Resisting American Express Credit Card Obfuscation

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Resisting American Express Credit Card Obfuscation

I usually enjoy credit card news.  Whether good or bad, I tend to embrace the news as it better informs my various strategies moving forward.  We were recently overwhelmed by American Express, Chase, and Citi good news on May 1st; I found the American Express credit card news to be particularly time-consuming.  While the new benefits are certainly great for consumers, I can’t ignore that Amex also benefits from the distractions they have created.

Initially, I found the Hilton credit card news to be most noteworthy.  However, further analysis and events have complicated our path forward with Amex, and maybe for you, also.  Let’s take a look.

Grocery Fun with American Express Credit Cards

I welcome all of the temporary changes Amex made to various cards across their roster, including Hilton, Delta, and Membership Rewards-earning cards, but the deluge is distracting.

Hilton Play Recap

I previously described that Hilton Surpass cardholders could greatly benefit from recent card changes by spending exactly $15k on this card by July 31st:

  • Earn 180k Hilton Honors points
  • Earn a free night reward certificate good for 24 months from issuance (if earned by August 31st); this certificate is also valid for any night of the week until December 31, 2020.
  • 180k points from spend on the card count as base points for elite qualification, including lifetime Diamond status.

I continue to recommend this strategy to cardholders who are looking to increase their Hilton points nest egg.  I initially decided to go after this as well, until I realized my annual fee would hit later during the promotion.  Ditto with my wife’s Surpass card account!

American Express Credit Card

Diving into the Numbers

In order to receive the benefits from the above play, I would need to spend approximately $545 (Hilton Surpass Annual Fee, loss from $15k spend on another card earning at least 3%, and other costs).  Due to the large points balances in each of our Hilton accounts and currently unused free night certificates, it wasn’t worth it for either of us to pay $540 for those benefits.  Fortunately, we did not fall into the Amex trap due to the above play, which was unnecessary for our travel plans and would have ostensibly locked us into another year of holding the Surpass.

American Express Credit Card

A Better Option for Us

The splashy Surpass grocery news distracted us from a bigger winner for our situation – my Delta Gold Amex card.  While we have Hilton points coming out of our ears, I have a virtual dearth of Delta miles.  Earning 4x at grocery stores with this card is a nice way to amass Delta miles quickly.  I haven’t decided to go very aggressively on that card (yet), but it’s nice to have it as an option for elevated earning.

Four American Express Credit Card Limit

As you may have recently read, Mark confirmed a four total Amex credit card limit (personal and business) for cardholders.  This made holding on to the Surpass accounts for another year even less attractive to us.  Full disclosure, we are each currently at the previous five credit card limit.  Considering we want to pursue future referral and welcome offers, we are now looking to slim down our Amex credit card profiles.  While this apparent change seems minor, going from 5 to 4 total credit cards with Amex has substantially changed our near- and long-term plans.  I bet some of you can relate!

Approval Challenges

Beyond the four credit card limit news, there have been multiple reports of it becoming more difficult to get approved for Amex cards.  Amex approvals may not continue to be the relative slam dunk they used to be.  Despite whatever plan I have for future applications, this is just a reminder that the play may not work out as I drew it up.

Stringent Terms

You may recall reading about the restrictive terms I received during my Amex Everyday Preferred Upgrade call.  Shawn and his wife recently received similar stringent terms during their successful Amex Platinum retention call.  Amex clearly isn’t messing around, and it’s on us to ensure we are playing the game responsibly.

The End of The Amex Triple-Dip (For Us)

Some of you may have applied for an Amex charge or credit card very late in the year in order to get the annual benefits of the card (airline credits, etc) at the end of the year, any time in the second year, and at the beginning of the third year just prior to closing the account.  All for one annual fee!  While I never pulled this off myself, I no longer consider it a viable option for either of us.  The tasty juice simply isn’t worth the risky squeeze, in my opinion at least.  Plenty of other rewarding, less risky plays with Amex exist, and I’ll be busy enough with those.

Final Thoughts

Amex has thrown a lot at us the last few weeks.  No doubt, it’s fun to get such news and figure out different plays.  However, with this deluge, we need to be even more responsible, measured, and deliberate in our decision-making.  Quick decisions for short term gain can have long-lasting consequences.  How have you assessed all of the recent Amex news?  What plans have changed?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence. An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their travel goals, Disney-related and otherwise.

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