April 2018 credit card applications

It's been a long time since I've applied for a new credit card. So long, in fact, that I was astonished to log into the credit monitoring service I got for free from one of our semiannual security breaches (or maybe from one of the semiannual security breaches of the credit monitoring services; who can say at this point?) and see that I've only signed up for one new credit card in the last two years.

This practically puts me in the position of a complete newbie to the travel hacking game, albeit a complete newbie who already has a ton of credit cards. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to run down a list of the credit cards I'm considering and give readers a chance to chime in — especially if they have a particularly brilliant powerplay I should consider!

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa

I've never had one of these cards (not that that particularly matters given Bank of America's approval process), but virtually all my family members are on the West Coast and the 30,000-mile and $0 first-year companion fare ($99 after the first year) are both good deals for a $75 annual fee.

While I'm generally a very strong skeptic of companion tickets, the Alaska Airlines companion ticket differs from the companion fares offered by the American Express Delta Platinum and Reserve credit cards because you can use any credit card to book it (as long as the ticket is for the Alaska Airlines credit cardholder or the credit card used is in the Alaska Airlines cardholder's name). That means it's easy to combine with travel statement credit cards like the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card (with Real-Time Rewards), Barclaycard Arrival Plus, or Bankamericard Travel Rewards card.

Chase Slate

I don't want to bore longtime readers with everything I love about the Chase Slate card, but for new readers, it offers:

  • no balance transfer fees for the first 60 days;
  • 0% APR on up to $30,000 in balance transfers for 15 months ($15,000 cap per 30 days, but you have 60 days to transfer with the $0 balance transfer fee);
  • ability to product change to a new Chase Freedom (or Freedom Unlimited if you don't have one already).

I don't know how valuable 15 months of free money is to you, but 15 months of free money is extremely valuable to me.

Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate Card

I've had a Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking account for years, since it offers 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 when you make 12 $0.50 Amazon balance reloads per month (yes, this process is exactly as boring as it sounds).

But the account really shines when you combine it with a credit card, since spending $1,000 per month on that card increases the interest rate to 4.59% APY on up to $20,000 in deposits.

Unfortunately, they seem pretty stingy with credit card approvals, and I haven't been able to get approved for one of those cards yet. Now that my credit report is practically clear, hopefully they'll give me a chance.

American Express Amex EveryDay Preferred or Premier Rewards Gold

These two cards offer flexible Membership Rewards points and bonus points at US supermarkets, which make them obvious candidates to rack up some big Membership Rewards balances, even if I were just to transfer them to Delta SkyMiles.

The Premier Rewards Gold has a $195 annual fee, but it's waived the first year, which makes it a possible candidate for a one-year effort to accumulate a big balance before cancelling.

Meanwhile, the EveryDay Preferred card is the kind of low-key card I can imagine keeping for the long term, even though its $95 annual fee isn't waived the first year, since it can earn 27,000 Membership Rewards points per year with minimal time or effort.


It's no secret that most professional travel hackers pursue big signup bonuses much more aggressively than me. But it's also no secret that they constantly have big unredeemed and unredeemable points balances!

Simpleton that I am, my view has always been that your least valuable mile or point will always be the one you don't redeem, and so I devote all of my energy towards earning miles and points I'm sure to redeem, instead of accumulating them speculatively.

With that in mind, what big signup opportunities do readers see out there that my personal blinders have kept me from noticing?

Travel hacking with less manufactured spend

It seems that the travel hacking community has been thrown into one of its periodic panics, first over the loss of a popular gift card reselling opportunity and then an online bill payment option. I don't participate in such panics myself, but it's an opportunity to ask the question: what would travel hacking look like not in a world without manufactured spend, but in a world with less manufactured spend?

It's a good question because in a world with plentiful manufactured spend, lots of things are worth doing that might not be in a more constrained world. For example, today I happily earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent with a Chase Freedom Unlimited card, essentially speculating that I'll get more than 1.3 cents per point when I ultimately redeem them (since I could use a 2% cash back card instead). That wouldn't make any sense (for me) in a world where every dollar manufactured on one card reduces the amount I can manufacture on the others.

So, here's what I would do in a world of severely constrained — but not eliminated — manufactured spend.

Chase Ink Plus or Ink Cash for office supply stores

I consider buying $200 or $300 Visa prepaid debit cards from office supply stores with a Chase Ink Plus or, if you're signing up today, Ink Cash, to be the best current opportunity, even though liquidating smaller-denomination gift cards can be time-consuming if you have to do it in-person. Paying $8.95 in activation fees and $0.35 for money orders lets you buy 1,545 Ultimate Rewards for $9.35. That's slightly more expensive than paying $4.30 for 756 Ultimate Rewards points by using a Freedom Unlimited at an unbonused merchant, but it's over twice as efficient, in that a single money order transaction made with four $300 debit cards earns 6,180 Ultimate Rewards points (at 0.6 cents each), while one transaction with four $500 debit cards earns just 3,024 points (at 0.57 cents each). In a world of limited manufactured spend, maximizing the total haul from each transaction would inevitably become a much higher priority.

Since flexible Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each for paid travel, doing this alone would let you earn $3,125 in paid travel each year for about $1,504.

Annual spend: $25,000 (Ink Cash) or $50,000 (Ink Bold or Ink Plus).

"Old" Blue Cash for grocery stores

For reasons that are beyond my petty comprehension, American Express still issues the "old" Blue Cash card that earns 5% cash back on up to $43,500 in purchases at supermarkets, gas stations and "select" drugstores in the United States. That's a devaluation from the previous, unlimited bonus earning, but it's still a lot of money.

Since grocery store spend is somewhat cheaper than office supply store spend, whether you prefer to prioritize Ink Plus or Ink Cash spend or "old" Blue Cash spend properly depends on the value you expect to get from Ultimate Rewards points redemptions.

Annual spend: $50,000.

Amex EveryDay Preferred for grocery stores

I almost hesitate to include this one since the cap on earning is so low, but if you can knock out $6,000 in grocery store purchases, then make enough additional purchases to get to 30 transactions in the same statement cycle, you can earn 27,000 flexible Membership Rewards points per year (and pay an annual fee of $95).

That's not very many Membership Rewards points, so in a world of unlimited manufactured spend you'd want to supplement them with, for example, a Premier Rewards Gold card. But in a world of less manufactured spend, it would roughly add up to a business class international award ticket every 3-5 years. That's not great compared to the status quo, but it's not terrible either.

Annual spend: $6,000

A good cashback card for unbonused spend

So far so good, right? The problem is that all these cards are terrible for anything except manufactured spend. The Ink Cash and EveryDay Preferred have foreign transaction fees (the "old" Blue Cash card does not for some reason), and the Ink Bold and Ink Plus only earn 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar on unbonused spend.

Obviously if you have a lot of money the answer is the BankAmericard Travel Rewards with Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards, which earns 2.625% on all spend, has no foreign transaction fee, and is PIN-enabled for use internationally.

If you don't have a lot of money, you can use the PenFed Credit Union Power Cash Rewards card, which earns 1.5% cash back, or 2% if you have a PenFed Access America Checking Account. It's PIN-enabled and has no foreign transaction or annual fees, although the checking account requires a $500 average daily balance or monthly direct deposit to avoid a $10 monthly fee.

For domestic transactions you might consider using a Chase Freedom Unlimited to top up your Ultimate Rewards balance, but that card also has a foreign transaction fee so shouldn't be used internationally.


I think this is roughly the strategy I would pursue if my access to manufactured spend were suddenly constrained. It's pretty cheap (two $95 annual fees), pretty lucrative, and isn't very time-consuming, requiring only an average of about 6 total trips per month.

It would yield 125,000 or 250,000 Ultimate Rewards points, $2,240 in cash, and 27,000 Membership Rewards points. Whether or not that's sufficient to cover all your travel expenses depends on how many travel expenses you have, but it would certainly make a dent in mine.

Why I manufacture cash

I was chatting with a blog subscriber the other day who expressed surprise when I told him I was manufacturing spend on a 2% cash back card, rather than a mile- or point-earning credit card.

That exchange made me think I should present my argument for why travel hackers as a general rule either should manufacture cash back, or at least should be willing to manufacture cash back. The simple reason is that doing so keeps you honest.

Bonused spend is capped or limited

There are cards that are straightforwardly superior to cashback-earning credit cards, or may be under certain circumstances. For example, if you have access to grocery store manufactured spend, a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card (2x), Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express (6x), Amex EveryDay Preferred (4.5x), or American Express Premier Rewards Gold (2x) card are either clearly or convincingly worth more than manufacturing spend on a simple 2% cash back card.

But manufacturing spend at grocery stores faces all sorts of obstacles, from daily limits on purchases to annual caps on bonused spend. Whether the limits you face are imposed by the stores you visit, the cards you carry, or the inconvenience of visiting bonused retailers, they leave you with a simple choice: restrict your manufactured spend to bonused retailers, or manufacture unbonused spend as well?

Unbonused spend should present hard choices between rewards currencies

I loosely consider the 3 most lucrative travel rewards-earning credit cards for unbonused spend to be:

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited. 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, flexible if transferred to Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Sapphire Reserve.
  • Amex EveryDay Preferred. 1.5 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar spent.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest American Express. 1 Starpoint (1.25 airline miles) per dollar spent.

You would need to get 1.33 cents per Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards point in value, or 2 cents per Starpoint (1.6 cents per mile when transferred in 20,000-Starpoint increments), to break even compared to a 2% cashback-earning credit card.

Those thresholds are, on the one hand, trivially easy to meet. Getting 1.33 cents per Hyatt Gold Passport point or United Mileage Plus mile is considered a poor redemption of those currencies since it's so easy to get so much more value from them. Even 1.6 cents per transferred Starpoint is relatively easy to achieve on long-haul flights, especially in premium cabins.

On the other hand, those thresholds are only easy to meet when the points are redeemed for travel. When you earn rewards currencies other than cash because of their possible future value, then fail to redeem them, you are ultimately paying a premium for an inferior product.

Consider two travel hackers, each of whom manufactures $10,000 in unbonused spend each month for a year. The first uses a Chase Freedom Unlimited and earns 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The second uses a 2% cash back card, and earns $200 in cash back. Both pay the same purchase and liquidation fees. At the end of the year (in the 13th month), the first travel hacker will have 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points, and the second will have $2,400 in cash.

To make up the $600 in cash value, the first could redeem all 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points for 1.33 cents each — an easy lift, as described above.

But what if the first travel hacker redeems just 120,000 of their Ultimate Rewards points for travel, leaving them with a 60,000-point balance? Now she needs to get 1.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point — still not too difficult, on long-haul United award redemptions or at mid-tier Hyatt properties. After all, Hotel Hustle pegs the median Hyatt Gold Passport point value at 1.862 cents.

Finally, consider if the first travel hacker redeems just 60,000 of their 180,000 Ultimate Rewards point haul for the year. They still have $1,200 in cash value, but that means they'll need to get 2 cents per Ultimate Rewards point to break even with the 2%-cashback travel hacker. Now we've found ourselves, rather than being safely below the median Hyatt point value, 7.5% above it. Rather than merely looking for a decent United redemption, we need an excellent one. All to break even with the person who's been taking their rewards to the bank in the form of cash each and every month!

This has nothing to with devaluations

When I point out the folly of hoarding miles and points, people often think I'm talking about the risk of devaluations. But as I wrote in the linked post, 

"For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth whenever an airline or hotel devalues its miles, that process is relatively gradual and relatively predictable.

After all these years, despite everything that's happened in the airline loyalty industry, the 25,000 domestic saver award ticket still exists."

If there is never another devaluation of any loyalty program under the sun; if every loyalty program opened up every seat, in every cabin, on every flight, for award redemptions, unredeemed points will still be worth nothing, while cashback earned can still be put to work paying for the expense of your choice, from groceries to retirement savings.


Past performance is no guarantee of future results. But it's as good a place as any to start!

When deciding between a cashback-earning credit card or putting the same unbonused spend on a travel rewards-earning credit card, take a look at your existing balances and your account history. Do you redeem the points you earn? Are you consistently getting the value you need to break even compared to a 2% or higher cashback card, taking into account the orphaned points you don't redeem?

If so, terrific — keep doing what you're doing. If not, then it's time to ask further questions about your manufactured spend strategy.

And those questions are how cashback credit cards keep travel hackers honest.

Quick hit: in defense of Blue for Business

Yesterday I dismissed the Blue for Business American Express credit card out of hand, writing that the "product earns 1 non-flexible Membership Rewards point everywhere, which isn't very interesting."

I was quickly corrected by reader Stvr, who commented, "Blue for Business is 1.3 MR per dollar."

What Stvr is referring to is the 30% bonus Membership Rewards points credited each year within 30 days of your account anniversary each year.

And Stvr is right! If you are willing to wait to receive 23% of your Membership Rewards points until the end of your cardmember year, you can think of the Blue for Business card as earning 1.3 points per dollar spent everywhere.

Does it matter?

The only situation in which I can imagine the Blue for Business card playing a useful role is if you also have a flexible Membership Rewards-earning credit card that isn't the EveryDay Preferred.

If you have a Business Platinum American Express, your Membership Rewards points are worth 1.43 cents each for paid airfare on a single airline you designate each year (the same airline you choose for your $200 statement credit). That makes your 1.3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on the Blue for Business worth 1.86 cents towards paid airfare. That's not great, but it's not terrible for a fee-free American Express card and it's 30% better than putting spend on the Business Platinum card itself, which earns just 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere.

Similarly, if you use a Premier Rewards Gold (2 points per dollar spent at supermarkets) or Business Gold Rewards (3 points per dollar spent at gas stations) card to manufacture spend in their respective bonus categories in order to transfer those points to their airline partners like Air Canada's Aeroplan, Delta SkyMiles, or Singapore KrisFlyer, you might get so much value out of your airline transfers that 1.3 Membership Rewards points per dollar gives you more value than putting the same spend on a 2% cash back card.

Of course, if you have an Amex EveryDay Preferred, then you can already earn 1.5 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar spent everywhere with the card, as long as you make 30 or more purchases per statement cycle, which makes that card strictly superior to the Blue for Business.

American Express cards I'm thinking about


When I say that I don't chase signup bonuses, it sometimes gives readers the impression that I don't apply for new cards or that I don't think signup bonuses are a good deal. Nothing could be further from the truth!

If I need a new card, I'll apply for it, I'll call reconsideration lines, and I'll move credit around like anyone else hungry for approval. Likewise, if I'm planning to sign up for a card, I'll do my due diligence and hunt down the highest signup bonus available.

The difference, as I see it, come down to what cards I think I need. Since I earn the miles I redeem and redeem the miles I earn, I won't sign up for a new card just because it has a high signup bonus; I need to have a sense of where and when I'd redeem those miles. Otherwise, I might never redeem them and be left with a worthless novelty balance.

That being said, here are a few cards I'm currently thinking about adding to my collection.

Starwood Preferred Guest Business

I recently met the $50,000 spend threshold on my Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business American Express card, which makes the card all but useless for the rest of the calendar year. Last week I called American Express to ask which cards I was eligible to product change my card to, and was given two options: the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card, or the Blue for Business.

The latter product earns 1 non-flexible Membership Rewards point everywhere, which isn't very interesting, while the Starwood Preferred Guest card earns points that can be transferred to Delta, Alaska, or American (among others), in addition to booking Starwood hotel stays.

The main reason I'm interested in the Starwood card is for hotel stays. While Hilton is my primary hotel program because of their enormous footprint and the high bonused earning rate on the Hilton Surpass American Express, there are times when Hilton rooms aren't available or their properties are inconveniently located. At times like those, it's helpful to have points like Ultimate Rewards (for transfers to Hyatt) or Starpoints for booking alternatives.

On the one hand, requesting a product change to the Starwood Preferred Guest card would save me a hard credit pull and the risk of having my application denied. On the other hand, it would permanently cost me the 25,000 Starpoints I would earn if I applied for the card from scratch.

Ultimately, given the choice between canceling my Delta card, keeping it, or product changing to Starwood Preferred Guest, I'm leaning towards the product change, even if that means leaving 25,000 Starpoints on the table.

New "Old" Blue Cash

While my pre-devaluation "Old" Blue Cash card was closed by American Express in December, the "Old" Blue Cash card is still available, albeit in stunted form, and still earns up to $2,240 in annual cash back on purchases at supermarkets, gas stations, and drug stores. It's not as outrageously good a deal as it was before bonused earning was capped at $50,000 in yearly spend, but it's still low-hanging fruit, and I'm considering applying for another.

Amex EveryDay Preferred

While I'm not thrilled about the $95 annual fee, the EveryDay Preferred earns 4.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at grocery stores (on up to $6,000 in spend) and 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations (uncapped) when you make 30 purchases during your statement cycle.

I don't find Membership Rewards points to be particularly valuable, but this card would be a highly efficient method of earning Delta SkyMiles compared to my Delta Platinum Business American Express, and with a much lower annual fee. Delta is my primary airline program for domestic travel, so being able to earn those miles faster means paying less for the redemptions I already know I'm going to make.

The tradeoff, assuming I product change my Delta card to a Starwood card, would be giving up the opportunity to earn 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles per year through credit card spend.

However, I've already secured Silver Medallion status for 2016, and I don't trust Delta enough to pay a $195 annual fee purely in the hope that the SkyMiles program will retain value in 2017 and beyond.


When thinking about my credit card applications, as you can see above, signup bonuses play virtually no role in deciding whether to apply. If the Amex EveryDay Preferred is worth getting, it's worth getting in order to manufacture spend on the card year-round, not because its signup bonus was temporarily raised to 30,000 Membership Rewards points.

Likewise, for the convenience of a product change (keeping the same account number, avoiding a credit pull, etc.) I'll go so far as to permanently give up the chance to earn a 25,000 Starpoint signup bonus, because I believe the card is worth spending money on year-round, not just in order to trigger a one-time payday.

Sizing up Amex Everyday and Everyday Preferred

Now that I've had a few days to think about the pre-launch of the Amex Everyday and Everyday Preferred cards, I have a slightly-less-preliminary take than my Twitter post late Saturday night.

While the cards are being marketed as the entry-level and premium versions of the same product line, that's irrelevant to us. American Express is launching two new cards, with different annual fees and different earning structures; consequently, the two cards will be right for different people, and I'll analyze each compared to its most relevant competitors.

No annual fee: Amex Everyday vs. 1–5% cash back

As I've said before, if you aren't a business traveler who's reimbursed for your credit card expenses, and you don't aggressively manufacture spend, you should carry a Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express ($75 signup bonus), which earns 2% cash back on all purchases, and another Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card to use at merchants that don't accept American Express. For example, the Discover it ($150 signup bonus) doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and has rotating 5% cash back categories, while the Chase Freedom ($100 signup bonus) has rotating 5% cash back categories and allows you to redeem 20,000 points for a paid airline ticket costing up to $335 (you can charge any amount over that to the card itself).

The Amex Everyday card is competing against these existing, no-annual-fee, options. The card earns:

  • 1 flexible Membership Rewards point per dollar, which can be transferred to airline and hotel partners or redeemed for flights, hotels, and cruises through the Membership Rewards portal at 1 cent per point;
  • 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at grocery stores, on up to $6,000 in spend annually;
  • and a 20% bonus on all points earned each month that you charge 20 or more transactions to the card.

First of all, I want to say that this is not a terrible earning structure, and when the card is launched April 2, it will be the only no-annual-fee card I know of that offers flexible points. Assuming you're able to make 20 transactions per month, earning 1.2 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar means you'd need to value a Membership Rewards point at 1.68 cents in order to break even compared to putting the same (non-bonused) spend on a 2% cash back card. That's a high value, but it's not insane: Membership Rewards points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways Avios, and if you live in a destination served by Alaska Airlines or American Airlines it's relatively easy to get 2-3 cents per point from Avios on expensive, short-haul flights.

Second of all, if you are inclined to manufacture spend at grocery stores, then being able to mint 14,400 Membership Rewards points per year (after the 20% bonus) is a great addition to your fee-free credit card portfolio; in other words, this one card can, with no annual fee, serve roughly the same purpose as both a Chase Freedom and $95-annual-fee Chase Sapphire Preferred or premium Ink card, which together allow you to generate 7,500 Ultimate Rewards points per quarter that can then be transferred to the flexible Sapphire Preferred or Ink Ultimate Rewards account.

$95 Annual Fee: Amex Everyday Preferred vs. Chase Ink

A more pressing question for some of my readers is no doubt whether the Amex Everyday Preferred's $95 annual fee is worth paying, and if so, whether the card should join or replace a $95-annual-fee Chase Ink card.

The Amex Everyday Preferred card earns:

  • 1 flexible Membership Rewards point per dollar;
  • 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at grocery stores (up to $6,000 per year);
  • 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations, with no annual limit;
  • and a 50% bonus on all points earned each month that you charge 30 or more purchases to the card.

That means that rather than just 14,400 Membership Rewards points, if you were inclined to manufacture spend at grocery stores you could earn 27,000 points per year. However, you'd pay $95 for the additional points, or about 0.75 cents each versus the no-annual-fee card. That's a perfectly reasonable price to pay, but it's not free.

The competition really heats up at gas stations, where after the 50% bonus the Everyday Preferred card earns 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar, compared to the Ink's 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. That's a real difference, and while Membership Rewards points don't transfer to United or Hyatt (as Ultimate Rewards do), they do transfer at a 1:1.5 ratio to Hilton, a 3:1 ratio to Starwood, and a 1:1 ratio to many airlines, including oneworld's British Airways, Sky Team's Delta, and United's Star Alliance partner All Nippon Airlines.

The Perils of Orphaned Points

Those are the facts, and I think I've given these cards as fair an assessment as they're likely to get. Now let's talk about the Amex-sized elephant in the room: what the hell are you going to do with these Membership Rewards points?

I ask because if you don't have a specific redemption in mind, your points are only going to lose value the longer they sit in your Membership Rewards account. Say you pick up an Amex Everyday card and over the course of a few months put $6,000 in grocery store charges on the card. Say you do that every year for 4 years. Together with the other monthly purchases that get you up to 20 transactions, you've managed to earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points, which you can then transfer to Delta and, if you try hard enough, maybe book a low-level Economy award to Europe.

However, it took you 4 years. Delta devalues its award chart every 3 months.

The same $24,000 in spend could have earned you $480 with a 2% cash back card. Is $480 going to get you a round-trip ticket to Europe? No, probably not. But it'll get you most of the way there, on the flights and days you want, without having to muck around with award availability, Membership Rewards transfer times, and of course award chart devaluations.

All of this is to say, know the program and have a plan before you sign up. If you don't have a plan, save yourself the trouble and enjoy the beauty of the cash(back) economy.

Is Amex cannibalizing its other product lines?

Finally, this is something I keep pondering: why is Amex introducing one card that replicates features of so many of its other product lines? Here's a rough chart I threw together, comparing the Amex Everyday and Everyday Preferred cards with two other product lines I happen to carry:

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 12.34.54 AM.png

For the Delta cards I used the "true" earning rates at the $25,000 and $30,000 spending levels for the Platinum and Reserve credit cards, and remarkably the Amex Everyday Preferred isn't just more lucrative, it's wildly more lucrative, and at a much lower price point.

The comparison between the HHonors Surpass and Everyday Preferred perhaps isn't quite as clearcut, but the fact that an HHonors co-branded credit card has an earnest challenger to be the best card for earning HHonors points is not a ringing endorsement of the product line.

Of course those product lines have their own advantages: MQM bonuses for the Delta cards and HHonors Gold and Diamond elite status for the Hilton cards. And perhaps that's the point: American Express really doesn't care which card you earn your HHonors points with, as long as it's an American Express card.