There’s been an interesting theme emerging in the credit card landscape over the past couple of months: divergence across the 49th parallel.
New credit card signup offers in Canada have been relatively weak compared to our expectations – all while the bonuses down in the US have consistently reached all-time-highs.
From American Express US, we’ve seen a stunning 60,000 MR points on the Amex US Gold Card, followed by a lush 50,000 MR points on the Amex US Green Card, and then a brilliant 125,000 Bonvoy points on the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant.
Well, as of this week, the big boss has made its move: the Amex US Platinum Card, commanding a US$550 annual fee, will be offering 100,000+ US MR points when you sign up as a first-time cardholder.
100,000 US MR Points via Incognito Mode
The historical standard offer on the US Platinum Card has been in the range of 60,000 US MR points upon spending US$5,000 in the first three months.
Elevated offers of 75,000 or 100,000 US MR points would come around from time to time, but only through select targeted channels such as showing up on members’ dashboards under “pre-qualified offers” or via the CardMatch tool by CreditCards.com.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the US Platinum Card put on higher bonuses that are publicly available, but as of this week, there are not one, not two, but three special offers that you should know about.
By applying through Resy, the restaurant booking app, you can earn:
- 75,000 US MR points upon spending US$5,000 in the first six months
- 20% back as a statement credit on up to US$1,500 spent at restaurants worldwide in the first 12 months (up to US$300)
- 10x US MR points on up to US$15,000 spent at US gas stations and supermarkets in the first six months (up to 150,000 US MR points)
By applying through incognito mode on the American Express website, you can earn:
- 100,000 US MR points upon spending US$5,000 in the first six months
- 10x US MR points on up to US$15,000 spent at US gas stations and supermarkets in the first six months
Finally, a handful of existing Amex US cardholders may be able to pull up a targeted offer via the “pre-qualfied offers” page on their Amex dashboard, which is by far the best of all three:
- 125,000 US MR points upon spending US$5,000 in the first six months
- 10x US MR points on up to US$15,000 spent at US gas stations and supermarkets in the first six months
Among this trio of offers, the targeted bonus of 125,000 US MR points is obviously by far superior if you’re lucky enough to receive it on your account.
Meanwhile, the difference between the Resy and incognito offers boils down to whether you’d find more value in 25,000 US MR points or a US$300 statement credit; for the vast majority of savvy points collectors, I’d say that the 25,000 extra points is easily worth more.
You’ll note that the offers are also advertising a limited-time ability to earn 10x US MR points on up to US$15,000 of spending at US gas stations and supermarkets. This would be very interesting if you lived in the US or spent a significant amount of time down there, but for Canadians, I don’t think it moves the needle too much in terms of the value proposition.
(I’d caution against the idea of making a trip down to the US at some point purely to buy gift cards in large volumes from a gas station or supermarket, as Amex US has been known to claw back points that were earned in this fashion before.)
Remember, because Amex US enforces a strict once-in-a-lifetime rule on welcome bonuses, the prevailing strategy for all Amex US cards is to only apply when there are historically high offers on the table. In my opinion, these offers most certainly fit that bill, so if you’ve never held the Amex US Platinum Card before and are prepared to dive right in, now’s the time to do so.
Now, the US Platinum Card commands an annual fee of US$550, which converts into $724 (CAD). That can certainly be a tough pill to swallow on your first statement, but take a moment to consider what you’re getting in exchange.
All on its own, 100,000 US MR points would be enough for the following spectacular redemptions:
- Transferring to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club during a 30% transfer bonus to book ANA First Class for 120,000 miles round-trip
- Transferring to ANA Mileage Club to book an ANA round-the-world award with eight stopovers and four open-jaws
- Transferring to Emirates Skywards to book Emirates First Class to Europe for 85,000 miles one-way (or 135,000 miles round-trip, if you time it around a transfer bonus)
- Transferring to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book elusive Singapore Airlines business class, First Class, and Suites Class awards
- Transferring to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles to book Cathay Pacific flights with much greater award space
- Transferring to Canadian MR points at the prevailing exchange rate
Indeed, if you were to pursue the last option and convert your US MR points into Canadian ones, you’d end up with 131,000 Canadian MR points which would then convert at a 1:1 ratio to Aeroplan or British Airways Avios.
And if you happened to be targeted for the 125,000 US MR points, then that’s equivalent to 164,000 Canadian MR points – all from a single credit card signup bonus! That’s pretty much unheard of in all my years of collecting points.
Another factor to consider here is that the 100,000 US MR points are associated with a minimum spending requirement of “only” US$5,000 in the first six months. That’s a pretty generous threshold considering the strong bonus: previous welcome bonuses in this range have typically seen spending thresholds of US$10,000 or US$15,000, often limited to the first three months as well.
If you’ve already gotten started with US credit cards, then you can simply go ahead and apply to add the Platinum Card to your portfolio.
If not, you can quite easily apply for this card via the Nova Credit service, simply by checking the box that says “I don’t have a credit history in the US, but have had a credit card or loan in the UK, India, Mexico, Canada or Australia” on the application form, where it asks you for a Social Security Number.
Does the US Platinum Card Justify Its Annual Fee?
Just like its Canadian counterpart, the Amex US Platinum Card represents a high-stakes, high-rewards value proposition.
In exchange for the US$550 annual fee, not only do you get the elevated bonus of 100,000 US MR points at this time, but there’s also a host of credits and benefits to deliver value back to you in exchange for that hefty fee.
The standout benefit is the ability to earn 5x US MR points on airfare purchased directly with the airline or via the American Express US travel website.
This represents arguably the single best possible return on airfare spending among all credit cards in the US and Canada, and as a current US Platinum cardholder, it’s where I put all of my airfare spending whenever I do purchase revenue tickets (which inevitably happens from time to time, even if I prefer to redeem points for most of my flights).
(This 5x earning rate is uncapped until the end of 2020; starting in 2021, it will apply to the first US$500,000 of airfare purchases, which should still be more than enough for your needs.)
Then, directly offsetting against the US$550 annual fee are a variety of statement credits, with varying degrees of applicability for a Canada-based cardholder:
- The annual US$200 airline fee credit can be used towards incidental charges, like seat selection fees, checked baggage fees, and pet fees, on a certain US airline of your choice. Recent data points have shown that certain charges like award taxes and fees with United MileagePlus have been able to trigger the credit; however, do note that Amex US has shown a mean streak in the past when it comes to “creative” attempts to use up this credit outside of its intended usage.
- There’s up to US$200 in Uber credits per year, split across 12 calendar months (US$15 per month, plus a US$20 bonus credit in December), although these can only be used on Uber rides and food deliveries in the US. I find this credit helpful for getting a free Uber ride the odd time I visit the US, but that may be few and far between over the next year given the current situation.
- Then there’s two sets of US$50 Saks Fifth Avenue credits per year (one for January through June, and one for July through December), which is pretty straightforward to redeem.
- For November and December 2020, there’s a US$20 streaming credit and a US$20 wireless credit per month as part of Amex US’s pandemic relief measures that were announced earlier this year.
Note that if you’re able to maximize the airline fee and Saks Fifth Avenue credits during the first year of holding the card, then that alone nets you a total of US$550 in value.
Let’s imagine you signed up now, in November 2020. Before your renewal comes up in November 2021, you’d be able to unlock:
- Two sets of US$200 airline fee credits: one set by December 2020, and another set starting in January 2021
- Three sets of US$50 Saks credits: one set by December 2020, another set between January–June 2021, and a third set starting in July 2021
Maximizing these credits alone would entirely offset the US$550 annual fee you’ve paid upfront, allowing you to net the 100,000+ US MR points of pure gain in case you decide not to renew the card by the time the second year’s annual fee comes due.
In fact, I’d venture to say that for most Canada-based cardholders, the US Platinum Card might not be worth keeping beyond the first year at the US$550 annual fee. That’s because most of its core travel benefits overlap with what’s offered by the Canadian-issued Amex Platinum Card and Amex Business Platinum Card:
- Marriott Gold Elite status
- Hilton Gold status
- Unlimited Priority Pass, Plaza Premium, Centurion Lounge, and other lounge access
- Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (although, to be fair, sometimes the US-issued cards do offer better rates than the Canadian-issued ones)
- Platinum Concierge
If you can rely on the Canadian-issued equivalents or other high-end travel rewards cards in Canada for these types of benefits, then the US Platinum Card doesn’t necessarily make sense to keep in the long run, since the incremental value may not quite justify the US$550 annual fee.
Remember, these offers are only available if you’ve never held the US Platinum Card before. As an existing cardholder who had previously signed up for only 75,000 US MR points, I’m a little salty about that, but I’ll definitely be getting my fiancée to hop on board for the six-figure bonus this time.
Unlike the previous elevated offers we’ve seen on other cards, the sparkling new signup bonus on the Amex US Platinum Card doesn’t appear to be available through refer-a-friend channels.
This time, it’s American Express sharing the love themselves! You’ll want to pull up the public American Express page in incognito mode in order to locate the offer of 100,000 US MR points, or check your “pre-qualified offers” page on the Amex dashboard if you’re an existing cardholder to try your luck at the scarcely believable 125,000 US MR points.