My 2017 American Express Credit Card Strategy

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While I write quite a bit about credit card sign-up bonuses, that’s only one aspect of maximizing the rewards you can get from credit cards. I thought it would be useful to talk a bit about my credit card spend strategy with each of the major issuers. In this post I’ll cover American Express. Which cards do I have, which do I spend money on, etc.?

How many American Express cards can you have?

American Express limits you to a certain number of credit cards and a certain number of charge cards. It doesn’t matter how many of those are personal or business cards, but rather just the total number of each type.

Each person is definitely allowed to have four charge cards and four credit cards. Many have reported that the limit has been raised to five credit cards, though I haven’t found that to be the case across the board. For example, I got denied when I applied for my fifth card, on account of having too many cards.

For those of you not familiar with the distinction between a charge card and credit card:

  • A credit card has a credit limit, and you can finance charges over time if you want to (though you should avoid doing so, given the high interest rates charged)
  • A charge card doesn’t have a pre-set spending limit, but you can’t finance charges over time

In general charge cards are lower risk for the issuer, as there’s a lower risk of people not paying their bills, since they have to pay them off at the end of each statement. See my previous post for info on specifically which Amex cards are charge cards, and which are credit cards.

On top of that, you typically can’t be approved for more than two Amex credit cards in any 90 day period.

Which American Express cards do I have?

At the moment I have six American Express cards. I have the following two charge cards:

I also have the following credit cards:

Amex-Cards

Which American Express cards do I use most?

My single favorite American Express card in terms of the return on spend is The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express. This is a card I use both for the bonus categories, and also for the return it offers on everyday spend. The card offers:

  • 3x points at U.S. supermarkets, up $6,000 per year
  • 2x points at U.S. gas stations
  • A 50% points bonus when you make at least 30 purchases per billing cycle

That means if you make 30 transactions per billing cycle you earn:

  • 4.5x points at U.S. supermarkets
  • 3x points at U.S. gas stations
  • 1.5x points on everyday purchases

That’s an amazing return that really helps me maximize my Amex points. Furthermore, I find the 1.5 points per dollar spent to be a fantastic return. For example, I often use this card to pay my taxes. You can pay taxes by credit card for a fee of under 1.9%, which makes this an opportunity to pick up Membership Rewards points for ~1.25 cents each.

In the past The Platinum Card® from American Express was a card I had just for the benefit, but the card now offers 5x points on airfare purchased directly with airlines. This is a huge category for me, so I’m earning a lot of points thanks to this new category.

The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express used to be one of my favorite cards, as it offers triple points on airfare, and also double points on U.S. dining, U.S. groceries, and U.S. gas purchases. That’s a very well rounded card, though I’m not sure I’ll be renewing it:

Meanwhile the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express I have largely because of the two elite qualifying stays and five elite qualifying nights that they each offer towards status annually. However, they’re also great cards for everyday spend, given the value of Starpoints.

SPG-Amex

Meanwhile I picked up the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express during the last increased bonus they had on the card, though I haven’t put much spend on the card yet. I might keep it for the benefits, however. I still have about six months until the annual fee is due.

The American Express Cards I really want

Of the Amex cards I don’t have, there are two I really want — The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN and The Blue for Business® Credit Card from American Express.

I want the Business Platinum Card because it offers a 35% refund when using the “Pay With Points” option, which is essentially an opportunity to redeem all my Amex points for roughly 1.35 cents each towards the cost of airfare. That would greatly increase the value of all my points. It’s a charge card, so I should have no issues getting approved. However, I had the card a few years back, so wouldn’t be eligible for the sign-up bonus. At some point I may still get the card in spite of not getting a sign-up bonus.

For the Blue for Business Card, I really want it for reasons I explained yesterday. It offers a great return on spend, and has the best sign-up bonus I’ve ever seen on a no annual fee Amex business card. If only it weren’t a credit card, given that I’m maxed out on Amex credit cards at the moment.


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Comments

  1. I know it’s speculation, but what do you think happens to the Starwood AMEX card post-merger? In the meantime, I’ve had the card once and can’t qualify for a bonus again. But wouldn’t you agree others should apply, especially since even the minimum 25K SPG point signup bonus equals 75K Marriott Rewards with no first-year fee?

  2. Apply for the blue for business and when you get instantly denied call (800) 266-1260 and they’ll approve you in 2 mins. I just got my 5th credit card approved 4 days ago. I tweeted you and commented on your yesterday’s post with my full experience.

  3. I imagine the SPG Amex cards are toast once Marriott completes the merger of the two programs. If they are not I would ditch the lesser of the two (probably the personal one) and then you have another AMEX card to pick up.

  4. @ Nick — It could definitely make sense to apply for the SPG Amex for those who don’t have it, though it’s also possible that we’ll see an increased sign-up bonus again this year. It’s anyone’s guess what happens, especially as we don’t even know when programs will merge. It could be that Chase takes over the whole contract, it could be that Amex takes over the whole thing, or they could keep both issuers. Time will tell, I suppose.

  5. Lucky — I also have both the Amex Everyday Preferred and the Amex PRG. One marginal benefit of the PRG is that there’s no cap on the extra points you can earn at grocery stores. On the Everyday Preferred, it’s capped at $6,000/year. I have a wife and two kids, and live in downtown Brooklyn — and last year, I think I hit the $6,000 grocery threshold at some point in the fall, then switched over to the PRG when getting groceries.

    I wouldn’t say that by itself is enough to justify holding onto the card (personally, I’m holding onto it because I got an unusual bonus offer where if I spend another $2,000 on the card during a 3-month period this summer, I’ll get another 25k points) — but it may be an interesting differentiation/data point for those who spend a ton on groceries.

  6. I have the “The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN”, which the CSR had condemned to oblivion but has suddenly been revived because for a limited time (to the end of March), AMEX will be awarding 5x MR points/$ for tickets purchased through AMEX Travel Services or directly from the airline (UA in my case). Because MR points transfer 1:1 to SQ Krisflyer miles, which I have decided to start accumulating, my goal is to then transfer the MR points earned on ticket purchases with the AMEX Biz Plat to SQ miles, and to credit miles (PQMs, RDMs) I will get from actually flying with the purchased tickets and the PQDs to my UA account…a multi-dipping win-win strategy.

  7. Hey Lucky. Same thing happened to me like @Ramy. Exact same scenario just yesterday. The only difference was the Rep that I spoke to confirmed that AMEX has now increased it to 5!!!… you want us to listen to you, then howcome you don’t trust what we tell you. Pull the damn trigger and then thank @Ramy and I!…geez…..

  8. @ Dave — That’s a great point! Doesn’t impact me since I don’t spend that much at grocery stores, but I’m sure it impacts others more.

  9. I currently have 5 Amex credit cards (and 2 charge) and have successfully closed/opened a new 5th card about 3 times now without issue.

    Since the rumor is that Amex doesn’t do a hard pull on existing cardmembers unless they approve you, then it shouldn’t hurt to try for that 5th card again.

  10. I was approved my 5th credit card, the Blue for business a couple weeks ago. It looks like there were no hard pull at all.

  11. Lucky, I think you should cancel the Delta card and get the Blue for Business. I agree with you, it’s has some of the best bonuses for a business card available if can put a lot of spend on it.

  12. The PRG’s uncapped 2x grocery spend is a godsend for those of us who spend 50-100k per year on “groceries”. It’s the reason I’ve never bothered with the EDP.

  13. I think you have a great shot at this. When I called this number (800) 266-1260 and asked what’s the maximum number if credit cards she said 5 then she said I see your 4 so let me go ahead and approve it for you it must’ve been a glitch in the system 🙂

    Looking forward to read about your experience with the getting the Blue for business!

  14. @ Ramy — Thanks for the motivation. Just went ahead and applied. Was denied instantly and phoned them up, stating that I thought the limit had been increased to five. She said she’d resubmit it, though made no promises as to whether or not I’d be approved. I’ll report back!

  15. Have you confirmed the 4.5x effective points at grocery stores? Based on my statements it looks like the 50% bonus is only on the base points to it is 3.5x not 4.5x. I also think gas is 2.5x, not 3x but haven’t crunched numbers as I usually buy gas with the Citi Premier.

  16. Okay, I have decided on the strategy with keeping both the Amex Platinum and the Amex Business Platinum;
    -> Amex Platinum for purchasing travel (5x membership points)
    -> Amex Business Platinum when redeeming points (50% back)

    I also have the Amex SPG card as I am a lifetime Platinum member and I agree with Bernard that this is the most flexible in terms of how you can redeem for flights or hotels… I use most of my Starwood points for Cash & Points at the higher end Starwood properties outside of the USA. THe Starwood hotels in USA are mostly franchise owned and don’t give a damn about brand and or honoring SPG program.

    But instead of Chase Sapphire, I also have Citicard Prestige so that I have point accumulating to cover both Star Alliance and OneWorld

  17. Thinking about the Everyday Preferred. I do have the regular Everyday card already. On the
    application it says welcome bonus not available to applicants who have this products. Will
    I still get the bonus if I apply for the preferred. Do they see this as a different card/product?

  18. Just a heads up for a reference point, I have 1 charge card and 9 credit cards. This includes just recently getting approved for the SPG personal and business versions within the past week. Getting approved for both of these cards even when I already had 6 Amex cards.

    Charge card that I have is the Gold premier rewards

    Credit cards that I have are all all four Delta cards, both SPG cards, both Hilton cards, and the blue cash back.

    Not posting this to brag or say anyone is wrong, just more of a data reference. Hope everyone has a good weekend!

  19. I had 4 Amex credit cards and 1 one charge card (Gold Business Rewards). Then Gold Business offered me to “convert” the charge card into credit card. Then a few months later I got an offer to upgrade my Gold card into Business Platinum, that I did (plus got 50K bonus points). So, technically I received the 5th credit card at the time when I already had 4. If you really want to get Business Platinum, you might postpone closing the Gold and wait for a possible upgrade offer.

  20. I am new to the points game and currently just have an Alaska Airlines Visa. In looking to expand my approach, I am having a hard time figuring out which flexible points credit cards will be accepted by Alaska (e.g., Chase Sapphire, Amex). Do you have a good recommendation for an “other” credit card for someone focused on collecting Alaska miles?

  21. @ Z — If it’s Alaska Mileage Plan miles you want, the other best currency would be Starpoints. So you could get the SPG Amex, and then points could transfer 1:1 to Alaska, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. More on those cards here:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2017/01/29/best-credit-card-offers-january/

    That being said, do keep in mind that it could make sense to get some other cards beyond the Alaska one you have, that offer a more compelling rewards structure. Diversifying points can make a lot of sense, especially with a card that has many transfer partners. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a no brainer for many:
    http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/08/02/chase-sapphire-preferred-review/

  22. “So you could get the SPG Amex, and then points could transfer 1:1 to Alaska, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.”

    Of course, the problem with that strategy, which those touting the “transferability” of starpoints always ignore, is that, unless one does frequent Starwood hotel stays, the rate of earning starpoints with the SPG AMEX is horrible — likely the worst in the industry — since every non-Startwood hotel purchase is unbonused. As a result, even though I have had and still have the SPG AMEX, it’s invariably been my least used CC over the years because I consider “investing” to earn starpoints to be the slowest and least rewarding path to award travel, bloggers who’ve claimed otherwise for years notwithstanding…

  23. @Lucky — Yes, I did, and I would have responded more along the line of your option (b), which starts with “Of course,…”. For completeness, I would also have suggested option (a) — i.e., the SPG AMEX — but with the explicit caveat in my comment. The truth, however, is that my comment was a “conditioned reflex” from years of reading blogpost after blogpost touting the “transferability” of starpoints and their transcendentally high value as a result — a claim that was strictly true only for folks like you, or frequent Starwood hotel chain guests, or small businesses and entrepreneurs who do volume purchasing, with loads of starpoints or can easily earn them, while it was the wrong thing to do for most regular miles/points game players.

  24. Lucky,

    The Average Punter should probably concentrate on Amex no-fee cards just to take advantage of sync offers. Add AU’s for extra offers.

    As for DCS’ comments about the SPG, it is my go-to card for MSing thanks to it’s nominal 1x earn rate (as such I’m a profitable customer for them). Starpoints are the most flexible awards currency and I increasingly appreciate that. No other award currency comes close.

    Btw sync offers and flexibility of Starpoints, Amex dominates my wallet and 7 figure spend. Everyone else is a distant second.

  25. I’m waiting to hear back! I’m nervous now cause I don’t want you to get denied lol. I hope you get approved. I love the Blue for business card especially cause the 9X bonus points post to my account the day after the transaction posts 🙂

    By the way it’s been a pleasure “talking” with you and hope to maybe meet you at a centurion lounge or a first class lounge anywhere in the world 🙂 you’ve been an inspiration to me and I love reading your blog and I started my own a while ago. I’d love if you take a look at it and maybe there’ll be an opportunity for us to work together!

    Thanks for what you do!
    Ramy
    Pointspointers.com

  26. One other thing to think about: I think Amex allows you to flip out a card in favor of a different card if you want. They called me when I applied for the Blue for Business card and I eliminated one of the cards so I could add that one.

  27. Looking forward to your report back. I didn’t push them much on my SimplyCash Plus since I was planning on canceling my Delta soon anyways, so didn’t really matter. But would love to apply/get approved for Blue for Business in the next few weeks so looking forward to any data points if you are approved!

  28. Amex gave me some decent retention offers on their cards. For the Starwood PG I was only charged $65 annual fee, and offered 1500 SP for $1000 spend in 3 months. For both the Amex Ev Preferred and Premium RG I was offered 7500 MR points if I spent $1000 each in 3 months. While these were not great offers, they were enough, especially as I planned to keep both the Starwood and Ev Preferred no matter what. You might have to try several times to get an offer. I first tried when the card annual fee came due, to no effect. I then waited a month and tried again. Bingo.

  29. I have a question for you Lucky. I am assuming that you have been churning these AMEX cards for a while. With AMEX’s policy of getting the bonus MR points only one time for each of these cards, are you renewing these cards annually and paying the annual fees for 5 out of 6 of the cards with no additional MR points?

  30. How do you factor in a card’s annual fees with this? Maybe you have enough spend in all categories to get a tremendous value of having several with high fees (and you mentioned some cards you have just for the perks).

    But for me, if I have a card that has an AF and I only use it for dining (as you mentioned for the CSR) that isn’t a category that is going to be very high for me and it will be tougher to make it worth keeping.

    For lower spenders like myself, I prefer to have 1-2 all-around good cards with AFs, and then no-fee cards for everything else. For now, that looks like CSR (husband’s) paired with my Freedom, and hoping to add Freedom Unlimited soon. I have the SPG AmEx, and am planning to add Hyatt and IHG at some point since I can justify the annual fee in the annual night perk.

  31. Can we transfer MR points from the Blue Business Credit Card directly to the airlines plans, like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer? I was told only certain AMEX credit cards are able to transfer directly to airlines mileage plans. Is the Blue Business one of them?

  32. Yes, you can have up to 5 credit cards, personal or business and no limit on the charge cards. I have a total of 9 AMEX cards, 5 credit cards and 4 charge cards. Within the last 3 wweks, I was able to change my SPG Preferred with $1K limit to SPG Business with $10K and Delta Platinum with $1K to Delta Platinum Business with $10K. I already had the max limit before the changes and AMEX had me close the personal cards before they will approve the business cards. When I called I was guaranteed approval of the business cards but had to close the personal ones before they will officially issue them. And yes, I also qualified for the sign up bonuses.

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