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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 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. After the latest move, a lovely refresh to the American Express® Gold Card (formerly the Premier Rewards Gold Amex), it’s now 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. The current welcome offer is 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $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 1.9 cents each, making the bonus worth either $1,140 or $1,900 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|
|Marriott (formerly SPG)||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 cardholders 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. Cardholders 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 9.5% 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 $120 in new statement credits make its reincarnation, the Amex Gold Card, more compelling, even with the annual fee raised to $250 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)
- 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or on amextravel.com
- 1x everywhere else
- Terms apply
The welcome bonus is currently 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, worth $475 according to TPG’s valuations. Amex is also running a promotion for the new card called “We’ll Pick Up the Tip,” where new applicants who apply by Jan. 9, 2019 can get 20% back at US restaurants (up to $100) in the first 3 months. The last positive change is to the card itself, and while this shouldn’t influence your decision to apply, the new metal cards (shown above), including the limited-edition rose gold version, look mighty fine.
In light of the recent devaluation to the earning rate of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, the Amex Blue Business Plus has emerged as one of the most valuable cards for everyday non-bonus spending. This no-annual-fee card 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|
|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)|
|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.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 25,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Get the American Express® Gold Card in Limited Edition Rose Gold, only available until 1/9/2019.
- Receive 20% back as a statement credit at U.S. Restaurants within the first 3 months, up to $100 back. Offer available to new Card Members who apply by 1/9/2019.
- Plus, earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees