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Maximizing Amex Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering

by on April 20, 2011 · 39 comments

in American Express, Points Guy Pointers

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here

No two American Express cards are the same, so I thought a good place to start on my Maximizing American Express series would be understanding their card offering. I’ve organized them into three categories: Membership Rewards, Airline/Hotel Co-Branded and Cash Back/Other. Note: this is by no means a list of every single American Express card, but my picks of the top consumer cards in the US. I’ve been asked to cover Canadian options as well, but for the sake of this series, it’s from a US perspective. Also, sign-up bonuses were the most lucrative I could find – if you have better offers that are not targeted, please comment below or email me and I’ll update.

FYI: This is another installment in my Maximizing Amex series where I examine the benefits of American Express cards and Amex’s Membership Rewards Program. The articles include; Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering. Post 2: Understanding Membership Rewards. Post 3: Understanding Transfer Bonuses. Post 4: Platinum Card Review. Post 5: SkyTeam Transfer Partners. Post 6: Oneworld Transfer Partners. Post 7: Star Alliance Transfer Partners. Post 8:Understanding Emergency Travel Assistance and Travel Accident Insurance. Post 9: Purchase and Return Protection and Extended Warranty. Post 10: Car Rental Benefits. Post 11: Gold and Premier Rewards Gold Card Comparison.

American Express allows you to have multiple cards, especially when they are different types, for example business vs individiual vs corporate vs credit vs charge. In general, the best way to get a sign-up bonus is to apply fresh for the card and then link it to your current account. For example, if you try calling Amex to upgrade your current Gold card to Platinum, they best they will offer is generally 25,000 points. However, if you apply through the link below (logged out of your Amex account), you’ll get 50,000 points and can then combine/merge/cancel your other Amex cards as you see fit.

Membership Rewards Cards


Centurion Card
a.k.a The Black Card. Probably the most infamous of Amex cards, you cannot apply for this card- you are invited to be a member. In the past, certain annual spend ($125,000 – $250,000) could almost guarantee you a “black card”, but nowadays there is no set threshold, though it’s rumored to be around $500,000. From my understanding, the factors that play into Centurion membership are sustained high levels of spend – especially on travel and luxury goods – and that your bill is paid on time. Once you exhibit this type of behavior, you can request to be considered for Centurion, but the ultimate decision is up to American Express.
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Fees: One time $5,000 initiation fee and $2,500 annual fee.
Key benefits: All Platinum benefits plus Delta Platinum, US Airways Platinum, Continental Gold, Virgin Atlantic Gold, Centurion Lounges, Centurion partner hotel benefits, enhanced customer service and concierge benefits, free events and gifts (like $500 gift cards to high-end retailers)
Foreign Transaction Fees: No
Membership Rewards: First. 1 point per dollar spent. Points advance of up to 60,000.

Platinum Card
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Annual Fee: $450

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership. Cardmembers will continue to receive access to participating Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select (enrollment is required), and Airspace lounges in JFK, CLE and BWI airports.

Key benefits: Note: a full post will be dedicated to the various benefits Overview: Delta, American and US Airways Lounge access, Priority Pass Select lounge access, $200 in airline fee rebates yearly, Starwood Gold Status, Fine Hotels & Resorts upgrade and benefits program, Global Entry $100 fee rebate, concierge service, 25% bonus when redeeming points to pay for flights (1 point = 1.25 cents towards tickets), car rental perks with Hertz, Avis and National which include upgrades and 4 hour grace periods, companion international first class ticket, fraud protection, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: No
Membership Rewards: First. 1 point per dollar spent. 4x points for shopping through Amex and 2x for travel through Amex. Points advance of up to 60,000.
Current Sign-Up bonus: 25,000 points for new Platinum card members after $1,000 spend in 3 months.

Premier Rewards Card
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Annual Fee: $175, waived for the first year
Key benefits: Enhanced earning on different spend categories, travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7%
Membership Rewards: Regular. Note: a follow-up post will be written about full utilization of the Membership Rewards program. 1 point per dollar spent. 3x points for shopping through Amex, 3x on flights booked directly with airlines, 2x on gas and groceries, 15,000 bonus points when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year. Points advance of up to 15,000.
Current Sign-Up bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 within the first three months.

Gold Card – Update: This offer has expired.
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Annual Fee: $125
Key benefits: Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7%
Membership Rewards: Regular. 1 point per dollar spent. 2x points for shopping through Amex
Current Sign-Up bonus: 10,000 points after first purchase.

Green Card
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first year
Key benefits: Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7%
Membership Rewards: Regular 1 point per dollar spent. 3x points for shopping through Amex, 2x for airfare through Amex
Current Sign-Up bonus: None

Corporate Cards
Type: Charge card, no pre-set spending limit
Annual Fee: $0/ Usually covered by the business. Membership rewards enrollment is usually $75, if allowed by your company.
Key benefits: Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7%
Membership Rewards: Regular 1 point per dollar spent.
Current Sign-Up bonus: Usually none.

Blue from American Express
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: None
Key benefits: Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.7%
Membership Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent. 2x on travel booked on the American Express travel website. Express points cannot be transferred to airlines. They can only be redeemed for 1 cent of value towards travel/gift cards.
Current Sign-Up bonus: None.

Co-branded cards
Starwood
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $65, waived for the first year.
Key benefits: Earn 2 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels, 5 nights/2 stays taken off of elite qualification every year, Starwood  Gold Status after $30,000 spend in a calendar year, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 Starpoint per dollar spent, 2 at Starwood hotels
Current Sign-Up bonus: 10,000 points after first purchase and and additional 15,000 after $15,000 spent in 6 months.

Hilton Surpass
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $75.
Key benefits: Diamond status (50% bonus, lounge access, room upgrades) after $40,000 in spend per calendar year, Hilton Gold for the first year (25% bonus, lounge access, room upgrades), Priority Pass, access to AXON special redemption discounts, after $20,000 in spend in a calendar year,  Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 3 Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent, 6 HHonors per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas, wireless, internet, cable and satellite TV, 9 HHonors per dollar spent at Hilton Hotels
Current Sign-Up bonus: 40,000 points. Earn an additional 2,500 per stay (20,000 max) for the first eight stays within 18 months.

Hilton
Type:Credit card
Annual Fee: None
Key benefits: Hilton Silver Status (15% bonus on Hilton stays), Hilton Gold (25% bonus, lounge access, room upgrades), access to AXON special redemption discounts, after $20,000 in spend in a calendar year,  Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 3 Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent, 6 HHonors per dollar spent at Hilton Hotels, grocery stores, gas, wireless, internet, cable and satellite TV.
Current Sign-Up bonus: 60,000 points . 20,000 with first purchase, 30,000 when you spend $500 in three months. 2,500 per stay (10,000 max) for the first four stays within 18 months.

Delta Reserve
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $450
Key benefits: Delta SkyClub membership, Ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and gift them to anyone else: 15,000 MQMs after $30,000 in spend, 30,000 MQMs after $60,000 in spend, upgrade priority over other Medallions of your level who are booked in the same fare class, first checked bag free, coach/first companion ticket usable on the cheapest fare classes (A,L,U,T), Pay with Miles, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 SkyMile earned per dollar spent, 2x on Delta purchases
Current Sign-Up bonus: 10,000 MQMs after first purchase

Platinum Delta SkyMiles
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $150
Key benefits: Ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs): 10,000 MQMs after $25,000 in spend, 20,000 MQMs after $50,000 in spend, first checked bag free, coach companion ticket usable on the cheapest fare classes (L,U,T), Pay with Miles, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 SkyMile earned per dollar spent, 2x on Delta purchases
Current Sign-Up bonus: 20,000 SkyMiles and 5,000 MQMs after first purchase. 2,500 SkyMiles per additional cardholder up to 5,000.

Gold Delta SkyMiles
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $95, waived for the first year
Key benefits: First checked bag free, Pay with Miles, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 SkyMile earned per dollar spent, 2x on Delta purchases
Current Sign-Up bonus20,000 SkyMiles after first purchase, 5,000 more for adding two additional cardholders.

JetBlue Card
Type: Credit card
Annual Fee: $40
Key benefits: Earn an additional 2 TrueBlue points when purchasing flights at jetblue.com, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 Trueblue point per dollar spent, 2x on Jetblue.com purchases
Current Sign-Up bonus10,000 Trueblue points after first purchase

Other Cards/Cashback

Blue Sky Preferred - Update: This offer is no longer available.
Annual Fee: $75
Key benefits: $100 towards travel for every $7,500 in spend, $100 airline allowance for fees, 0% intro APR, Renaissance and JW Marriott free breakfasts, $100 off JW Marriott/ Renaissance stay, Travel assistance, baggage insurance, Travel Accident Insurance, purchase protection
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: 1 point per dollar, 2x on dining, hotels and car rentals.
Current Sign-Up bonus: None.

TrueEarnings CostcoUpdate: The terms of the True Earnings Card from Costco have changed. View the current offer here.
Annual Fee: None with Costco membership.
Key benefits: Cash Back – 3% for gasoline purchases at standalone gast stations and Costco (up to $4,000 in purchases, 1% cashback thereafter), 2% for travel, 1% for everything else, 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 6 months then 15.24% Variable.
Foreign Transaction Fee: 2.7%
Points: None – cash back only
Current Sign-Up bonus: None

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • ScottC

    Nice post. Definitely looking forward to your tips about maximizing value of MR points. Slight modification to the PR Gold card, the 3x points on airfare is not limited to airfare purchased through Amex’s travel site.

  • The Points Guy

    @Scott- thanks- I made the change. I definitely plan to dig into Membership Rewards. I just wanted to get all the cards in one place first (which was quite the undertaking in itself!)

    Stay tuned!

  • Chris

    On the Membership Rewards cards, what are the rules about advancing points? Can you ask for an advance as soon as you are approved?

    On a related subject, what are the pluses and minuses of transferring Rewards points? Are you locked into a preferred airline? Can you change airlines?

  • pixel girl

    Is there a difference between Am Ex Business & Am Ex Corporate? I have a business card, but somehow I don’t think it’s quite the same as a corporate.

    Thanks, as always, for this informative series!

  • The Points Guy

    @Chris- I’ll cover all of this in detail in my Membership Rewards overview, but you can generally advance points if you’ve been an Amex customer for at least 6 months. Platinum/Centurion can advance up to 60,000 and Golds 15,000. Advancing isn’t allowed on corporate cards.

    @Pixel- Business cards are different than corporate. Business cards are more geared for small business owners and they are more like indiviudal cards (but there are key differences, especially with benefits), whereas corporate cards are under a program used to manage spend across organizations.

  • RajB

    Thanks for this great resource. However, there’s an error on the Platinum Delta SkyMiles benefits — you get 20,000 MQMs after $50,000 in spend (not 50,000 MQMs).

  • gpapadop

    Very informative, thanks! So it appears that the minimum annual fee to stay in the MR program (and not forfeit any MR points) is the Green card at $95? I need to make plans when the year is up on my Plat card to either spend/transfer out all points or get this one hopefully with a big bonus and no annual fee for the first year:-)

    I thought that the Premier Rewards card was one and the same with the Gold card. I did not know that they are too different cards, learn something new every day in this hobby!

    Is there a “limit” to how many cards AMEX will give you/let you keep? I find having up to three is no problem.

    Thanks for the Arcade restaurant recommendation in Madrid, it was great!

  • Brandon
  • ed

    There is yet another type (I think) of Amex card: the ones which do their own accounting but use the Amex brand (ie., they dont show up in the Amex website listing). I’m thinking of my PenFed Amex Travel Rewards card.

  • bl181

    You are a wealth of information! Thank you for another great post! Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • The Points Guy

    @RajB- thanks! Made the correction…wishful thinking :-)

    @Gpapadop- I don’t know of a particular limit (I have had 3 cards and never had an issue with it- I’m sure it can go higher). I think it depends too on how many are business/personal and charge vs credit. Maybe others can chime in.

    @Brandon- THANKS! Updated- thats a much better deal

    @Ed- there are a bunch of other Amex cards, like PennFed, but they are actually issued by PenFed the bank (Citi also has Amex cards). These are just the Amex issued consumer cards

    @BL- thank you! I try, but I get so much of my information from my readers. Keep the tips/feedback coming!

  • Monica

    Great post, very informative. Would you know if it’s possible to apply (and get the current sign up bonuses) for the Gold Premier and Platinum cards? I currently have the SPG and Blue. Thanks again for the great tips and looking forward to the next posts on this series

  • bluto

    I recently started following this site and like it a lot. I started after the series in which you converted airline miles to cashback value and then compared across the universe of cards. Terrific posts on that.

    I have a total of 4 Amex cards now. I have 2 personal and 2 business. Last year when I tried to get a fifth, I was denied because I had “too many American Express cards.” Since then, I cancelled two and then recently got the Amex Platinum and the Amex Business Gold.

  • Ted

    I thought the blue was a credit card, not a charge. Am I wrong? This would be good to know because I might have to downgrade one of my cards to blue.

  • Mike

    I have the American Express Blue and after 6,000 in spend you receive 5% on all gas, grocery and drugstore purchases. It is a nice feeling when pulling up to the pump you know you are getting 5% back.

  • Joanna

    TPG: Another great post! Two comments: The Platinum Pay with Points for flights bonus is currently 20% not 25%. Recently they did have a promo for 30% points back. The best thing about using this feature is that Amex charges you for the ticket and then credits you back immediately. The airline considers it a cash transaction and awards you miles and credit towards status for the ticket. Also, the Blue card is a credit card, not a charge card.

    I look forward to the rest of this series on Amex. Thanks!

  • Lindsay Young

    Thanks for this as a new Platinum card holder I learned from your site how to get the Airline Lounge Pass. Looking forward to more updates, and congrats making this your full time gig! I see a E show in your future!

  • The Points Guy

    @Monica- you can definitely try getting the Platinum and Gold sign up bonuses- try applying. If they don’t allow it, try closing out your blue or SPG- they should accomodate.

    @Mike- didn’t see that feature. Do you see it advertised anywhere? I believe you- just want to see it in writing

    @Joanna- its a 25% bonus or a 20% rebate depending how you look at it. Amex markets it as a 20% rebate, but in reality you are getting a 25% bonus (1.25 cents per point vs 1) same thing in the end. And correct- you do earn miles on those tickets.

    Will change the Blue card to credit.

    @ Lindsay- welcome to the club!

  • Glen

    Approved!

    Awesome! I’m a current Green Card holder (having recently downgraded from the Premier Rewards Gold Card), so I just applied for the Premier Rewards Gold Card – after clearing my cookies first – and was instantly approved! 25,000 points here I come! And…. I’ll get a refund of the Green card annual fee I recently paid!

    Thanks PointsGuy! I love your tips!

  • Pingback: Maximizing Amex Post 2: Understanding Membership Rewards |

  • markj

    I just gave up my Delta Reserve Card and got the Gold Premier Rewards Card. With carryover MQM’s I should be good for Diamond Medallion on Delta for the next two years with a decent amount of flying.

    I am thinking the Gold Premier Rewards card is an excellent $30,000/year spend card. I will do about $15,000 on Airfare which earns 3x miles [I am reading 4x if you book on the Amex site but I haven't tried it]. I figure about $6000 on gas and groceries for 2x miles and $9000 of regular spend.

    I figure I will earn:
    Airlines 45,000
    Gas/grocery 12,000
    Regular spend 9,000
    $30,000 bonus 15,000

    Total annual 81,000 Membership Rewards Points

    If I get lucky and there is an interesting transfer bonus at the time I want to redeem I could easily generate over 100,000 miles per year with $30,000 spend.

    I did sign up with the 10,000 point bonus. After two calls and one email American Express offered to meet the terms of their private targeted offer of a 75,000 point sign up bonus which is really great of them.

    Am I thinking clearly on this card?

  • Monica

    I read somewhere that the Platinum or Gold Premier big sign up bonuses were for 1st time charge card holders only, which in theory would prevent double dipping on these offers. Was anyone able to get both bonuses?

  • The Points Guy

    @Glen- congrats! Next step, Platinum card :-)

    @Mark- you are spot on- I think going that route makes a lot of sense. The 4X Amex bonus is only for merchandise, but 3x is still a good deal.

    @Monica- You can get the bonuses if you are a first time Platinum card or Premier Rewards card holder. The charge card thing is misleading in my experience. Either way, Amex has amazing customer service and they’ll generally just give you the points even if you weren’t 100% eligible. They are focused on retaining customers and they just posted a mega-profit, so I wouldn’t worry about it. The gain is well worth the risk, in my humble opinion

  • Chris

    I am planning to apply for the Platinum card, but I would also like to get the Chase BA card with 100K bonus. How can I reduce the hit to my credit score when applying for two cards? I read that applying for both in the same day would only count once, but that may only work when applying to one company. Credit scores are a black art, but do you have any advice?

  • HoKo

    @ Lindsay Young

    I think you might be confusing TPG with Lucky. As far as I know TPG continues to work in the corporate world whereas Lucky will be graduating soon and is going to be travel blogging full time.

    That being said, they are both great resources and I frequently learn things I didn’t know about from both their blogs

  • HoKo

    @ Chris

    There are going to be 2 hard pulls, one from AMEX and one from Chase in this situation (this holds true no matter what you do).

    The only thing you are trying to accomplish by applying on the same day is to take advantage of the fact that hard inquries usually take a day or 2 to show up on your credit report, therefore by applying for both cards simultaneously they don’t see the inquiry from the other card and therefore don’t count it against you.

    I think you might be confusing what happens when you rateshop for a car loan or check multiple insurance companies. Credit Bureaus will frequently count multiple hard inq’s for a loan as 1 hard inq (so long as they occur within a set period of time ranging anywhere from 1-3 weeks I believe)

  • The Points Guy

    @Chris – Hoko hit it on the head- theres nothing you can do to prevent 2 inquiries, but applying on the same day will keep them blind from the other issuer. If you have decent credit, it shouldn’t matter anyway.

    @Hoko- I know Lindsay personally and while I haven’t announced it, I am going to be doing TPG full-time in the near future :-)

  • Pingback: Maximizing Amex Post 4: Platinum Card Review |

  • AC

    Thanks for the insights.
    Just wanted to know what your opinion on this: I was approved for the TE card a week ago, that I didn’t intend to apply but ended up with when I renewed my membership with costco. I thought of re-building my relationship with amex when my account with them was cancelled 8 yrs ago due to my ignorance as an undergrad student. I’ve been planning and thinking of applying with one of the charge cards after learning all my lessons and improved my credit. However, since I was recently approved with the TE card, what will be my chances of getting approved with a charge card? Should I apply or is there such thing as the basic charge card that I should start with and work my way up to the higher end charge card (and I don’t mind the annual fees at all)? Lastly, how long should I wait to apply for it? TIA

  • Scott C

    @AC – You can get a lot of advice on chances of approval at myfico.com if you search in their forums. But the general consensus is that the Amex revolving products, such as your TE card, are harder to get than the charge cards. So if you were approved for the TE card, I don’t think you’ll have any issues applying for one of the charge products.

    Also, with the possible exception of the Zync card, I believe that the selection criteria for all of the charge products is the same. Platinum is no more difficult to get than Green. If you want the Platinum card, just app for that.

    Finally, I’m not sure on this one, but I don’t think you have to wait any amount of time between apps. There may be a restriction if you were denied, and maybe there is something about no more than two apps in a certain timeframe, but I think you would be ok to apply now since you only have the one recent application. In any event, I am fairly certain that if you were to apply and Amex were to deny the application because you had submitted it too soon, they would cancel the application without pulling your credit report. Hope that helps.

  • Dolly Singh

    the amex corporate card doesn’t offer purchase protection from my understanding/speaking with amex 5 minutes ago/reading their website.

  • Jg9

    I had the Gold Delta Amex and had spent $15,000 and received 5,000 miles (not MQM’s) on 11/19. On 11/28, I upgraded to the Delta Amex Reserve, and have spent have reached $30,000 in spending. American Express is refusing to grant me the 15,000 miles and 15,000 MQM’s. I have pointed out that this is contrary to their Cardmember agreement, but haven’t gotten anywhere. I also contacted Delta, who sent an email to their Amex rep, but again to no avail. Before I file for arbitration, do you have any suggestions?

  • Abi

    I have just signed up for a gold card – can I sign up for a partner card and then combine the points?

  • thepointsguy

    What do you mean by partner card?

  • Abi

    Like the amex hilton card, no fee but sign up points?

  • MKSVoyager

    Over the years I accumulated 266000 points in my Green American Express Card. I was hoping to go to GRU from PDX. Years ago I was able to transfer points straight to American Airlines. No longer can I do that. How can I accomplish my trip to GRU over the holidays using my points and flying AA?

  • Jene Pitsenbarger

    They approved me for this with a 622 trans score. Now they offered me the gold card, but not going to take it score to low. I am a very loyal customer to am-ex. I have read you need excellent credit for rewards card, apparently not. I put about 1200 month on card pay in full. Just can’t believe how they have approved me.

  • tinyk

    I signed up for the SPG Amex on January 17, 2014 through the current offer for 10,000 points followed by 15,000 points after spending $5000 within 6 months. I fulfilled the terms and never got the points. Amex never sent me any documentation of the offer and insists I signed up for a 10,000 bonus points deal only. I can’t find any evidence of such a deal and customer service refuses to explain the discrepancy. Has anyone else had this experience? Points Guy, does this sound like bait and switch to you? Something is fishy.

  • Christine

    I am trying to fly from LAX to BCN and then MAD to LAX using american express miles. Does anyone know the best transfer value from AX points to a n airline? There are about 6 to choose from on this route for First Class Sleepers. Thakns.

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