The Ideal 4-Card American Express Membership Rewards Team


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I’m a huge fan of flexible points currencies and while Chase Ultimate Rewards was my favorite currency to collect for a number of years, I’ve recently found myself favoring Amex’s Membership rewards more and more. In this post, I outline the 4 cards which I think make up the best “team” for anyone looking to maximize their Membership Rewards points earnings.

Although I’m definitely not someone who suggests that people should choose one card ecosystem on which to concentrate all their efforts (I’m a firm believer that a diversified portfolio works best) if I absolutely had to choose one ecosystem to recommend it would be the American Express Membership Rewards ecosystem.

In my opinion, it’s the single best card ecosystem around.

Membership Rewards offers more transfer partners than any other major transferable currency, it issues cards that make the currency easy to collect, and it frequently offers transfer bonuses to select partners that can boost a cardholders’ earnings significantly.

All of that put together makes Amex’s card portfolio one that deserves a good deal of respect.

You can book the amazing Singapore Airlines First Class Suites using Amex Membership Rewards Points

Before I Continue…

Let’s get one important thing out of the way first (because I know this post will get a heap of comments if I don’t address this point):

Different people have different priorities, needs, and aims so just because one credit card, charge card or card ecosystem works for one person doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone else. The key to getting the most out of a card portfolio is understanding what you want the cards to do for you and then making sure that this is what you’re actually getting out of the cards you hold.

Some people will say that Amex’s offering is the greatest offering they’ve ever seen while others will claim to hate it and, for example, say that they love Citi’s ThankYou points instead. Some people will agree that Membership Rewards points are amazing and then disagree vehemently with the cards that I choose because they prefer a different combination…and that’s fine.

All these views have merit because, as I said earlier, different things work for different people so opinions will vary – I just happen to believe that Amex Membership Rewards is the best single option out there and I happen to believe that the cards I’ve chosen make up the best all-around Membership Rewards “team” of cards.

How Many Amex Cards Can You Hold?

Another bit of admin that needs doing before I move on to what I think the best 4 Membership Rewards cards are is the issue of how many American Express cards one person can hold.

Broadly speaking, Amex will allow a customer to hold four of its credit cards and four of its charge cards at any one time…but there have been sporadic reports of Amex allowing some people to hold 5 of its credit cards.

As this post is only looking to highlight 4 American Express cards these limits are not of great importance for the purposes of this discussion.

By transferring Membership Rewards Points to Virgin Atlantic you can book the new ANA “The Room” Business Class cabin

Narrowing Down The Choices

American Express issues 6 personal Membership Rewards cards and 4 Business Membership Rewards cards and I’ve narrowed this list down to 6 cards that I think should form the pool from which the 4 ideal Amex Membership Rewards cards should be chosen:

Because there’s a good amount of overlap between the personal and the business versions of the Platinum Card and the Gold card and because most people don’t run their own business and because the personal versions of these cards offer more consumer protections, I feel comfortable in saying that most people reading this post will probably be better suited to the personal versions of the Platinum and Gold cards – that’s why the business versions do not appear on the list above.

The two other cards that I eliminated (Blue from American Express & the Business Green Rewards card) don’t offer much in the way of earning power or benefits and will be of very limited use to most people.

Comparing The Competing Cards

So how do the 6 Membership Rewards cards that I’ve selected compare?

The table below shows how much each of these 6 cards costs, what earnings the cards offer* and the key benefits associated with each card. The items in red highlight each card’s strong points.

Click to enlarge

*The earnings for the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card and Amex EveryDay Card assume that the cards are used 30x/billing cycle and 20x/billing cycle (respectively) to earn the 30% bonus and 20% bonus that these cards offer (respectively) when those targets are met.

Notes:

  1. The American Express Gold card caps the 4 points/dollar earnings at U.S. supermarkets to $25,000 of spending per year. Any spending at U.S. supermarkets that exceeds this cap will earn 1 point/dollar.
  2. The Amex EveryDay Preferred credit card caps the 4.5 points/dollar earnings at U.S. supermarkets (includes the 30% bonus) to $6,000 of spending per year. Any spend at U.S. supermarkets that exceeds this cap will earn 1 point/dollar.
  3. The Amex EveryDay credit card caps the 2.4 points/dollar earnings at U.S. supermarkets (includes the 20% bonus) to $6,000 of spending per year. Any spend at U.S. supermarkets that exceeds this cap will earn 1 point/dollar.
  4. The Blue Business Plus Credit Card limits the 2 points/dollar earnings to the first $50,000 spent on the card. Any spending above this limit will earn 1 point/dollar.

The Ideal 4-Card Combination

This wasn’t an easy decision to make and, as I suggested earlier, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will have a love for a card that didn’t make the final 4 (bring on the complaints!)…but here’s my ideal 4-card Amex Membership Rewards card combination:

And here’s what this 4-card combination offers from an earnings perspective:

  • 5 points/dollar on spending with airlines
  • 5 points/dollar on hotels booked through Amex Travel/Amex FHR
  • Up to 4.5 points/dollar on spending at U.S. supermarkets
  • Up to 3 points/dollar on spending at gas stations
  • 3 points/dollar on all other travel spending
  • 3 points/dollar at restaurants worldwide
  • 2 points/dollar on all other spending (up to $50,000 per year)

The combined annual fees for these 4 cards is $795 but this is offset (at least in part) by the following benefits that these cards offer:

  • Priority Pass Select Membership (Includes 2 guests but no access to PP Restaurants)
  • $200/year airline fee credit
  • $100/year Saks 5th Avenue credit
  • Up to $200/year in Uber credits
  • $100/year LoungeBuddy credit
  • $100/year CLEAR credit
  • Access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (and the extra benefits that program offers)
  • No foreign transaction fees on 2 out of the 4 cards

The degree to which individual cardholders will be able to offset the combined annual fees by making the most of the various card benefits will vary depending on each cardholder’s travel and spending patterns, but most people should be able to offset a significant percentage.

My Reasoning

This is a miles & points blog read by people who travel (or aspire to travel) and if you’re considering Membership Rewards points as a currency that you’d like to focus on that suggests that you’re interested in travel too – the 4 cards that I’ve selected were chosen with all of this in mind.

The Platinum Card offers the best return on airfare out of all the cards on the market (and now offers good trip protections too) – it’s an obvious choice for anyone who books multiple flights every year.

The 3 points/dollar return the American Express Green Card offers on all other travel spending cannot be beaten by any other American Express card and is only matched by one other credit card on the market – the Chase Sapphire Reserve card (and I’m not examining Chase cards in this post) – so it’s a “must-have” card if you travel and want to earn a lot of Membership Rewards points.

For the first $6,000 of spending in a year, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card offers the best return of any card on the market for spending at US supermarkets with 4.5 points/dollar on offer (assuming a minimum of 30 transactions are put on the card in a single billing cycle in any spending category).

Also, assuming a cardholder uses the Amex EveryDay Card for a minimum of 30 transactions (of any size and in any category) in a billing cycle, no card on the market can beat the 3 points/dollar it offers for Gas station spending.

As everyone has to eat (and presumably not everyone lives in LA or New York and orders food to be delivered all the time) and as gas is a major cost for most people, this is another reasonably obvious card to have in this team.

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card is the only Business card to make it on to my list and it makes it into my final 4 because it’s hard to find a better card (anywhere) for non-bonused spending.

When you can earn 2 points/dollar in any category of spending (up to $50,000 of spending/year) without having to pay an annual fee there’s no reason to ever earn 1 point/dollar on domestic spending ever again.

The American Express Gold card didn’t make it into my final 4 because the other cards that I’ve selected mostly cover the Gold card’s strong points:

  • The Platinum Card is much better for airfare,
  • The Amex Green Card is much better for all other travel
  • The Amex EveryDay Preferred card is better for Gas station spending
  • The Amex Green Card earns just 1 point/dollar less at restaurants worldwide.

With the Gold card offering just a $100 airline fee credit and a weak $120 dining credit to offset its $250 annual fee, I don’t think the card offers enough above and beyond what other Amex cards offer to justify a place in my final 4.

The no annual fee Amex EveryDay card didn’t make it into the final 4 either because most people will spend a significant amount of money at gas stations and at US supermarkets every year and the $95/year that the Preferred version of this card charges is worth it for the noticeably higher earning rates in both of these categories.

Alternatives?

Clearly I believe that the four cards I’ve chosen are the best four Amex Membership Rewards cards to carry (as a team) but you can tweak my selection if your spending patterns are notably skewed away from one (or more) of the spending categories I’ve highlighted.

If, for example, you don’t spend a lot on airfare and you don’t need Priority Pass membership it may be an idea to save a lot of money by dropping the Platinum Card and to just sticking with a 3-card Membership Rewards team of the Amex Green Card, the EveryDay Preferred Card and the Blue Business Plus credit card.

This would reduce the total annual fees to just $245/year and, although you would also miss out on quite a few benefits, you would have a set of Membership Rewards cards that will cover you very well for most of your spending.

Bottom Line

American Express Membership rewards can be a very lucrative program in which to earn points and it can be an easy program in which to earn points if you choose the right cards to match your needs and your spending patterns.

Personally, I think that the Platinum Card, the American Express Green Card, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card and the Blue Business Plus Credit Card make up the ideal 4-card Membership Rewards team…but what do you think?

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