, there are many ways to save on lodging, not so much when it comes to direct flights. Unless you are a hardcore Hyatt fan, the best value usually lies in mileage transfers. I like Hyatt, but I don’t have to stay in a Hyatt.

Ditto for Southwest. If you don’t live near an airport served by that airline or if they don’t offer direct flights to where you want to go, this option has very little value for you. Once again, YMMV

4) Amex “Offers for you” program

Though not quite as lucrative as it once was, it can still be profitable. Read my post Hacking our Way to a Heart Attack: an Ode to American Express 

If my husband ends up having a heart attack before he turns fifty, I’m SO suing American Express for dangling all those dining discounts in front of us!

Essentially, your no-fee Amex cards can become moneymakers or even pointmakers. When you have an MR-earning product, you will often get access to deals that give out bonus MR points. Some of them can be really good, like last year’s offer on spending $10 at Panera Bread and getting 500 Membership Rewards. Just make sure your spouse likes the restaurant!

It’s important to note that Chase has recently introduced a similar program, though only on Marriott cards (for now).

5) Amex Business Platinum OPEN card can be a great deal under the right circumstances

While I consider the rewards structure to be somewhat convoluted, there is no denying that there is value to be had if you play your cards right. Here are unique features you can’t get anywhere else:

  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That’s 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
  • You can also receive 35% points back on all First and Business class flights, with all airlines available through American Express Travel.

For someone who can  take advantage of all of these features, this card can be a decent deal. Yes, there are restrictions, but still. If you can purchase $200 in airline gift cards and get reimbursed, the fee becomes a somewhat reasonable (for some) $250 per year.

One of my readers said: “My doctor and lawyer friends who have the Amex Platinum do so for the perks.” And it makes sense. Centurion lounge access and other benefits can pay off big time for those who have the money and patience to maximize them. Do you like elite hotel status? You can get Gold tier with SPG, Marriott and Hilton just by holding this card (as well as personal version).

Sure, this is probably NOT the card to hang on to if you are a regular family. But some business owners or frequent business travelers can probably do OK with it. It is meant for high spenders, no doubt about it, and some do fall in that category.

Bottom line

I still stand by my original post. I think Amex needs to implement some changes ASAP, especially when it comes to their premium products. Simple is best, and those cards are anything but simple. That said, it would be a mistake to ignore what Amex is doing right.

Having two no-fee credit cards that earn transferrable points is a major plus. I’ve also noticed that more and more small businesses are starting to accept American Express, a huge improvement. All the other things I’ve mentioned are just the icing on the cake.

Readers, are you a UR or MR guy/gal?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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19 thoughts on “The Rebuttal to My Own Post on Criticizing American Express

  1. For my present needs, MR doesn’t do much for me and Chase wins. We do stick to Southwest for our family, though I know that might change later depending on destination. I am just getting better points earnings and redemptions via Chase right now. I do have the SPG, and my offers have been not great.

    I plan to renew SPG until the merger and credit card situation is finalized.

    I will say, I was impressed with AmEx and their maternity leave policy. That made me want to be a long term customer. I would like to stick with them in some form, be in the SPG or another card.

    • @Kacie I think Chase UR program wins for most families. Southwest is the primary reason, for sure. The combo of Chase Freedom+Freedom Unlimited +premium Chase card is tough to beat. My biggest issue is the annual fee, though travel and primary car insurance mitigate it somewhat. I’m super cheap when it comes to annual fees, plus, I use my everyday spending on new sign-up offers. I do like MR program, mostly for its Jet Blue partnership.

  2. In my opinion, Amex MR is *definitely* the better program for premium cabin redemption, except for the Korean sweet spots. With partners like ANA, Asia Miles, and Air Canada, you have better options on the whole now that United devalued and killed their previously amazing routing rules.

    The only thing United has going for it now is the complete lack of fuel surcharges. So you’re kinda at an impasse if you’re looking to fly premium cabin but don’t want to shell out a little cash. Aeroplan comes the closest with options like 55,000 miles to Europe 1 flying SWISS or Turkish, both sans YQ. This handily beats United’s 70,000 mile price.

    But then ANA creams them both at 88,000 miles *round-trip* (plus YQ) for business to Europe. Or 95,000 miles round-trip in business to Asia (plus like $200, which is pretty reasonable).

    I also wrote a tome on Asia Miles for Points with a Crew. It’s a fantastic program. Like most foreign programs, though, it takes a while to learn the ropes.

    • @Snyderman I actually think you do have a point. I’m not into premium redemptions all that much, and fuel surcharges can be insane on some routes. But yes, Aeroplan, Asia Miles and ANA can be a very good deal. I was actually thinking about using my MR points (before Amex confiscated them, LOL) on business class for my parents via ANA
      I said the same thing you did. Even with fuel surcharges, it’s a better option than United program. Plus, transfer bonuses like current one on Virgin Atlantic can sweeten the deal further. A good example is that first-class ANA award redemption to Japan. It just depends on how you intend to use your points. I mostly focus on economy awards, so IMO Chase UR program wins (for most families).

      • I definitely agree with Chase UR being better for most families, and I steer most people toward UR if they’re new. Almost everything about the program is easier. Having a couple good airline partners *and* a great hotel partner is wonderful.

        After figuring out some of the MR partners a year ago, though, I entered a whole new world of possibilities for premium cabin, which put them a step above MR in my mind (for this type of redemption).

        Have I yet to take advantage of any killer MR redemption? That’d be a no. But hopefully someday soon. 🙂

  3. I totally agree with you! I just got the Blue Biz Plus for all of my business spending for the hassle-free 2x points earning. I keep the Reserve for travel (AIRBNB, hotels, dining) because overseas establishments dont seem to accept AMEX and AMEX bonus spends (like on dining and groceries) only apply within the US. AMEX has been really awesome with spending offers for my premium cards, but I am def. paranoid about their policy about points (went thru a 6month ordeal getting 50k points back)… but I will probably keep two or so to maintain a good relationship.

    • @ Army @ ClimberMonkeysAbroad Blue Biz Plus is a really great card, no argument from me. Amex nailed that one. It’s simple and most people won’t spend more than $50k per year. I really hope they keep the rewards structure intact. It beats 2% cash back card as long as you are even remotely interested in mileage redemptions.

  4. I agree with this. Just cancelled my personal platinum but gladly paid my CSR annual fee. I have the freedom, freedom unlimited and csr. Pretty happy with chase although i just dumped all my MR into jetblue like you did.

    • @Natasha I think if you fly a few times per year, renewing CSR can make a lot of sense. As far as Jet Blue transfer goes, like you, I figured might as well. The 2,250 MR points won’t be of much use to me. The other option was Plenti, as in getting $20 to spend in Winn Dixie in exchange for 2,000 points. I can live without $20, and those Jet Blue points may really come in handy someday.

  5. We’re a CSR family, and it works well with all of our travel plans. So far, we have been able to utilitze the transfer partners, but it’s nice to have the option of using their travel portal. I really could kick myself for lagging on the Biz Blue Plus, but I just had too much on my plate as far as meeting min spends this year. Oh well, I’ll keep waiting on that one.

    We currently have the SPG Amex, and hoping to one day add Platinum to our collection (as we really like having access to Delta flights).

  6. I love Chase UR program. Easier. (And considering keeping it). AmEx MR seems to have value, but based on my experience, you need to work a lot harder for it (definitely not keeping).

    Leana, you commented that if you have a big stash of MR points you can keep them safe with AmEx Blue –
    with no annual fee, but at Chase you are stuck paying an annual fee for a premium card.

    But when you downgrade the CSR or CSP to one of the other products (Sapphire, Freedom, or Unlimited) you can keep your UR points without an annual fee right? They are just worth less in the portal, right?

    Am I missing something here? Just checking! 🙂

    • @Talchinski UR program is overall easier, that’s true. The UR portal is just more user-friendly and intuitive. As far as downgrading to Sapphire, Freedom, or Unlimited: those cards won’t let you transfer points to airline or hotel partners. You also don’t get an uplift on your points towards travel, the way you do with Ink Preferred, CSP and CSR. There is a possibility to upgrade to those products, but it may not go through instantly. So, it’s not an ideal situation for those who need airline miles for a specific redemption due to an emergency.
      With MR program you won’t have that issue.

      • Ahhhhh! I’m glad I asked! How did I not know that!? I knew that the redemption rate was lower through portal but didn’t realize the transferring to partners didn’t happen. I have recently downgraded two CSPs and the customer service people didn’t even mention that fact as a reason to keep (maybe because of the CSRs that we have and they’ve decided no one needs both cards!). If you have Ink you can pool points and transfer to partners though…?

    • Yeah, if you have CSR, no need to have CSP open also. Most benefits overlap. Ink Business Preferred and Ink Plus (no longer available) will let you transfer to partners, yes. No-fee Ink will not. Either way, you are stuck with $95 fee, unless you want to gamble on the fact that you can upgrade to premium card when need arises.

  7. I prefer MR currently, though I was into UR previously. Our family of five is simply unable to travel anywhere far and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there due to some challenges. In the meantime, I’m very into Amex Biz Plus and Schwab Plat combo for cash. 2.5% everywhere plus Amex offers!!

    • @David T I hope your challenges will get resolved soon! But yeah, for many families it’s just not that easy to travel. I think many of us in the blogging community forget that at times. I really need to mention that combo of Amex Biz Plus and Schwab Platinum to readers. I will put together a post on this topic at some point.

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