Infographic: The American Express Credit Card Flowchart

It seems like the Amex Canada credit card landscape is in constant flux these days. In the past year alone, there has been about a dozen changes to the various cards in terms of their signup bonuses, annual fees, referral offers, and minimum spending requirements. 

If you recall, the Business Platinum got devalued significantly in 2018, not once but twice! The Business Gold got devalued as well, losing its long-standing annual fee waiver. Together, that meant that the Amex Canada Post offers became optimal for these business cards.

But then the Canada Post offers disappeared in December, making the refer-a-friend scheme again optimal, albeit less rewarding than before. In-between all that, we gained the ability to refer-a-friend between the Gold Rewards Card and the Cobalt Card, while the SPG cards underwent sea change with the Marriott/SPG merger in August. And so on and so forth. 

With each such change comes a modification to the optimal strategies. Which cards should you get first? Which cards can you self-refer to or from? And which minimum spending thresholds will you have to contend with?

To help you stay on top of things, then, I’ve decided to create and maintain a flowchart depicting the current optimal Amex application and referral strategy, and the total earnings you can expect from following through with it.

Credit for the idea goes to /u/yyz_barista on Reddit, and I’ve adapted his original work with permission. Without further ado, then, here’s the American Express credit card flowchart, and some quick analysis below the fold. 


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Analysis

You’ll see that the five Membership Rewards charge cards and two SPG credit cards have been grouped into what we describe as four referral “families”, as below:

The quantity in parentheses indicates the referral bonus for referring a friend FROM the card in question to another card in the same family.

The Business Card Family

Between the Business Platinum Card and the Business Gold Card, the former earns a superior referral bonus of 25,000 MR points compared to the latter’s 5,000 MR points.

 
 

Therefore, it’s best to grab the Business Platinum first (make sure to apply via a referral for the maximum signup bonus of 75,000 MR points) and then self-refer to the Business Gold.

In doing so, the referral bonus of 25,000 MR points essentially goes some way towards offsetting the $250 annual fee on the Business Gold Card you’ll have to pay. 

There have been some data points recently that it’s best to wait three months in-between Amex business card applications, and to use different business names for maximum chances of approval.


The Platinum Card Family

The Platinum Card is sitting alone in its own referral family now, so this is a once-and-done affair. The maximum signup bonus of 60,000 MR points is available only through a referral link, and the net annual fee is $499 once you factor in the $200 annual travel credit.

 
 

It’s not quite the most lucrative deal in the world. Instead, you should simply view it as an opportunity to take advantage of the excellent perks of the Platinum Card (such as Marriott Gold Elite status and Priority Pass access), while picking up extra points at a reasonable cost.


The Gold/cobalt Family

The optimal way to play the Gold/Cobalt family is to start with the Gold Rewards Card via the Perkopolis special offer, since that’s the only way to get the first-year fee waiver along with the signup bonus of 25,000 MR points. From there, refer onwards to the Cobalt Card for a small referral bonus of 5,000 MR points.

 
 

The Cobalt traditionally offers a monthly signup bonus of 2,500 MR Select points over the course of 12 months as long as you meet the monthly spending threshold of $500.

What’s not displayed on the flowchart is that until January 16, it’s also offering an extra 3,000 MR Select points upon spending $2,500 in the first three months if you apply via a referral link. We’ll see what happens after this date, and if it’s another ongoing offer such as this, I’ll add it to the next edition of the flowchart.


The spg Family

As for the Amex SPG cards, it’s best to begin with the personal version, since you can get a $30 cashback from Great Canadian Rebates to partially offset the $120 annual fee. After collecting the 50,000 Marriott points, self-refer to the Business SPG Card for another round of it, plus a referral bonus of 10,000 Marriott points. 

 
 

Note that Amex has introduced a strange scenario in which your spending threshold for applying via a referral ($3,000 in the first three months) is actually higher than applying via public channels ($1,500 in the first three months). Nevertheless, the extra effort required to meet the threshold should be well worth the referral bonus.

Total earnings

The infographic also takes into account the points you earn on your purchases as a result of meeting the minimum spending requirement.

It assumes the base-level earn rate for each card, thus excluding the 2x travel and groceries on the Amex Gold, the 2x select merchants on the Business Gold, the 5x eats and drinks on the Cobalt, etc. So if you do hit some of those bonus categories as part of your minimum spending, then your total return could in fact be even greater.

Tallying it all up, you’ll earn 251,500 MR points, 36,000 MR Select points, and 119,000 Marriott points as a result of the full credit card cycle.

That’s a handful of business class tickets and free hotel nights for a total of only $1,608 in annual fees and $29,000 in minimum spending. (And remember, don’t spend more money than you normally do just for these spending thresholds; instead, use techniques like paying your bills with Plastiq and the “refundable hotel trick” to knock them out.)


Conclusion

The Amex credit card bonuses are unarguably not quite as good as they were back around 2016-2018, but they remain some of the best ways to rack up the points. I estimate that you’d be able to complete the full cycle very comfortably in about nine months’ time, and even six months should be very much doable if you keep to a tight schedule. After that, repeat the cycle for another round of bonuses.

I’ll be keeping the infographic up-to-date as the Amex state of play continues to shift, so be sure to bookmark the page and check back every now and then!