The one improvement I would love to see Amex make to its cards in 2021
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here - The Platinum Card® from American Express
I'm an American living in the United Kingdom — and I'm not alone in saying that. It's estimated that just under 200,000 Americans live in the U.K. And beyond that, millions of expats are spread around the world. In fact, in 2016, the U.S. State Department estimated that approximately 8.7 million Americans live and work around the world.
Like many, I still hold on to several U.S. credit cards. Let's face it — the credit cards in the U.S. are incredibly more lucrative than those offered in the U.K. Sign-up bonuses in the hundred thousands, benefits that can produce hundreds of dollars' worth of value and bonus point-earning structures make my U.S. cards a no-brainer to use for my everyday spend.
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But, unfortunately, my international spend often doesn't qualify me for bonus points. And the issue is nearly exclusive to American Express products. When coronavirus struck, the card issuer raced to add value to cards for existing and new cardholders — in the form of additional bonus categories, new perks and more — but it often leaves out international spend.
Related: Are temporary categories here to stay as part of sign-up bonuses?
At the most premium level, let's take The Platinum Card® from American Express. During the pandemic, Amex added a bonus category for new cardholders: 10x Membership Rewards points on U.S gas stations and U.S. supermarket purchases in the first six months of card membership (up to $15,000 in combined 10x spend). The problem here being that the 10x point earning is limited to U.S. supermarket purchases.
At the mid-level of American Express' card portfolio, the American Express® Gold Card offers 4x points on up to $25,000 per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets (after, 1x). Yes, I'm based in the U.K. But yes, I also need to buy groceries — and I would love to be able to earn 4x or 10x points doing so.
Even some non-bonus category benefits of cards fall into this restriction. On both the Platinum Card and the Gold Card, there are now credits to use with Uber. Mind you, Uber is an international company with operations in more than 60 countries around the world. In fact, I use Uber's services — whether it's for a ride or to get food delivered to my flat — in London several times a month.
That said, American Express limits the Uber benefits on both the Platinum Card and Gold Card to purchases made via the Uber or Uber Eats app only in the United States. In other words, I'm missing out on up to $200 annually in Uber credits on my Platinum Card and up to $120 annually in Uber Cash on my Gold Card ($10 credits per month). Card must be added in Uber app to receive Uber Cash benefit.
Related: Amex Gold cardholders’ new $10 monthly Uber credits starting to post
To be frank, it makes it really hard to justify paying the annual fee on both cards for benefits I'm not able to fully maximize.
But it's not all bad news. That same Gold Card that offers bonus points only on U.S. supermarket purchases offers a bonus on dining purchases at restaurants. In June 2019, Amex made a huge positive improvement to the Gold Card by expanding its 4x on dining bonus category to restaurant purchases. Because of that, the Gold Card is my go-to card for all dining purchases at restaurants — including the all-important deliveries during the multiple coronavirus lockdowns (for takeout and delivery in the U.S.).
While, selfishly, I would love to see American Express introduce bonus point-earning categories for international purchases, it would also make sense for the issuers. Considering that the State Department estimates that nearly 9 million Americans live abroad, issuers could potentially open their consumer base to millions who might be more inclined to sign up for and use these credit cards if there were a better incentive to do so.
"In general, we tailor our Card benefits based on what is most relevant for our Card Members’ lifestyles," American Express told TPG in a statement. "In categories like travel and dining, where we see our Card Members spending when they travel internationally, we offer bonusing on global restaurant spend on Cards like our Gold and Green Cards, and bonusing on airline spend with global airlines on our Platinum, Gold and Green Cards. In other categories like grocery, where U.S. supermarkets are most relevant for our Card Members’ lifestyles, we have prioritized bonusing on U.S. supermarkets."
So, what would I like to see? Well, the inclusion of international purchases would be a start. Chase is very good in this regard and it's the main reason I keep my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in my wallet. That card, as well as its more premium Chase Sapphire Reserve relative, awards bonus points for international purchases, as well as those made in the U.S.
For example, Chase includes "local transit and commuting" as part of its travel category, which earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar with the Sapphire Preferred. And because it's not limited to just U.S. travel purchases, I'm able to earn 2x points on my Tube rides — of course, not as much during lockdown as I did pre-pandemic.
Yes, I may be too greedy in my point-earning potential. But I also have groceries to buy — and I'd like to earn bonus points on them the same way I would in the States. At a time when I'm not traveling as much, it makes the decision to keep a credit card in my wallet harder, especially if I'm not able to get the full portfolio of benefits that a U.S.-based cardholder is. I hope Amex reviews these restrictive policies.