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[GUIDE] The American Express Atlas: Maximizing Membership Rewards and Perks

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[GUIDE] The American Express Atlas: Maximizing Membership Rewards and Perks

Welcome to the Atlas.

Your guide to everything American Express and my best attempt at helping you maximize your experience owning an AmEx card. Often seen as the “expensive” and “accepted nowhere” of credit cards, I believer they offer some of the most innovative and generous products on the market. However, to maximize what you get from them, you need to know how to identify the best opportunities for everything: accumulation, redemption and portfolio. In this atlas, we will explore and try to explain every aspect of the MR program, and what it means for you. While there is a lot to cover, I will try my best to keep the information up to date and identify new opportunities to maximize your return. To navigate the guide, I invite you to click the following links to jump to the appropriate section.

For now, sit back, make yourself a drink, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

While the current version of the guide is mostly complete, please note it is still a continuous work in progress and will be updated as required. As such, the information contained is valid, to the best of my knowledge, at the time of writing.

CURRENT REVISION: April 23, 2020 (Added specific information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the American Express MR system.)

Approx. 10,000 words - Approximately a 1 hour read.

AUTHOR'S NOTICE: I am not liable for the information presented in the following thread: it is your responsibility to ensure the information provided is applicable to your own situation. Please use credit responsibly, and do not spend above your ability. New information, rules or exclusions can affect your ability to benefit from some of the perks and products listed below. Reproduction or distribution is not allowed under any circumstances.
Last edited by thefusio15 on Apr 23rd, 2020 6:54 am, edited 26 times in total.
American Express Platinum | Rogers World Elite
Author of The American Express Atlas
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Thread Summary
PLEASE READ BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER - COVID-19 Specific Changes
Throughout this guide, earning rates and redemption rates are based on what can be achieved during normal periods of time. However, due to COVID-19 it is ill-advised to encourage travel redemptions and one can expect to earn considerably less MR points than regular.

To offset this indirect devaluation, Amex has enabled ALL MR cards to redeem at the 1,000 MR = 10$ rate for ALL transactions on an account, resulting in a guaranteed 1 CPP redemption rate.

For those with the Personal Platinum, Amex is also DOUBLING the earn rate and redemption rate (effectively earning 2 MR per dollar spent base, up to 6 MR), which offers 2,000 MR = 20$. Effectively, this means your "minimum" redemption rate for the Personal Platinum is now 4%, all the way up to 12% cash-back. As such, I do encourage people to use this option for redemption as it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, which is set to expire on July 20, 2020. In addition, if one is unable to use the 200$ travel credit by September 2020, it will be "transferred" to the following year. More details are to follow regarding the later. Nonetheless, this essentially makes the Personal Platinum the highest earning card in Canada and one of the most generous welcome bonus currently available.

THE SECTIONS
The Basics
Earning the Points
Earning Strategies
Maximizing Redemption (Subject to Program Changes)
Card Specific Quirks and Features
Breaking Even with the Amex Portfolio (First Version)

Future updates. Updates in regards to the previous sections will be done in their respective section.
Updates and Further Considerations
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The Basics
Alike other credit card points programs (TD Rewards, Scotia Points, etc.), Membership Rewards (MR) is the currency accumulated by putting a spend on one of the following products issued by American Express:

  • American Express Gold (Personal and Business)
  • American Express Platinum (Personal and Business)
  • American Express Cobalt
  • Business Edge (Essentially the Business version of the Cobalt)

Each card has different earn rates, based on the “card tier” and targeted clientele. While other programs let you pool points between products, MR points “are not supposed to be pooled” (more on that later). As you go up the lineup, you gain exclusive advantages in terms of redemption.

Image

While the difference seem relatively minor, they play an important role in how you can maximize your return. To American Express, each MR (no matter the tier), is worth the same. Therefore, redeeming MR-S or MR-F for a statement credit will cost you the same, making it important to know which redemption gives you the best return rate. It is relatively easy to put a cent per point (CPP) value for each redemption option. Below they are ranked in order of return rate. Those identified as variable are based on average redemption rates you can expect.

Image

Now, the asterisk (or Asterix, your call): Unlike the other options where the CPP is relatively fixed, those options can range from less than 1 CPP to 7 - 10 CPP depending on how you use them. We will discuss how to come up with a CPP value for your own redemption, but in a “simple” manner, you should always target anything over 1 CPP, as it exceeds what you could claim in a regular travel statement credit. Those redemptions require a lot of considerations, and therefore should be done carefuly.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Feb 8th, 2020 6:56 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Earning the Points
Since each product is different, we will need to establish which cards earn the most. Unfortunately, it is a bit complex. In bold are which cards offers accelerated earnings on that category.

Image
Amex Travel - Personal Gold: For hotels and car rentals booked through Amex Travel, you can get 1 extra MR point per dollar spent using either a Personal Gold card. This means you can get 3x on travel with it, though you might not be favoured doing so if you can find the booking elsewhere cheaper and still get the 2X.

Travel: Travel is a really broad definition in the MR system, which serves us well. It is defined as "travel services or travel bookings including air, water, rail and road transport, lodging and tour operator sales". However, it also means that restaurants / coffee places or other establishments that are part of an hotel will generally count toward the travel category and its 2X multiplier. This matters as it might affect which card to use in those restaurants if you are carrying more than one (Cobalt would give you 2X instead of the 5X, Platinum would give you 2X instead of 3X, but Gold would give you 2X instead of 1X). Thanks to @jtfrogger for pointing this out.

Eats and Drinks: For the Cobalt, Eats and Drinks is defined as “eligible restaurants, bars, grocery stores and food delivery in Canada.”. Unlike other categories on any Amex product, there is a hard-cap of 35k per year on the 5X: afterwards, you will obtain 1x.

Business Expenses: On the Business Gold, you can select three suppliers which will get you an additional MR per dollar spent. The list of elligible suppliers can be found here.

Business Edge and its 3X categories: The Edge Business is limited to 75,000 MR points total, per year, in its bonus categories. This means that each account is subject to a 25,000$ yearly spending cap. Afterwards, they are limited to 1X.

So, which card is gonna get you the most points? Likely the Cobalt. More on that later.

Across the entire lineup, certain transactions won’t get you any MR: cash-like transactions, cash withdrawals, annual fees, late charges, gift cards (this last one is vague for now, so it should not be generalized for now). It is also assumed that most (if not all) transactions in foreign currency will only get you the base rate, though data points have shown cases where they still get the accelerated earning. Therefore, your mileage may vary.

While those are the general earn rates to expect, Amex recently launched Amex Offers in Canada, either offering a credit statement or additional MR on purchases through certain retailers. Those change regularly and need to be activated (either through the Amex website or app), but are a nice way to increase your earn rate on purchases you might need to do anyway!

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Transferring Points / Combining Balances of Points
While it is "technically" not supposed to be possible, it is generally possible to combine balance of points in the same tier (however, certain datapoints suggest that balance of MR and MR-F can be combined together. YMMV.) across multiple cards, if they are under the same account holder. While doing so currently allows to carry over your MR after cancelling a card (and potentially attempting a repeat welcome bonus or product referral), assume it might be allowed or supported forever. For the time being, it is a convenient way to have all your points as a single balance, making it more efficient for redemptions. To do so, you can use the secure message feature and ask for the following request. You can add a sentence afterwards such as "I am planning a redemption which will need me to use points from both cards" or "I am planning to cancel the former card".
Can you please link the MR account of my (card you want to link to another) ending in XXXXX card to the MR account of my (card you want it linked to) card ending in XXXXX?
You can also do it over the phone by asking customer service.

Note that customer service representatives might not accept to link, or transfer the points for you. As such, you might need to HUCA (hang up and call again). As always, stay polite and thank them for their time: many representatives might not know how or whether it is actually allowed.

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Conclusion
As you can see from the above table, the card with the best return rate can depend considerably based on your spending habits. In the following section, we will discuss some earning strategies that can help you create a large balance of MR points for your future redemptions.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Jan 9th, 2020 1:58 am, edited 13 times in total.
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PLEASE READ BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER - COVID-19 Specific Changes
Throughout this guide, earning rates and redemption rates are based on what can be achieved during normal periods of time. However, due to COVID-19 it is ill-advised to encourage travel redemptions and one can expect to earn considerably less MR points than regular.

To offset this indirect devaluation, Amex has enabled ALL MR cards to redeem at the 1,000 MR = 10$ rate for ALL transactions on an account, resulting in a guaranteed 1 CPP redemption rate.

For those with the Personal Platinum, Amex is also DOUBLING the earn rate and redemption rate (effectively earning 2 MR per dollar spent base, up to 6 MR), which offers 2,000 MR = 20$. Effectively, this means your "minimum" redemption rate for the Personal Platinum is now 4%, all the way up to 12% cash-back. As such, I do encourage people to use this option for redemption as it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, which is set to expire on July 20, 2020. In addition, if one is unable to use the 200$ travel credit by September 2020, it will be "transferred" to the following year. More details are to follow regarding the later. Nonetheless, this essentially makes the Personal Platinum the highest earning card in Canada and one of the most generous welcome bonus currently available.

Earning Strategies
One of the most difficult topic to give a clear answer to, as your approach is highly dependent on your spending pattern and planned redemptions.

Before we go any further, we need to understand 3 key conditions that limit our ability to earn points:

  1. Points “cannot” be combined between different products. There is datapoints that suggest that some customer service representative can do it, though your experience will vary.
  2. If an account is closed, all points are forfeited.
  3. Welcome Bonus are “once in a lifetime”, meaning that you “cannot” get the same bonus more than once. Note that this rule currently applies to Personal cards, though there are numerous data points suggesting repeat bonuses are possible. Proceed at your own risk.

While I mention it with each strategy, I do still recommend having at least one backup card issued by Visa or Mastercard, as some merchants do not take Amex. I personally recommend getting a no-fee cash-back card, as it will net you a positive return no matter what.

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The Amex Flowchart
If you’ve been around RFD or other forums, you might have heard about the “Amex Flowchart”, which is a strategy where you, at one point or another, own every single MR earning product, and the Bonvoy cards (even as it is not part of the MR ecosystem). While it is an excellent strategy to accumulate a lot of points quickly, it implies you are able to meet the minimum spend (around 30k to do the full chart), and are okay with paying the AF for each product (close to 1700$). The end result? 251,000 MR points, 36,000 MR-S and 119,000 Bonvoy.

This strategy relies on the idea that you use each card to meet the minimum spend, then apply for another product, ideally within a single year so you don’t have to pay more than one annual fee per card. It can also be done as a "two player mode", increasing the amount of points considerably, even though it would be on different balances.

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Cobalt & No-Fee
If you are a minimalist, this strategy is really simple, as you only carry one card: the Cobalt. The rationale is that, since each MR can be worth (at least) 1 CPP at redemption, even the 1x base rate still gives you a return higher than 1%. The strategy is based on one using the Cobalt wherever American Express is accepted, therefore gaining as many points as possible on a single balance. This strategy works better if you are more than one person (main card + authorized user), as additional cards are free, and don’t plan to redeem for Aeroplan or other airlines. We’ll go more in details about the implications of the limited MR-S redemption vs other tiers in the following sections, but the Cobalt can create impressive balance of points if it is your main card. While I do not encourage this, maxing out the 5x multiplier (35k in spending) can net you 175,000 MR per year. There is ways to do so, through gift cards purchase, but Amex has shown more and more ways to penalize (or block) those kinds of usage.

Since Amex is not accepted everywhere, pairing it with a no-fee card (I personally prefer cash-back but some points cards can be worth it too) be a good strategy, as your non-amex spend does not go towards paying another AF. You can consider your earnings from your no-AF card as something to offset the annual cost of your Amex card.

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The Metal Collection
As we saw earlier, the earning rate of each card varies based on the spending category. This strategy focuses on the user using the card that gives the most MR (with no consideration for the tier) for each transaction. For this strategy, the following cards would be the “better” option.

  • Cobalt (only for the 5x categories)
  • Personal Gold (Travel 2x, Drugstores 2x, and additional purchases when the 5x is maxed on the Cobalt)
  • Business Platinum (Transit and any case where no category applies, due to its 1.25X base rate)

To implement this strategy, I recommend going progressively, ensuring that you meet the welcome bonus on each card, then apply for the following. A few considerations before implementing this strategy in your wallet: Annual fees (close to 800$ per year), your likelihood to exceed the 5x cap on the Cobalt (if you don’t, you might wanna skip the Gold), your ability to complete each minimum spend for the welcome bonus. If you manage to do so, you are looking at 130,000 MR points welcome bonus across the cards, plus the points earned by your spending.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to use the Cobalt if the best redemption is to do Airline Transfer (which is not available for the Cobalt), you can transfer points through Bonvoy, then to your airline of choice. We will discuss this in the redemption section, but the general ratio is the following.

MR-S -> Bonvoy (5:6) -> Aeroplan (3:1)
5x -> 6x -> 2x



You can also adapt the strategy to add the Personal Platinum, which gets you 3x on restaurants, but it should be used only if you maxed the 5x on the Cobalt. Otherwise, you will likely spend more and reduce your overall return.

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The Platinum (or Gold) Rule
This is the strategy I am currently using, but is likely not gonna give you the best return for most cases. Basically, This strategy implies you carry the Platinum card (either Personal or Business depending on your spending pattern), and use it for all your Amex spending. Therefore, you still need a non-amex card, which should be used only where Amex is not accepted. Why go with such an option? All your points will be on the same balance, making it easier if you plan to use fixed travel, merchandise or other transactions that draw directly from your MR balance without transfer. It also gives you the option to directly redeem to Aeroplan or other FTP, which you cannot on a Cobalt strategy.

To choose which card you should carry requires some analysis. Let’s look again at the earning rates for the personal cards.

Image

To determine the best card, you should calculate the average return rate of each card, based on your spending. If you currently carry an Amex product, the Year End Statement (YES) makes it really easy as it categorizes all your spending. Using the formula below, you should be able to calculate your average earning rate (AER) for each card.

Gold Card
((Base Spend) + (Travel Spend + Drug Store + Gas + Groceries Spend) * 2) / (Total Spend)
=
Average Earning Rate (AER)

Platinum Card (Personal)
((Base Spend) + (Travel Spend) * 2 + (Restaurant) * 3 / (Total Spend)
=
Average Earning Rate (AER)

We also know that the Business Platinum is a fixed 1.25, and therefore is the minimum AER we should look for. Since all MR points are worth the same, you can directly compare both ratios using the following conditions.


IF Gold Card AER is higher than 1.25 AND the Platinum Card AER, go with the Personal Gold.

IF Platinum Card AER is higher than 1.25 AND the Gold Card AER, go with Personal Platinum.

IF Gold Card AER AND Platinum Card AER is lower than 1.25, go with Business Platinum.


The reasoning is that, if you carry one card that is eligible for FTP, it should be the card that gives you the highest average return rate for your spending. In my case, the Personal Platinum nets me 1.40X on average, the Personal Gold 1.15X, therefore making the Personal Platinum the best option for me.

While you can get better returns with the other strategies, if your spend is limited, or don’t want too many credit cards, and you don’t want to spend too much in annual fees, this strategy can strike a balance between earning and required spending. While the AER might look low for each card, do not forget that our point are worth more than 1 cent each, making the actual redemption rate much higher (we will discuss this in the Maximizing Redemptions section).

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The MR-S Combo
A new strategy highlighting the relatively quick accumulation possible using both the Cobalt and Business Edge cards. This strategy essentially implies you carry both cards, and use the respective highest earning category on each card in order to increase your AER. If you are already invested in the Business ecosystem, you can do a "part" of the Amex Flowchart, self-refering from the Business Platinum to Business Edge, earning 25,000 MR-F on the former. Since it is an MR business product, points can be used at a minimum value of 1 CPP on any statement credit, an especially powerful tool if you combine the balance of points between the Cobalt and Business Edge.

Combined, the total annual fee for both the Cobalt and Business Edge is 220$, for a total welcome bonus of 92,000 MR points (40,000 MR on the Cobalt using specific offers, 52,000 MR on the Business Edge through referral) if you can meet the (considerably high) spending requirements. Both cards offer a "staggered" welcome bonus, paid based on monthly spending requirements, with an amount based on first three months MSR.

Business Edge (Referral Offer)
  • 40,000 MR after 5k in purchases in the first three months.
  • 1,000 MR per month with 3k in purchases. NOTE: It seems like this benefit goes beyond the first year. For the purpose of this analysis, we will assume 1 year only.
  • Potential Earning: 52,000 MR in the first year, with a minimum spend of 36K (3K per month, as it covers the required 5k in first three months)

Cobalt (Special 40,000 MR Offer)
  • 10,000 MR after 3k in purchases in the first three months.
  • 2,500 MR per month with 500$ in purchases, only in the first year.
  • Potential Earning: 40,000 MR in the first year, with a minimum spend of 7K (assuming the first 3k is spread over 3 months - 1k per month - and 500$ per month afterwards)

Combined
  • 50,000 MR after 8k in purchases in the first three months.
  • 5,500 MR per month with 3500$ in purchases
  • 25,000 MR if self-refered from Business Platinum
  • Potential Earning: 92,000 MR in the first year + 25,000 MR on Business Platinum, with a minimum spend of 43K (split as discussed in the previous sections, but essentially comes down to 4k per month in the first three months, and 3.5k monthly for the rest of year)

As such, it is quite advisable to stagger each card, unless you have a considerably high card spending per month that can justify doing both cards simultaneously. However, the potential prize is worth quite a lot of money. Assuming all points are earned at 1x, and the bonus for each card is done in its entirety, you are looking at 135,000 MR points, worth 1,350$ at 1 CPP, excluding the self-referral bonus. Factoring in two years to complete such scheme (1 year on the Business Edge, 2 year on the Cobalt as you start with it), the net value comes to just under 1,000$ even while using the least valuable type of redemption, making it a really generous welcome bonus strategy, plus whatever spending you do afterwards. Some might decide to cancel the Cobalt once they receive the Business Edge and transfer the points, which can optimize the cost structure.

Following the completion of this welcome offer, break-even depends on how many MR point you can earn per month. If you net 1,825 MR point per month, you are covering the annual fee for each card at 1 CPP. Anything over this amount is pure-profit. A (conservative) estimate of 1.5 point per dollar spent means a minimum spending of 1,200$ per month across both cards, and decreases as your points per dollar increase. It therefore remains a viable long-term combination if you maximize the 3x/5x/2x categories on each card, and even better if you can tax-deduct the Business Edge annual fee! Grinning Face With Smiling Eyes

Once again, this strategy relies on a LOT of spending in the first year to extract the maximum value. While I do not encourage or promote manufactured spending, it might become a necessary consideration for some. Unlike the other cards with three months MSR, this strategy requires a long-term spending plan. As most welcome offers are one-time, you essentially get *one-shot* at this strategy.

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Conclusion
Again, the ideal strategy for you depends on your spending habits, tolerance for annual fees / inquiries, and how you ultimately plan to redeem your points. Luckily for you, we have a community of very knowledgable users around here, so feel free to ask if you have more questions. Also, if you’d like your strategy to be added, let me know and will consider it for futher updates!

Last edited by thefusio15 on Apr 23rd, 2020 6:45 am, edited 16 times in total.
[OP]
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User avatar
Mar 14, 2018
475 posts
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PLEASE READ BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER - COVID-19 Specific Changes
Throughout this guide, earning rates and redemption rates are based on what can be achieved during normal periods of time. However, due to COVID-19 it is ill-advised to encourage travel redemptions and one can expect to earn considerably less MR points than regular.

To offset this indirect devaluation, Amex has enabled ALL MR cards to redeem at the 1,000 MR = 10$ rate for ALL transactions on an account, resulting in a guaranteed 1 CPP redemption rate.

For those with the Personal Platinum, Amex is also DOUBLING the earn rate and redemption rate (effectively earning 2 MR per dollar spent base, up to 6 MR), which offers 2,000 MR = 20$. Effectively, this means your "minimum" redemption rate for the Personal Platinum is now 4%, all the way up to 12% cash-back. As such, I do encourage people to use this option for redemption as it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, which is set to expire on July 20, 2020. In addition, if one is unable to use the 200$ travel credit by September 2020, it will be "transferred" to the following year. More details are to follow regarding the later. Nonetheless, this essentially makes the Personal Platinum the highest earning card in Canada and one of the most generous welcome bonus currently available.
Maximizing Redemptions
Now that we have some-kind of an idea how to earn MR points and maximize the earnings, we still need to decide how we can redeem our points. As mentioned in the basics, there are many ways to redeem them.

  • Merchandise: Purchase various products / gift cards directly from the MR portal directly. In most cases, the average CPP will be under 1 due to the markup on various items.
  • “First Collection”: A more premium offering of Merchandise, only offered for Platinum cardholder. Expect a similar CPP to other merchandise.
  • Concierge Booking: Allows Platinum cardholders to pay for the Concierge requests using their MR points, at a fixed rate (0.7 CPP)
  • Annual Fee Credit: Allows any cardholder to pay his annual fee in MR points, at a rate of 0.7 CPP.
  • General Statement Credit: Apply your points as a statement credit valid for any transaction ported to your Amex card. Personal cards redeem at 0.7 CPP and business cards at 1 CPP. Can be applied to any transaction in the last 12 months.
  • Travel Statement Credit: Alike the general credit, this applies to travel expenses charged to the card, as identified by the merchant categories. Redemption is fixed at 1 CPP, no matter the type of card. Can be applied to any transaction in the last 12 months.
  • Fixed Travel: An option letting you book flights through AmexTravel using a pre-defined redemption grid. It is available for any MR card. The redemption value varies enormously based on the bookings.
  • Hotel Transfer: Allows a cardholder to convert their MR points into certain hotel chains loyalty programs (Bonvoy and Hilton Honors). This option is available on all MR cards. The redemption value varies enormously based on the bookings.
  • Airline Transfer: Also know as the Frequent Travel Program (FTP), Gold and Platinum cards can convert their MR points to the programs of certain airlines (Aeroplan, Avios, Alitalia, Asia Miles, Delta Skymiles and Ethiad). The redemption value varies enormously based on the bookings.

So, this is a lot of options. How do we figure out the best option?

Before going any further let’s define a concept we will need to understand and have a common definition.

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Cents per Point (CPP): A measure to determine “how much value” you get from a single MR point. In most cases, it is the best tool to compare the redemption options, as it is a common unit. Here’s how to calculate it.

((Value of the item - Fees) / Amount of Points Required) * 100
=
CPP

Why do I consider the fees in the calculation? Because you pay them in addition to the points you are redeeming, you are effectively reducing the redemption power of your points, as you could have bought this item at its value, but are using another “currency” to pay for it, plus the fees attached to it. Note that the fees are not the annual fee for the card, but fees applicable to this specific redemption. We will explore some examples further down.

CPP is probably the best indicator of whether a redemption is “good” or “bad”, as it puts a comparable metric between the different options. Of course, it is still a question of personal preference. Let’s contrast some examples of redemptions on a CPP basis.

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Merchandise & “First Collection”
Probably one of my least favourite redemption options, as they require you to wait for a physical item to arrive, but also offer a limited catalogue of options. Not only that, but pricing for items is not that dynamic, meaning you can end up paying “as much” for last year’s model than the current one. This is a good starting point as it is really easy to identify good or bad redemptions.

If you head to the Membership Rewards portal, you can find a listing for a Bose Companion 2 speaker set for 18,300 MR.

Image


How do we figure out the CPP from there? Amex does not charge any additional fee when purchasing merchandise with MR points, so we just need to figure out the value, which is not difficult at all.

Image

So, we have an item costing 110$ (before tax) that can be bought for 18,300 MR. Let’s do the math. While you can consider the sales tax in your calculation, it comes down to your personal preference (I only do for travel items as the taxes are included anyway)

((Value of the item - Fees) / Amount of Points Required) * 100
=
CPP

((110$ - 0$) / 18,300 MR ) * 100
=
CPP

0.6 Cent per MR
=
CPP

Yes, a POULTRY 0.6 CPP. Here’s why this is bad: Remember the general credit we mentioned earlier? It offers 0.7 CPP on ANY transaction you want (Remember: Business cards have a fixed 1 CPP for any credit, making it an even worse deal), meaning you get less value buying the item from Amex than buying it from a store and using a general statement credit.

But TheFusio15, you chose a Bose item knowing very well it would be marked up!

Maybe, but it is generally a common trend among items, and wait till we get to the bigger CPP. If you really want to use your points for merchandise or goods, gift card can represent better value.

Image

This is a 0.83 CPP redemption, meaning it is better than buying the gift card directly Indigo, then applying a statement credit (on personal cards at least) as you’ll get only 0.7 CPP.
Right there, we have what could be considered to be a good merchandise redemption, though far from excellent. If you find examples with CPP higher than 1, feel free to let me know!

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Concierge Booking / Annual Fee Credit / General Statement Credit *for personal cards*
Since they are fixed at 0.7 CPP, they are probably the least valuable kind of redemption, as it takes away your opportunity to use those points on more valuable (and enjoyable) redemptions. However, they are the most transparent as the value is well known and upfront.

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Travel Credit / General Statement Credit *for business cards*
We are now entering the 1 CPP territory, which is more interesting. Because it is a statement credit, you can book / buy any item, anywhere you want, and apply the credit afterwards. This is great for things that cannot be obtained through other loyalty programs or cannot be discounted otherwise. It is also, generally, a better options to pay the fees and taxes on award flights, as you tend to get more value for your points this way than converting them to the other programs (more on this when we will discuss FTP).

NOTE: Transactions eligible to be claimed as a travel statement credit will be all transactions that are eligible for the 2x travel multiplier on MR Cards. Therefore, if you tend to dine out in hotel restaurants or spas, you would be able to get 1 CPP instead of the 0.7 CPP of general credit statements for personal cards. Thanks to @jtfrogger for pointing this out.

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Fixed Travel
Okay, we are now getting in the more complex stuff. Fixed travel lets you book any flight offered on Amex Travel using a fixed amount of points, unlike the limited availability of seats on Aeroplan. Basically, pricing of flights is based on a redemption chart, as follows. The chart below is for return trips, and is not offered for one-way flights. Yes, I redid the chart because the one on Amex’s website is terrible.

Image

While it could be a simple calculation of points needed vs maximum fare, the process is far more complex. Let’s try to book a flight using the fixed reward grid. We will do YYZ-CDG for this example, a flight which can be obtained roundtrip for under 900$ in economy. The following 3 flights are the less expensive offered on the portal.

Image

Yes, of those three flights, two are under the 900$ limit, yet here we are having to spend money on top? The 900$ cap applies to the BASE airfare, which is before any other surcharges (fuel, airport taxes, etc.), the rest must be paid, either with additional points (at a 1 CPP rate), or out of pocket. In fact, certain airlines will report the flight as this:

Image

On this flight, you would pay 700$, plus 60,000 points, for a flight worth 812.39$. BEST. VALUE. EVER. What’s our CPP here? 0.18 CPP. No need to explain that you should NEVER use your points this way.

So, can we actually get a good redemption on Fixed Travel? Actually yes, but it takes a lot of research, and probably quite some flexibility. Let’s see the same trip, in business class.

Image

Even considering the surcharges, those flight all offer at least 1.78 CPP, as we max-out the base fare (before surchages), and then pay the rest out of pocket. In fact, any flight where the base fare maxes out the value will give you a range between 1.5 - 2 CPP.


NOTE: Amex has, on many occasions, offered bonus miles for fixed travel bookings, which "effectively" reduce the cost of points for your bookings and increases your CPP.
Generally, the bonus are as follow:

  • 5,000 MR for bookings under 50,000 MR (potentially increasing your range to 1.7 - 3 CPP depending on the booking)
  • 10,000 MR for bookings over 50,000 MR (potentially increasing your range to 1.88 - 3 CPP depending on the booking)

While the Fixed Travel program can offer good value for your points, it has many limitations that can be enough of a deal breaker for the more savvy users:

  • You are required to do round-trip, multi-city is not an option, nor one-way. However, you can contact Amex Travel over the phone and MIGHT be able to get a special itinerary (YMMV).
  • You are required to fly with the same carrier in both direction.
  • The flights booked are generally the lowest fare category available, meaning they the least flexible, though it depends on each airlines policy. Therefore you need to consider the cost of checked baggage, seat selection and other applicable fees.

In the event you are short on points, Amex lets you top up at a rate of 3 cent per point bought to a maximum of 25% of the points needed. I highly discourage you to do so, unless you need to book more than one seat at the same time.

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Hotel Transfer
Amex allows all MR cards transfer to two programs, Marriott Bonvoy (former SPG) and Hilton Honors, at the following rates.

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Before going any further, I invite you to familiarize yourself with both programs and if you haven’t done so, to enrol in them as they are free to join. Basically, each program lets you book hotel rooms for points, although how many points it cost is determined differently.

Bonvoy uses a category system, which is then adjusted to peak and non-peak.

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On the other hand, Hilton uses a dynamic pricing based on various factors (date, room type, location, rate, etc.), making it less predictable, and less clear cut.

If used for hotel nights, Bonvoy points are valued at 0.7 - 0.9 CPP on average, while Hilton Honors are around 0.5 CPP.

Let’s focus on Bonvoy for now. We need to consider that we don’t exchange 1 MR for 1 Bonvoy, therefore increasing our actual CPP to 0.84 - 1.08 on average. While this might see like a poor rate, the benefits increase as the length of the stay increases: 5th night is free, which basically mean you get 20% more value on your stay, bringing our CPP to 1 - 1.3 and making it “better” than using the travel credit.

As for Hilton Honors, even though the 5th night is also free, our value for nights at the hotel remains around 0.6 CPP, meaning one would be better off using the travel credit.

So, hotel loyalty programs are for hotels only, right?

If only it was this simple. Stay with me people.

The following was brought to my attention by @xx1what

So far, I discussed Bonvoy mostly as a program for free hotels nights, and a way to combine MR, MR-S and MR-F balances if you see value in doing so. However, while you might not see the value in converting MR to Bonvoy based on the previous section, you can maximize the value of each Bonvoy point by using the following technique:

International Airline Transfer: This one is probably the most valuable tool in the Bonvoy catalog, as it enables MR-S to be transferred to airlines loyalty programs (including Aeroplan), at a ratio of 3:1. While the ratio seems bad, we need to consider that, if used for Aeroplan, it gives us great value for MR-S.

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In addition to being a "relatively" easy way to transfer MR-S to Aeroplan, the Bonvoy International Airline program offers a LOT more airlines options than the canadian Amex FTP program, This matters as it opens 40 different loyalty programs (including Cathay Pacific and Alaska Airlines, two excellent ways to redeem mileage without excessive fees), and can combine the balance earned through the various programs (Bonvoy, MR, MR-S, MR-F can then be transferred to an airline of choice). While the ratio of 3:1 apply to most airlines, Bonvoy adds an additional 5,000 points to transfers of 60,000 points, making your ratio 2:1 (50,000 MR-S gives you 25,000 AE). This is even better as you effectively get 2.5 airline mile for every dollar spent on "eats and drinks" on the Cobalt. Of all the Amex card, this is the second highest earn rate for airline mile behind the 3X on restaurants offered by the Platinum, as it offers 1:1 transfer (though limited in airlines).

Therefore, a Cobalt card can (effectively) earn you anywhere between 0.5 to 2.5 airline mile per dollar spent if you transfer them in 60,000 points (which means 50,000 MR-S) increment. Given the speed at which one can earn MR-S, it makes it a really powerful tool if you desire to accumulate points in another program than Aeroplan or Avios, and makes the absence of FTP (for the most part) less painful. While I do not entirely recommend doing this with a Gold Card or Platinum as it can worsen your return rate, it might be the only way for one to accumulate a certain currency of points in a specific airline that doesn't offer a credit card in Canada or through a not-so-interesting offering from a Financial Institution.

Aeroplan Bonus Transfer Offers: On certain occasions, Aeroplan will apply their own bonus on transfers from participating partners (which include Bonvoy), giving you up to 35% more miles for your converted Bonvoy. This applies on top of the 60K bonus, giving a potential transfer rate of 1.48:1, or at least 0.67 to 3.37 miles per dollar spent on the Cobalt, making it the highest airline transferring card offered by Amex. However, those offers are sporadic and can be targeted, so you might not have this option depending on when you plan to book or travel.

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Airline Transfer through FTP This sections is still incomplete and a work in progress.
This section will be mostly tailored to the Amex Platinum and Gold card, as they are both eligible for FTP while the Cobalt is not. However, as explained above, you can reach a "similar" end point by transfering your points from the Cobalt, to Bonvoy, to Aeroplan (or other programs) for a 3:1 / 2.4:1 ratio depending how many points you transfer.

Before going any futher, I wanna put a big disclaimer here:

Using FTP is probably the riskiest way to redeem your MR points as you transfer them to a currency that can be devalued without any warning, but also won't allow you to transfer back to any other program. I do not advise transfering your points before you are certain which booking you are going to use them on and have verified availability. I am not liable for any mistake or loss you make throughout the process.

Okay, let's proceed. FTP in Canada offers the following transfers. For the sake of simplicity, I will use this valuation chart by One Mile at a Time, though you can get a lot higher (or lower) depending on the booking. I do personally believe most of those miles can and should be redeemed at higher CPP, but this gives us a comparison frame.

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Avios Promo: Amex has, on multiple occasions, offered up to a 30% bonus on MR transfers to Avios. This means your ratio becomes 1 : 1.3 and gives you a 1.7 cent per MR point transfer if redeemed at 1.3 CPP.

As you can see from this table, the two most interesting transfer rate will generally be Aeroplan and Avios, assuming you find a redemption that suits your desired destination and time of travel. To limit the scope of this guide, I will not be going in details over all the redemption options, but will highlight a few points based on the various data points and experience.

Aeroplan has some of the most flexible routing options, allowing stopovers (1 for international flights other than the US) and layovers (as many as one wants, as long as they are under 24 hours and within the MPM (maximum permissible mileage)) on most of their award flights, therefore increasing your CPP considerably. While seats are limited and I do not advise using the flexible mileage option, I have personally managed booking around 9 CPP in business class, and averaged 5 CPP in economy class (for flights to Europe). My personal best, so far, has been close to 18 CPP on business class redemptions, 15 CPP in economy, which is possible depending on your flexibility for travel dates and destinations. Whenever booking through Aeroplan, avoid airlines that add carrier surcharges, as they will considerably inflate the amount of taxes you'll be paying, and reduce your overall CPP. I generally recommend going with most of those carriers.

However, I suggest a really cautious position towards long-term savings in Aeroplan: 2020 will likely result in a considerable devaluation of the product, and likely the elimination of their fixed award chart, which currently allows us to get an incredible value for our miles. For those looking to maximize their return rate, I highly advise looking into the 'Mini-RTW" kind of redemption, one that will likely disappear with the transformation of Aeroplan next year. As such, keep your MR into your Amex accounts unless you specifically have decided on a booking and are ready to call Aeroplan.

I generally consider redemptions with a value of at least 2 CPP to be good value, as you can get close to 2 CPP on Amex Fixed Travel with less restrictions.

British Airways / Avios also has surcharges on flights operated by British Airways. However, since it is a OneWorld airline, you can use it to book award flights on other carriers, which will generally not charge surcharges. They hold incredible value if you plan to use them with those partner airlines, as their redemption grid is currently very interesting. Again, it will require some work on your end to find the best bookings, though you can get really good results. For European destinations, flights through Aer Lingus (another Avios member) will not apply those surcharges.

All those 0.75x Airlines are still good programs, depending on where you want to fly. Converting MRs to most programs can land you some excellent CPP, if you are careful with surcharges. Generally, if an airline applies surcharges on their own flights, they cannot really apply them on their partner's flights, therefore giving you a good opportunity if the redemption rate / grid is the same for partner airlines and themselves. Again, I do advise shopping around and following the various guides existing throughout award travel forums and websites.

For all airline transfers, your mileage will LITERALLY vary (badoum tse.). The best ways to ensure you get the maximum value for your mile is to do extensive research and be savvy. Sites like PrinceOfTravel, FlyerTalk, One Mile at a Time, (maybe my own if I ever find the time to actually research and develop something along those lines) and other award travel / credit card focused websites can definitely help you maximize your redemption.

To keep the scope of this guide relatively simple, I will not be discussing the specifics of each program, nor the best redemption options as they will vary per user, and on your travel dates. There is a lot of excellent references with more in-depth knowledge of those topics, and they might be more suitable if you want to learn the "ins and outs" of those programs.

TL,DR: FTP can be a powerful tool to obtain incredible value for your MR. However, be cautious of fees and taxes that can lower your CPP. You should target at least 2 CPP per MR you transfer as you can get this value on Amex Travel, with far less restrictions.

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The Best Option?
So, what is the best option for redemption? For most cardholder, travel redemptions will most likely net you the biggest return in the sense of a CPP measure. However, the general guidelines can be more vague if you travel using other means than airlines, or rather use it as a general credit. The following guidelines should help you get the best redemption, no matter what you are booking.

  • General Credit / Merchandise: Apply your MR only if you can get 0.7 CPP or more (1 MR for business cards) through the MR portal, otherwise using them as a general statement credit which is a guaranteed 0.7 CPP, no matter your purchase.
  • Hotels / Airlines: Your target will vary based on what you are trying to redeem. Hotels through a partner program should be upwards of 1 CPP, otherwise use the statement credit for travel which is our baseline at 1 CPP. For flights, FTP should be used if you can net more than 2 CPP, Amex Fixed Travel if 1.5 to 2 CPP, and travel credit statement for charges which would be lower than 1 CPP. Be wary of surchages and fees when booking your flights and wait till the last moment to transfer your MR into any other loyalty programs.
  • Other travel eligible transactions: Redeem with the statement credit for travel, which is a guaranteed 1 CPP, though I do recommand waiting for a future opportunity for a higher redemption.

Again, those are some “general” guidelines, as you should redeem your miles in the way that suits you best. If you are planning to close a card and don’t have a travel expense in the near future, it might be the best option to simply redeem them as a statement credit, or transfer them in a program you will earn points for with your next card, but make sure to close your accounts with as little points remaining as possible. I personally target anything that gives me more than 2.5 CPP for my redemptions, though I have done redemptions at 1CPP or more if I didn't have a need for big balances on other products.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Apr 23rd, 2020 6:46 am, edited 19 times in total.
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PLEASE READ BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER - COVID-19 Specific Changes
Throughout this guide, earning rates and redemption rates are based on what can be achieved during normal periods of time. However, due to COVID-19 it is ill-advised to encourage travel redemptions and one can expect to earn considerably less MR points than regular.

To offset this indirect devaluation, Amex has enabled ALL MR cards to redeem at the 1,000 MR = 10$ rate for ALL transactions on an account, resulting in a guaranteed 1 CPP redemption rate.

For those with the Personal Platinum, Amex is also DOUBLING the earn rate and redemption rate (effectively earning 2 MR per dollar spent base, up to 6 MR), which offers 2,000 MR = 20$. Effectively, this means your "minimum" redemption rate for the Personal Platinum is now 4%, all the way up to 12% cash-back. As such, I do encourage people to use this option for redemption as it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, which is set to expire on July 20, 2020. In addition, if one is unable to use the 200$ travel credit by September 2020, it will be "transferred" to the following year. More details are to follow regarding the later. Nonetheless, this essentially makes the Personal Platinum the highest earning card in Canada and one of the most generous welcome bonus currently available.
Card Specific Quirks and Features
While each card earns a relatively uniform currency of points, each product have considerable difference that might impact to hold one, or all of them.

American Express Cobalt
The Cobalt is the only personal credit card that accumulates MR points, as the rest of the offering by AmEx either offers cashback or points in another currency (think Aeroplan or Air Miles). It was seen by many as a "rebirth" of AmEx, creating a product meant to attract younger cardholder that might have not considered AmEx in the past.

Because of this, the Cobalt can be seen as the "quirky" products in the MR lineup. First but not the least, it is the only product with no clear "step-up" or "step-down", alike the Gold / Platinum stack. It is the first (and only for now) credit card in Canada to offer its annual fee as a "monthly fee" of 10$, netting a total of 120$ per year. The introduction of the Cobalt also brought up a new subdivision of the MR system, MR-Select (MR-S) with limited transfer options, though the average earning rate is higher. Note that with the introduction of the Business Edge, it is now possible to accumulate MR-S with a second card, and potentially combine the balances.

While the card offers a generous sign-up bonus, the requirements for it make it a "nightmare" for traditional churners": the bonus is obtained over a year of ownership, by spending 500$ on the card every month, which nets 2,500 MR per month, for a total of 30,000 MR by the end of first year. For those with access to Perkopolis, there is an additional 10,000 MR offered if you spend 1,500$ in the first three months. Depending on your valuation of MR points, I consider the welcome offer to be worth anywhere between 300-600$ depending on how you decide to use them.

Moving past the welcome bonus, the Cobalt is, without a doubt, the quickest MR earner offered by Amex in Canada. Its 5X category, Eats and Drinks, is the "most generous" of its kind in Canada, only matched by Scotiabank's Gold Amex. While it has been capped to 25,000$ in spending per year, it is relatively easy for someone to maximize their earnings with this card. A cardholder could, hypothetically, buy gift cards to virtually increase their monthly spend in grocery stores, while reducing their reliance on the 1X or 2X category. This strategy has been often discussed in forums, though I advise to be careful with it, as Amex retains the right to clawback any MR points you accumulate, or close your account if they were obtained "in a illegitimate manner".

For many, the Cobalt is probably one of the best first step in the MR ecosystem: a good earner, affordable and still offers a decent insurance package. Many will compare it to Amex's own Gold card, which we will discuss next.

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American Express Business Edge
The most recent card in the Amex stack, it is seen by many as the "Business Cobalt", which is a mostly fair comparison. After all, it earns MR-S, therefore making it possible to combine balances through a lovely CSR, but also adds categories that add onto the ones offered on the Cobalt.

It currently is the cheapest MR earning card, Business and Personal cards considered, making it a good parking spot for those who don't see much value in spending their MR-S accumulated through their Cobalt, but want to attempt a repeat welcome bonus.

Unique to it, it introduced a new category, "Office Supplies and Electronics", earning 3X up to 25,000$ in spending per year (including the other 3X categories). It also comes with a monthly 1,000 MR bonus if you spend 3,000$ per month on the card, with no time restriction. This makes it particularly interesting for small businesses as there is no cost to additional cards and still come with a generous welcome bonus (30,000 MR for 5k MSR, 40,000 MR if referred with the same MSR). Assuming you meet the 3,000$ monthly target, meaning 36,000$ annual spend, you can get a minimum of 88,000 MR-S through referral (assuming all spending is done with the 1x category). If you can self-refer from the Business Platinum, you also get 25,000 MR for referring someone.

However, being the cheapest business option, you lose some of the perks offered on all the other cards: travel insurance. While the value of the perk varies for each user, it is a noteworthy mention. It is also the least interesting card to use if booking travel as it does not earn the 2X multiplier, and its lack of insurance.

Thanks to @jtfrogger for "illuminating me" about the merits of the card, as I was under the impression it was the poorest addition to the Amex line-up in a while, something that turned out to be completely false.

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American Express Gold Card (Personal and Business)
I have quite some attachment to the Personal Gold card. First of all, it was my first Amex card back in college, and probably how I got introduced to the credit card game in a more serious manner. Out of all the MR earning products, some would argue they are the least attractive after the launch of the Cobalt. I however tend to disagree on this matter, though it differs for most users. Unless I explicitly mention it, perks apply to both the personal and business Gold card.

First of all, it is a Charge Card. The inability to carry a balance and the "no pre-defined limits" is often cited as more flexible for those with impromptu large purchase. However, the Gold Card shines in many other ways that go beyond its own character.

In regards to the included insurance, it offers more coverage than the Cobalt, adding trip interruption and higher value insurance policy (500k for travel accident vs 250k). It also offers 1 additional MR per dollar spent through Amex Travel when booking hotels or car rentals, a perk unique to the Personal Gold card. While the annual fee is 150$, and must be paid on the first statement, it is still possible to obtain FYF through Perkopolis, in addition to the public 25,000 MR offer. Depending on your redemption method, this can be worth upwards of 500$. This is mostly due to the fact that it is the cheapest card offering access to FTP, and access to Aeroplan transfers at 1:1 ratio.

Another notable quirk of the Gold and Cobalt: they can cross-refer, even though they are in different product stacks. The referal bonus is 5,000 MR, up to 75,000 MR per year. As such, many will start with one, then "self-refer" to the other one as they complete the welcome bonus.

In regards to the earning rate, the personal Gold Card is relatively limited, topping off at 2x with a base earning rate of 1x. However, none of the categories are capped, making it a good option for those who max-out the 5x category offered on the Cobalt. In contrast, the business Gold offers a 1x base rate, with your choice of three suppliers earning you 2x (up to 250,000 extra MR per year, or 250,000$ in spending). Given its higher cost at 250$, the main reason to acquire one would be to obtain the referral welcome bonus of 40,000 MR after 5,000$ in spending within the first three months, and the option to self-refer to the Business Platinum card.

The PLASTIQ trick: If you plan to use Plastiq for bill-payment, the Gold Business card is probably the best card to earn MR points. By choosing Plastiq as your 2x supplier, you get more than you could expect from the Business Platinum or any other MR card. On a transaction of 7,000$ (let's say tuition), this would earn you 14,000 MR points vs 8,750 MR using a Business Platinum (excluding Plastiq fees, welcome bonus and annual fees). Assuming you get 5cpp, that's 265$ extra in worth compared to the BP. It is totally worth considering if you plan to use Plastiq regularly and have already met the MSR on your other cards.

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American Express Platinum Card (Personal and Business)
While I am a big supporter of the Platinum Card as a whole, there is one big sticking point when it comes to discussing its value: the "net" 499$ annual fee of both versions. Then, you look at the earning rates and wonder "why would I pay so much?".

Unlike other cards we discussed before, they are both "perks first" cards, in the sense that the value is derived from the additional perks provided by the card. To list a few: Priority Pass, Advanced Hotel Status, Concierge Service, the best insurance package on an Amex and one of the only metal credit cards offered in Canada. While the last one is not something I'll put a value on, the other perks are highly valuable to users who often travel, either for business or leisure.

Of the three products discussed earlier, they are the ones offering the highest welcome bonus. I highly recommend applying through the use of a referral link, as the offer is better in both cases. You're looking at 60,000 MR for 5,000$ MSR on the Personal Platinum, 75,000 MR for 7,000$ in MSR. As such, the Business Platinum has the distinction of being the most generous welcome bonus offered on a credit card in Canada, and one of the most popular churning product. While Amex has been enforcing their "once in a lifetime" rule for welcome bonuses on personal cards, Business cards continue to be "eligible" for repeat bonuses.

On both Platinum cards (and the Centurion), you also get access to the Global Dining Program, which essentially gets you reserved tables and, in some occasions, complimentary amenities. If you plan an evening out with someone you care about, it can be worth your time to call the Concierge to see if they can set you up with one of those experiences!

While I do not want to discuss the other perks in too much detail right away (as there is quite a bit of them), the Platinum is an excellent asset for those planning a big trip, or who happens to travel often in economy class. More on that in the following sections.

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Similarities between the products
Even though they target three different annual fees, all of the cards give access to Amex Invites, Amex Travel, Fixed Travel Redemption, Purchase Protection and the Hotel Collection. For the Business cards, you also get "employee card misuse protection" and protection in the event of disability.

Of course, as all products are issued by the Amex Bank of Canada, they (obviously) use the American Express processing network, and therefore can only be used at accepting merchants. While the acceptance rate has increased considerably in the last decade, I still advise cardholders to carry at least one or two Visa or MC products in the event their favorite merchant doesn't accept Amex.

As a whole, American Express does not enforce minimum income rules, making it the only issuer to offer "premium" cards to all level of incomes. Amex is also really sensitive to derogatory marks on a credit file, which might lead to refusal. For users desiring to product switch, Amex will not always do a hard-pull on an individual's credit file. However, each new product will result into a new line of credit to be opened, affecting the average age of account, an important factor for those with shorted credit history or looking to move between product stacks.

All MR cards are Apple Pay / Google Pay / Samsung Pay enabled, though they rely on Amex's contactless technology, which might not be accepted by all retailers. Be prepared to use the physical card more often than you would with VISA or MC.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Apr 23rd, 2020 6:46 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Breaking Even with the Amex Portfolio

NOTICE: You will notice I have not discussed each card seperately and have only provided a "general" value for each perk. Since it is a mostly personal subject, and some of you might not give any financial value to the perks included, your decision to signup or not for a MR card should be based on your level of comfort and personal valuation of the benefits discussed above. They are subject to change, and can suffer devaluation with a 90 days notice.

This topic requires us to consider how one "break-even" on a credit card. For me personally, it is based on the following factors.
  • Value of perks and services obtained through the cards.
  • Value of points earned through the card and the expected redemption value.

As you may guess, the value of each varies per card, as each card has a different set of perks and benefits, but also earning rates and redemption options. Your valuation of each perk might differ from mine, so you will most likely want to calculate it based on your personal valuation (I consider mine to be on the upper-end, at least based on my usage and spending patterns).

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Defining the value of a MR point
This is one of the most polarizing question, as the ability of people to redeem varies considerably.

The value of 1 MR depends on how (and when) you expect to redeem them. As we discussed in the previous sections, I consider anything above 1 CPP to be a "good" redemption value, though I personally try to obtain considerably more. My latest redemption (done through Aeroplan) works out to approximately 17 CPP, though it is not a realistic value for most (In part due to the "end of an era" in regards to Aeroplan, but also the high level of flexibility needed). More reasonable valuations of 1 MR are generally in the range of 1.5 - 2.5 CPP, though I invite you to base it on your experience and redemption patterns. There are many ways to calculate value of each point, so feel free to use the one you are more familiar with.

For the Cobalt, even though a MR is "technically" the same, my valuation is generally lower, 1.0 - 1.5 CPP on average. Unlike regular MR points that derive a lot of their value out of the FTP perk, MR-S are quite valuable in large balances (as explained in the Bonvoy transfer option). As such, there are ways to increase it, though it is highly dependent on your objectives and potential for redemptions.

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Valuing "ALL" the Perks


Travel Insurance
Included with all MR cards, though the coverage varies between products. Make sure to verify your coverage level before traveling.

My general calculation of value for this is based on the number of trips you do out-of-province / internationally in a given year. Do not forget that the coverage is only for the first 15 days of a trip, and might require you to obtain additional coverage for longer trips. Note that each card has varying levels of coverage, which might be sufficient or not based on your travel types.

Personally, I base my valuation on three factors:
- Number of trips done in a year
- Out of pocket expenses (lost /delayed luggage or flight)
- Cost of similar coverage and necessity of such coverage

Now, how much is it worth. Again, it depends.

For 15 days travel, I obtain a quote from Blue Cross, one of the better known travel insurer in Canada. I used a mid-20s datapoint, so your quote might differ based on your age. For a single trip, the quote was 82.35$, or 171.90$ with trip cancelation / interruption (up to 2,500$ as in the Platinum Card policy). However, if one goes on multiple trips, an annual coverage option exists, offered for 229.32$ (including trip cancelation or interruption).

Since I do not like traveling without insurance, I consider that the cost would be something that I would buy either-way, probably to the same coverage level as the Platinum Card, therefore I would consider the value to be the lowest cost of such coverage, 170$. If I had other cards with similar coverage, I might not give as much value to the perk, though it is a good part of the value proposition for me.

For trips longer than 15 days, consider that the cost of insurance does not increase in a linear fashion, so depending how long you stay. For 30 days, you are looking at 238.74$ for the all inclusive quote, an increase of 67$ for double the length. The longer the stay, the "lower" the benefit's value gets (you'd still need to pay coverage for the second half, which means you'd pay 171.90$ for coverage instead of the 238.74$ for the full duration). Obviously, the value will vary based on your age, destination, trip length, so make sure you understand the limits of your coverage before over-valuing the included insurance.


Extended Warranty & Accidental Damage
Included with all MR cards, though the maximum claim value varies per card. Lost / theft covered up to 1,000$ per occurence, up to 120 days from purchase. Extended coverage doubles your warranty, up to 1 additional year, with a yearly cap, which varies per card.

Given how common those benefits have become, the value is mostly derived by the ease of processing a claim, and the likelihood you would need the coverage in the first place. I do believe that Amex has the easiest claim process of all credit card issuers, and I am therefore not too conflicted in assessing an additional value to the benefit. Some will consider the "reasonable cost" they would pay for an additional year of warranty, others will value it at 0$. Depending on the purchase value, I generally consider that 5% of an item's cost is a "fair" value for extended coverage. As such, I will value the benefit as worth close to 100$ per year due to the my low frequency of claims.


Amex Offers
Included with all MR cards.

For this, I will assume that using the offers has not caused you to spend more than you normally would. For offers with a statement credit payout, I would simply consider the cash-value of the payout obtained during a given year. For this, you can use the Amex Offers page on Amex's website which indicates all the offers you've used in a given year. For offers with a payout in MR points, I simply include it as part of the MR earning section, and therefore will not add additional value beyond.

While Amex Offers is relatively new in Canada, it is worth pointing that Amex have had, on a regular basis, email offers to most cardholders. They can be targeted or sent to everyone, so your experience will vary. Some of the offers that have been offered in the past includes 15% discount of the base fare with Air Canada, "By Invitation" (Restaurants or special events bundles. Value varies based on the bundle.) and discounted rates through Amex Travel (cash fares, not points). Generally speaking, Platinum cardholders *should* get more offers than the others, though it can be really random. If you want to see the existing offers, there is a community maintained thread here.


Hotel Perks & Hotel Collection
The Hotel Collection is included with all cards, though Platinum Cards obtain a larger, higher value, choice of properties.
Platinum cardholders also get access to advanced hotel status with select chains (Marriott, Shangri-La, Hilton and Radisson for Personal Platinum. Marriott is the only offered for Business Platinum).


The value derived from this set of perks depends on your hotel usage in a given year, and whether or not you would have chosen another property with a lower cost if it wasn't for the additional benefits.

In many cases, you can be granted a free room upgrade at eligible properties, if booked through Amex travel. While it varies for each property and time of travel, I will not give a specific value to this benefit, and let you decide the value you obtain from it.

The hotel collection is a set of properties that comes with a "up to 100 US$ hotel credit at participating properties on qualifying room charges and a room upgrade, when available.". This can also be used for the amenities offered at the property, including dining, spa, golf or other hotel facilities charged to the room. While I do not have personal experience with the benefit, I do believe that giving it the full face value for each of the applicable trip is worthy, unless you would have chosen a lower cost property otherwise. Given the exchange rate, I will personally value it at 120$ per trip, IF USED. Otherwise, its value is null.

For Platinum cardholder, the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) programs is an extension of the above, with additional perks that Amex values at up to 550 US$ per trip. Those perks include breakfast for two, noon check-in (if available), room upgrade (if available), complimentary wi-fi (which is stupid given cheap hotels include it, but whatever.) and a "similar" 100 US$ amenities credit, different for each properties. Personally, I do not value those perks as being worth 550 US$ per trip. I see value in the amenities credit, breakfast (I calculate 20$ per day, per person) and the potential room upgrade if there is an actual benefit to the upgraded room. Assuming an average trip is for two people, with a duration of 4 nights, I would personally value this at 250$ per trip, if used. Again, it is important to remind yourself whether your accommodation would have been different if it wasn't for the credit, resulting in a lower cost room. I do consider this is (most of the time) a better way to book fancy properties and suites than using the hotel status discussed in the below section. To contextualize this, look at the example below. Note that it is not a rule you can apply all the time. Confirm with your own research.

The Sydney Shangri-La offers is part of the FHR program. If one were to book through Shangri-La's Golden Circle (which includes Jade membership with the Platinum Card), one night in the Sydney Harbour Suite would cost 733$. Your golden circle membership includes buffet breakfast, early check-in / late check-out, complimentary room upgrade (if available) and internet. However, if one books through AmexTravel, the room costs the same, if you are not using the 200$ travel credit. While you can't use the Golden Circle perks, you get the FHR perks, which includes all the Golden Circle perks, in addition to a 100 US$ amenities credit, which you essentially get for free. In this case, it makes more sense to use the FHR perks than the chain's program.

Hotel Status are part of the perks offered on both Platinum Cards. They are essentially a complimentary upgrade in a hotel chain loyalty program, which can include free upgrades, early check-in and late checkout and additional points in the hotel's points program. While there are various valuations for the value of those programs, I will not make my own. Two reasons for such decision: the perks are not guaranteed, and require you to book through the hotel directly. In addition, those perks can face severe devaluation, such as the Marriott / SPG merger that removed a LOT of value out of the program. If you want to see what are the commonly agreed value, I'll refer you to this article by The Points Guy about the value of Bonvoy's various tiers. I personally do not agree with those valuations, so feel free to consider your own experience.


Priority Pass and Centurion Lounges
Exclusive to Platinum cardholders and Platinum Authorized Users. Requires enrolment through Cardholder services for Priority Pass.

While I personally enjoy the perk, even though it has been considerably devalued in recent months, I do not consider its value to be equal to the subscription cost of 429 US$ (570 CAD at the time of writing) to be the actual derived value, unless you travel really often. First, booking in business / first class give you access to the airline lounges, so does advanced status through Star Alliance and OneWorld alliances. However, for those traveling in economy, the value proposition is more interesting, especially on shorter trips. For example, you might skip the on-board meal purchase and eat / drink before the flight, which make the value proposition more interesting. The benefits are included for free for the cardholder and one guest (additional guests are charged 32 US$ per visit). Entries are unlimited for the cardholder, though subject to each lounge's policy regarding duration of visit or restrictions on entrance. Refer to the Priority Pass website or Amex app for each lounge's policy.

Depending how often you travel and use the lounges, your perceived value will vary. Each lounge offers different facilities, so some are definitely worth more than others. Personally, my valuation is of 20-25$ per visit, per person, which would be my expected cost for food and drinks at the airport or onboard. In the event you use lounges more than 20 times per year, I would consider the actual cost of the yearly subscription as the "hard cap" on value.

I apply similar value to Centurion lounges, though some would argue their offering is generally more upscale than priority pass lounges.


Rental Car Coverage and Benefits
Coverage is included with all MR cards, though the coverage limits vary. Benefits are offered only to Platinum cardholders through Avis and Hertz.

I love this benefit. Seriously.

First of all, you never need to take the CDW from the rental agency if the car's value is under the limit for your card. For Platinum holders, access to "priority lanes" and upgrades (if available) can sincerely improve your experience and reduce your overall travel expenses. Most CDW cost anywhere from 10$ to 40$ per day, depending on the location and company you rent from. For a five day rental, this essentially can be anywhere from 50 to 200$ in savings! As for the value in a complimentary upgrades, it depends on you personally. I see it as half the difference in rate between the two cars, as I generally would not pay the extra, but can recognize the added comfort (and sometimes performance Smirking Face) that comes from it.

--------------------------------

Breaking-even or not?
Now that we've (mostly) established the value of the perks you get from your MR card, let's figure out if you break even.

First, consider the value of all the perks you used in a given year, or the likelihood you would use them in the upcoming year. Using the total value of those perks, you can substract it from the respective annual fee for ALL your card.

Platinum: 499$ (Assuming you use the 200$ travel credit on the Personal variant)
Gold: 150$ Personal / 250$ Business
Cobalt: 120$
Business Edge: 99$

If you already have exceeded the annual cost of your portfolio, congratulations! This means you derive more value from the perks alone, and that the MR points you earn are the cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

If you have not exceeded the annual cost of your portfolio, we will then consider the value of the MR earned during the period. As discussed previously, the value of 1 MR depends on your redemption options and patterns. A commonly agreed upon value is 2cpp, though it can be a bit lower for the Cobalt. From there, there is two ways to calculate your value.

1. Calculate the annual spending required to offset the remaining portion of the annual cost. For this, you need to know two things: your average earning rate (look at earning strategies for this, this would be used as a points earned per dollar spent), the value you consider for each MR points (as a cents per point basis). The calculation is the following.


((Remaining Annual Cost * 100) / MR Valuation) / Average Earning Rate = Annual Spending Required

This way, you can calculate how much you might have to spend in a year to obtain enough points to offset the cost, excluding the welcome bonus. This is the method I personally use as it establishes for long-term cardholding and not churning.

2. Calculate the value of all the MR obtained in a given year. For this, you need the balance of MR points and the value you give to each as a CPP figure. You can include (or exclude) the welcome bonus for each card, though it depends on your cardholding habits. Personally, I do not include it, unless the obtained value is "spreadable" over many years (for example, large redemptions that are done over multiple years for travel). Essentially, if you earned enough points that their redemption value exceeds the annual fee of the card, it makes sense to keep it for one year or more without making a "net loss".


Balance of MR Points * CPP Valuation / 100 = Value of MR points in dollars

If neither of those calculations give you a figure that shows you break-even, or "make a profit", you might want to reconsider your strategy. This can be caused by one of two key factors: you do not extract "enough" value out of the perks, or you do not maximize the MR earning opportunities for the cards you carry. For this, you can refer to the earning strategies discussed earlier on, or see if you can offset the cost with additional cards (for example, cards with no annual fees for places that don't accept Amex which offer cash back). For myself, I consider the cash-back earned on my other cards as a "offset" for the higher cost of the Platinum card, though I derive enough value from the card itself not to need it (both in MR value and perks).

NOTICE: You will notice I have not discussed each card seperately and have only provided a "general" value for each perk. Since it is a mostly personal subject, and some of you might not give any financial value to the perks included, your decision to signup or not for a MR card should be based on your level of comfort and personal valuation of the benefits discussed above. They are subject to change, and can suffer devaluation with a 90 days notice.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Mar 11th, 2020 4:36 am, edited 12 times in total.
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Updates and Further Considerations

This section is meant for any update or additional thought that can help you maximize your American Express membership. If an update is in regards to any of the previous chapters, it will be updated in the respective sections.


Cent per point vs Return Rate: Some Clarification
In this guide, I refer to the return rate as being the same as your cent per point (CPP) performance. The rule of thumb being that a higher CPP generally means you are increasing the return rate from your card. While it is generally true, there is some exceptions to this guideline which was used throughout the guide.

CPP is a valid measure if you compare at a equal earning rate between your cards, as in each card nets you the same number of points on a given transaction (let's say the 1X base rate, or 2X travel among most cards). However, we know this is not the case as each card benefits from different accelerator rates. For example, restaurants between the Platinum (3X) and the Cobalt (5X). While both cards can potentially have the same CPP, their return rate would differ as you get more point per dollar spent on the Cobalt versus the Platinum for this example. Let's look a bit more in details.

Let's assume you are redeeming your points through Aeroplan for 5 CPP. We will consider the difference between a 5x earning and a 2x earning rate, using 10,000 points (therefore a redemption worth 500$). Those numbers are for demonstration purpose only and are only for visualization purposes.

5X Earning Rate: 10,000 MR / 5X = 2,000$ Spent -> Return Rate: 500$ / 2,000$ = 25%
2X Earning Rate: 10,000 MR / 2X = 5,000$ Spent -> Return Rate 500$ / 5,000$ = 10%

While each card nets you the same CPP, the return rate is quite different. You spent 3000$ less at the 5X earning to get the same value as you would from spending 5,000$ at the 2X rate. In this case, the CPP only tells us the value you get for each point, not the actual value you get from your spending. While many will disagree with this premise, using CPP as the main metric to determine the quality of a redemption, this comes particularly handy when comparing the MR earned on the Cobalt and, let's say, a Platinum Card. Your maximum CPP on the Cobalt might be lower, but the return rate can be higher due to their sheer number. This helps explain why the Cobalt, even without the FTP transfer can be an excellent card to hold long-term.


"Two-Players Mode"
Most of us will get into the credit card game alone, there is excellent reasons to partake in what is often referred to as "two-player mode", generally with a significant other or travel partner. This approach relies on the users not only maximizing the welcome bonus for each card, but also the referral offers for each product lineup. This approach is very-well documented by Prince of Travel.

While it is not my role to help you convince your significant other to join you in the miles and points game, I strongly encourage you to be completely honest and transparent with whomever you decide to team-up with. Please be mindful and respectful of their decision if they decide not to pursue the strategy with you. Everyone has different levels of comfort when it comes to credit cards.


The Best Platinum Card?
This point has been raised a few times in the Platinum Card thread, and even by different points outlet. Practically speaking, both cards have the same cost (assuming one uses the travel credit) and same requirements for application: you can apply for the business variant even if you don't have a formally registered business. Before February 2019, both cards even had the same earning rate of 1.25X on all transactions, regardless of category. Essentially, it came down to one's ability to meet the minimum spend for the welcome bonus and if they valued the added travel perks.

Nowadays, both cards have different earning rates that can offer a considerably different return based on your spending, as well as different welcome bonuses. Essentially, your decision is between two different earning strategy:

Personal: 1X / 2X / 3X + 60K MR for 5,000$ (Once-in-a-lifetime Bonus, YMMV for future applications)
Business: 1.25X + 75K MR for 7,000$ (YMMV but DP suggest it can be repeated)

If your goal is short-term gain, the bonus on the Business version is significantly higher, making mostly a no-brainer for active churners and short-term oriented cardholders. However, for longer term decisions (think beyond the first renewal) it gets muddier because of the vastly different earning rates. Similar to the Gold and Cobalt card, it comes down to whether or not you spend enough in the 2X / 3X versus the 1.25X "guaranteed" by the Business variant. Essentially, if your average earn rate exceeds 1.25X on the Personal Card, there is more value in it than the lower return rate you can expect out of the Business Variant. For myself, most of my spending is in the 2X and 3X category which allows my AER to be between 1.7 - 1.9 point per dollar, therefore making the Personal Card a better fit. In some cases, one might have enough spending to justify the two cards and their fees if they have enough 1X spending to offset the added cost of the second card, though the actual amount might be quite high and might just be better off with the Business Card alone. It is also worth remembering that you can do a GENERAL statement credit for 1 CPP using the Business Platinum, but not the Personal Card, a factor that can matter for people who do not travel or benefit from transfers.

Another quick parabola: referrals. Business Platinum can refer to Biz Gold, Biz Edge and Biz Platinum for 25K per referral. Personal Platinum can only refer to Personal Platinum for 15K per referral. This matters if you are mostly concerned about churning and if you are partaking in a two player Amex flowchart.

Excluding the points aspect of the two cards, some perks are exclusive to the Personal card (advanced status with some hotel chains and car rental), but by themselves might not move the balance much further.

All and all, it comes down to three factors:
- Points Earning and Spending: Whether or not 1.25X is better for you than 1X / 2X / 3X and if you specifically need the 1CPP statement credit option.
- Churning, Long-Term or Flowchart: Business Platinum has a bigger bonus, and offers more generous referral bonuses for three different products.
- Value from the added travel perks (hotel status and car rental)

For myself, the Personal Card earns me more points, and is my long-term hold card. I can add the Business if I need a "boost" in points though it is more meant for short-term gain than actual earning strategies beyond churning.

Last edited by thefusio15 on Mar 11th, 2020 5:07 am, edited 4 times in total.
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This is much needed for me as I haven't bothered to figure out how to maximize MR redemption, and have therefore stayed away from the AMEX cards. If you could walk through possibly in the Breaking Even with the Amex Portfolio section how you could make the Platinum's annual fee worth given the high cost, that would be something I am interested in.


Loving the format and visuals. Looking forward to the remainder sections!!!
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Watoko wrote: This is much needed for me as I haven't bothered to figure out how to maximize MR redemption, and have therefore stayed away from the AMEX cards. If you could walk through possibly in the Breaking Even with the Amex Portfolio section how you could make the Platinum's annual fee worth given the high cost, that would be something I am interested in.


Loving the format and visuals. Looking forward to the remainder sections!!!
Glad to hear it will be helpful to at least one user around here! The idea is indeed to demystify the amex ecosystem and their high AF, and why it can be a winning option for many. Hopefully it will help address most of the frequent question asked on the Cobalt or Platinum thread as the answer is generally one word, but the explanation not often available or clear. I do hope to have all the sections completed relatively soon, but the breaking even section will likely be in the near future (working on earning strategies currently).
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Thanks for this thread, @thefusio15. Lots of good stuff.

I'd change the redemption value of Fixed Travel (or at least asterisk it), as can vary much more widely than your 1¢–2.5¢/point. I was looking at fixed travel for a YVR-YEG flight, and comparing the fixed value price with the airline's cash price, it was making the value of a point about 0.7¢.
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thefusio15 wrote: Glad to hear it will be helpful to at least one user around here! The idea is indeed to demystify the amex ecosystem and their high AF, and why it can be a winning option for many. Hopefully it will help address most of the frequent question asked on the Cobalt or Platinum thread as the answer is generally one word, but the explanation not often available or clear. I do hope to have all the sections completed relatively soon, but the breaking even section will likely be in the near future (working on earning strategies currently).
Much needed thread. Thank you OP.

That said, will you give a dummy atlas for generic routes and redemption values via FFP transfers? I know that gets really complex, but we need some barebone guidelines...like which carriers/destinations would nail us with hefty taxes, which FFP does which route best & worst, etc. Also, beyond the FFP's, the hotel pts could be worth understanding. I know the topic isn't AmEx exclusive, but we could definitely have some guidelines that could get novices on the right track.
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I'm just excited to be on the first page of this!
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One thing that's not apparent in The Basics section, is the difference between points in a Membership Rewards account tied to a Business card vs points in a Membership Rewards account tied to a personal card.

MR or MR First from a Business card can be used at 1cpp for a statement credit on any purchase, while MR Select, MR and MR First from personal cards can be used at 1cpp for a statement credit on travel expenses and at 0.7cpp for a statement credit on other expenses.
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efrant wrote: One thing that's not apparent in The Basics section, is the difference between points in a Membership Rewards account tied to a Business card vs points in a Membership Rewards account tied to a personal card.

MR or MR First from a Business card can be used at 1cpp for a statement credit on any purchase, while MR Select, MR and MR First from personal cards can be used at 1cpp for a statement credit on travel expenses and at 0.7cpp for a statement credit on other expenses.
Thanks efrant, I will make the correction right away. I will discuss redemption more in detains in the following sections, but I'll ensure it is clear in there.
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Kiraly wrote: Thanks for this thread, @thefusio15. Lots of good stuff.

I'd change the redemption value of Fixed Travel (or at least asterisk it), as can vary much more widely than your 1¢–2.5¢/point. I was looking at fixed travel for a YVR-YEG flight, and comparing the fixed value price with the airline's cash price, it was making the value of a point about 0.7¢.
Redoing the table to implement the recommandation by efrant, I will not put a CPP value for those right away since it is highly variable. I'll try to define what is a "good" redemption for those.
titaniumtux wrote: Much needed thread. Thank you OP.

That said, will you give a dummy atlas for generic routes and redemption values via FFP transfers? I know that gets really complex, but we need some barebone guidelines...like which carriers/destinations would nail us with hefty taxes, which FFP does which route best & worst, etc. Also, beyond the FFP's, the hotel pts could be worth understanding. I know the topic isn't AmEx exclusive, but we could definitely have some guidelines that could get novices on the right track.
The idea of the Atlas is that it covers every way in which a user could redeem MR points, either through partners or the MR portal. Award Travel itself is already a complex topic, so I might try to find external resources to refer to for those, but I will certainly look into giving a general idea of "good" or "bad" redemptions across the different platforms. Ideally I would like to have all this built-in, but I might have a more "barebone" version up first just so we have it open for discussion and suggestions.
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Published the first version of Earning Strategy. It will (most likely) be updated and expended later, but it is just to give an overview of the earning patterns one could use.

Also, I will be trying to redo most of the tables so they don't look jumbo size, but the formatting options makes it difficult to do without resizing each of them manually.
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Thanks OP. I have not seen a thread THIS good for a while. My current combo is the metal collection - Personal Gold + Rogers WE.

If your focus is not FFP, Cobalt can replace Gold because Drug store is the only category Gold can beat Cobalt.

Anyway I am happy about my current setup (in my wallet):
- Cobalt: 5X Dining & Grocery
- TD Cash Back VISA Infinite: 3X Grocery (Cobalt backup), Gas & Bills. No annual fee from AI account.
- The METAL Business Platinum: 1.25X local purchases, or specific purchases for insurance purposes.
- Rogers WE: 1.75% local purchases (Business Platinum backup), 1.5% foreign purchases.
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EdisonL299 wrote: Thanks OP. I have not seen a thread THIS good for a while. My current combo is the metal collection - Personal Gold + Rogers WE.

If your focus is not FFP, Cobalt can replace Gold because Drug store is the only category Gold can beat Cobalt.

Anyway I am happy about my current setup (in my wallet):
- Cobalt: 5X Dining & Grocery
- TD Cash Back VISA Infinite: 3X Grocery (Cobalt backup), Gas & Bills. No annual fee from AI account.
- The METAL Business Platinum: 1.25X local purchases, or specific purchases for insurance purposes.
- Rogers WE: 1.75% local purchases (Business Platinum backup), 1.5% foreign purchases.
Yeah that’s the idea behind the Cobalt & No Fee approach! An alternative to the Platinum / Gold solo, for those who dont rely on FTP. However, as I’ll discuss in another section, there is reasons why someone would rather go Gold vs Cobalt, even though their average return might be lower.

Your combo is interesting as it mixes cashback, points and all payment networks. I guess we can call it “Full-House” as a combo! Grinning Face With Smiling Eyes
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Thanks Op! I am always confusing with their system. Now, I have learnt a lot from you!Thumbs Up SignThumbs Up SignThumbs Up Sign

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