9 Mistakes people make with Amex credit cards and points

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American Express issues some of the best travel credit cards in our hobby. So it’s important to make the most of your applications, your ability to earn points and the benefits they can give you.

It’s easy to get lots of value from Amex Membership Rewards points, using the best American Express cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, or The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.

The Amex Membership Rewards program changes from time to time so you’ll want to stay in the know and avoid pitfalls and mistakes. For example, they recently reduced the amount of credit cards (not charge cards) you can hold at once.

Let’s have a look at common errors folks make with Amex Membership Rewards points.

Know the rules and avoid common mistakes to make the most of your Amex Membership Rewards points. (Photo by leungchopan/Shutterstock)

How to make the most of your Amex credit cards and points

You can only earn a welcome bonus once per card, per lifetime

Welcome bonuses go up and down but you can only earn a bonus once per card, per lifetime, on all American Express cards. So it makes the most sense to apply when there are increased limited-time offers because you never know if or when a bonus will increase again.

Keep in mind, you can still earn the bonus on different card products. For example, you’re eligible for a bonus on both The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express because one is a personal card and the other is the small business version.

Amex has additional rules that may restrict you from earning a bonus if you’ve already applied for lots of cards:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.

Fortunately, Amex will now tell you up front if you’re not eligible for a welcome offer when you’re applying online.

Know which cards earn transferable Amex Membership Rewards points

Not all American Express cards earn Membership Rewards points. Some, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, earn cash back. And others, like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card earn airline miles.

Understand card holder limits

American Express will only allow you to hold four credit cards at once. However, it appears you can still hold as many charge cards as you want.

The difference between a credit card and charge card is this: A credit card has a fixed spending limit (credit limit). With a credit card, you don’t have to pay your balance in full. However, we don’t recommend this because you’ll pay interest which will negate the value of any rewards you earn.

Charge cards don’t have a fixed spending limit, but the bank will evaluate the maximum purchase which you can make. And with a charge card, you have to pay your balance in full every month (something you should always do to avoid paying interest anyway).

There’s an unofficial limit to the number of Amex cards you can have at one time. (Photo by luchunyu/Shutterstock)

Know all of the Amex transfer partners

Once you’re collecting Amex Membership Rewards points, come back to our guide to Amex Membership Rewards and we’ll take you step by step on how to transfer and which partners are your best bet for different destinations.

Airlines

Here’s a look at the transfer ratios and estimated transfer times for each of the airline partners:

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Not all Amex airline transfer partners are equal. You’ll want to think about your travel goals, airline preferences, home airport and award availability before you consider transferring points.

Note:  The transfer ratios in the table are the standard ratios. However, Amex frequently offers limited-time bonuses when you transfer points to different airline partners.

Hotels

Here’s a look at the transfer ratios and estimated transfer times for each of the hotel partners:

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Note: Transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to Choice Hotels (1:1 ratio) or Hilton (1:2 ratio) isn’t typically a good deal.

Choice Hotels are usually inexpensive so you won’t often get a good value for your Amex Membership Rewards points, and there are lots of ways to easily earn Hilton points, so we prefer saving our Amex Membership Rewards points for transfers to airline partners.

Other Notes:

  • There’s a small excise fee of 0.06 cents per point, up to a maximum of $99, for every transfer you make to US airlines.
  • Transfers are final. Once you’ve moved points to an airline or hotel partner, you can not move them back.
  • You can only transfer Amex Membership Rewards to loyalty accounts under your name or the name of an authorized user on your card

You can book nearly any airline through the Amex travel portal

The standard redemption value when you redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for travel through the Amex Membership Rewards travel portal is 1 cent per point. For example, a $300 flight will cost 30,000 points.

Using your points through the Amex travel portal can be a very good deal for cheap fares. However, this isn’t the best way to book fancy Business Class flights and luxury hotels — that’s when you’ll want to transfer your points — unless you’ve got the Amex Business Platinum card (more on that below).

You can sometimes do better paying with points for inexpensive coach fares instead of transferring points for an award ticket.

Don’t forget about the 35% rebate for Amex Business Platinum cardholders

When you use Amex Pay With Points, you get 1 cent per point toward your ticket. But Amex Business Platinum cardholders can get a 35% points rebate (up to 500,000 points per calendar year):

  • 35% of your points back for ALL First Class or Business Class flights booked through the Amex travel portal
  • 35% of your points back for all flights, including coach tickets, booked with your selected airline through the Amex travel portal

This table shows how earning 95,000 Amex Membership Rewards points from the welcome bonus and minimum spending on the Amex Business Platinum can get you nearly $1,400 worth of airfare.

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Just note, you must redeem at least 5,000 points to use Pay With Points. And keep in mind, getting 35% of your Amex Membership Rewards points back is automatic, but you’ll have to wait 8 to 10 weeks to see them in your account.

Use ALL of your credits before they expire

Some of the most generous perks that American Express offers its customers come in the form of credits, like the credits you’ll get with the Amex Platinum card. They’re a great way to help offset annual fees.

For example, with the Amex Platinum card, you’ll get annual credits in the form of:

  • Up to $200 for airline incidental fees on your selected airline
  • Up to $200 in Uber credit ($15 credit each month and a $20 bonus in December)
  • Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits
  • $85 TSA PreCheck or $100 Global Entry Credit (every four years)
  • $550 annual fee (see rates and fees)

That’s an easy way to offset your annual fee.

Make the most of your spending categories

Whether you’ve got one or four Amex cards, knowing when to use them and for what purchases is paramount.

Aside from using a card for everything to meet minimum spending requirements, you should have a strategy for when to use each card.

For example, Amex Platinum cardholders will earn 5x Amex Memberships Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly through airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, starting Jan. 1, 2021), whereas American Express® Gold Card cardholders will only earn 3 points per dollar for flights booked directly through airlines or Amex Travel.  So make sure you use the right card in the right situation.

Or for large expenses, the Amex Business Platinum earns 1.5x points per dollar on qualifying purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million additional points back per calendar year). The card has a $595 annual fee (see rates and fees).

I like to keep a note in my phone that reminds me what cards to use. That way I don’t forget which card earns the most for buying that chocolate doughnut.

Plan how you’ll meet the minimum spending requirement and avoid the interest trap

Minimum spending

Remember, your annual fee does not count toward your minimum spending. Neither do cash advances, cash-like instruments like certain gift cards or money orders. Returns don’t count, either.  And the clock starts ticking on your minimum spending time period when you are approved, not when you receive or activate your new card.

Definitely go in with some kind of plan. Each of these credit cards offers you a welcome bonus. To get the bonus, you’re required to spend a certain amount on purchases within a certain amount of time from being approved for the card. So be sure you have upcoming expenses that you’d be making anyway.

For instance, this time of year you might know you’ll be paying for summer camps or buying sports gear for the kids, and maybe you have birthday and anniversary gifts coming up too. And of course, you’ll have your usual grocery shopping and other expenses.

Basically, put all your expenses on the card until you’ve unlocked the bonus. If you get stuck, check out our resource full of ideas to help you meet your spending requirements. Get your bonus because that’s the fastest way to start traveling.

Paying interest will negate any rewards you earn

We all want to sleep well at night, so please, please, please do NOT get into this hobby if you’re the kind of person who falls behind on your bills. The interest charges on these cards are very high.

Folks who follow Million Mile Secrets already know this and pay their bills on time and in full. If you take care of your credit and avoid carrying a balance, you’ll be rockin’ this miles-and-points hobby in no time!

Bottom line

Amex Membership Rewards points should be part of every miles-and-points enthusiast’s toolbox because they can help you achieve your travel dreams. But keeping on top of changing rules and making the most of your points can be challenging.

Now you know some of the most important rules so you can get out there and start collecting points and traveling.

And if you’re looking for a new Amex card, we’ve got the rundown on all of the best American Express cards, including cards like Amex Business Platinum and the Amex Blue Business Plus Card. Let us know which one is your favorite.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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