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Some things just work well in threes — and the travel world is no exception, from the ME3 (Middle East 3) carriers to the main three airline alliances.
One other trio loved by many of us is the Chase trifecta — the Chase Sapphire Reserve (or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card), the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Used together, these cards offer a powerful combination of earning rates, welcome bonuses and perks.
Thanks probably in part to Chase’s competitive offerings, we’ve seen Amex step up its game by introducing new cards and adding benefits to existing products. The last few months have seen Amex refresh much of its charge card portfolio, including both the personal American Express® Gold Card and its business counterpart. These changes make it possible to construct a similar “Amex trifecta,” three cards that complement each other in nearly every way, providing outsized value with a reasonable price tag. Each of these cards are great on their own, but when taken together they can unlock serious value for even infrequent travelers.
The Amex Platinum is one of the most valuable cards available thanks to a hefty welcome bonus and a lengthy list of luxury travel perks that can more than offset its $550 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). The current welcome offer is 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months, but many TPG readers have been targeted for a 100,000-point offer with the same spending requirement by using the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at anytime). TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, making the bonus worth either $1,200 or $2,000 depending on which offer you get.
In addition to regularly running transfer bonuses to select partners, Membership Rewards transfer to airline and hotel partners at the following rates:
|Airline/Hotel||Transfer Rate (Amex MR points : Airline/Hotel Program)|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1,000:1,000|
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||1,000:1,000|
While the annual fee is a whopping $550, I consider the real out-of-pocket cost to be only $150 thanks to three generous annual statement credits. I take the first two credits at face value, but not the third as I wouldn’t otherwise be shopping at Saks. Platinum card holders will receive:
- Up to $200 in annual airline incidental credits, valid for seat assignment, baggage fees, lounge access and other incidental charges.
- Up to $200 in Uber credits. Card holders receive $15 in credits each month, with a $20 bonus in December.
- Up to $100 in annual Saks Fifth Avenue credits, $50 for purchases made between January and June and another $50 for purchases made between July and December.
- Terms apply
I like to think of that $150 “out-of-pocket cost” as a discounted lounge membership, and the Amex Platinum has the most comprehensive airport lounge benefits of any credit card. In addition to a Priority Pass Select membership, which is available through several other credit cards, you’ll also receive access to Amex’s exclusive global collection of Centurion lounges, and access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying on Delta.
The perks don’t stop there. The Platinum card also offers 5x points (a 10% return) on flights booked directly with the airline and flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, as well as access to a useful premium concierge service for all your travel and dining needs. Hotel stays are rewarding as well, whether you take advantage of the complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, or book through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts to earn property credits and room upgrades.
While many people wrote off the old Premier Rewards Gold Card as not being worth the cost, the addition of up to $120 in new statement credits make its reincarnation, the Amex Gold Card, more compelling, even with the annual fee raised to $250 (See Rates & Fees) and no longer waived for the first year.
So how does this work? In addition to the old $100 annual airline incidental credit (similar to the Amex Platinum, this can only be used for ancillary fees and not for airfare), the Amex Gold offers up to $120 in annual dining credits. This is broken up into up to $10 in monthly statement credits that can be used at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack. If you max out both of these credits you’ll be getting $220 a year, lowering your out-of-pocket cost to $30.
The bonus categories on the Amex Gold Card also got a powerful update:
- 4x points at US restaurants
- 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 in spend per calendar year; then 1x)
- 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or on amextravel.com
- 1x everywhere else
- Terms apply
The welcome bonus is currently 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, worth $700 according to TPG’s valuations, though many readers have been targeted for a 50,000 point bonus either through CardMatch or by getting a referral link from a friend.
Ever since the Marriott Bonvoy Amex (formerly the SPG Amex) had its earning rate devalued and subsequently closed to new applicants, the Amex Blue Business Plus has emerged as one of the most valuable cards for everyday non-bonus spending. This no-annual-fee card (See Rates & Fees) earns 2x points on the first $50,000 in annual spending with no bonus categories to worry about, and 1x after that. Like with the other cards on this list, you’ll also get access to valuable Amex Offers, which can help you save money (or give you bonus points) for purchases you were already planning to make. The Blue Business Plus is not currently offering a welcome bonus.
Bonus Category Review
The total cost in annual fees of the Amex trifecta comes out to $800 starting in the second year, and while the $720 in annual statement credits can go a long way to offset that, the long-term value of this combo comes from the complementary bonus categories.
|Amex Platinum||Amex Gold Card||Blue Business Plus Amex|
|1x||All non-bonus purchases||All non-bonus purchases||All non-bonus purchases|
|2x||First $50,000 in annual spending (then 1x)|
|3x||Flights booked directly with the airline and on amextravel.com|
|4x||US restaurants and US supermarkets (up to $25,000 in annual spending for US supermarkets; then 1x)|
|5x||Flights booked directly with the airline and airfare and prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel|
One important advantage that this Amex trifecta has over its Chase counterpart is that all three of these cards earn transferable Membership Rewards points, so if you can only get one of these cards, you can pick the perks and bonus categories that work best for you without compromising anything on the redemption side. But if you are able to get the entire trifecta, you’ll end up earning Membership Rewards points faster than you can use them with anywhere from a ~ 4-10% return on almost all your purchases.
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WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees