In part 2 of my “What’s in my wallet?” series I will discuss American Express. Amex, like Chase, has a wide variety of useful cards for travel and cash back. All the cards I hold are for the purpose accruing travel points and miles.
I actually just opened my first Amex card about 18 months ago. I was never particularly interested in the travel partners that Amex’s Membership Rewards program has in comparison to Chase. However, one day while perusing the Amex pre-qualified offers site, I was given an offer of 100,000 Membership Rewards points to open the Amex Platinum card; I could not resist and was approved instantly.
This is the signature card of Amex’s travel card portfolio. For decades, having this card has been a status symbol of sorts. The annual fee is very high, $550, but there are two credits: a $200 yearly Uber credit, though this is given monthly, $15 January-November and $35 in December. The other credit is a $200 airline fee credit that can be used on particular US airlines. Cardholders have to choose the airline by mid-January. This credit isn’t as generous as the Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit or even the Citi Prestige airline fee credit, as it can be used for ancillary purchases such as upgrades, baggage fees, change fees, and cancellation fees. That being said, there are reports that purchasing airline gift cards usually trigger the credit, though I haven’t tried this myself.
The Platinum card also gives access to its global network of Centurion lounges. These are the only lounges I’ve ever been to that actually have good food, as usually the menu is consulted by a local celebrity chef. My home base, Houston, has a Centurion lounge so this is a nice benefit.
There are a slew of other benefits that vary in usefulness such as Priority Pass membership, Gold Status with Starwood and Hilton, Global Entry/TSA Precheck fee credit, free Boingo Wifi membership, as well as some other lesser known benefits that I haven’t used. Also, an amazing 5x points are given for airline purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees on this card.
So far I’ve held this card for two years, this year will be a tough decision whether to keep it. The lounge in my local airport is the one key factor that is making me lean towards possibly keeping it. This will truly be a nail-biting decision.
- Premier Rewards Gold
I opened this card three months after I opened the Platinum, for a healthy 50,000 signup bonus. The $195 annual fee was also waived for the first year, which was nice. The Gold has a $100 airline fee credit, and is the same as the Platinum’s one in practice. The point accrual is also good, 3x for flights, 2x for US grocery stores, US supermarkets, and US gas stations. I’ve held this card for almost two years; I’m not sure if I will keep this card for another year, as besides the 2x for grocery stores it’s not a superbly attractive card for me. There are no foreign transaction fees on this card.
Starwood is regarded as having the best award program of all hotel chains, and when a 35,000 point bonus was released for the Starwood Amex card, I could not resist. I was able to use this bonus for 6 free nights in South America, which saved me over $700. I also referred two other people to get the card, which I got two more free nights out of. SPG also has various airline partners that one can transfer points to, but the transfer time is slow, taking days/weeks. One good benefit of this method is that SPG will throw in 5000 bonus points if 20,000 points are transferred to an airline. The accrual bonus is only good for SPG hotels, double points are given for spending at said hotels. My first year is coming to an end and the decision to keep the card will depend on what retention offer Amex offers me. There are no foreign transaction fees on this card.
- Delta Gold
In August, I received a mailer that was giving a 60,000 mile bonus for signing up for the Delta Gold card. Though Houston is not a Delta or SkyTeam city per say, the bonus was very healthy, so I could not resist but to sign up. The main benefits of the card are 1 free check-in bag for the main passenger plus 8 (!) companions, priority boarding, and 2x points when spending on Delta flights. Like Chase, Amex hurts its own cards by giving better rates on its main card, in this case the 5x accrual on the Platinum. I will decide whether or not to keep this card depending on the retention offer that I receive. The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year and this card has no foreign transaction fees.
- Delta Platinum
About a month after receiving the offer for the Delta Gold card, I received another offer for 70,000 miles for opening the Delta Platinum card. The benefits for this card are similar to the Gold card with the difference being that one companion certificate is giving after holding the card for 1 year. I haven’t had the card for that long yet, but if I keep it past the first year it seems like a good benefit. This card also gives 10,000 MQM, or medallion qualification miles; this can be helpful for those who are chasing status. The annual fee of $195 is not waived for the first year and this card has no foreign transaction fees.
There was another Delta card that I almost recently applied for, the Hilton Surpass card, as it had a 125,000 point bonus, but I held back due to the fact that Amex is releasing a new SPG card this year and has a 4 card limit for its credit cards. Hilton points are not very valuable so it wasn’t worth filling up my portfolio with a better card on the horizon. Note that the Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold cards are charge cards, while the others that I have are credit cards; the main difference in practice is that charge cards do not have a credit limit.
One other nice thing that Amex has is Amex Offers, basically a selection of cashback or point offers for making purchases at certain merchants. This is a quick way of quickly accruing points or getting cash back. In recent months, I’ve used offers such as signing up for Sam’s club and getting a 2,500 point bonus, ordering $75 of wine for 2,500 points, signing up for Amazon Prime for 5,000 points, filling up $25 of gas at Exxon Mobil for 1,000 points, among others. Such offers can help reward point balances grow very quickly. Last year, Amex was also giving 2x points on some of its cards for shopping at small businesses.
Though having an Amex credit card isn’t necessarily the “it” status symbol that it once was, Amex is still the chief competitor to Chase in the credit card world with its healthy portfolio and reputation for great customer service. It actually has some cash back cards as well, which I haven’t mentioned because I don’t hold any; one actually gives 6% cash back on groceries. Its Membership Rewards program has some exclusive transfer partners such as Air Canada and Delta and occasionally has transfer bonuses. All in all, depending on if a Centurion lounge is available in your city and what airlines fly out of your home base, Amex may have some cards that can be very useful for you.