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In this post, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele examines a new platform for earning and redeeming points, and explains how it can boost your overall return on purchases from a variety of retailers.
American Express recently introduced a new merchant rewards program called Plenti that works across multiple brands, and has now launched a Plenti credit card to go with it. The program is still in its infancy, but even now there’s definitely value to be found, so today I want to take a closer look at Plenti to see what benefits it may have for travel rewards enthusiasts.
The Plenti Rewards Program
Plenti is a so-called multi-partner loyalty program, and is free to join for anyone age 13 or older. American Express launched Plenti this spring with a handful of partners where members can earn Plenti points: Exxon, Mobil, AT&T, Macy’s, Hulu, Nationwide Insurance, Direct Energy and Rite Aid. American Express has since added Enterprise, Alamo and National car rentals (which are all operated by the same corporate parent), and plans on growing its partner list soon. Amex will focus on brands that customers interact with often, and will offer exclusivity within a particular category (Exxon and Mobil are owned by the same corporation).
Additionally, Amex offers an online marketplace with thousands of other “household offers,” which is a lower level of integration with the Plenti program much like an online shopping portal.
When it comes to earning points, retailers offer a minimum of one point per dollar spent, but can offer more for particular purchases. The Plenti points you earn are in addition to any points you might earn in the retailer’s program. For example, you can earn both Plenti points and wellness+ points at Rite Aid or Star Rewards at Macy’s, which makes for a pretty good double dip opportunity.
When it comes time to spend your points, you can redeem them toward purchases from Plenti partners at a rate of at least one cent per point, but possibly more if there’s a special promotion.
Integration with Membership Rewards
When I heard about this new rewards program from American Express, my first question was whether there would be any connection to the more valuable Membership Rewards program, which allows you to transfer points to 20 different airline and hotel partners.
While such a connection does exist, it only allows you to transfer points from Membership Rewards to Plenti, not the other way around. You can transfer 500 Membership Rewards points to earn just 400 Plenti points, which is a worse deal than the already bad option of redeeming for gift cards directly from Membership Rewards at 1 cent per point. You’re much better off transferring Membership Rewards points to airline miles or hotel points and using them for travel. Membership Rewards points are valued at 2.0 cents each according to TPG’s June valuations, so sending points to Plenti for just 0.8 cents in value is abysmal.
The Plenti Credit Card
To accompany the Plenti rewards program, American Express has also released The Plenti Credit Card. This card offers a meager bonus of 5,000 Plenti points after spending $250 within three months, and gives you 3 Plenti points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 point), 2 points at US restaurants and 1 point on other purchases for each eligible dollar spent. Terms apply. However, it comes with Amex shopping protections including Extended Warranty, Purchase Protection and Return Protection (see my post on Everything You Need to Know About Amex Purchase Protection). Finally, there’s no annual fee.
Considering that you don’t have to use the Plenti card to earn Plenti points at participating retailers, there’s not much incentive to get it. Hopefully Amex will start to offer more bonuses and promotions targeted at Plenti cardholders; until then it’s more or less a 1% cash-back card.
Neither the Plenti rewards program nor the Plenti credit card appear to be targeted at the travel rewards market. For one thing, none of the original launch partners are travel-related (unless you count gasoline retailers Exxon and Mobil); the rental car companies were only added later, and you still can’t redeem Plenti points to rent cars. Furthermore, no self-respecting award traveler would be caught dead transferring points from Membership Rewards to Plenti.
Instead, Plenti is aimed more at retail shoppers and novice point collectors. By offering a credit card with no annual fee and partnering with merchants that have a very broad customer base, Plenti seems to target people who are not highly engaged in loyalty programs. This strategy may work out well for Amex, and may even offer valuable rewards for Plenti members, but it simply isn’t going to provide competitive returns to more sophisticated users of travel reward programs, or those with travel rewards credit cards from American Express and other card issuers.
Nevertheless, I do see some potential benefits of this program to savvy points and miles enthusiasts. Since Plenti operates separately from other programs, you can use the program to boost your overall return on qualifying purchases. For example, you might use the American Express Everyday Preferred Card to earn 2x points at US gas stations (or 3x when you factor in the 50% points bonus for making 30 or more transactions in a statement period). Alternately, you might use the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express to earn 6% cash back at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year; then 1%. In either case, you can earn Plenti points on the transaction for an extra 1% back (approximately).
In addition, Plenti offers some online deals that can benefit travelers. For example, there are currently offers for bonus Plenti points from Alamo, Enterprise and National, and again all of these deals are in addition to whatever other rewards you would normally earn. Finally, there are many travel partners that have portal offers, such as Hotwire, Priceline and Travelocity. However, these are fairly standard online portal offers found elsewhere, and in most cases I would rather earn points and miles from an airline, hotel or credit card program than bonus Plenti points.
As with other rewards programs, the best value in the Plenti program comes from bonuses and other promotions. The day-to-day earning rate isn’t very exciting, but considering that these points are earned in addition to other points, you may as well sign up if you tend to spend a lot with any of the existing partners.
If partners begin to offer significantly more than one cent per point redeemed, the value of the program will rise sharply. And should American Express ever offer transfers of points from Plenti to Membership Rewards, then award travel enthusiasts will take notice. Until then I plan to keep an eye on Plenti, but I won’t go out of my way to use it.
Have you started using the Plenti rewards program? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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