Million Mile Madness, Credit card planning: American Express

Background: Early in January, I introduced the idea of challenging myself (and anyone foolish enough to join me) to earn a million points in one month. So, starting March 1, I’ll do everything I can to earn as many points as I can while keeping within my ethical boundaries. As a reminder, I don’t expect that a million points will have been credited to my account by March 31st: points often take quite a while to get credited. Instead, I’ll track all of the points that I expect, and I’ll declare victory if the expected total is over a million. Oh, and to keep things challenging, I will try to keep my net costs below $1,000.

Previous Million Mile Madness posts include:

 

Credit Card churn planning

In order to earn a million miles in a month, I plan to sign up for a bunch of credit cards with the best signup offers. These won’t get me all the way to a million points, but they’ll go a long way. First, though, I need to plan carefully.  Last week, I reported my plans regarding Chase credit cards.  In that post I said I would try for one personal card and two business cards.  A number of readers corrected my mistaken assumption that I can only qualify for one personal card at a time, but I still like my plan as reported.  Between sign-up bonuses and category bonuses, that plan could result in over 213,000 points and miles from Chase alone!

In this post, I’ll discuss my thoughts and plans concerning American Express credit cards, and I’ll follow up in future posts with similar discussions about Citi and others.

Current cards

I currently have the following American Express credit and charge cards:

  • Delta Reserve (personal)
  • Delta Platinum (business)
  • Business Platinum
  • Hilton HHonors (personal)
  • Starwood Business
  • Starwood (personal) cancelled September 2012

Of these, only the Business Platinum card is due soon for its annual fee.  With that card, I’ve already made sure to use this calendar year’s worth of the $200 airline fee benefit and, last year, I used both the $200 benefit and the $100 Global Entry fee benefit, so I’m about ready to cancel the card.  One thing to keep in mind is that I have Membership Rewards points that I do not want to lose, so I need to pickup a new Amex card that is part of the Membership Rewards program.

Four credit card limit

Milesabound reported last year (and Dan’s Deals reported recently) that American Express allows you to have as many charge cards as you want, but only up to four credit cards.  Of the four cards remaining after I cancel the Platinum card, all are credit cards.  So, I would need to cancel one or more in order to get new Amex credit cards.

I don’t want to cancel either of the Delta cards since I use those to maintain high level elite status (see “Mileage running, from home“).  I also don’t want to cancel the Hilton card if I can help it since I just got it four months ago and I like having it for access to AXON awards and for its 6X bonus categories.  However, I would consider dumping it if I could replace it with the Hilton Surpass card.  A couple of Flyertalk threads, though, suggest that my best option is to wait about a year and then look for a targeted offer to upgrade to the Surpass card (see this thread and this one).

That leaves the Starwood card which, despite being an excellent card, I rarely use.  So, it is definitely a candidate for canceling.  That means I have room for one new Amex credit card and one or more charge cards.

My Plan

I would like to signup for the following offer:

  • Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz: 50K bonus Membership Rewards points after $1K spend, $475 annual fee (not waived), $200 per calendar year airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and miscellaneous Mercedes-Benz benefits (that I’m unlikely to ever use).

Even though the Terms & Conditions for this offer do not mention the annual $200 airline fee credit given by other Amex Platinum cards, many have reported that it is a feature of this card.  So, I can easily get $200 back this calendar year, and another $200 back next calendar year before canceling the card.  That reduces the net cost of this card to $75 which isn’t bad in exchange for 50,000 points and continued airport lounge access!

This appears to be a credit card, not a charge card, so I will need to cancel my Starwood card in order to get approved for this one.  I’ll cancel my Starwood card this week in order to free up the possibility of getting automatically approved for the Platinum Mercedes card.

Why not more cards?

The main reason I’m not looking at more Amex cards is simply that I do not see any other great offers that I qualify for.  I would happily sign up for the personal Starwood card for 25K points, but I canceled that card fairly recently, and my understanding is that Amex doesn’t like to give out bonuses a second time unless your prior card has been closed for over a year.  I also think its too soon after applying for the regular Hilton card to go for the Surpass card (correct me if I’m wrong!).  I also considered going for the Blue Cash Preferred $250 signup bonus, but $250 is not enough incentive for me to cancel another Amex card.

I’m not worried, though, there are plenty of great offers from Citi, US Bank, and Barclay’s!  Stay tuned for my thoughts about those!  And, of course, if a new Amex offer surfaces by March 1, I’ll be ready to change my plans.

Reader Feedback

Please let me know what you think about the above plan.  Do you have other ideas or suggestions?

Related Posts & Pages

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

    • Mike: Yes, it will count as $475 spent, but I’ll also count $400 cash back as expected returns so my net cost for getting the Platinum Mercedes card will be $75. Overall I will spend much more than $1000 in March, but I will try to hold my net costs to below $1000

    • Preacher: I’ll know (and report) once I get (or don’t get) points from that experiment. I have two examples of successfully getting cash back from TCB, but I just recently tried with UR Mall.

  1. You could just hold out until the end of March in case Amex runs another 75K, first year annual fee waived, gold sign-up promo.

    (btw, thanks for the linkage!)

    • Nick: I thought about waiting, but I want to do all my apps in one day and I need time in the month to make the minimum spend.
      MilesAbound: Thanks for informing me about your earlier post. I’ve updated my post to give credit accordingly.
      Dan: I understand that the benefits are the same, but I don’t see anything in the application to suggest that it is a charge card. Unfortunately, I’m at a hotel right now with terrible wi-fi so its hard to do the investigative work right now!
      Steve f: Good idea!

  2. To the statement “this appears to be a credit card, not a charge card”….

    The Mercedes Platinum card is EXACTLY the same as the regular platinum with all of the same benefits and features, and IS A CHARGE CARD. I’ve had the $400 in airline credits, $100 for GE, SPG gold, etc. except for the extra $25 annual fee they are the same!

  3. Have you tried calling Amex customer service about the upgrade to the hhonors card?
    I called about something else and they offered me te upgrade to the surpass card. Might be worth a shot.

  4. Don’t forget to keep track of how you meet your spend (gift card churning-which cards, cash back portals,double dipping, vanilla reloads, normal everyday spend, etc).

    How you meet spend if way more important than which credit cards you apply for, in my opinion.

  5. @Dan, @FM, I have the MB Amex, and I also can verify it is a charge card, same as Platinum, not credit. I also have received the SPG Gold, $200 air credit, etc. It gives you access to Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts same as Platinum card.

  6. for the Hilton Card, you don’t need to wait for the targeted offer. You can just login your Amex account, then go to the Surpass page. You should see “upgrade and get 50000 points” right there.

  7. When I ran into the “You currently have the maximum number and type of American Express products we allow” issue back in 2010, the hard limit was 2 personal credit, 1 personal charge, 2 business credit and 1 business charge account per person (as we discussed on FW during that time).

    I only had 1 personal and 2 business credit cards and had applied for a 3rd business credit card. I had to cancel 1 of my existing business credit cards in order for them to reconsider me for a new business credit card.

    I know that recently people have been able to get more than 2 personal credit cards, and more than 1 personal charge card. I wonder if the hard limit of 2 business credit cards still exists. If the hard limit on total credit cards is 4, it is possible that only 2 of those can be business credit cards.

  8. Since I started on this mile collecting spree I have chalked up 4 hard inquiries on my credit report. Shud I be concerned? Am I doing something wrong?

    • Emile Quek: hard inquiries have a temporary modest negative impact on your credit score and your ability to sign up for new cards. After 3 months, most of the impact goes away. The important thing is to be responsible with your credit (pay your bills on time, for example). I’d recommend too that you monitor your credit score. If it dips lower than you are comfortable with, then hold off on applying for any new cards until it goes back up. Also, if you have any cards that you’ve held for a long time, that’s a good thing and will help keep the average age of your credit lines higher.

  9. Because of the Card Act, you have to wait a full 12 months from the date you got your Amex Hilton card before Amex will let you upgrade to Surpass (since you are going from a no fee card to a $75 annual fee card). Otherwise, you will have to cancel your existing Hilton card, wait a full year from your cancellation date, and then apply for the Surpass in order to get the bonus.

    Note — after you hit your initial 1-year, it is possible to upgrade, get the bonus, downgrade, and avoid paying any of the $75 annual fee for Surpass. They give you 60-days to change your mind about the upgrade.

  10. FM – I very recently upgraded my basic Hilton Hhonors Amex to the Surpass and received 50k points as an incentive. Although it meant switching from a no annual fee to a card w/a fee, it was prorated to the end of the 12 month cycle. In my case it was about $35, so depending on your situation it may be worthwhile.

  11. Regarding the Amex 4 credit card limit, is American Express only counting the cards administered directly through them, or are Citi Amex cards (Ex. American Airlines cards) included as part of your total limit as well? How does that work?

    • Mel: They only count the cards administered directly through them. Citi Amex cards are separate.
      JakePB: How long did you have your basic HHonors card before upgrading?
      Jason: There are quite a few cards that offer Membership Rewards points. Business cards include: Business Platinum card, Business Gold Rewards card, Business Green Rewards card, Business Membership Rewards card. Only the Platinum and Gold card from that list tend to have good signup offers. Personal cards include: Green Card, Gold card, Premier Rewards Gold card, Platinum card, Blue, Mercedes Benz card (regular and platinum).

  12. @Frequent Miler According to your list you have only 2 business credit cards (Delta Platinum & SPG Business) and 1 business charge card (Platinum). My post was in regards to Amex not allowing 3 business credit cards (not including charge cards).

  13. I am interested in the AmEx Gold card and the Platinum Card. The terms for the Gold say that I can not get the bonus if I have had the Platinum Card. Similarly the Platinum terms say that I can not get the bonus if I had the Gold card earlier. Is there a way to get both the Gold and the Platinum over time and still get the bonuses for each?

  14. With the Platinum card, I thought that you couldn’t get the bonus if you had a Platinum card within 12 months, is that not the case? I cancelled mine last March and so I didn’t jump on the 100k offer that was made public in January before it died. What am I missing here?

  15. FM – I received upgrade offers within the first 6 months of opening the account, but I didn’t take advantage until the 18th month or so.

  16. I followed Sherman’s advice and saw the 50K to upgrade too, but I’m worried that if I get the Surpass card with the new t&c, I won’t get the 6X drugstores until July. Does anyone who recently got the Surpass card can confirm that they’re still getting 6X from drugstores?

  17. Vinh – I am absolutely getting 6x at drugstores. I kept my T&Cs because the rumors started right as I upgraded to Surpass, and so far so good! If the drugstore benefit goes away, I’ll probably use that as an excuse to switch back to the basic, thereby getting 50k pts for a $35 upgrade fee.

  18. I got the Hilton Amex in Dec. If I go to my Amex account online and in the search box type upgrade then click the upgrade card link I get a 50k offer. At least it was this was 2 weeks ago.

  19. AMEX Plat M-B is a charge card.

    Have you checked whether you need the Hilton card to make AXON awards? The one time I made an AXON booking the rep said I could use any AMEX. I should have done/should do more research.

    • MileValue: No, I’ve never checked to make sure that you need a Hilton card to make AXON awards. That’s an interesting question! I do like the Hilton cards right now, though for their 6X earnings at grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations

    • Kadence: yes, it looks like the fee does hit right away. From the T&C it says that I will be charged a prorated fee based on how much time there is until my anniversary date. So, in my case, since I’ve had the regular Hilton card for about 4 months, I expect to be charged about 3/4 of the fee (about $56).

  20. Thanks for the info… this is what I just got: ”
    We’re sorry; your existing Cards are not eligible for this upgrade. Please call the number on the back of your card to apply for an American Express Card”

  21. Does anyone know if upgrading to surpass causes a hard credit pull? I am wondering if I should wait for this upgrade until my scheduled churn, or go ahead now.
    Thanks.

  22. I am new to credit card churning but I am interested in some of the AmEx bonuses. I have good credit. I have a regular AmEx green card and a regular Delta SkyMiles card. Will having these cards eliminate the bonuses offered on other cards? Should I cancel these cards?

    • pas: Multiple people have reported that it does not generate a hard pull.
      Jim: It depends on which cards you want to sign up for. If you sign up for a Delta Platinum card, for example, it would be considered an upgrade from your regular Delta card. But if you sign up for the Premier Rewards Gold card, it is a new product to you so you will be able to get approved and get the bonus (assuming your credit score is good, etc.)

  23. Depending on how you’re counting your miles, you can take the 50k MR and turn them into 100k HHonors points. If you go from MR -> Hawaiian (1:1) and then Hawaiian -> Hilton (1:2) you’ll get 25% more than just going MR -> Hilton.

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