[Update 12/9/14: Oops! I stopped into another US Bank branch today and studied the fine print of this offer. It turns out the American Express version of the card also bonuses charitable spending, it's just formatted slightly differently on the website and I missed it. The American Express card is different from the Visa Signature card in that it bonuses restaurant spend, in addition to the Visa Signature bonus categories. I apologize for the oversight.]
I frequently write about the US Bank Flexperks Travel Visa Signature, a card I hold and use aggressively to earn Flexpoints, worth up to 2 cents each on paid airfare redemptions and up to 1.5 cents each when redeemed for hotel stays.
Considering my travel needs, I like the Flexperks Travel Visa Signature for its low annual fee and lucrative bonus categories. The card costs $49 per year, against which you can redeem 3,500 Flexpoints. Additionally, you earn a 3,500 Flexpoint bonus each cardmember year you spend $24,000 or more. For that $49 fee, you'll earn 2 Flexpoints per dollar spend at either gas stations or grocery stores (or airlines), depending on which category you spend more in each statement cycle, plus 3 points per dollar spent with charitable organizations, including Kiva.
US Bank also issues a Flexperks Travel American Express
Over the Thanksgiving holiday I popped into a US Bank branch in my hometown to drop off some money orders and saw an advertisement for an American Express version of the Flexperks Travel card.
Judging strictly by the marketing materials, the principle difference between the American Express and Visa Signature versions of the card is that the American Express card, in addition to double points at gas stations, grocery stores, or airlines, also gives double points on restaurant purchases, but not on charitable spending.
That's a fairly small difference, given that I don't use my Flexperks Travel Visa Signature card for either restaurant or charitable spending anymore. Or it would be, except...
Visa and American Express code merchants differently in important ways
I ran some early experiments on this topic all the way back in 2013, finding that 7-Eleven store locations that did not sell gasoline were frequently coded as gas stations by Visa and MasterCard, but not American Express, while locations that did sell gas were coded as gas stations by all three.
There are other coding anomalies that make Visa and MasterCard credit cards generally preferable, strictly from the standpoint of manufactured spend, which subscribers can read more about in last week's newsletter.
American Express has its advantages, too
It may sound like I'm dumping on the American Express version of the card for being less lucrative than the Visa Signature version. On the contrary: actual grocery stores are coded as such by Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, and convenience stores that sell gas are likewise typically coded as gas stations by all three, so if that's where you do the bulk of your manufactured spending with the card, you may find either version suits you equally well.
Meanwhile, cards issued on the American Express network have their own unique advantages. They'll be eligible for any American Express offers that can be synced to Twitter (just set up each card in your Amex Sync Machine). And it's the season to remember that they'll be eligible for Small Business Saturday, as well, should that promotion return next year.
Flexpoint earning is throttled each calendar year
Every version of the Flexperks Travel Rewards credit card throttles earning each calendar year: after spending $120,000 during the calendar year, you'll earn just 1 Flexpoint for every $2 spent with your card.
That's just $10,000 per month, an amount easily exceeded if you have easy access to lucrative bonus category merchants, which may make you consider signing up for a second or third Flexperks Travel Rewards card. If you do, I don't think it's unreasonable to make one of those the American Express version of the product, in order to take advantage of the benefits mentioned above.
Just remember, whether you decide to sign up for one, two, or none of these cards, you should still freeze your IDA and ADS credit reports. It's not just a good idea: it's a great idea.
And incidentally, if you're interested in signing up for the Visa Signature version of the Flexperks Travel product, you can drop me a line and I'll be happy to pass along my personal referral information. It has the same signup bonus as the publicly available offer, but also offers me 5,000 Flexpoints, which is a nice touch.