I’m a fan of and late bloomer to the American Express Membership Rewards (MR) program. It isn’t the most straightforward rewards program out there, but the points are still valuable and can be used to book travel directly through the Amex Travel Portal, transferred directly to airline and hotel partner programs, or cashed out at 1.25 cents per point (cpp) via the Schwab Platinum card. Other bloggers don’t seem very keen on the American Express rewards program, but for me, the upsides of the program are great if you’re able to take advantage of them.
Show Me The Money
When I started in the points “hobby” 5.5 years ago, I was basically fee phobic. I basically wanted to extract as many points and miles as possible without incurring annual fees on credit cards. I also didn’t see where the value was for high end, high annual fee rewards cards. Even after browsing over the benefits, I’d see substantial annual fees on the American Express Platinum cards and wonder what the draw was. At the time, I think the sign-up bonuses were 50,000 to 60,000 Membership Rewards points for each card, which matched other offers for lower, and even no annual fee, rewards cards. Back then though, I wasn’t traveling that much and my general spend totals were much lower so most high annual fee cards really didn’t make sense for me. However my travel has increased as has my spend, and I’m able to find ways to derive outsized value from any of the heavy hitter cards.
When it comes to banks issuing statement credits or other offers to lessen, eliminate or even create positive cash flow opportunities with annual fees, American Express isn’t at the top of my list. I’ve had luck with Citibank consistently waiving/crediting back annual fees for rewards cards, but only occasionally with Amex. For example, in the last 2 years, Amex has given me a statement credit for my personal and business SPG cards (on alternating years). Last week I checked my points spreadsheet and noticed that my annual fee for my Business Platinum was coming due soon. In all honesty, I hadn’t even considered calling in to negotiate the second year annual fee for the card, as I felt I was deriving more value from it. After reading on an online forum this past week about others getting offers for their Business Platinum, it gave me inspiration to do try and do the same.
Based on what I had read about retention offers for others, my goal for the retention call was to get a spending challenge tied in with 50,000 or more Membership Rewards. My call had a little leverage in my favor, as my Business Platinum annual fee was raised from $495 to $595 this past year. After asking about any offers to help me keep my card open this coming year, I was transferred to the retention department.
The Amex “account consultant” in the retention department asked to put me on hold and check with his manager about options that might be available for my account. After a few minutes, he came back on the line and offered me a one time $595 statement credit plus either $100 in additional statement credit. I didn’t make note of the timeframe for the spend, as that won’t be an issue. Initially I was only given the option for the statement credit, so I inquired further about a points bonus tied to spend. The phone consultant checked and soon after gave $3,000 in spend for 10,000 points as another option.
The phone consultant said the offers were basically the same, and that 10,000 Membership Rewards was essentially equivalent to $100. For me the 10,000 MRs are worth at least $125 in cash if they are transferred to Schwab (at 1.25 cpp). They could be redeemed for travel through the Amex travel portal at 1.35 cpp or transferred to airline partners at various rates that would likely yield a higher return than either of those options. Right now Amex has a bonus of 15% transfer bonus to Avianca Lifemiles and also a bonus for Hilton transfers too. Neither of those have are of interest to me right now though.
In the end, I was given at least $720 worth of statement credit to my account from a simple retention call to American Express. One thing to point out is that I was kind of lucky. Initially I wanted a spend based retention offer, but forgot that Simon Mall debit/gift card purchases likely wouldn’t count towards achieving the retention bonus. I could easily still comfortably achieve a high spend amount without debit based gift cards from Simon, but that would take more time and possibly more cost depending on the chosen path. With this current offer, I’ll be able to achieve it through organic spend and keep the card another year.
There’s a rumor that American Express retention offers are being limited to certain numbers across all card products. Even if that’s true, I doubt I’ll be able to derive higher value than this offer, so I’m walking away from this call with all smiles.