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.
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?
Leana is the 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.