The American Express Business Platinum Card. Time of death, 22 March 2018.
Melodrama aside, this morning we saw a pretty heavy raft of negative changes to the Business Platinum Card. Specifically:
The signup bonus upon applying for the card via a referral link has decreased from 75,000 Membership Rewards points to 60,000 Membership Rewards points
The referral bonus has decreased from 25,000 Membership Rewards points to 15,000 Membership Rewards points
The minimum spending requirement to earn the signup bonus has increased from $5,000 within the first three months to $7,000 within the first three months
Among these changes, we had been given notice of impending changes to the referral bonus, since the below wording had been included on our Refer a Friend dashboards:
However, there was no indication of a change coming to the signup bonus or the minimum spending requirement. Before today, if I were being pessimistic, the change to the signup bonus was foreseeable, since the Business Platinum Card had historically had a signup bonus of 60,000 MR points via a referral link, prior to March 2016 when it was increased to 75,000. But the change to the spending requirement was completely out of the blue.
As a reminder, just last month American Express had already implemented the following changes to the Business Platinum:
The annual fee increased from $399 to $499
The Priority Pass benefit improved to a Priority Pass Select membership, allowing members to enjoy unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges together with one guest
At the time, I already thought the changes were a net negative, since the Priority Pass Select is already a benefit of the personal Platinum Card. Layer on top the triple-pronged negative changes today, and it’s really hard to see anyone looking at the Business Platinum Card as a way to rack up points for good value.
Clearly, the outsized value presented by this card between March 2016 and the present day has pushed American Express into applying an equal and opposite reaction. Today’s trifecta of devaluations will surely help them rebalance their cardmember makeup, away from travellers looking for easy points and towards actual business owners with high volumes of expenses.
And you can’t really fault them for that. Remember that the Miles & Points game is always being played in an ecosystem in which we as consumers stand to benefit purely because the costs we’re imposing on airlines, financial institutions, etc. are lower than the cost of implementing changes. Once too much value starts accruing on one hand, changes necessarily come into place to even out the playing field.
One thing I’m curious about is why they decided to implement the first set of changes overnight, while giving us a month’s notice for the second, more unfavourable set of changes. My guess is that they knew the prospect of impending changes would push lots of points seekers to apply, and they wanted to squeeze that extra $100 in annual fees out of these applicants. Sneaky, sneaky…
What’s the Amex MR Game Plan?
By no means is this a killer blow for those of us looking to travel on points, although the optimal strategy is now a lot murkier, and starts to depend on various factors.
Back when I wrote Racking Up the Points with Referrals last year, the so-called “Amex train” had four carriages: the Gold Rewards Card, the Business Gold Card, the Platinum Card, and the Business Platinum Card. It was optimal to start with the Business Platinum given its higher referral bonus, and refer yourself to the other three cards over the course of the year.
Nowadays, it’s hard to see the Business Platinum Card being a viable part of many points collectors’ strategies, with a $7,000 spending requirement to earn 60,000 MR points, a referral bonus of 15,000 MR points (equivalent to that of the Platinum Card), and all while paying $499 for the privilege of doing so.
It’s still a worthwhile deal on paper, since those 60,000 MR points can be redeemed at outstanding value, but it’s not nearly as compelling a proposition as it used to be. And it’s certainly no longer the optimal place to “start” if you’re new to the Amex card; instead, it can at best be thought of as a way to earn more points at a decent value if you’ve exhausted the better-value options.
What are those options exactly? Well, by cycling through the Platinum Card and the Business Gold Card each year, you’d still be able to earn over 120,000 MR points per year, which is enough for a big fancy trip, or even a huge fancy trip if you keep your Aeroplan account topped up from other sources.
You’d earn 60,000 MR points from the Platinum Card and 40,000 MR points from the Business Gold. Throw in two self-referrals for 15,000 MR and 10,000 MR respectively, and you’ve got plenty to work with. Your outlay in annual fees would be $299, since you can use the two $200 annual travel credits on the Platinum Card to offset the $699 annual fee in your first year of membership.
If you’re playing the game in “two-person mode” (i.e., with a significant other), you can optimize your strategy by staggering the periods when each of you holds the Platinum Card and the Business Gold. That way, not only will you squeeze out some extra MR points by referring each other from the Platinum Card instead of self-referring, you’ll both get to enjoy the extra perks of the Platinum Card, such as SPG/Marriott Gold Elite status and Priority Pass lounge access, at any given time.
On that basis, if you’d like to earn more points, only then should you consider the Business Platinum. And even then, it might still be a better deal to cancel your current Platinum Card and reapply for a new one, since the spending requirement is much more lenient at $3,000 within the first three months. It’d be hard to make use of the 2 x $200 travel credits if you do this, but even if you lower the annual fee down to $499 instead of $299, that’s on par with what you’d be paying with the Business Platinum.
Diversification Is Key
One year ago, Amex Membership Rewards were far and away the best program for those looking to travel on points. With all the changes that have occurred, those days are now over.
Yes, it’s still a good place to get started and a relatively simple program to work with. But the truth of the matter is that the game has evolved beyond Amex MR, and that great deals are starting to crop up in other places more frequently.
For example, if I had to pick THE most outstanding value way to earn points as of right now, I’d probably have to go with Marriott Travel Packages. As I’ve discussed, as a result of the SPG/Marriott merger, these Travel Packages have become one of the fastest ways to earn free travel in terms of both flights and accommodations.
For the purposes of earning Aeroplan miles, they can certainly pick up some of the slack left behind by the recent spate of Amex devaluations. Cards like the Amex SPG Card, the Business SPG Card, and the Cobalt Card will key in terms of racking up enough Starpoints to redeem Travel Packages.
Meanwhile, long-term promotions like the CIBC Aerogold Visa Card for Business, offering 30,000 Aeroplan miles in total after spending $1,000 in the first three months, represent another excellent way to keep your Aeroplan balances topped up for those extravagant trips. CIBC allows you to combine credit inquiries within 90 days if you apply in branch, and also allows you to hold more than one of the same card at one time (speaking from my experience). If you have a friendly branch representative, lots of things are possible.
That’s without mentioning the more involved – but also more rewarding – possibilities of getting US credit cards and manufactured spending. No doubt, with the elimination of “easy” opportunities such as the Business Platinum Card, the game gets progressively harder; however, the rewards continue to wait on the other side for those who find the allure of travel appealing enough to be willing to put in the work.
Looking at the bigger picture, the current state of Miles & Points here in Canada is certainly a fast-moving one. SPG, Marriott Rewards, and even our beloved Aeroplan program are all set to undergo significant changes over the coming years, so there’s quite a considerable measure of uncertainty looming over the playing field, and great deals will be coming and going in the blink of an eye. Keep that in mind as you continue to earn and burn.
The two-year love affair with the Business Platinum Card has come to an end, and I can only hope that historically high bonuses to which it bore witness will reappear once again sometime down the road. In the meantime, the Platinum Card and the Business Gold provide the optimal Amex path going forward, while it’s now more important than ever to diversify your strategy among the various pockets of outstanding value that remain.