Billionaire Art Collector Earns Millions in AmEx Points

Mar 13, 2015

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Want to earn staggeringly high numbers of travel rewards points? Well, follow billionaire Liu Yiqian’s lead by charging millions of dollars’ worth of ancient Chinese art on your Amex Centurion Card, and you’ll be traveling for free in no time.

Yiqiang's "Chicken Cup" is presently on display at Shangahi's Long Museum as part of of an exhibition on the Ming Dynasty
Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian’s $36 million “Chicken Cup” was recently on display at Shangahi’s Long Museum as part of of an exhibition on the Ming Dynasty

The chairman of chemical, pharmaceutical and financial corporation Sunline Group, Yiqian also owns a stake in Shenzhen-listed Hubei Biocause Pharmaceutical. Presently worth $1.27 billion, he and his wife Zhao Wei are among China’s most successful art investors. Last July, after a successful bid at a Sotheby’s auction, Yiqian charged $36 million on his Amex for a Ming Dynasty porcelain artifact known as the “Chicken Cup” and attracted the attention of news source Bloomberg—who informed him that he’d be earning roughly 422 million points for his purchase.

Prior to this, Yiqian—who doesn’t speak English— didn’t know that he’d earn points by using his Centurion Card. (Guess it’s not just Americans who are unaware of credit card awards!) Soon after learning about his points, he used Membership Rewards redemptions to fly round-trip from Shanghai to New York and stay in SPG’s The St. Regis New York. Per my February valuations, I value Membership Rewards at 2 cents apiece, making them more valuable than they’ve been for years.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
By charging millions on his Centurion Card, Yiqiang has earned millions of points. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Yiqian’s most recent art purchase, 281,576,250 CNY ($45 million USD) for a 15th-century silk Buddhist thangka tapestry he won in a November auction, required 31 separate credit card transactions on his Amex. According to the website for China Merchants Bank, which issued Yiqian’s card, the conversion rate is one point per 20 CNY (yuan), which means that the thangka purchase should qualify for about 18,750,000 frequent flyer miles, including bonus awards.

In order to travel from his home in Shanghai to make this epic credit card spend, the Chinese billionaire reportedly used points to fly himself, his wife, and his daughter round-trip to Hong Kong. Well done.

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