Amex sucks less now

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As you may or may not know, I have historically thought that Amex Membership Rewards are suckier than Chase Ultimate Rewards. I still mostly think that, and the main reason I think that is because the major domestic partner you can transfer Amex points to is Delta, and Delta has shit-tastic award tickets (unless you fly internationally on a partner airline). They cost a ton of points, unless the cash price is super cheap anyway, in which case you might as well just use cash. Whereas Chase points transfer to United, who have pretty good award tickets.

But Amex has upped their game in a meaningful way. They’ve added features to both their personal and business Platinum cards. I’ve generally poo-pooed these as being overpriced for what you get for $450/year (or even $250/year if you max out the travel credit). But: the personal Platinum now earns 5x on any airfare or other charges purchased directly from an airline. If you fly a lot, that ain’t chump change.

But it’s the Business Platinum (and, with Amex, you hardly need to have a business to get one) that got my attention, and in fact I picked one up. With this card, if you purchase an airline ticket through the Amex web site using Membership Rewards points (rather than transferring to an airline), you’ll get half of those MR points returned to you. In other words, MR points become worth twice as much, and there’s no restriction on when you can use them. And if you’ve already got MR points lying around, they automatically are eligible to be used this way. The catch is that for economy tickets, you can only do this for one airline, which you can only choose in January. It’s like fucking health care open enrollment. For business tickets, you can purchase on any airline to get the bonus.

Still, check this out: if you have the $95/year Everyday Preferred card and put 30 or more charges on it a month, you get 1.5 points per dollar on everything, plus 3 for gas and 4.5 for groceries. Let’s just say that comes out to, oh, 1.8 points per dollar. Suddenly, that’s 3.6 points per dollar on your favorite airline, which is pretty damn good, and might even be good enough for a reasonably priced business class seat on any airline. I mean, with an award ticket, you’re usually happy to do better than 2%.

And, at least for 2017, there’s an even better option: if you get the no-fee Blue for Business card before February 1, it gets 2.3 points per dollar on everything for a year, up to $50,000. And 10 points per dollar on restaurants, up to $2,000, plus you get a 10,000 point sign up bonus. So now you’ve got 4.6 points per dollar for your favorite airline’s economy tickets, or any airline’s business class tickets.

The comparable Chase scenario is that you get 1.5 points per dollar with a Freedom Unlimited and 3 points per dollar on dining/travel/transportation/lodging with a Sapphire Reserve. And you can buy any ticket on their web site, with each Ultimate Reward point being worth 1.5 cents. So if that evens out to, say, 2 points per dollar overall, then you’ve got 3 points per dollar. Good, but not as good as 4.6 points, or even 3.6 points.

The big stress point for me on this one is which airline to choose for the Amex Biz Platinum, but that will wait for another day.

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