American Express offers some of the highest signup bonuses in all the land, and our Amex Flowchart is designed to collate all the information out there and keep track of all the best offers on each card, showing you the optimal order to apply for cards without leaving any points on the table.
As you navigate through the flowchart, here are seven key things to know about getting the most out of the Amex MR ecosystem that may not be apparent at first glance.
In This Post
- 1. The Timeline
- 2. Referral Bonuses Are Higher Than Public Bonuses
- 3. MR Points vs. MR Select Points
- 4. Charge Cards vs. Credit Cards
- 5. Gold & Cobalt Offers via Perkopolis
- 6. Marriott Bonvoy Cards: “Refer-an-Enemy”
- 7. Two-Player Mode Is Much More Prudent
1. The Timeline
You’ll notice that the eight major Amex products are divided into four separate “families”, and that the cards within each family can refer to and from one another:
The Platinum Card can only refer itself
People often ask me about the best timeline for applying for Amex cards – how long should you wait after getting one card before applying for the next one?
As with applying for new credit cards in general, the correct answer is that there’s no correct answer: it all depends on the robustness of your credit file and how many cards the issuers are willing to approve you for.
In theory, you could tackle all four “families” of cards simultaneously: for example, you could obtain the Business Platinum, Gold Rewards Card, and the Bonvoy Card in quick succession of each other, and then three months later, you could proceed along their respective referral pathways to obtain the Business Gold, Cobalt Card, and the Bonvoy Business Card.
There’s only one restriction that you should keep in mind: many data points show that if a single individual applies for both the Business Platinum Card and the Business Gold Card within 90 days of each other, then these applications get treated as duplicates and declined as a result. Based on these data points, it’s therefore best to leave 90 days between these two applications.
All the other cards – including the Business Edge Card, which happens to be in the same “family” as the Business Platinum and the Business Gold – don’t appear to be subject to any such restrictions, so you can apply away at your convenience.
2. Referral Bonuses Are Higher Than Public Bonuses
The flowchart is designed to point you to the highest publicly available welcome bonuses on each product, which may not always be the same as the offer you see when you apply directly on the American Express website.
Instead, American Express likes to incentivize cardholders to refer their friends, family members, and business contacts to their own cards as well, so the welcome offers upon applying via a referral link tend to be higher compared to the publicly advertised offer on many products.
In particular, as you look at the “Start” markers on each part of the flowchart:
The Business Platinum Card gives you 75,000 MR points (upon spending $7,000 in the first three months) via a referral link, but only 40,000 MR points (upon spending $5,000 in the first three months) via the public website
The Platinum Card gives you 70,000 MR points (upon spending $5,000 in the first three months and keeping the card in good standing for six months) via a referral link, but only 60,000 MR points (upon spending $3,000 in the first three months and keeping the card in good standing for six months) via the public website
The Gold Rewards Card gives you 30,000 MR points (upon spending $1,500 in the first three months and adding a supplementary card at the time of application) via a referral link, but only 25,000 MR points (upon spending $1,500 in the first three months) via the public website
The Marriott Bonvoy Card gives you 51,000 Bonvoy points (upon spending $3,000 in the first three months) via a referral link, but only 50,000 Bonvoy points (upon spending $1,500 in the first three months) via the public website
In the first three cases, the higher signup bonus easily justifies the additional spending required to unlock the bonus, so make sure to seek out a referral link to begin your applications. I’ve witnessed too many instances of someone who’s just heard about the potential gains on the Business Platinum Card and, in their overexcitement, jumped the gun and applied via the public offer, only to receive a measly 40,000 MR points as the welcome bonus.
Meanwhile, in the case of the Bonvoy cards, there’s a strong case for starting out via the public offer instead since there’s only a difference of 1,000 Bonvoy points (we’ll address this further below).
3. MR Points vs. MR Select Points
It’s important to note that, among the cards in the Membership Rewards family, the Gold, Business Gold, Platinum, and Business Platinum earn “regular” MR points, while the Cobalt and Business Edge earn a different type of points known as “MR Select points”.
When the Cobalt Card was first introduced in 2017, its points currency was openly advertised as “MR Select” at the time. However, at some point in 2019, American Express decided to do away with the “Select” designation and tell everyone that the Cobalt and Business Edge simply earned “Membership Rewards points”, obscuring the fact that these points cannot in fact be transferred to airline partners.
That’s obviously still a very important distinction to make, which is why we in Miles & Points circles continue to know these points as “MR Select”.
Without the ability to transfer to airlines, the best uses of MR Select points are limited to Amex Fixed Points Travel, transferring to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1.2 ratio, or redeeming directly at 1 cent per point. Check out this post for a more in-depth discussion.
4. Charge Cards vs. Credit Cards
As far as I know, American Express is the only financial institution in Canada to issue charge cards, which is a type of product that has no preset spending limit on the card, but requires you to pay off the balance in full every month.
This is in contrast to the traditional model of credit cards, which impose a credit limit but allow you to pay off the balance over time, with interest, through a series of minimum payments (although, of course, you should be endeavouring to pay off the balance on time and in full every month on all your credit products).
Among the cards listed on the flowchart:
The Gold, Business Gold, Platinum, and Business Platinum are charge cards
The Cobalt, Business Edge, Bonvoy, and Bonvoy Business are credit cards
Most data points indicate that Amex imposes a limit of four credit cards per customer, with no limit on the number of charge cards one person may hold.
Therefore, you’ll be allowed to hold all four credit cards on the flowchart simultaneously if you want, but just keep in mind that doing so will preclude you from holding any of Amex’s other credit card products, like, say, the Amex Air Miles Platinum.
5. Gold & Cobalt Offers via Perkopolis
Some of you might be a member of Perkopolis, which is a discount program that partners with certain workplaces, universities, or alumni organizations. As a member, you’ll have access to a few special offer codes on the Gold Rewards Card and the Cobalt Card.
Sadly, the Perkopolis offer on the Gold Rewards Card is strictly weaker than the optimal referral offer: you’ll still earn 30,000 MR points on paper, but you’ll only get 15,000 MR points upon spending $1,500 in the first three months, followed by 2,500 MR points for every month that you spend $1,000 on the card during the first six months.
A $6,000 minimum spend to unlock a bonus of 30,000 MR points seems pretty outrageous, so until the Perkopolis offer improves, it’s not really worth your time or consideration.
Meanwhile, the Cobalt Card via Perkopolis might be more interesting. That’s because, when you use Perkopolis, you’ll get an additional 10,000 MR Select points upon spending $3,000 in the first three months, on top of the standard offer of 2,500 MR Select points per month that you spend $500 on the card, for a total of 40,000 MR Select points during the first year.
In doing so, however, you forgo the 5,000 regular MR points that you could’ve earned by applying via the Gold Rewards Card’s referral link (which is what’s shown on the flowchart).
Would you rather have 5,000 regular MR points or 10,000 MR Select points? Well, that’s subjective to every individual and their travel goals, but those of you who’d be eligible for the Perkopolis offer should definitely familiarize yourself with it in order to properly decide.
6. Marriott Bonvoy Cards: “Refer-an-Enemy”
As I mentioned above, the referral offers on the Marriott Bonvoy cards are quite interesting: while you’ll only earn an additional 1,000 Bonvoy points by applying via a referral link (51,000 Bonvoy points vs. 50,000 Bonvoy points via the public offer), you must complete double the minimum spending in order to unlock the bonus ($3,000 vs. $1,500 in the first three months via the public offer).
It’s this asymmetry in benefits – the referrer gets a bonus of 10,000 Bonvoy points for their troubles, while the person being referred must spend a whole lot extra to unlock a measly incremental amount – that leads to the Bonvoy cards’ referral offers to be known, tongue in cheek, as “refer-an-enemy” rather than “refer-a-friend”.
So when does it make sense to use the referral offer on the Bonvoy cards?
Well, when you’re applying for cards in two-player mode and looking to maximize your total gain as a household, then your incremental gain by applying via a referral link is actually 11,000 Bonvoy points, rather than just 1,000, taking into account the referral bonus itself of 10,000 points. That makes the extra spending much more justifiable.
If you decide to skip the referral links and apply via the public offer for 50,000 Bonvoy points after spending a lower $1,500 in the first three months, remember to check Great Canadian Rebates to see if they might have some cash back offers to sweeten the deal on the respective $120 or $150 annual fees on the personal and business versions, even if their offers have been pretty inconsistent lately.
7. Two-Player Mode Is Much More Prudent
Speaking of two-player mode, there’s definitely a case to be made that working your way through the flowchart with a partner is a more prudent approach compared to going it alone.
Why? Well, in the past, there was nothing stopping people from applying for new cards via their own referral links and earning both the signup bonus and the referral bonus.
However, if we look at the Amex US ecosystem, we’d take note of the fact that Amex US implemented several rounds of points clawbacks last year on individuals who earned referral bonuses when applying via their own links. These points were retroactively removed from the individuals’ Membership Rewards accounts, and in some cases, even more drastic measures (such as account shutdowns) were taken.
And indeed, in Canada, as of March 12, 2020, the terms and conditions on the referral program have been updated with the following language:
With the practice of “self-referrals” being explicitly called out in the terms and conditions, it’s definitely best to only use referral links from other individuals – whether that’s your spouse or partner, a family member, or simply a fellow points enthusiast with whom you’ve agreed to exchange referral links going forward.
I’m a big fan of American Express’s charge cards and credit cards, which are widely regarded as the most powerful points-earning products here in Canada.
Take a look at the Amex Flowchart for all the information you need on the optimal order to apply, and keep in mind the many subtleties outlined in this article – including the 90-day rule on the business charge cards, the distinction between MR and MR Select, and the potential alternative offers on the Cobalt and Bonvoy cards – as you go along.