27 – American Express adds benefits and revamps travel credits

ScreenHunter_403 May. 01 18.31

American Express revamps many cards adding benefits, offering more versatility, and granting bonus points for purchases.


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Show notes:

American Express PDF detailing changes

Rough Transcript:

You’re listening to the Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast. I’m your host, Justin Vacula, here to help you travel the world at next to no cost through credit card points, miles, benefits, and rewards. Make money, save money, and take advantage of great deals!

Visit my website at HurdyGurdyTravel.com where you can contact me, read episode transcripts, complete a free credit card questionnaire to receive tailored recommendations, follow me on social media, and listen to past episodes. Visit my Patreon page, linked on my website, to subscribe for monthly one-on-one conversations, a custom podcast episode, and the opportunity to have your questions answered by episode guests.

I’ll be livestreaming from YouTube with business coach Cakeologi on Tuesdays and Fridays at 9PM Eastern as the shelter in place time continues. We’ll talk about all things money, business, and credit while answering questions from a live audience. Find announcements for upcoming streams and archives of past livestreams on my website at hurdygurdytravel.com.

Thanks for joining me for episode 27 – American Express adds benefits and revamps travel credits. I’ll talk about how you can save money and use card benefits during this pandemic.

American Express is making some big moves in recent weeks during a time cardholders cannot use various travel benefits and points and may have a more difficult time reaching minimum spend requirements. My last episode discussed Amex extending time to reach spending required for signup bonuses and now there’s more great news from Amex not only for current cardholders, but also for people who want to apply for a new American Express card.

Today, May 1st of 2020, American Express released a detailed PDF explaining various changes to cards including personal and business Platinum cards; Green card; Bonvoy cards; Aspire and Surpass Hilton cards; and personal Delta cards. See the show notes for the PDF. Let’s explore some of the changes automatically added to cards.

All versions of personal Platinum cards will now offer statement credits of $20 per month for monthly streaming services and cell phone credits from May 1st through December 31st – eight months of credits for a total of $320 dollars for what American Express deems qualifying transactions. This should, for most, be $160 off most cell phone services – something most are paying for already. Many already subscribed to services like Netflix and Hulu paying full price will also save another $160 dollars. People who don’t have streaming subscriptions can add, essentially for free, one or two subscriptions.

Those getting $320 in value or close to it will very likely find reasons to continue paying an annual fee past year one especially if they’ll receive a retention offer for bonus Membership Rewards points. A $550 annual fee minus the $320 credit leaves a $230 difference likely covered by a $15 a month credit for Uber or Uber Eats, a bi-annual Saks off 5th Avenue Credit, and other perks which come with the Platinum card. Those who recently acquired a Platinum card will especially benefit having received a signup bonus which outpaces the annual fee.

Personally, I like the Charles Schwab Platinum card which allows cashout of Membership Rewards at 1.25 cents per point for those who have a Charles Schwab account. Those without a brokerage account or more interested in travel may prefer the regular personal Platinum card which may come with a higher signup bonus and offer a referral bonus to someone like me who already has American Express cards. For American Express referral links, visit my website at hurdygurdytravel.com to support my efforts at no additional cost to you.

Personal Platinum cards are especially good for those who are finished getting Chase cards and are traveling at least a moderate amount to use airline incidental credits, visit Centurion Lounges, Delta SkyClubs, and enjoy benefits of various statuses from hotels and rental car companies. Now can be a great time to apply, especially for those who don’t travel often, for an additional $320 in credits if maximizing the benefits.

Similar to the personal Platinum cards, the American Express Green card will provide a $10/month credit for wireless cell phone charges. The Green card is quite nice for a 30,000 point signup bonus through referral offer for only $2000 in spending in now six months if applying before May 31st. The new cell phone benefit, for those who don’t have the platinum cards, adds an additional $80 of value reducing the $150 annual fee for an effective $70. $70 for 30,000 points and other benefits like Clear membership credits to speed through airport lines in a post-pandemic world; airport lounge access credits; and bonus categories for dining, transit, and travel.

The Business Platinum card now offers a $20 a month shipping credit from May through December – up to $160 in value. American Express mentions purchases made directly with UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service excluding prepaid cards, travelers’ checks, and cash equivalents. Perhaps this will work for purchases of stamps at post offices or other supplies like shipping envelopes or tape? It’s worth a shot, anyway, since you’ll likely have future purchases in mind if you’re selling books on ebay or Amazon for instance. I also find myself occasionally having to use stamps, so can make some advance purchases and hope the statement credit triggers.

Like the personal Platinum cards, the Business Platinum will also offer $20/month cell phone credits for a total of $160 – that’s $320 so far if maximizing the shipping credits and cell phone credits. Finally, the Business Platinum card will offer an additional $100 in statement credits between May and June and another $100 between July and December – a total of $200 in credits for a possible grand total of $520 on the Business Platinum card getting really close to offsetting the $595 annual fee and that’s not mentioning the other benefits the card provides like $200 more in Dell credits, a huge 85,000 point signup bonus, a $200 airline incidental credit, airport lounge access, TSA Pre and Global Entry credits, hotel statuses, and much more.

Indeed, this card is more exciting when frequently traveling, but the additional credits may make up for some of the lost time, the inability to use card benefits. Again, existing cardholders will like this change and people considering the Business Platinum card may have more incentive to apply especially when they have six months to reach the $20,000 spend goal for the maximum signup bonus.

The Marriott Bonvoy and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant cards will now earn 6x points instead of the usual 2x points at supermarkets up to $7500 in spending through July 31st of 2020. This added benefit isn’t really attractive especially for those who have multiple cards including the American Express personal Gold Card which gives 4 Membership Rewards points at grocery stores per dollar spent which is very likely worth more than 6 Bonvoy points. The 6x, too, is not too much more than various 2x or 2% earning cards, but it’s something.

High spenders, though, even those with multiple cards, may prioritize grocery spending on the Marriott Bonvoy card since they have from August 1st through the end of December to reach other high spend goals…and as always, gift cards are a very good option especially with up to $7500 in spending. Are people really spending $7500 in three months without buying gift cards? Thanks, Amex! For more on gift cards and related deals, listen to episode 23 with Stephen Pepper of Frequent Miler and GC Galore.

The Bonvoy Brilliant card’s $300 Bonvoy property credit now is not restricted to hotel purchases – from June 1st through August 31st, cardmembers can instead use parts of the $300 credit at U.S. Restaurants which code as restaurants. More versatility is nice! The $300 credit, likely viewed same as cash for many listeners, brings the $450 annual fee down to an effective $150.

The Brilliant card also comes with a massive signup bonus, an annual free night certificate and other benefits including Bonvoy status and TSA Precheck credit, so those reevaluating the card for another year may be more willing to pay the annual fee considering the new flexibility. Personally, I’d just cancel the card and get a new one instead, but your mileage may vary especially if you predict correctly that shelter-in-place will soon lift, you get a retention offer, and you’ll regularly be visiting Marriott properties in later 2020. Your first year with the Brilliant card can be a big win, but the second year is murkier.

The Anex Hilton Surpass card will now offer 12x points instead of 6x points per dollar spent at U.S. Supermarkets from May 1st through July 30th. Valuing Hilton points at about a half a cent per point, getting the most value when booking for five nights for a fifth night free for stays booked with points, the grocery spend will give about 6% back – still not much more if more than the 4x the personal Gold card gives, but this can be nice for high spenders who want to gain more Hilton points especially those who aim to spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year to get a free award night certificate. The bonus points also aren’t capped – one can spend $15,000 or more and still get bonus points. Surpass will also now give 6x points for U.S. Restaurant spending, but nothing really special here especially for Gold Card holders.

The free night certificate will now allow for weekday stays rather than just weekend stays through December 31st of 2020. These free night certificates, depending on when they were issued, were very likely amended to not expire so soon. See the show notes for the PDF explaining the terms of the free night certificates. Finally, gains from the Surpass card, including these bonus points, will count towards qualifications for lifetime Hilton Diamond status and tier qualification for 2020 – this may be of some importance to high spenders without the Hilton Aspire card.

I really like the Surpass Card – a small $95 annual fee for a 125,000 signup bonus for only $2000 in spending in now six months; free Hilton Gold status which gives free breakfasts for you and a guest; and other benefits including the free night certificate I mentioned – a possible keeper card, even, for many.

The Amex Hilton Aspire card will now offer uncapped 12x points at US supermarkets and 7x points at restaurants. A massive $60,000 in spending will give another bonus free night certificate, so with the 12x on supermarket spending, high spenders may consider going for the $60,000 goal although this comes with opportunity cost, maybe not so much with the 12x bonus. Low spenders, those without multiple cards, may also like the 12x and 7x bonuses, but as I mention in almost every episode, returns from spend on categories, especially for low spenders, will not make a significant difference.

The Aspire card traditionally offers a $250 Hilton resort credit which can now also be used, from June 1st through August 31st, at U.S. Restaurants – more versatility! Like the Surpass card, the free night certificates will be expanded for weekday use and bonus points earned will count towards lifetime Diamond status.

Finally, the personal Delta cards – blue, gold, platinum, and reserve — will now gain a total of 4x miles on spending at US supermarkets. Valuing Delta miles at around 1.25 cents per point will provide a 5% return, not horrible, but nothing really exciting especially for people who have other cards which earn more at grocery stores. One can use the personal Gold card, for example, to gain 4x Membership Rewards points at supermarkets which can be worth more than 4x Delta SkyMiles – at the very least, one has versatility and can even transfer points to Delta.

Wrapping up, providing more information than a usual episode, I see many good changes from American Express. Kudos to them. Consider signing up for a new American Express card in light of these May 1st changes and last month’s change extending time to reach minimum spend requirements to six months instead of three. Consider, too, amending your usual spend strategy in light of the recent changes; changing auto-pay for streaming and cell services; and absolutely don’t leave value on the table. For a recap of these new benefits, see the show notes for a transcript and a link to the American Express PDF.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more content!

Visit my website at HurdyGurdyTravel.com where you can contact me, read episode transcripts, complete a free credit card questionnaire to receive tailored recommendations, follow me on social media, and listen to past episodes.

Support my work through Patreon, PayPal, the Cash App, and referral links by visiting the donate tab on my website. Subscribe on YouTube at Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast; like my Hurdy Gurdy Travel Podcast Facebook page; follow HGtravelpodcast on Twitter; and follow Justin Vacula on Instagram.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with full-time business coach and YouTuber Cakeologi who can help you formally establish your business, build business credit, and get premium business credit cards. When you select from various paid services after the free consultation, I will receive credit for referring you. Listen to Cakeologi on episode twelve of my podcast.

Visit my other podcast at stoicsolutionspodcast.com where you can find practical wisdom for everyday life inspired by the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome.

Thanks to generous patrons and fans of this podcast who help support my work. Have a great day.

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