Earlier this month, I published the American Express Credit Card Flowchart, which outlines the optimal strategy for maximizing the signup and referral offers on the seven most powerful American Express charge cards and credit cards.
With the regular changes in the Amex landscape, staying on top of these strategies proves to be quite an involved task, so I’m glad that many of you found it helpful to see an infographic laying it out in an easily digestible fashion.
After I posted the infographic, one of the most frequent questions I received was how the strategy could be best adapted for those of you playing the game in two-player mode (i.e., applying for credit cards and earning points as a couple). Which cards should you apply for outright, and which cards should you apply for via each other’s referral links, in order to maximize the total household gain?
You know what’s coming: the American Express Credit Card Flowchart in Two-Player Mode. Credit as usual goes to /u/yyz_barista on Reddit for the idea. Here’s the flowchart, with some quick analysis to follow.
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There’s a lot of information to digest here. Before we get into the meat of things, make sure to review the one-player flowchart and accompanying analysis. In particular, make sure you understand why each cards is best obtained via a certain channel (e.g., via a referral link, via Perkopolis, via Great Canadian Rebates, etc.)
As we know, the seven major Amex cards are split into four separate referral “families”, and the cards in each family can only refer among other cards within the same family. Let’s go through each card family one by one and walk through the optimal two-player strategies.
The Business Card Family
Between the Business Platinum Card and the Business Gold Card, the former offers a referral bonus of 25,000 MR points, while the latter only offers only 5,000 MR points for referring a friend. That fact alone means that the Business Platinum will always be the ideal place to start.
Thus, Player 1 begins by picking up a Business Platinum (via a referral link to get the maximum bonus of 75,000 MR points after spending $7,000 in the first three months).
From there, he or she can refer Player 2 to both the Business Platinum and the Business Gold, generating 25,000 MR points as a referral bonus both times. Since Player 2 is necessarily applying via a referral link in this case (Player 1’s, to be exact), he or she will certainly be receiving the maximal offers of 75,000 MR points and 40,000 MR points on the two cards respectively.
As a final step, Player 1 hasn’t picked up a Business Gold yet, so they can do so via Player 2’s referral link from the Business Platinum for yet another go at the referral bonus of 25,000 MR points and signup bonus of 40,000 MR points.
Note that this “cross-referring” strategy helps protect against the fact that self-referrals technically don’t meet the definition of “referring a friend”, and Amex therefore has grounds to deny the referral bonus when you apply via your own referral link.
It’s true that self-referrals do indeed come through most of the time, but by doing a cross-referral and using your opposite number’s link instead, you’re taking steps to be absolutely certain of getting the referral bonus.
What’s the recommended timeframe for taking action on this? Well, there have been a few data points recently of Amex giving applicants a hard time when applying for multiple business cards in quick succession. Therefore, while Player 1 can refer Player 2 to the Business Platinum immediately upon receiving his or her card, I’d recommend spacing out the Business Gold applications for a bit (preferably at least three months) to ensure maximum chances of success.
The Platinum CARD Family
Nothing fancy here – the Platinum Card is the singular unit within its referral family, so cardholders can only refer to other Platinum Cards. It’s therefore simply a matter of Player 1 picking up a Platinum Card (again via a referral link to get the highest bonus of 60,000 MR points after spending $5,000 in the first three months), and then referring Player 2 to the same offer, earning an extra 15,000 MR points as a referral bonus in doing so.
Keep in mind, nothing dictates that the identities of Players 1 and 2 must remain constant between each referral family. If Player 2 is best positioned to apply for a new credit card at the moment, they can certainly be the one to pick up the first Platinum Card, and then refer onwards to Player 1.
The Gold/Cobalt Family
This is an interesting one. For the American Express Gold Rewards Card, you’ll have to pay an annual fee of $150 when applying publicly or via a referral link in exchange for your signup bonus of 25,000 MR points, while you get an effective first-year fee waiver by applying via the Perkopolis special offer.
That means that instead of Player 1 getting the Gold Rewards Card and referring Player 2, both individuals should apply via Perkopolis in order to take advantage of the fee waiver. The savings of $150 hugely outweighs the referral bonus of 5,000 MR points that you’d otherwise earn.
(Even if you were confident of getting more than 3cpp in value out of those 5,000 MR points, I’d argue that it’s so easy to earn an incremental 5,000 MR points anyway, so you’d be much better off having the sure-fire $150 cash in your pocket.)
With the Perkopolis offer representing the starting point for both individuals, the next step is of course to grab the other card in the family, the American Express Cobalt Card. Again, using cross-referrals negates the risk of not receiving your referral bonus that self-referrals would pose.
The SPG Family
Soon to be rebranded as the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Cards, these cards form their own referral family and earn a bonus of 10,000 Marriott (Bonvoy) points for each successful referral.
As discussed in the one-player flowchart, the ideal starting point is the Great Canadian Rebates offer, which gives you $30 cash back when you apply for the personal SPG Card. That offsets the $120 annual fee somewhat, bringing your net outlay to $90 in exchange for the 50,000 Marriott points.
Now the question is, what’s the best way for Player 2 to apply? Should he or she go via GCR as well, or would it be better to use Player 1’s referral link? Keep in mind that, for some reason, the minimum spending requirement on a referral offer is higher at $3,000 in the first three months compared to $1,500 on the public offers.
The trade-off here is essentially $30 in cash vs. 10,000 Marriott points, and it’s pretty fair to say that the latter is much more valuable. Even accounting for the higher spending requirement is unlikely to tip the scales. Thus, Player 2 applies via Player 1’s referral link, and from there, the usual cross-referral strategy sees both individuals picking up the Business SPG Card as well for a further 50,000 bonus points + 10,000 referral points, each.
We’ll need to factor in the points earned while meeting the minimum spending as well, and you can see that reflected in the infographic. In running these calculations, we assumed the base earn rate for each card.
Thus, your earnings might be even higher if you’re careful to take advantage of each card’s bonus categories, such as the 2x on travel, gas, groceries, and drugstores on the Gold, the 2x on select merchants on the Business Gold, or the 5x on eats and drinks on the Cobalt.
Taking it all together, we see that following through on this plan would net the household a cool 543,000 MR points, 72,000 MR Select points, and 251,000 Marriott points. The cost? A not-at-all-insignificant $3,246 in annual fees and $59,500 in minimum spending.
The annual fees certainly seems like quite a chunk of money, but then again, 543,000 MR points is enough for at least three Aeroplan Mini-RTW tickets in business class, with quite a bit left over. The 251,000 Marriott points will also get you five nights at the world’s top hotels, or at least a couple weeks’ worth of free accommodation if you spread things out more evenly among mid-tier properties. When you consider that many households out there spend much more than $3,240 on a single week-long vacation with economy class tickets, you can see how you’re coming out way ahead.
The frankly shocking number of $59,500 in minimum spending might represent a bigger obstacle – let’s be real, that’s more than the annual incomes of some households out there. Pre-paying your bills and expenses, maximizing bill-payment services like Plastiq, and deploying the “refundable hotel trick” will set you in good stead.
However, learning a few light manufactured spending techniques to easily hit these big spends – and therefore never letting them get in the way of pursuing the biggest bonuses – represents a big part of the journey from a beginner to an advanced practitioner in this game we play, so it all goes back to Step 4 of the Action Plan: trying out different things and networking with your fellow points collectors in order to master these techniques.
As I’ve touched on before, playing the game in two-player mode is one of the fastest and easiest ways to scale up your operations and make your points go farther. This infographic walks you through the best credit card strategy with American Express when two individuals are involved, helping you understand where to launch a new application and where to use referrals. The total points earnings you’ll earn are indeed quite staggering, so once you’re clear on the strategies, it’s time to go forth and conquer.