A Small Signal From Amex That Things Are Slowly Going Back Towards “Normal”

a sunset over a body of water

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From the moment the world realized that it was battling a pandemic a lot of things changed. People’s lives were turned upside down, the travel industry all but stopped functioning, mask-wearing became more than just something we saw in Southeast Asia and life as we knew it disappeared. Those were some of the big and important changes.

Some of the smallest and most insignificant changes that the pandemic brought about were seen in the credit card world. In the world of credit cards, some of the card issuers realized that they had to work hard to keep their products relevant as the many benefits that they offer became mostly useless overnight. Amex and Chase did good work in this area, Citi made a few token efforts while most other issues buried their heads in the sand and pretended nothing was happening.

Amex probably did a little bit more than any other card issuer to keep cardholders happy and as well as offering new statement credits and new benefits on a range of its cards, it also tweaked the offers that it publishes on cardholders’ account pages to make them more relevant to the new world most of us found ourselves in.

The offers for hotel stays and air travel all but dried up and in their place, we started to see more offers focused on IT, groceries, food delivery services, fitness, and home cooking.

One other thing changed too. Amex’s Membership Rewards cards stopped publishing offers where the reward was paid out in Membership Rewards points. Just about every Amex offer that I remember seeing between (approximately) May of last year and January of this year was for some kind of cash rebate…and that makes sense because who wants Membership Rewards points in the place of cash when you’re spending 90% of your time at home and can’t travel anywhere?

What’s Happening Now?

In recent months we’ve started to see a few more travel-related Amex offers being targeted to members’ accounts (in the past few weeks alone, Amex has published targeted offers for Marriott, Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, Hyatt, and Delta) but all the offers I’ve been noticing have continued to offer a reward in the form of a statement credit.

In the past few days, however, something seems to have changed.

Among all the offers targeted to my Platinum Card, I’m now seeing these:

a close-up of a sign a black text on a white background a close-up of a person's face a close-up of a number a black text on a white background a close-up of a message

Ok, I admit that this isn’t exactly a wonderful cascade of Membership Rewards Points offers, but it’s definitely more than I’ve seen in over nine months and I’m 99% sure that most of these offers were not showing on my cards this time last week. Amex has definitely changed things up.

I’m not trying to suggest that this is some kind of huge sign that we’re just weeks away from getting our lives back and that the pandemic is over. Far from it. But on the basis that Amex comes up with its offers based on economic, consumer, and vendor sentiment, it should be reasonably safe to presume that Amex is seeing spending, advertising, and economic indicators that suggest the worst may now be behind us (why else would it suddenly bring back the points offers?).

The vaccine rollout and statements from the scientific community probably have the most to do with this, but I suspect that people’s spending patterns (which Amex can see very clearly) probably have quite a bit to do with this too.

Good News For Amex MR Fans

Aside from the fact that any signs of recovery are to be welcomed (obviously), this is good news for fans of Membership Rewards.

In the past, Amex has often published parallel target offers where the reward from one is a statement credit and where the reward from the other is paid out in points, and the offer that offers points is always the better deal (assuming that you value points at more than a penny each…which pretty much everyone does).

Here, for example, is one of the new points offers from above…

a close-up of a sign

…and here is the corresponding cash offer:

a close up of a sign

With these offers, Amex is essentially valuing its points at a penny each but as most people in the miles and points community value Membership Rewards points at considerably more than that (usually at 1.5 cents each or more), the points offer is the one that most of us would go for. Since May last year, however, that hasn’t been an option so it’s great to see these offers return.

Bottom Line

In the past week, Amex has started to bring back offers that reward cardholders with Membership Rewards points rather than cash, and as these offers haven’t been widely available since the first months of the pandemic, it’s possible that they’re being brought back because Amex can see some hope of normality on the horizon.

Those of us who haven’t been battening down all the hatches and who have continued collecting miles and points throughout the pandemic (where possible) have missed Amex’s Membership Rewards offers, so it’s great to see them coming back.


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