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I’m a huge fan of flexible points currencies and while Chase Ultimate Rewards is my go-to program when I need a currency for hotel stays (I can never have too many Hyatt points), I don’t know what I do without all the Amex Membership Rewards points that I earn and which save me a small fortune on some of the flights that I have to take.
In this article, I’ve narrowed down Amex’s card portfolio to the 4 cards which I think make up the best “team” for anyone looking to maximize their Membership Rewards points earnings, and while I’m definitely not someone who would suggest that someone choose just one card ecosystem on which to concentrate, if I absolutely had to choose one ecosystem to recommend it would be the one offered by American Express.
Membership Rewards offers more transfer partners than any other major transferable currency, it issues cards that make the currency easy to collect, and the transfer bonuses that it frequently offers can boost a cardholder’s earnings significantly.
All of that put together makes Amex’s card portfolio one that deserves a good deal of respect.
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, hybrid card, or card ecosystem works for one person, it 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 the cards you apply for and hold are actually doing what you want them to do for you.
Some people will say that Amex’s offering is the greatest offering we have 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 have already said, 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 my choices for the best 4 Membership Rewards cards is the issue of how many American Express cards one person can hold.
Broadly speaking, Amex will allow a customer to hold five of its credit cards (consumer and business combined) and five of its hybrid cards formerly known as charge cards) at any one time.
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.
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:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (review)
- The American Express® Gold Card (review)
- The American Express® Green Card
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card
- The Amex EveryDay® Card
- The Blue Business® Plus Card from American Express (review)
Note: All information about the Amex Green Card, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card, and the Amex EveryDay Card has been collected independently by Traveling For Miles. The Amex Green Card, the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card, and the Amex EveryDay Card are not currently available through Traveling For Miles.
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 businesses 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 have 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 to hold, what earnings the cards offer*, and the key benefits associated with each card. The items in red highlight each card’s strong points (terms apply).
Earning rates (terms apply)
*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.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express limits the 5 points/dollar that a cardholder can earn on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel to the first $500,000 of spending per year.
- 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.
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred 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.
- The Amex EveryDay® 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.
- 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.
Key benefits (terms apply and enrolment may be needed)
Deciding what is and what isn’t a key benefit is, by definition, a subjective thing so not all benefits have been listed here.
Having said that, the benefits that have been included here should be more than enough to help you see just what a cardholder is being offered in return for the annual fee.
Rates & Fees Information:
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, but here’s my ideal 4 card Amex Membership Rewards card combination:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (review)
- The American Express Green Card
- The Amex EveryDay Preferred Card
- The Blue Business® Plus Card (review)
And here’s what this 4-card combination offers from an earnings perspective (terms apply):
- 5 points/dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 of spending per year)
- 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 eligible travel spending
- 3 points/dollar at restaurants
- 2 points/dollar on all other eligible spending (up to $50,000 per year)^
^1 point/dollar after that
The combined annual fee for these 4 cards is $940 but this can be offset (at least in part) by the following benefits that these cards offer (terms apply and enrolment may be required):
- Priority Pass Select Membership (Includes 2 guests but no access to PP restaurants)
- Access to Centurion Lounges
- $240/year Digital Entertainment Credit
- $200/year airline fee credit
- $200/year hotel credit on select prepaid bookings made through Amex Travel
- $100/year Saks 5th Avenue credit
- Up to $200/year in Uber & Uber Eats credits
- $189/year CLEAR credit
- $300/year Equinox credit
- Access to Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (and the extra benefits the 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.
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 this in mind.
The Platinum Card® from American Express offers the best return on airfare booked directly with airlines out of all the cards on the market and it offers good trip protections too – it’s an obvious choice for anyone who books multiple flights every year.
The 3 points/dollar that the American Express® Green Card offers on all other travel spending (terms apply) cannot be beaten by any other American Express card and is only matched by one other card on the market – the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Credit Card – so it’s a “must-have” card if you travel and want to earn a lot of Membership Rewards points.
The 4.5 points/dollar that the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card can offer on the first $6,000 of US supermarket spending in a year is the best rate of return that any card offers for spending at US supermarkets (this rate assumes that a cardholder puts a minimum of 30 transactions on their card in a single billing cycle in any spending category – terms apply).
Also, assuming a cardholder uses the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card for a minimum of 30 transactions (of any size and in any category) in a billing cycle, no card can beat the 3 points/dollar it offers for gas station spending (terms apply).
As everyone has to eat (and presumably not everyone lives in the center of a major city and orders food to be delivered all the time) and as gas is a major monthly cost for most people, this is another reasonably obvious card to have in this team.
The Blue Business Plus Card is the only Business card to make it onto 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 on up to $50,000 of eligible spending/year (terms apply) without having to pay an annual fee (rates & fees), there’s no reason to ever earn 1 point/dollar on domestic spending ever again.
- The Platinum Card is better for airfare spending
- The Green Card is better for all other travel spending
- The EveryDay Preferred card is better for gas station spending
- The Green Card earns just 1 point/dollar less at restaurants
- The Platinum Card covers most of the Gold Card’s key benefits
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 that it offers in both of these categories.
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 noticeably skewed away from one (or more) of the spending categories that I have highlighted.
If, for example, you don’t spend a lot on airfare and you don’t need a Priority Pass membership, it may be a good idea to save some money by dropping the Platinum Card and just keeping a 3-card Membership Rewards team of the Amex Green Card, the EveryDay Preferred Card and the Blue Business Plus card.
This would reduce the total annual fees that you would have to pay 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.
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® from American Express, the American Express® Green Card, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card, and the Blue Business® Plus Card make up the ideal 4-card Membership Rewards team…but what do you think?