Maximize Your Earn, Part 1: American Express Credit Card Multipliers

I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing this: you’re in a rush paying for something, and all of a sudden, you wonder if you’ve used the right credit card. Too many times I’ve made the mistake of using the wrong card. 

By using the wrong card, I mean not using the card that would maximize my earning on a certain expenditure. Many credit cards offer multipliers, or more points, on specific categories of spend, meaning one credit card may trump another depending on what you’re buying.

It’s not easy to remember them all, so in this series, let’s go over how to leverage credit card multipliers to maximize your earning potential.

In Part 1, we’ll focus on cards issued by American Express, while in Part 2 we’ll take a look at cards issued by other banks.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll only focus on Canadian cards that earn airline point currencies or their equivalent, as opposed to cash back cards or other types of point currencies.

Start with Your Goal

Before tackling spend multipliers, one has to consider what kind of point currency or currencies you want to accumulate. If you’re not sure, start by asking yourself these few questions:

  • Where do I want to travel?
  • Which airline do I wish to travel with?
  • Which point currencies can I use to make my redemption happen? 

If you don’t know where to begin, then a website like FlightConnections is a great place to start.

First, choose your destination or origin to see which airlines fly in and out of each. Next, figure out which alliances they are a part of or what point currencies can be used to redeem for that particular airline.

ANA First Class – Seat 2K
Fly ANA First Class using points earned from credit card spending

Once you’ve figured that out, the next questions to ask are:

  • Which credit cards earn the point currencies I want?
  • Where do I spend my money?
  • Is there a card that earns the point currency I want that offers a multiplier for my spend?

Demystifying Spending Categories

Below is a list of the most common categories of spend that credit cards offer multipliers on.

  1. Dining, drinks, food delivery. This category will include your restaurants, coffee shops, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.
  2. Groceries. Who doesn’t spend money on groceries? Take note that some cards include grocery stores as a part of eats and drinks, while others do not.
  3. Travel. If you’re following Prince of Travel, you’re bound to spend on this. It includes flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and even tours.
  4. Transportation and gas. Some cards offer multipliers on gas only, while others offer multipliers for use of rideshare services, buses, taxis and public transportation.
  5. Office supplies and electronics. These will include spend on stores such as, but not limited to, Apple, Best Buy, and Staples.
  6. Drugstores. These generally include standalone drugstores like Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall. It typically does not include pharmacies nestled within a bigger establishment, like a pharmacy located inside a grocery store or within Costco. 
  7. Streaming subscriptions. These are increasingly popular and include Netflix, Disney+, and other such services. 
  8. Entertainment. This category generally includes movies, theatrical performances, and sales by ticket agencies. I had wondered whether theme parks might fall under this category, but it appears not, as MarineLand didn’t code as entertainment.

As you can see, many of the things we spend money every day on can be earning you extra points if you have and use the right card.

Earn up to 5 points per dollar spent on groceries

Which Card Do I Use?

One important factor in all this is what credit card is accepted by your merchant. In the Canadian card game, it often boils down to whether they take Amex or not.

If they do, it’s great news, because there are a lot of earning opportunities here. If they don’t, stay tuned for the next post on other potential options.

Amex cards earn their own points currency, known as Membership Rewards (MR) points. Canadian-issued Amex MR points can thus be transferred to six different airline loyalty programs, making it among the most valuable points currencies here in Canada. 

Meanwhile, co-branded Amex cards will earn their affiliated partner’s currency. In Canada, there is only one airline with an Amex co-branded card: Air Canada.

Let’s take a look now at which Amex cards provide multipliers on specific categories of spend. Unless indicated, spend in all other categories can be otherwise assumed to earn one point per dollar.

Credit Card

Points Currency

Category

Multiplier

American Express Platinum Card

MR points


Dining

3x

Travel

2x

American Express Gold Rewards Card

MR points

Travel

2x

Gas

2x

Groceries

2x

Drugstores

2x

American Express Green Card

MR points

None

-

American Express Cobalt Card

MR points

Dining

5x

Groceries

5x

Streaming subscriptions

3x

Travel

2x

Transit

2x

American Express Business Platinum Card

MR points

Everything else

1.25x

American Express Business Gold Rewards Card

MR points

Everything else, if you spend $20,000 per calendar quarter

1.5x

American Express Business Edge Card

MR points

Dining

3x

Office supplies & electronics

3x

Gas

3x

Transit

3x

American Express Aeroplan Card

Aeroplan points

Air Canada

2x

Dining

1.5x

American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card

Aeroplan points

Air Canada

3x

Dining

2x

Everything else

1.25x

American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card

Aeroplan points

Air Canada

3x

Travel (hotels & car rentals)

2x

Everything else

1.25x

The Cobalt Card is a solid card when it comes to dining, drinks, and groceries. No other card earns you 5x points (up to $30,000 spend a year) in this category, and some people have reported earning that 5x outside of Canada as well.

Depending on how much you spend in this category, it could easily offset the low monthly fee of $12.99. In addition, it is the only MR-earning card to provide a multiplier for streaming subscriptions.

The Business Platinum Card is great for everyday spend as it earns 1.25x on everything.

However, if your business can spend exactly $20,000 each quarter per year, the Business Gold Card is a solid option as well thanks to its quarterly bonux of 10,000 MR points for reaching that spend threshold, especially given that it has a lower annual fee than the Business Platinum.

If you’re solely looking to collect Aeroplan points and fly primarily with Air Canada, then the Aeroplan Reserve Card will give you a minimum of 1.25x points per dollar on all non-category spends, in addition to its other multipliers. On the business side, the Aeroplan Business Reserve Card also shares the same 1.25x non-category spend multiplier.

If you have a lot of electronic or office supplies expenses with your business, then consider the Business Edge Card, which is the only card to provide multipliers on these categories, and for the low annual fee of $99.

If travel for work or leisure makes up a big proportion of your spend, then the Gold Rewards Card used to be a solid card for travel with its 2x multiplier.

With the Platinum Card now earning 2x on travel, but with better travel insurance and an annual $200 travel rebate, it’s a bit of a toss up which bring us to the next point.

Other Considerations

The assumption in the above chart is that you hold all the Amex cards and simply need to choose between them based on the multipliers. The reality, however, is that you may only have or want to hold one, two, or a few Amex cards.

Before jumping to the conclusion of which card is the better one to hold based solely on categorical spend, consider the earning rates, the annual fee you are paying for the card, and also the added value of additional benefits that come with it.

For example, the earning rate for dining on the Platinum Card is only 3x compared to the Cobalt Card’s 5x. However, the Platinum Card includes superior insurance policies, Priority Pass lounge access, elite status with several hotel chains, and a $200 annual travel credit, whereas the Cobalt does not.

Access Priority Pass lounges as a credit card benefit

For all those additional perks, you’ll be paying an annual fee of $699 for the Platinum Card, whereas you’ll only pay $155.88 annually ($12.99 each month) for the Cobalt Card. Which one you invest in will depend on your personal spend and travel habits.

I personally find it valuable to hold both, but if cost is a factor, then you may need to decide between one or the other. 

Ultimately, each individual will have to weigh the cost of each card with the benefit of its multipliers to decide which card they should have, keep, and use, and what’s best for one may not be for another. And don’t forget the value of your sign up bonus too.

Merchant Category Codes

I want to also quickly explain Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) and why they matter.

Once in a while, you may expect to get a multiplier on a purchase because you feel a merchant falls under one of the above categories, but the multiplier doesn’t come through. This could be because the merchant has registered themselves under a different type of business than you expected.

Bymark Restaurant, Toronto

All merchants are required to register their business under an MCC. An MCC is a number that identifies the type of business a merchant is engaged in and it is what credit card companies use when awarding multipliers.

For example, the MCC for a restaurant is “5812”. If you dine at a merchant that mainly does catering but also serves food on the side, and don’t get the multiplier, it could be that the merchant has classified themselves as a caterer, which has the MCC “5811”, rather than a restaurant. In this case, you won’t get the restaurant multiplier.  

Conclusion

Hopefully after reading this you’ll grab the right Amex card to pay for your next purchase. You’ll still have to do a bit of leg work to see which card has the best cost-benefit ratio, despite knowing which has the best categorical multiplier.

If you still can’t keep track of it all, feel free to bookmark this post for future reference.

However, we know that American Express is not always accepted by certain merchants, so stay tuned for a post in the near future on multipliers on non-Amex cards and how they may play a role in this decision-making process.

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