Battle of the Big Three – Part 3: Membership Rewards vs Ultimate Rewards vs ThankYou Points



Note: This article was updated on 6/27/2018 to include the new 100$ Saks Fifth Avenue shopping credit, added as a benefit for personal Platinum card products. For more details, see this post.

Our final article in this series will cover the AMEX Membership Rewards (MR) program, which started all the way back in 1991 and boasts the largest number of transfer partners of the big three. Compared to Citi’s and Chase’s programs, the MR program is in the middle in terms of tracking points earning, checking on pending points, and redemption options.  Read on to find out if the MR-earning cards are a good fit to maximize the return on your credit card spending.

 
 
 
 
 

American Express Membership Rewards: Background
American Express Cards that Earn Ultimate Rewards
Earning MR Points
Spending MR Points
Using Points for Transfer to Partners
Points Expiration
Membership Rewards Program Summary

 
 
 
 

AMEX Membership Rewards: Background
Compared to some Citi ThankYou points and similar to Chase’s UR program, you have the peace of mind that your points will never expire as long as you keep your accounts current. As AMEX is not big on consumer banking, it does not reward you in any way for having a banking relationship. AMEX is one of the few major issuers that issues charge cards in addition to credit cards, which is important to keep in mind. This affects the possibility of carrying a balance (which you should NEVER do in the first place!). Coincidentally, they also issue the most points-earning business cards, which may be helpful for some. Despite having the most travel partners, AMEX is not the best for point transfer times and charges a small excise fee for each MR point redeemed in this way, which is squarely at odds with Citi and Chase. On the negative side, AMEX implemented a draconian policy several years back of only offering a single lifetime sign-up bonus for any single credit or charge card product, so make sure you do everything possible to maximize the points you’re able to receive!

 
 
 
 

American Express Cards that Earn Membership Rewards:
The following is a list of the cards, which earn AMEX’s rewards currency:
Platinum and Platinum card family
Business Platinum
Premier Rewards Gold
Business Gold Rewards
Green
Business Green
EveryDay Preferred
EveryDay
Blue
Blue Business Plus

As with the other two issues, the cards vary widely in their annual fee, ancillary benefits, a number of points earned per category. Note the number of business cards – 4 – which is the highest number of such points-earning products compared to Chase and Citi. The AMEX Platinum and PRG are the issuers’ top tier and mid-tier (PRG) cards, respectively, and carry no foreign transaction fees. For a change, AMEX’s Business Platinum is an equivalent to their ultra-premium personal Platinum card, albeit with some important benefit differences. For reference, both cards compete with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige, both of which were covered previously. For the PRG, the Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred are, arguably, the most similar. The details for the cards are illustrated in the spreadsheet below:

American Express Annual Fees

An interesting difference with AMEX is that the Platinum card is actually not a single product but, rather, a family of cards. Besides the ‘regular’ Platinum card from American Express, there are 5 additional co-brands. While all of them offer the same baseline benefits, some of the cards offer additional, but minor, perks and one of them – the Ameriprise version – allows you to enjoy your first year of membership free, omitting the annual fee. The differences, as well as applicable requirements to be eligible to apply for the specific versions, are noted below:

American Express Platinum Card Comparison

The fact that there are 6 cards is actually very good, as each of these cards is considered a separate product and, given AMEXs’ policy of only awarding one signup bonus per lifetime on each card, means you can potentially hold all six cards and be eligible to receive 6 instead of 1 bonuses! Add the Business version to the above, and you can potentially have a maximum of 700,000 MR points, which is truly unparalleled!

Contrary to the preferential rate that can be obtained for the Citi Prestige, I’m not aware of any annual fee reduction that is available from AMEX apart from the annual fee waiver for the Ameriprise Platinum. Similar to my review of the cards available from Citi and Chase, take note that both the Platinum series cards and the PRG come with built-in travel credits, which vary based on the annual fee. However, keep in mind that the AMEX premium card credits are the most restrictive among the big three banks and require an annual selection of a preferred airline, limited to one of the following: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest, and United. Once chosen, you will only get officially reimbursed for incidental expenses on that airline; your credit will not be eligible for spend on airlines other than your selection and ticket purchases do not count! The list of eligible incidentals includes: checked baggage fees, overweight/oversize baggage fees, change fees, phone reservation fees, pet flight fees, airport lounge day passes and annual memberships, seat assignment fees, in-flight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, etc), in-flight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet). While you can postpone specifying your preferred airline during your first year to help strategically plan your reimbursement, AMEX will automatically carry over your previous years’ choice if you do not actively change it in the first month after your card anniversary. If you made a mistake in selecting your airline, you can call AMEX and have them change it manually, which they have personally done for me but they may obviously frown upon changing this repeatedly or, say, 11 months into the year when you have not spent any of your credit. All of the Platinum cards, including the business version, come with similar perks such as airport lounge access, including the excellent and exclusive Centurion lounges, as well as other expected features such as reimbursement for Global Entry/TSA Precheck. Again, despite the high upfront annual fees, the Platinum cards are generally either free or can even net you literally hundreds of dollars, depending on your use and travel habits. Thus, I think any of the Platinum cards are definitely a worthwhile consideration for the right person. In a change from Citi and Chase, if your main goal is to maximize MR points earning, you should really consider another card to complement the Platinum – while this card is excellent for benefits, a combination of cards is really required to earn the most points but can be very rewarding, especially if you stick exclusively to the Membership Rewards program. The PRG card is similar to a mid-tier card, which is equivalent in annual fee to the CSP and Citi Premier, after accounting for the 100$ travel credit. Unlike Chase, AMEX does not have a limit or rule on your prior card applications such as 5/24, and there is currently no hard limit on the number of cards you can have.

Finally, a word about charge versus credit cards: while you are certainly familiar with the latter by now, the former are actually predecessors of credit cards. As such, charge cards were initially designed to be paid back in full at the statement due date. They can essentially be thought of as a pay-day loan: you use a charge card to purchase something for which you don’t have the cash at the moment of the transaction but you are obligated to make a payment for the full amount once it is due. There was originally no way to postpone the payment or the option of carrying a balance to pay interest; you were considered to reneg on the loan and were liable for it. AMEX has in recent years been introducing ‘Pay Over Time’ features on its’ charge products, blurring the line and making some charge card transactions similar to traditional credit cards by allowing you to carry a balance. This does not apply to all transactions and carries variable interest rates. Of course, this is a terrible idea and, just like for credit cards, should be avoided at all costs! The other interesting quirks of charge cards include the absence of a traditional credit limit: the cards are reviewed on a revolving basis and each transaction may be either approved or rejected; you can check ahead of time if a purchase will be approved by entering an approximate spend amount on the website or calling AMEX directly. From a credit score point of view, the absence of a defined credit limit is a double-edged sword: as aggregate credit limit figures into your overall FICO score, an absent limit or blank score hurts you as it is not added to your total available credit but the number of accounts and inquiry appear just as they do for other credit cards. Additionally, some bureaus use the first 1-2 months of spend on your charge account as a pseudo-limit of sorts and then continue to report use this for the life of the card. So, for instance, if you opened a charge card and put 3,000$ of spend on it the first month, even though you technically have no limit, a credit bureau may then report that card as having a 3,000$ limit from then on. This will then, obviously, be figured into both your total available credit as well as be used to determine the average utilization ratio.

 
 
 
 

Earning MR Points
In a welcome change, AMEX’s program treats every MR point virtually the same in terms of redemptions. There is no benefit in owning a higher-tier card in terms of fixed MR point value. The only exception to this is some cards are not eligible for partner transfers, which, shockingly, includes the top-tier Platinum card! That’s right, you will have to carry at least one other card – including the no-fee starter EveryDay card in addition to the above with its’ 550$ annual fee – in order to be eligible for MR transfers! Fortunately, this restriction is limited and will be addressed later in the Spending MR Points section. The ability to earn points is summarized below:

American Express Credit Cards Earning Membership Rewards

As you can see, the potential earning categories are quite broad and are well represented although, compared to Citi, AMEX does not have an entertainment category. To make up for it, there are multiple abilities to be rewarded for regular grocery spending, albeit at an annual cap of 6,000$ spend. AMEX also rewards gas and dining purchases but keep in mind that unlike cards from Citi and Chase, only US purchases are included! Also unlike Citi and Chase, their definition of the travel category is the most narrow: it only applies to direct purchases of airfare, hotel, and car rental purchases. Keep in mind that third-party travel bookings are not eligible nor do any purchases as part of a vacation package count! The sole exception to this is the ability to earn extra points with purchases made through Amex Travel, which is only true for selected cards. One win some, you lose some…

The dining category is defined as follows:
“You will earn additional rewards in the restaurant category when you purchase at restaurants located in the U.S…
You also will NOT earn additional rewards nightclubs, convenience stores, grocery stores, or supermarkets…
You may not earn additional rewards at a restaurant located within another establishment (e.g. a restaurant inside a hotel, casino, or event venue). For example, purchases made at a restaurant located within a hotel may be recognized as a purchase at a hotel, not a restaurant.”
As you can see, the potential earning categories are quite broad and are well represented although, compared to Citi, AMEX does not have an entertainment category. To make up for it, there are multiple abilities to be rewarded for regular grocery spending, albeit at an annual cap of 6,000$ spend. AMEX also rewards gas and dining purchases but keep in mind that unlike cards from Citi and Chase, only US purchases are included! Also unlike Citi and Chase, their definition of the travel category is the most narrow: it only applies to direct purchases of airfare, hotel, and car rental purchases. Keep in mind that third-party travel bookings are not eligible nor do any purchases as part of a vacation package count! The sole exception to this is the ability to earn extra points with purchases made through Amex Travel, which is only true for selected cards. One win some, you lose some…

The dining category is defined as follows:
“You will earn additional rewards in the restaurant category when you purchase at restaurants located in the U.S…
You also will NOT earn additional rewards nightclubs, convenience stores, grocery stores, or supermarkets…
You may not earn additional rewards at a restaurant located within another establishment (e.g. a restaurant inside a hotel, casino, or event venue). For example, purchases made at a restaurant located within a hotel may be recognized as a purchase at a hotel, not a restaurant.”
Gas purchases are specified by the following:
“To earn additional rewards on gas purchases, the gas station where you purchase gasoline must be located in the U.S.
A gas station is defined as a merchant that is in the primary business of selling gasoline to consumers. Gas stations may sell other convenience items, but its primary business must be selling gasoline to consumers.
(Superstores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs that sell gasoline are NOT considered gas stations).
You will NOT earn additional rewards for gas stations that are part of supermarkets or warehouse clubs, unless specifically stated. You may earn additional rewards if the gas station is also a convenience store.”

Finally, the following definition is applicable to supermarkets:
“A supermarket offers a wide variety of food and household products such as meat, fresh produce, dairy, canned and packaged goods, household cleaners, pharmacy products and pet supplies. (Superstores, convenience stores and warehouse clubs are NOT considered supermarkets.) Examples of merchants where you will NOT earn additional rewards include:
• Specialty stores (e.g., fish markets, cheese shops, wine shops, and other specialty food stores )
• Superstores (e.g. Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart)
• Warehouse clubs (e.g. BJ’s Club)”

Other bonus categories are well represented. AMEX has many additional interesting options for earning extra MR points on both personal and business cards. On the personal side, the EveryDay cards offer the opportunity to earn an additional bonus on all points earned – depending on the card you have and the number of transactions per eligible month, you are able to receive from 20-50% more points! This is most notable with the EDP card, which in exchange for carrying an annual fee, allows you to earn up to 4.5x back on eligible grocery spend and 1.5x on uncategorized everyday spend if you make 30 or more individual transactions per statement period. Not to be undone, the Blue Business Plus card offers completely unlimited 2x MR point earning on the first 50,000$ of annual spend, and does not even carry an annual fee! This is an almost unbeatable proposition for the vast majority of people, whose spend is distributed widely among categories! If, however, you spend the vast majority of your business expenses in a single category, you may consider the Business Gold Rewards card – although it does not have any travel credits like its’ Gold personal cousin, it allows the flexibility of selecting a single category for 3x points back among the following: airfare; advertising in select media; gas; shipping; select hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases. The 4 other categories then earn 2x point back with all other spend netting 1x. This requires a very large amount of spend to justify the relatively high annual fee but may be lucrative for the right individual business owner.

As a welcome additional perk and similar to Chase, AMEX offers the ability to earn either extra MR points or cash back on top of defined category spend by using the AMEX Offers feature on their website. This consists of loading an individual deal to a specific card (only one card per personal account is eligible; if all of your cards are linked to a single MR account, be sure to maximize double-dipping!) then using it to meet the requirement for bonus earn. Keep in mind that the offers can consist of either online shopping at specific merchants as well as occasional brick-and-mortar store purchases – read the fine print and rules carefully! AMEX also frequently offers bonuses on shopping its’ partner hotels, making eligible bookings through AMEX Travel, and general spending requirements in a set time period. Because each offer is linked to your card, you maintain eligibility for any in-store offers and discounts (unlike Chase’s program), get any applicable category MR bonus spend, as well as the specific offer bonus! The only drawback to this program is the fact that you cannot retroactively credit any offer after your spending activity in case you forgot to load it and you have to keep track to make sure you use the right card if you carry more than one.

Addendum from 6/11/2018: Please note that the below section is slightly changed based on recently introduced changes, covered in this post: American Express updates tracking of earning Membership Rewards. This only affects reporting of earned points but not the other topics covered below, such as pending points or the time it takes for MR to post to your account.

Finally, as I noted in my introduction, AMEX makes tracking your point purchases as well as any bonuses – both received and pending – straightforward but not as user-friendly as Chase (but nowhere as convoluted as Citi). After logging into your account, you will see your total MR balance on eligible cards’ main pages. Upon loading the Membership Rewards page, you will see additional sections for all posted MR points as follows:

American Express Credit Cards Earning Summary Membership Rewards

American Express Credit Cards Earning Bonus Membership Rewards

It is important to realize that AMEX is, by far, the slowest to credit MR points for spend activity: while Chase and Citi post their respective points to your account 1-2 days after the statement in which the applicable spend was done, AMEX merely lists MR points as ‘pending’ at this time; the points are not formally counted and added to your account until one month after the NEXT statement closes. Thus, if your qualified spend was done in mid-July and your statement close date is August 1st, both Citi and Chase will show their points in your account in the beginning of August, but AMEX will not do the same until September! Fortunately, you can track the number of pending points so you have an idea of whether you earned category bonuses before that. AMEX displays the total number of points earned per card by default but clicking on ‘more detail’ allows you to see a breakdown of transactions and which ones qualified for bonuses as illustrated below:

American Express Credit Cards Earning Bonus Membership Rewards Detail

American Express Credit Cards Earning Bonus Membership Rewards List

American Express Credit Cards Pending Membership Rewards

If you see than a transaction did not award you points, even though they were not part of any published exclusions and should have been awarded, you can give their call center and ask that they address the shortfall. Note, however, that each credit card purchase is associated with a particular merchant code that AMEX then uses to determine which category they fit into. If the purchase is misclassified at the point of sale, they may refuse your request. This is not just AMEX-specific but is true of all banks’ programs. I have the experience of going to a particular food truck, which is not classified as dining with either of the big three banks for some reason and I never get extra points for it, even though the truck literally next to it always codes correctly. At least with AMEX, I know by then time of my statement if I will earn extra points by reviewed the ‘pending points’ section and can factor that into my decision on future purchases, instead of receiving a much nastier surprise after a potential 2 months’ (or more!) worth of purchases. My advice, especially for big purchases that you expect will earn extra points, is to make a small transaction with the same merchant to make sure that the points post correctly or use a different seller that you know has gone through without a hitch in the past. This will save you a lot of calls and potential headaches down the line. Also, remember AMEX’s restriction on only giving out MR bonus points on US purchases for dining, gas, and groceries!

 
 
 
 

Spending MR Points
Now, onto the fun part! By now you’ve hopefully amassed a ton of points from maximizing strategic credit card spend and getting in on a record high sign-up bonus (as it’s the only one you’re getting in your lifetime!), and are eager to redeem all that hard work for a first class ticket. Not so fast – there are, unfortunately, some additional quirks to note. Let’s begin with another spreadsheet, delineating what each MR Point is worth and the previously mentioned restriction on some cards’ of not being able to transfer points to travel partners:

American Express Credit Cards Spending Membership Rewards

That’s right! Unlike Chase’s and Citi’s systems, UR points are created equal in their redemption values no matter which card you have! There are, however, restrictions on your ability to transfer to travel partner programs, some of which are downright head-scratching. Since all points can be redeemed for cash value, let’s cover that first. The values listed for each redemption are in cents; that is 1 MR point is equal to that number of cents. As you can see, the best possible redemption, without utilizing a partner transfer, is getting 1 cent per point. This maximum value is achievable by purchasing airfare through the AMEX Travel portal. You will occasionally see slightly better deals – AMEX partners with certain airlines (notably AA and Delta) to offer ‘Insider Deals’, which represent a slight reduction in the point value of select flights. This is by no means universal and is not as generous as the value you get with UR points and the CSR, but is, nevertheless, slightly better than 1 cent per point. Actually, if you account for the fact that the airfare booked is treated much like any other ticket that you purchase and earns both award miles and award dollars from the carrier, you get more than 1 cent in value and this is, arguably, your best use of points. Your ultimate value will vary slightly based on how many extra miles you earn but it’s only fair to account for them when figuring out the true net redemption value that you receive. However, it is also possible to inadvertently book basic economy fares, which may negate any of the above additional mile-earning benefits, depending on the carrier (looking at you, United!), and may come with nasty surprises such as inability to select a seat without paying extra.
My advice for this is to always double check the fare code of the ticket you purchased with points and reference these with the fare codes for your carrier; if you risk getting stuck in basic economy, you have 24 hours to change or cancel your purchase. Beyond airfare, although AMEX Travel also sells car rentals, hotel, and even cruises, every other redemption apart from flying only nets you only 0.75-0.85 cents per point. Obviously, depending on your travel profile, this should definitely be a large consideration for you to decide if this point ecosystem makes sense and is worth it for you. Using MR for Uber redemptions, charitable gifts, and gift cards also allows for the value of 1 cent per point, adding some flexibility.

A very unique feature of the Business Platinum card, which makes it stand out from the rest of the Platinum line, is a 35% point redemption when you buy airfare. Here’s how it works: you must have enough MR points to cover a purchase of either a first-class of business ticket on any airline or economy airfare on your annually selected preferred airline through the AMEX Travel center. Once your purchase goes through, you will receive a rebate of 35% of the points used within 8-10 weeks. This allows the value of each MR point to be increased to ~1.5 cents, which matches the CSR! This is, unfortunately, not available on any other version of the Platinum cards. In my experience, this benefit is a bit opaque; while I have successfully received the points back on all flight purchases through the Travel Center, asking customer service if your specific flight qualifies for the redemption is not helpful as the agents are not able to access this information and cannot guarantee that you will receive this benefit. While I have not had a single bad experience with this benefit, it is still possible to inadvertently purchase a non-qualifying fare.

While there are several other redemption opportunities made available by AMEX, ranging from statement credits to using your points for Amazon purchases, these are generally equivalent as they tend to value points under 1 cent each. The good news is that points never expire, eliminating a potential headache and another thing to track. AMEX does offer the same trap as Citi with redeeming your points for merchandise – this is typically a redemption to be avoided as it decimates point values twice – by overpricing items and then using a subpar value of 0.5 cents for each point redeemed.
To finish this section, I will add that AMEX is fortunately not as stingy as Citi and has not been known to send 1099-MISC forms, characterizing redeemed MR points as income. That being said, I would still be conservative and avoid excessive redemptions per calendar year as this may change at any time and there is nothing that prohibits them from doing so.

 
 
 
 

Using Points for Transfer to Partners
Now let’s explore the last, and arguably, most valuable use of MR points: partner transfers. First the bad news: unlike all other programs, AMEX charges an excise fee of 0.06 cents for each MR point redeemed in this way. As the minimum number of points eligible for transfer is 1,000, this fee ranges from 60 cents to a maximum value of 90$ which applies to 150,000 MR point transfers or higher. Having 16 airline partners and 3 hotel programs to choose from makes Membership Rewards the largest and most flexible of the credit card point currencies. Here is a spreadsheet of current partners, the value you will get from transferring 1000 MRs, which is the minimum amount you can move between accounts, and the average time is takes for a transfer to occur:

American Express Credit Cards Transferring Membership Rewards

AMEX makes these redemptions relatively straightforward: almost every airline program gives you a single point of their currency for each MR with the exception of JetBlue, El Al, and AeroMexico. On the hotel side, only Choice hotels match this prevailing rate; Hilton and SPG are more expensive and require 2,000 and 3,000 MR points for 1,000 points of their own currencies, respectively, and, thus, represent a generally poor redemption choice. Every transfer has to be made in 1,000 point increments. You will also note that the average time it takes for the transfers to process is variable; while many are instant, AeroMexico transfers can take over a week! Please note, however, that your mileage may vary with these transfers and the provided times are rough averages – some peoples’ points processed immediately, but some unfortunate few experienced significant delays (AMEX, unfortunately, does not have any guarantees or statement about the maximum transfer time).

Unlike Chase, American Express tends to frequently run time-limited promotions, where they give an additional percentage bonus on transferred points, so keep this in mind in case you have another source of credit card points. The most current one includes a 25% bonus for Flying Blue from KLM and AirFrance: transferring 1,000 MR points nets 1,250 FlyingBlue miles until 6/15/2018. Since Citi ThankYou Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards also transfer to Flying Blue at the same 1,000:1,000 point ratio, the current bonus easily makes AMEX MR redemptions the most rewarding. As promotions come and go, remember to check for any promotions with other issuers right before any transfers to decide which currency to use to maximize value.

While I will not cover any of the programs in detail at this time and will leave this for future posts, I will note a couple of points about this part of the program. First, AMEX has great hotel partners – almost equal to that of Chase. While the conversion rates for some of them can be a bit steep (as an example, Hilton points are generally valued at 0.6 cents per point, making a 2:1 conversion from MR points a losing proposition), it is still helpful to maintain flexibility and know that you can top-up accounts for redemptions quickly if you’re in a bind. I would go so far as to say that, if you value hotel stays above other travel opportunities, the MR program is not a bad choice although I would definitely choose Choice hotels if possible over the other partners in terms of the most equivalent value received per point.

Moving onto air travel partners, AMEX has a record 16 carriers to select from! Three of these – Singapore’s KrisFlyer, AirFrance/KLM’s Flying Blue, and Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club – are shared with both Citi and Chase. The rest of the list is notable for including three US-based carriers – JetBlue, Hawaiian, and Delta – making domestic redemptions more than feasbile, as well as British Airways and its’ sister company Iberia, opening up the competitive Avios currency, which utilizes distance-based awards. Adding multiple international partners to the mix means that MR points can be transferred to at least one representative of the three main airline alliances – SkyTeam, OneWorld, and Star Alliance. This last point is important as it is this option that indirectly expands the potential list of airline redemptions; MR points, converted to any of the above carriers’ programs, can then in turn be used to book tickets on their respective partners. These redemptions will utilize each airlines’ respective partner award chart and rules. The final comment I will make concerns JetBlue. Analogous to Citi ThankYou point redemptions for JetBlue, MR points converted to this currency carry a relatively fixed value as its’ points are really cash-based and are pegged to the price of tickets: each TrueBlue point is worth between 1.4-1.7 cents per point with a few exceptions for business and very low cost fares, where the value is worse. Doing the math, this makes each MR point transferred to their program worth 1.12-1.36 cents. Keep this in mind when deciding to make a redemption – I recommend always running a search on the AMEX Travel Center to check ticket prices and their value in MR points if purchased directly as compared to the rate you are getting with a transfer. If the rates are similar, you would definitely want to consider using the Travel Center to earn JetBlue points (as the ticket would be treated as any other purchased fare).

 
 
 
 

Points Expiration
Unlike Citi, AMEX makes this section easy: your points do not expire! However, please note that if you close your account, AMEX takes away all your MRs immediately – there is NO grace period. As long as you have any of the MR-earning cards, as listed above, you get to keep all your hard-earned credit card points. If you have multiple MR cards and want to close one of your accounts, be sure to transfer the balance of MR points for that specific card if your MR programs are not linked to the one you will keep open as AMEX tracks each balance separately by card account. Fortunately, they make this process straightforward.

 
 
 
 

Membership Rewards Program Summary
Whew, you made it to the end and now know as much as I do about all the intricacies of AMEX’s Membership Rewards Points! I hope this was instructive and serves as a helpful reference guide for you now and in the future. Despite some of this program’s quirks, I think it has a lot to offer someone interested in air and hotel travel. Based on everything I’ve covered, I can summarize the advantages and disadvantages of the program in the following:

MileNavigator Happy Face

  • Get up to 1.5 cents per point with airfare redemptions with the Business Platinum card, utilizing the 35% point rebate perk, or 1 cent per point with all other products
  • AMEX has the most transfer partners – 16 airlines and 3 hotels!
  • Many partner transfers are immediate or nearly so
  • Generous bonus earning category definitions for earning, including for business cards
  • AMEX allows the ability to track earned and pending points
  • Points never expire
  • AMEX Offers allow the ability to earn cash back or bonus MR points while taking advantage of other merchant offers and bonus category earnings
  • No 1099-MISC form for redemptions
  • Renowned customer service and benefits

MileNavigator Neutral Face

  • No Entertainment bonus earning category
  • Bonus spend for dining, groceries, and gas are restricted to US purchases only
  • Grocery spend bonus is restricted to first 6,000$ per year
  • AMEX Platinum cards have the highest annual fee of any mainstream premium card and, apart from a 1st year waiver with the Ameriprise cobrand version, there are no available waivers or reductions in this
  • Most restrictive policy for using travel credits among the Big Three programs, requiring annual preferred airline selection
  • Points expire immediately upon closing all MR-earning card accounts
  • Primary rental card insurance on eligible cards requires an additional fee for each instance

MileNavigator Sad Face

  • Sign-up bonus is restricted to once per lifetime for each card product and requires strategic application planning
  • No bonuses available for banking relationship
  • Some of the available transfer partner values are poor and ideally should be avoided unless used for topping off accounts
  • Excise Fee charged for each award redemption, ranging from 60 cents to 90$

 

Please keep in mind that I did not have time to include any of the additional benefits of having cards with American Express nor many ancillary benefits, such as lounge access or primary car rental insurance with many of their cards, in this review. This will follow in the future and is just as important as their Ultimate Rewards point program in determining whether they are a good fit for you!

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