Quick hit: when are you eligible for your first Hilton Honors Aspire American Express resort credit?

I started writing this blog because I was frustrated by how imprecise and inaccurate the mainstream travel hacking bloggers I was reading at the time were. In some ways that situation has gotten a lot worse, as credit card affiliate blogs have consolidated and become ever more limited in what kinds of deals they’re able to talk about, while in other ways it’s improved, as more independent bloggers have started writing without relying on affiliate revenue.

As careful as I am to be as accurate and precise as possible, I got caught out on Wednesday by two commenters asking versions of the same question: when are you eligible for your first $250 Hilton Honors Aspire American Express resort credit? This is a question it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me to ask.

The source of the confusion

The reason my commenters were confused arises from the fact that the resort credit is described in at least 2 different ways in different places:

  • on the American Express credit card application: “With your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, enjoy up to $250 in statement credits each year of Card Membership for eligible purchases at participating Hilton Resorts.”

  • on the American Express “benefits” tab for existing cardholders: “Upon renewal of your Card, enjoy $250 in Hilton Resort Credits each year when you stay at a participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.”

This raises the question, is the resort credit an anniversary benefit (like the bonus Radisson Rewards points offered by US Bank, or the Alaska Airlines companion ticket offered by Bank of America), or an annual benefit? If it’s the former, the value of the card drops enormously, since the credit would only be available if you kept the card or were able to make an eligible resort charge shortly after your first anniversary. If it’s the latter, you have an entire year of card membership to find a chance to use the credit before canceling the card.

My answer to this very good question

I was so flummoxed by these commenters I started to believe I may have actually misunderstood the terms of the benefit, something that has happened before and will happen again (always for the benefit of my readers). Had I relied too much on the seductive prose of affiliate bloggers? Had I, the anti-affiliate-blogger, become a pawn in their game?

But I quickly oriented myself and realized my original interpretation of the benefit, that it is available during your first year of card membership, had to be correct for a simple reason: the card is less than a year old, and people have already received resort credits. The relevant FlyerTalk thread has datapoints from as early as March, 2018, less than 3 months after the card was launched, so the benefit has to be available during the first year of card membership.

Conclusion: banks and loyalty programs love to out-legal themselves

If you squint at the conflicting language just right, you can start to see what American Express and Hilton were thinking: they wanted to make it as clear as possible that unlike the card’s $250 airline fee credit, which resets on January 1 of each year, the $250 resort credit is a cardmember year benefit, and they tried to express that concept in slightly different, slightly contradictory ways. While lawyers have fun pretending to speak with precision, English simply isn’t a surgical language. Here’s my modest attempt at reformulating the resort benefit:

“Each year of card membership, beginning with your first year, and continuing each additional year upon the anniversary of your account opening, enjoy $250 in Hilton Resort Credits each year when you stay at a participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.”

As always, you can find my personal referral link on my Support the Site! page (feel free to use either my Hilton or Delta referral link, since they should both give you access to the same cards).

Gaming out my Waldorf Astoria stay

As I wrote last month, this January I’m heading to Maui for what I’m expecting to be an unusually-for-me expensive vacation, so I’ve spent some time in the past few weeks gaming out what the options are to save money on the trip without annoying my partner too much along the way.

Shorter car rental

Since we plan to drive around and explore Maui, I had initially planned to rent a car at the airport and drive to the Grand Wailea. I quickly realized this made no sense: not only would I pay for 5 days of car rental, but I’d also pay for five days of valet parking, since the Grand Wailea doesn’t have a self-park option.

By taking a cab or shuttle from and to the airport, I’ll save on both daily rental costs and daily valet parking: a roundtrip shuttle for two from the Grand Wailea’s preferred vendor costs just $99, and I may be able to shop around to bring that down even lower.

Amex Offer of $70 off $350

I was targeted for the current Amex Offer of $70 off $350 spent at “Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts in the US, Amsterdam, Berlin, Edinburgh, and Paris; and, Conrad Hotels & Resorts in the US.” While such promotions sometimes exclude Hawaii, this one doesn’t seem to, so I’ll use my Hilton Ascend American Express card to check in and put the first $350 of room charges on that card.

As I wrote in my original post, the Grand Wailea currently claims to give a $15 per person daily in-room dining credit as their Diamond breakfast benefit. Readers quickly pointed out in the comments that with a $7 delivery charge and 20% fixed gratuity, that works out to about $19 in actual food if you’re trying to spend the exact amount of the credit.

Instead of trying to game the room service menu to spend exactly $19 per day, I figure we’ll just order what we want and let the excess count towards the $350 threshold for my Amex Offer.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card Referral

Thanks to American Express’s “universal referral” system, I can refer my partner to an Aspire card despite not having one myself (you can find my universal referral links on the Support the Site! page). I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth spelling out again just how good this deal is:

  • I receive 20,000 Hilton Honors points for referring my partner;

  • My partner receives 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 within 3 months;

  • My partner gets a $250 airline fee credit in 2018 and another $250 airline fee credit in 2019;

  • We already have an eligible stay planned where we’ll be able to use the $250 Hilton Resort statement credit (a cardmember year, not calendar year, benefit);

  • And she’ll get an unlimited Priority Pass membership that allows up to 2 guests, so if I ask nicely she might take me with her into lounges when we travel.

182,000 Hilton Honors points (after earning 3 points per dollar on $4,000 in spend) are over half the points cost of our stay at the Grand Wailea, which I jokingly valued at $8,500 but realistically value at around $2,000. Valuing the airline and resort statement credits at half of face value, this works out to roughly $1,375.

I don’t like paying $450 annual fees. I’ve never paid a $450 annual fee. But this is a no-brainer for us since we already have a stay at an eligible resort booked.

Conclusion

There is one interesting question you might have after reading this: my Ascend card will get a 20% discount on exactly $350 in spend, while my partner’s Aspire card will get a 100% discount on up to $250 in spend, so which card should the first Grand Wailea room charges go on, and which card should be the backup?

In part, the answer is that we don’t have to decide until we know the final room charge. If it’s less than $350, we’ll put the entire charge on the Aspire card and get $250 back. If it’s more than $600, we’ll put $350 on the Ascend and the remainder on the Aspire, maximizing both opportunities (and the higher Hilton earning rate on the Aspire).

But for final charges between $350 and $600, what’s the right order to place the charges in? I think my preference is to put $350 on the Ascend and receive $70 back, then put the remainder on the Aspire, because the remaining cardmember year Aspire credit will remain available for later use.

But there’s a good argument, an argument I might even agree with depending on the day, that the Aspire resort credit is available at such a limited footprint of properties that maximizing that credit when we do have the opportunity is a much higher priority than triggering a piddling 20% discount, the kind of discount I can beat 365 days a year through manufactured spend.

Sound off in the comments if you feel strongly about it one way or the other.

Confirmed? American Express is killing the golden Delta goose

I wrote back in February that I was concerned the unbonused manufactured spend I put on my Delta Platinum Business credit card wasn't counting towards my annual Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, but that since it still appeared properly on my statement I hoped it would at least still earn me a "Miles Boost" of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 10,000 SkyMiles.

It didn't.

Avoid Simon Malls if you're chasing Amex high spend bonuses

I manufacture most of my unbonused spend at a local Simon Malls location, and obviously American Express has flagged Simon Malls as a merchant where people were buying PIN-enabled prepaid Visa debit cards.

While Simon Malls aren't a bonused merchant with any cards I know of, the activation costs are low enough that it's potentially worth manufacturing spend there with cards that offer a decent return on all spend.

For me, that included the Delta Platinum American Express card, not because 1.4 Delta SkyMiles were worth more than 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points, or 2 cents, but because the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver and bonus Medallion Qualification Miles made it close enough that I was willing to play along.

While my grocery store spend is still working to trigger the high spend bonuses on my Hilton Honors Ascend card, and so I presume would also trigger Miles Boost with the Delta card, that's a totally unreasonable tradeoff since the spend on the first is bonused and on the second unbonused.

An unreliable card is worse than a bad card

There are still options for manufacturing unbonused spend that may still work to trigger the high spend requirements on American Express cards, like GiftCardMall.com and GiftCards.com, but the problem is that once a company starts targeting obviously manufactured spend, there's no telling where they'll stop.

I was happy to take this chance for the edification of my readers, but you can't build a strategy around praying that a merchant will keep working long enough for you to meet a spend threshold. If you put $25,000 on a Delta Reserve card before the axe falls on your preferred merchant, there's no partial credit; you've wasted the entire $25,000 in spend that could have been put on a more lucrative card.

If reselling is the future, the future is getting closer

I'm not a reseller, except for the occasional stunt or proof of concept, but that's not because I don't think reselling is an important or useful strategy. It's just a strategy for rich folks with garages, and I'm poor and live in an apartment, so have neither the float nor the storage capacity to process the kinds of volume heavy hitters deal in.

Besides its favorable cost structure, the other obvious advantage of reselling in this context is that a reseller's purchases are of actual merchandise from real merchants. That makes unbonused, high-spend opportunities like the Delta American Express cards easy to meet with purchases that have no chance of being flagged as "cash equivalents" or the like.

Conclusion

I find American Express's situation peculiar.

First off, cardholders pay an annual fee, $195 in the case of the Delta Platinum card or $450 for the Delta Reserve. Then merchants pay an additional fee based on the transactions made with the card. Then if the customer doesn't pay their bill off in full each month, they also pay additional interest charges on their balance.

Meanwhile, American Express pays some amount for the SkyMiles they tell Delta to award to customers, plus perhaps an additional bounty when customers trigger their annual high spend thresholds. And, of course, American Express bears the risk of customer defaults on outstanding balances.

It seems to me there are three logical possibilities: either American Express is so bad at negotiating that they are paying more for the SkyMiles awarded on spend than they are earning on that same spend, or they think manufactured spend materially increases the likelihood of default, or both.

Then, of course, there's the illogical possibility: that American Express is making plenty of money off manufactured spend but is cutting off its nose to spite its face anyway.

In memoriam: OPEN savings, selling Membership Rewards points for 2.5 cents each

It's been widely reported in recent days that American Express is ending its OPEN savings program for small business credit cards on June 1, 2018. Long-time blog subscribers know that I've played around with the program in the past with some success, but there's a very strange function built right into the OPEN savings program: the ability to sell Membership Rewards points for 2.5 cents each.

Small business Membership Rewards accounts can sell points for 2.5 cents each

All you have to do is navigate to American Express's OPEN savings page to see the opportunity spelled out explicitly:

"How Returns Work
A returned purchase or credit from an OPEN Savings merchant will result in a reversal of your discount or removal of Membership Rewards points depending on your benefit selection at the time of the return or credit. If you change your benefit selection, your new selection will apply to future returns or credits (including returns or credits relating to transactions made before the change). See the example below.

Example 
On May 1st, you select the Discount Benefit.
On May 15th, you make a purchase from an OPEN Savings Merchant that would result in either a $5 statement credit or 200 additional MR points, depending on your selection.
Due to your selection, you will receive a $5 statement credit.
On June 1st, you change your selection to the MR Point Benefit.
On June 15th, you return the purchase you made on May 15th.
Due to your new selection, you will have 200 MR points deducted from your MR program account, instead of having the $5 statement credit reversed."

You get to keep the $5 statement credit, and pay just 200 Membership Rewards points for it, essentially selling 200 Membership Rewards points for $5, or 2.5 cents each.

To take a more practical example, you could select the Discount Benefit, make a $1,000 purchase from HP.com, and receive a $50 OPEN savings statement credit. Then by changing your selection to the MR Point Benefit and returning the merchandise, you'll have 2,000 Membership Rewards deducted from your account, keeping the $50 statement credit. You've then have sold 2,000 Membership Rewards points for $50, or 2.5 cents each.

Conclusion

I've never had a Membership Rewards-earning credit card, but I have had small business American Express cards and have enjoyed occasionally using and abusing the OPEN savings program.

It'll be a shame to see it go, but if you have a slew of Membership Rewards points you don't plan to redeem for more than 2.5 cents each, this may be your last opportunity to sell them back to American Express at that price.

How worried should Delta American Express cardholders be about RAT?

I've been watching with interest as datapoints have rolled in of American Express signup bonuses being denied to people who meet the minimum spend requirement with manufactured spend techniques, particularly gift card purchases at unbonused merchants like Simon Malls and GiftCardMall.com. I was disappointed to see another datapoint yesterday from Vinh at Miles per Day, who keeps close tabs on this stuff, reporting that a promotional high spend offer on the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card wasn't triggered by Simon Mall gift card purchases.

Will gift card purchases count towards Miles Boost?

I'm about halfway to my first 2018 $25,000 spend threshold on my Delta Platinum American Express card, and have seen my miles post as normal on my first two statements this calendar year. Additionally, my statement accurately shows my year-to-date purchases.

That makes me modestly confident that I'll earn my 10,000 bonus SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when I reach $25,000 in spend — I'll post an update in April or May when I hit that threshold.

Will gift card purchases count towards Medallion Qualification Dollar waivers?

There is a potentially confusing coincidence for Delta Platinum American Express cardholders, since the card accelerates your path to Medallion status in two totally distinct ways:

  • at $25,000 and $50,000 in annual spend, you receive 10,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles;
  • at $25,000 in annual spend, you receive a Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver for the Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion tiers (a Diamond Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver requires $250,000 in purchases across all your co-branded Delta American Express cards).

For Delta Reserve cardholders the situation is less confusing, since the Miles Boost thresholds are at $30,000 and $60,000, while the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver is still triggered at $25,000.

While my purchases have so far been earning miles and my year-to-date purchases have been shown on my credit card statements, my Delta SkyMiles account has not been updating to show any progress towards the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver. That makes me modestly confident that my manufactured spend will not trigger a Medallion Qualification Waiver this year.

Which combination of benefits would justify keeping a co-branded Delta American Express card?

My Delta Platinum American Express card is easily the card I have the most trouble deciding whether or not to keep each year. So far, I've narrowly come down on the side of keeping it, due to:

  • the annual economy companion ticket (subject to fairly onerous fare bucket restrictions);
  • the Miles Boost benefit which brings the earning rate on $25,000 and $50,000 in spend up to 1.4 miles per dollars;
  • the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver.

I fly Delta often enough and exclusively enough that those benefits have so far convinced me to keep the card.

However, without a Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, I would only occasionally qualify even for Silver Medallion status, which requires $3,000 in MQD's each calendar year. That would neuter the value of Miles Boost since my Medallion Qualification Miles would expire at the end of any year I didn't reach at least Silver Medallion.

And while I have so far been able to redeem the annual economy companion ticket for flights which retail for more than $195, $195 in airfare is worth just a small fraction of that to me, given my ability to manufacture cheap paid airfare with the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card and Chase Freedom Unlimited and Ink Plus cards. In fact, the new ability to redeem US Bank Flexpoints at full value for flights under $400 makes the companion ticket even less valuable since, as I've explained at length in the past, "companion tickets are a bad deal because they require you to purchase a revenue ticket directly from the airline."

If you can sell your companion ticket to someone planning to purchase an eligible Delta economy ticket for $195 or more, then that's an easy workaround. However, note that friends and family tend to be extremely unamused by such antics!

Conclusion

Delta's exclusive partnership with American Express puts folks who fly Delta by preference or necessity in a bind. If it's not worth carrying a high-annual-fee co-branded Delta credit card, it might still be worth carrying a Membership Rewards-earning credit card, especially one that earns bonus points in easily manufactured categories like supermarkets, since those points can be transferred to SkyMiles (with the payment of an additional excise tax).

However, if American Express is serious, as they seem increasingly to be, about cutting down on the rewards they grant for manufactured spend, then the Delta flyer is ultimately fighting a rearguard action. If manufacturing SkyMiles becomes too onerous, the obvious solution is to stop manufacturing SkyMiles.

I've resisted that step so far because of my fondness for Medallion status, but at the end of the day, if they're not willing to play along, $195 per year can buy a lot of status, and I have plenty of other options to pay for the flights I want or need.

Follow-up on non-lounge Priority Pass locations

After I posted a reminder on Saturday to enroll your Hilton Ascend American Express cards in Priority Pass, I did a little more digging into the non-lounge Priority Pass locations I mentioned at the end of that post. Reader Helmholtz pointed me to this One Mile at a Time post mentioning new locations in Miami and Denver, and I found this Points Guy post (brought to you by Bankrate) describing how their writer was able to take advantage of all three Portland locations on a single afternoon.

A few Portland folks on Twitter confirmed the same details, although one said that you're no longer allowed to buy bottles of wine to go with your $28 credit at the Capers Market location, as the Points Guy writer was able to do in September.

Finally, Doctor of Credit shared that you can receive the $28 credit multiple times if you wait 2 hours between visits.

For folks who are, or who have friends who are, based in Portland, Denver, Lexington, or Miami, this also increases the value of the Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards card, which allows you to add authorized users at no additional cost, each of whom is eligible for their own Priority Pass membership (so you don't need to be traveling with them for them to receive the benefit).

Conclusion

As someone who values airline credits, lounge access, and the other gimmicks used to sell credit cards at far below their face value, I value being able to get a restaurant lunch or dinner in an airport relatively close to face value.

The fact that I travel a few times a year to Lexington and Portland, where the option is available, means I'll get much more value from the 10 calendar year visits that come with my Hilton Ascend American Express Priority Pass membership than I suspected when I thought it was just going to be good for a few drinks in an Air France lounge.

Enroll your Hilton Honors Ascend American Express in Priority Pass

If you already carried a Hilton Honors Surpass American Express card, or if you recently signed up for a Hilton Honors Ascend card, one benefit it's easy to overlook are the 10 free Priority Pass visits you get each calendar year.

What is Priority Pass?

Priority Pass is a program that gives members discounted access to participating lounges, and certain other benefits. It's not a great program on its own, since the "discounted" lounge access is still $27 per visit and doesn't include any guests.

However, many credit cards now offer a free Priority Pass membership as a benefit of card membership, and if you have one of those credit cards, you may as well sign up. In addition to a membership in the program, the Hilton Honors Ascend American Express card also includes 10 free visits per year. This makes it the equivalent of the $249 "Standard Plus" Priority Pass membership, although it's handled slightly differently by Priority Pass on the backend.

How to get your 10 free visits

If you already had a Hilton Honors Surpass American Express and the Priority Pass membership card that came with that card, then they should still be linked, or at least they were for me. If you never used your Priority Pass membership (and why would you?) then that card's probably extremely expired. However, you can call Priority Pass (972-735-0536 in the United States), give them your information, and they'll send you a new card and provide you with the information you need to create an online account. Once you have an online account, you can download the Priority Pass smartphone app and use that to enter most participating lounges.

If you are a new cardmember or weren't enrolled in Priority Pass already, you won't know your Priority Pass member number until you get your card in the mail. That letter should also include the information you need to create an online account, but if it doesn't, just follow the instructions above.

Non-lounge Priority Pass locations

I didn't realize this, since I've never had a credit card that offered free Priority Pass visits, but it seems they've expanded their options beyond just off-brand airline lounges. There now seem to be a number of airport restaurants, bars, and other venues where you can redeem a Priority Pass visit for a credit towards your order. A few I noticed while clicking around the app are:

  • Kentucky Ale Taproom (LEX)
  • House Spirits Distillery (PDX)
  • Capers Cafe Le Bar (PDX)
  • Capers Market (PDX)
  • Minute Suites (DFW)

At the first four locations, you get a $28 credit towards food and drinks for you and each guest (each redemption uses up one of your 10 free visits). At the Minute Suites in Dallas you get an hourlong private suite for you and up to 3 guests.

Those redemptions might be a better value in some locations than a visit to an overcrowded lounge. And if you lived in Portland or Lexington and frequently ate or drank in the airport before or after flights, in principle you could get $280 in value from a card with a $95 annual fee, ignoring any of the card's other benefits.

Question: how do these redemptions work for unlimited-access cards?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, American Express Platinum and Business Platinum, and Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards credit cards offer a Priority Pass membership with unlimited lounge visits, and I'm wondering how non-lounge locations treat that benefit.

My gut tell me it shouldn't be possible for a Citi Prestige cardholder to receive three $28 restaurant credits with a single Priority Pass card by inviting two guests to lunch at the Portland airport, but I also don't see anything spelled out in the terms that would prevent it.

Does anyone have experience using the guest benefit at non-lounge locations?

What's the 5th-best American Express card?

Last Friday I posted a quick analysis of the American Express Blue Business Plus card, which earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, on up to $50,000 in purchases per calendar year.

It got a lot more comments than posts which I would have considered more controversial! There were a few exchanges in the comments that I want to draw out and consider individually.

Opportunity for a negative interest rate loan

I've written before about negative interest rate loans and their value to a travel hacker, and as reader Amol pointed out in the comments, the Blue Business Plus offers such an opportunity: with a 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 months, you should be able to max out your credit limit (up to $50,000) and make only minimum payments for a year. In the last month, you can pay off the card and, since the $50,000 limit is based on the calendar year you'll still be able to spend another $50,000 for a second 100,000 Membership Rewards points in your second calendar year of cardmembership.

Earning 100,000 Membership Rewards points upfront as negative interest on a 12-month loan is a good deal, especially if you have a particularly lucrative redemption opportunity in mind.

Business credit card

As a business credit card, the Blue Business Plus has a few advantages:

  • participation in American Express's OPEN savings program;
  • high balances not reported on personal credit report (helpful if you max out your card as described above);
  • business cards shouldn't count against Chase's approval limit for certain credit cards.

What's the 5th-best American Express credit card?

Several readers commented that they found the $50,000 limit on calendar year purchases that earn 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar too low to make the card worth considering.

There's one sense in which this is strictly true: if you have a card that has a higher earning rate, on an unlimited amount of spend, then you should use that card instead of a Blue Business Plus card. For example, if you have a BankAmericard Travel Rewards card and $100,000 of eligible deposits, and you value Membership Rewards points at less than 1.31 cents each, then you should not put any spend on a card that earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, since you'll get more value earning 2.625% cash back with your Travel Rewards card.

On the other hand, most travel hackers I know accumulate multiple rewards currencies in multiple different ways: paid travel, manufactured spend, reselling, and signup bonuses, to mention a few.

If that's the case, then you don't need to ask if the Blue Business Plus card is the best credit card, or even the best American Express credit card: you only need to ask if it's the 5th-best American Express credit card, since you can have 5 total American Express credit cards.

If you could only have one credit card total across every issuing bank, you'd insist on carrying the single best credit card, which for me would probably be the Chase Ink Plus (no longer available to new applicants, unfortunately). If you could only card one credit card from each bank, you'd need to carefully select the American Express card that best suited your needs: if you wanted to trigger a Delta Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, it would have to be a Delta American Express card. If you wanted to earn points that could be redeemed for hotel rooms and flights, or transferred to partner airline programs, you'd likely choose a Starwood Preferred Guest card.

But in the real world, you can create a portfolio of credit cards that serves a range of functions: you can carry a Delta SkyMiles card for the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, a Starwood Preferred Guest card for hotel stays and transfers to programs like Alaska Mileage Plus and Lufthansa Miles and More, and a Membership Rewards-earning card for transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, or Air Canada Aeroplan.

Conclusion

I don't personally have any intention of signing up for a Blue Business Plus card, since I don't see Membership Rewards as a currency that my readers have reported being able to get a lot of value out of, and I don't see any upcoming opportunities to get outsized value from them in the immediate future. Realistically, I'd probably end up transferring them to Delta and redeeming them for 1 or 2 cents each, which doesn't entice me to go out of my way to earn them.

However, if you consistently get 2 or 3 cents per point in value from Membership Rewards points, then I don't think the $50,000 cap on purchases should pose a serious obstacle, unless it pushes the card below 5th place in your personal ranking of American Express credit cards.

Excited about Amex Blue Business Plus? Let's talk about it

You may have heard that American Express has launched a new business credit card that earns 2 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar spent everywhere, on up to $50,000 in calendar year spend.

You may also have heard that the 20,000 Membership Rewards-point signup bonus after spending $3,000 on the card is only available through affiliate links, but that's false. I've helpfully stripped the affiliate information off the signup link, so anyone can sign up here without triggering a payout to an affiliate blogger.

Easy to earn is good

The easier points are to earn on unbonused categories of spend, the better. That's true whether we're talking about Ultimate Rewards points, Membership Rewards points, hotel or airline loyalty currencies, or cash back.

The fact that it's now possible to earn 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar on unbonused spend, instead of the 1.5 Membership Rewards points that could be earned on unbonused spend with the Amex Everyday Preferred (after 30 transactions in a given billing cycle), is an unalloyed good.

Hard to redeem is bad

The problem is, making Membership Rewards points easy to earn doesn't make them easy to redeem, and thus can't increase the value of a given Membership Rewards point. If you're the kind of person who regularly gets great value from Membership Rewards points, then earning them at an accelerated rate will get you more of the redemptions you already find valuable. If you're the kind of person who finds Membership Rewards points singularly difficult to redeem, then earning somewhat more of them on your unbonused spend is unlikely to offer much marginal value.

Amex Blue Business Plus Membership Rewards use cases

I'm not here simply to snipe, however. I want to spell out what really are some obvious use cases for the Amex Blue Business Plus. These use cases are obvious because they take into account the decisions you've already made about the value of various rewards currencies.

  • If you are willing to earn 1.4 Delta SkyMiles per dollar spent on an American Express Delta Platinum card, or 1.5 SkyMiles per dollar spent on an American Express Delta Reserve card, you should be willing to earn 2 SkyMiles per dollar spent on an Amex Blue Business Plus card.
  • If you're willing to earn 1.5 British Airways Avios per dollar spent on a Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you should be willing to earn 1.6 Avios per dollar spent on an Amex Blue Business Plus card.
  • If you're willing to earn 1.5 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles per dollar spent on a Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you should be willing to earn 2 KrisFlyer or Flying Blue miles per dollar spent on an Amex Blue Business Plus card.

Conclusion

If you are already earning these currencies or transferring your flexible points to these currencies, then being able to earn them with less unbonused spend than you're already doing is a clear win. On the other hand, if spending $50,000 per cardmember year on the Amex Blue Business Plus card simply generates 100,000 Membership Rewards points you have no intention to spend, you'll have found yourself to be the butt of yet another credit card marketing joke.

Quick hit: how American Express cards treat refunds towards annual spend thresholds

Late last year I tried to take advantage of an increased portal payout at an online merchant by buying a few thousand dollars of electronics which, if the portal had tracked and paid out properly, I planned to then resell.

The portal ultimately didn't track or pay out properly, so I returned the merchandise this month and found an interesting nuance to how American Express treats returns when calculating annual spend thresholds.

Returns count against your annual spend in the calendar year of the return, not the purchase

In many ways this should be obvious: your annual spend is calculated based on "net purchases," or purchases minus returns and credits (including OPEN small business savings and Amex Offers for You) during each calendar year. So, in my case, my roughly $8,000 in January, 2017, purchases were reduced by my roughly $2,000 in returns when American Express calculated my 2017 year-to-date net purchases.

On the other hand, this is noteworthy because this is not how spend towards signup bonuses is treated: if you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of card membership, then return $3,000 in merchandise on the 91st day, you may find that your signup bonus is "clawed back" by the credit card issuer, as this FlyerTalker found in May of last year.

This is lightly gameable

Under most circumstances this won't matter, since if you meet a high annual spend threshold each calendar year, any returned amount will simply have to be spent in the year of the return. For example, my $2,000 in returned purchases means I need to spend $52,000, not $50,000, in 2017 in order to earn my 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles with my Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business card.

On the other hand, if you are no longer getting enough value from an American Express card to justify paying the annual fee year after year, but want to maximize the card's value while you still have it, you could storm the spend threshold by the end of a calendar year, triggering any relevant bonus (waived Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements and Hilton HHonors Diamond elite status, for instance), then return the merchandise the next calendar year before cancelling the credit card.