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This question comes in from TPG reader Chris:
“If you had to pick only 3 cards, with at least one of them being an American Express product, what would they be?”
As always, the answer really depends on what you want to redeem your points for, and what you value – awards without blackout dates, premium international travel, perks like lounge access and free checked bags, etc.
But, since you’re asking me, here are the three cards I’d keep in my wallet if I could only have three (what a horrible thought!) – and if you would like to read more about why I chose the three cards I chose (and some of the runners up), you can continue reading below.
1. (Amex Choice) American Express Premier Rewards Gold: In my opinion this is the best Amex card. It earns triple points on airfare, double points on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, double points at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, and single points on other purchases. There are foreign transaction fees, so I never use it abroad or for purchases from foreign companies. You also get 15,000 bonus points for spending $30,000 per calendar year. I like my Amex points because Amex runs transfer bonuses, like the recent 50% to British Airways, though I, like many other folks, am waiting for another good Delta transfer bonus. Current signup bonus is 25,000 points after $2,000 spent within 3 months.
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred: his has to be one of my all-time favorite credit cards for a few reasons: you earn 2x points on dining and travel (which includes all kinds of various expenses), a 7% annual dividend on all the points you earn including the sign-up bonus, and a growing roster of transfer partners including United (Star Alliance), British Airways (Oneworld), Korean Air (SkyTeam), Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn) and Amtrak and no foreign transaction fees. The current sign-up bonus is 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $3,000 spent within 3 months.
3. Chase Ink Bold with Ultimate Rewards: This is my go-to business card and is similar to the Sapphire and the points can be combined into one central account. You earn 5 points per dollar on office supply stores, cable and wireless service, and landline communications up to $50,000 annually, and 2x on gas stations and hotels. Those points can be transferred to the same partners as the Sapphire Preferred or used at 1.25 cents per point to actually purchase airfare and hotels. The current 50,000-point sign-up bonus and first year annual fee waived is one of the best deals on the market right now, but it does require $10,000 spent within 3 months.
Close runners up:
–Amex Platinum: The real reason to get this card is the perks, which include Priority Pass Select lounge access, an annual $200 airline rebate and Fine Hotels & Resorts perks among other benefits. The annual fee is $450, which is a pretty hard pill to swallow, though I pull way more value out of this card than that, so I’m willing to pay it. I fly American and Delta so lounge access to both is a great benefit (especially since I no longer have Diamond status on Delta so I lost the free lounge benefit). Plus the $200 a year in airline rebates cuts that $450 annual fee down to $250 in my mind. This card also reimburses holders the $100 fee for getting the Global Entry card (immigrations and customs is a breeze), it charges no foreign transaction fees, and it has fairly comprehensive purchase protections in place. I just wish the points-earning potential was more lucrative since it only awards 1 points per dollar spent. That’s why I just carry this card for the perks, but not for actual spending. The current sign-up bonus is 25,000-point bonus when you spend $2,000 within the first three months or 50,000 points after $1,000 spent within 3 months for the Mercedes-Benz version, which has a $25 higher annual fee, but all the same basic benefits.
–Starwood Preferred Guest American Express: This is one of the best points-earning cards out there, especially because Starpoints can be so valuable thanks to great redemption options including Cash & Points at the over 1,000 Starwood properties all over the world. Members can also transfer points into miles on over 30 different airlines, including Aeroplan, American, Alaska, ANA, American, Asia Miles, British Airways, Delta, Flying Blue, Emirates, Hawaiian, Singapore, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic, along with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer, essentially a 25% bonus if you plan your transfers correctly. Just having this card gets you 2 stays’/5 nights’ credit towards elite status (which is especially good news since Starwood launched new perks for elite members who stay 50/75/100 nights), and you earn at least 2 points per dollar on spend at Starwood. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year, though there are foreign transaction fees. Current sign-up bonus is 25,000 points, though Amex often runs a 30,000-point bonus this time of year.
–British Airways Visa: Though the current bonus is down to just 50,000 Avios – 25,000 with your first purchase, and an additional 25,000 when you spend $2,500 in three months – this is still one of my favorite cards thanks to several other features that make it a great one for travelers including: no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology that makes it easier to make purchases abroad, valuable companion tickets when you spend $30,000 in a year, and the fact that you earn 1.25 Avios per dollar spent rather than just 1 (and 2.5 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases). To put it another way, short-haul flights start at 4,500 Avios, which at 1.25 Avios per dollar, would only require $3,600 in spending – pretty compelling. The major downside is big fees on most award tickets to Europe and Australia, though huge value can be had through other redemptions including expensive domestic, short-haul and intra-European awards. Plus, British Airways has an amazing first-class product, so I don’t mind coughing up the $900 to fly on a ticket that would normally cost $10,000+, especially since they are one of the few carriers with flights to Europe from Miami that have a good in-flight product (sorry AA, you don’t make the cut!).