Maximizing Amex Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering

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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

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