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The Summer of American Express, By the Numbers

With this month’s biggest-ever welcome bonuses from American Express on the Platinum, Bonvoy, and Aeroplan cards, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about which card to get – specifically, which cards are “worth it.”

Some old favourites, like the Platinum Card, have offers juicy enough to lure even the most fee-averse cardholders. On the other end of the spectrum, some often-overlooked cards, like the core Aeroplan Card, have caught our attention. And even the Membership Rewards-earning business cards are setting records, despite the more recent hype for other temporary offers.

Today, following up on my head-to-head premium card comparison and Kirin’s either/or look at cardholder archetypes, let’s do a good old-fashioned number crunch to parse the raw value for the optimizers and maximizers among us.

I’ll be using the concepts outlined in my article on “How to Measure Your Miles & Points Earnings”, so you may want to brush up first before we dive in.

In This Post

Net Gain: The Most Value, The Most Quickly

There’s not much to say about Net Gain – simply work your way down from largest to smallest value, until you run out of cards you like.

American Express All-Time High Bonuses
Credit Card Best Offer Value
150,000 Aeroplan points $2,698 Apply Now
150,000 Aeroplan points $2,551 Apply Now
Up to 150,000 MR points $2,163 Apply Now
100,000 MR points $1,976 Apply Now
75,000 Aeroplan points $1,455 Apply Now
60,000 MR points $1,180 Apply Now
Up to 67,000 MR Select points $801 Apply Now
Up to 105,000 Bonvoy points $690 Apply Now
Up to 7,500 Air Miles $676 Apply Now
Up to 105,000 Bonvoy points $660 Apply Now

As a reminder, our calculations use our most recent Points Valuations. The total value shows what you can expect to get in your first year with the card: the value of the welcome bonus points plus any other points earned as you spend your way there, minus the cost of the annual fee.

However, Net Gain doesn’t paint the full picture.

You’ll notice that the Aeroplan Business Reserve Card has a slightly higher total value than the personal Aeroplan Reserve Card. The cards have the same fees and the same bonus points, but the business card has double the spending requirement.

The extra value you get is from the regular points you earn on the higher spending requirement. But is an extra 7,000 Aeroplan points really going to move the needle compared to bonuses worth 150,000 points?

If you ask me, it’s a drop in the bucket. I’m not crazy about 5% more points for the trouble of 100% more spending. There are limits to the hoops that even for the highest spenders would jump through.

Instead of spending $12,000 on the Aeroplan Business Reserve Card, you could spend $6,000 each on the personal Aeroplan Reserve and Platinum cards. You’d earn a grand total of 300,000 points combined, rather than 157,000 points on a single card.

(You’d have to pay another annual fee, but since you’re getting twice as many points, I’d say it’s worth it to add another versatile Amex card to your wallet. I’ll outline why the value makes sense below.)

Return on Spend: Spreading Out a Small Budget

For those of you who don’t spend much on an everyday basis, you’ll be more limited in how quickly you can rack up rewards on new credit cards. The best bonuses almost always come with a significant spending requirement, and these are no exception.

These offers have two unique features that you’ll need to navigate as you decide which bonuses are most achievable for you: category restrictions might hurt, but extended deadlines will help.

All of this month’s exclusive offers have a category-based component. Included in each offer’s total points, you’ll get 5–10x points for making purchases at specific types of stores, up to $5,000 spent.

While they’re all tabbed as “eats and drinks”, the personal cards cover dining (including restaurants, fast food, bars, cafes, takeout, and food delivery) and groceries, while the business cards include dining and gas.

If you don’t have a lot of eligible food or gas expenses, I’d encourage you to find ways to “convert” your other purchases into things you can buy at places that sell food or gas. For example, you can buy gift cards from a grocery store or gas station, and use them at other places you shop.

In any event, the offers are so high right now that you could conceivably ignore the category-based spend altogether and still make those cards worth your while:

  • The Business Platinum Card is offering 100,000 MR points upon spending $10,000, plus the base rate of 1.25 points per dollar spent, effectively 11.25 points per dollar spent.
  • The Platinum Card is offering 70,000 MR points upon spending $6,000, plus the base rate of 1 point per dollar spent, effectively 12.67 points per dollar spent.
  • The Aeroplan Reserve Card is offering 100,000 Aeroplan points upon spending $6,000 (more on that in a minute), plus the base rate of 1.25 points per dollar spent, effectively 18.75 points per dollar spent.

A low spender might do well to pass on the Business Platinum Card’s 100,000 points for an onerous $10,000 minimum spend, and skip the other components of the Platinum Card’s bonus, only earning the first 70,000 points for $6,000 spent.

Then, the shortfall of 30,000 points could easily be made up by devoting that extra $4,000 of spending to welcome bonuses on other cards.

Luckily, all of these limited-time signup bonuses come with a generous six months to meet the spending requirements. That’s great news for low spenders who’d struggle to run $10,000 through their new Business Platinum Card in just three months, or for anyone whose food expenses are on the conservative side.

Also, the Aeroplan cards have a monthly spending requirement that can be reached in parallel with the main threshold and the category accelerators. Every dollar you spend will count towards all three components of the bonus at the same time.

Because the structures of these offers are quite varied, I think it’s helpful to treat the minimum spend requirements on all of them as a “monthly” spend requirement. Here’s a table ranking each offer by Return on Spend, with how much you’d need to spend each month, and for how long:

Card

Return on Spend

Monthly Spend

Type

Aeroplan Reserve

42%

$1,000

minimum for 6 months

Platinum

36%

$1,000

average for 6 months

Aeroplan

29%

$833

minimum for 6 months

Business Gold

24%

$1,667

average for 3 months

Aeroplan Business Reserve

22%

$2,000

minimum for 6 months

Business Platinum

20%

$3,333

average for 3 months

Business Edge

16%

$1,667

average for 3 months

Bonvoy

14%

$833

average for 6 months

Bonvoy Business

13%

$833

average for 6 months

Air Miles Reserve

11%

$1,000

average for 6 months

For low spenders deciding which (and how many) cards to get, work your way down from highest Return on Spend to lowest, and skip any cards if the cumulative monthly spend requirement is too much to handle. Given how spread out the spending requirements are, you might be surprised at how many new cards you can take on all at once!

Return on Fees: Bang for Your Buck

Return on Fees is my favourite way to measure my credit card rewards, for two reasons.

First, it represents the growth of my initial outlay, as I transform cash fees into greater travel value. Second, it lets me measure my earnings as cents per point, allowing me to compare them apples-to-apples with my redemptions.

Let’s assume you’ll have no trouble meeting the spending requirements. Essentially, the credit card annual fee is akin to the price you’d pay if you bought points outright.

The beauty of credit card signup bonuses is that it’s almost always the cheapest way to buy points. When Aeroplan has a points sale promotion, you can buy points for around 1.5–2 cents per point – a rather steep price (though not an unfair one) considering that we target 2.1 cents per point for our redemptions.

Instead, take the Aeroplan Reserve Card: for an annual fee of $599, you’ll get a welcome bonus of 150,000 points. Basically, you’re buying those points at a price of 0.4 cents per point. That’s a competitive rate any way you look at it.

However, the core Aeroplan Card presents a very strong proposition: for an annual fee of $120, you’ll get a welcome bonus of 75,000 points. At a cost of 0.16 cents per point, that’s a no-brainer. You ought to have no trouble getting at least 10 times that value when you book an award flight.

By going with the lower-tier card, you’re only getting 50% of the top-tier card’s points, but you’re paying just 20% of its annual fee. In terms of bang for your buck, the offer on the Aeroplan Card is 2.5 times more efficient than the Aeroplan Reserve Card’s signup bonus.

Of course, there’s a limitation that you can’t get two of the same card, so unless you’re in multiplayer mode, you can’t pay $240 for 150,000 points. So, if you’re not as concerned with the total number of points you’ll get, but rather the price at which you buy them, the core card is a better choice.

Here are the numbers for the first-year value of each card. Look for cards with a high Return on Fees or a low cents per point cost – they’re inversely related (after normalizing for different rewards valuations), so you can use whichever metric you find more intuitive:

Card

Return on Fees

Cents per point cost

Aeroplan

1,213%

0.16 per Aeroplan point

Business Edge

809%

0.17 per MR Select point

Bonvoy

575%

0.13 per Bonvoy point

Business Gold

472%

0.38 per MR point

Aeroplan Business Reserve

450%

0.38 per MR point

Bonvoy Business

440%

0.17 per Bonvoy point

Platinum

433%

0.41 per MR point

Aeroplan Reserve

430%

0.4 per Aeroplan point

Business Platinum

396%

0.5 per MR point

Air Miles Reserve

226%

4.6 per Air Mile

That said, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to offset your annual fee with Amex Offers throughout the year, dramatically bringing down the cents per point you paid. A grocery credit here, an Air Canada promotion there, and all of a sudden your $599 annual fee is slashed to a fraction of the card’s sticker price.

Roughly speaking, based on what we’ve seen in the past, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for top-tier Platinum or Reserve cardholders to anticipate receiving enough offers to fully offset their annual fee each year. At the very least, you can bring your net annual fee down to the sub-$200 range that you’d pay on a mid-tier product.

At that point, all this discussion about Return on Fees is moot. If you’re comfortable swallowing the big fee up front, you might want to just go for the biggest bonuses anyway, confident that you’ll get that value back somehow.

Indeed, the best way to acquire points is for free, but your progress will be quite stunted if you rely only on those methods. It’s well worth a modest cost, or even a larger one that’s likely to be rebated down the line, if it accelerates your progress towards your travel goals.

Keeper Cards: What About Anniversary Bonuses?

American Express has thrown a wrinkle into the offers on the Platinum, Bonvoy, and Air Miles cards: a significant chunk of the welcome bonus is awarded in your second year with the card.

These bonuses are triggered by making a purchase in months 14–17. Cleverly, that’s past the window to get your second-year annual fee fully refunded by closing the card in the 13th month.

If you’re counting on those points, you’re in it for the long haul. Suddenly you’re on the hook for a second annual fee, and the value proposition of the welcome bonus isn’t as clear.

It’s almost like there are two separate offers for each card. You have the choice to pay one annual fee and get the first-year points, or to pay two annual fees and get the first- and second-year points.

Our official valuations only account for the fees paid and points earned in your first year with the card. However, each option will result in different values and rates of return:

Card

Return on Fees

one year

Return on Fees

two years

Aeroplan

1,213%

Business Edge

809%

Bonvoy

575%

294%

Business Gold

472%

Aeroplan Business Reserve

450%

Bonvoy Business

440%

215%

Platinum

433%

233%

Aeroplan Reserve

430%

Business Platinum

396%

Air Miles Reserve

226%

88%

Even for cards where the second-year value is a net gain, like the Platinum Card, the efficiency of your annual fees drops off dramatically. Any way you cut it, the second-year value won’t come close to the upfront bonus in the first year.

If you plan to keep the card long-term, I’d suggest you consider Net Gain instead. Think of your annual fees as the cost of the ongoing benefits you get from the card, and the points are just a bonus, so take as many as you can get.

Fortunately, these cards are all likely to pay for themselves year after year. The Bonvoy cards have an anniversary Free Night Award, the Air Miles Reserve Card has an annual Companion Flight, and the Platinum Card routinely receives the best Amex Offers throughout the year as I mentioned above.

Otherwise, the Aeroplan cards are definitely appealing, as you can earn the full advertised bonus within one year, only paying one annual fee if you wish.

Best Offers Ever: Target the Highest All-Time Highs

Let’s face it: even with the credit card market booming, we’re probably never going to see elevated offers this big again. These aren’t just a modest bump, they’re orders of magnitude better than ever. So how do we maximize the uniqueness of this opportunity?

In the US, where Amex welcome bonuses are once in a lifetime, it’s often best to wait for an all-time high offer before you apply. But as Amex Canada takes its cues from south of the border, we cardholders must also weigh whether it’s worth the risk to attempt to get a repeat welcome bonus.

If you’re willing to open every card you can get your hands on, but can’t open too many cards too fast, you might consider saving some for later. As you choose which cards to open now, pick the ones with the most additional value on top of their usual offers.

For example, the Aeroplan Reserve Card is now offering 150,000 points, instead of its previous offer of 75,000 points. Valued at 2.1 cents per point, the extra 75,000 points are worth $1,575.

The core Aeroplan Card is now offering 75,000 points, compared to its baseline offer of 50,000 points (assuming you convert the Buddy Pass into 30,000 points). By applying now, you’d get an extra 25,000 points, worth $525.

Clearly the swing is much bigger on the premium card. If you take a “one now, one later” approach, you should definitely prioritize the premium card now:

  • Aeroplan Reserve Card now at 150,000 points + Aeroplan Card later at 50,000 points = total of 200,000 points
  • Aeroplan Card now at 75,000 points + Aeroplan Reserve Card later at 75,000 points = total of 150,000 points

Likewise, I’d look to nab the Platinum Card before a Bonvoy card. With an extra 85,000 MR points on the table compared to before, nobody’s going to miss an extra 40,000 Bonvoy points.

Here’s an extremely subjective breakdown of the value you might expect to lose by applying for each card at a later date – and therefore, what you’d gain by applying now:

Card

Current Best Offer

Projected Future Offer

Approximate Value Difference

Aeroplan Business Reserve

150,000 Aeroplan points

75,000 Aeroplan points

$1,575

Aeroplan Reserve

150,000 Aeroplan points

75,000–100,000 Aeroplan points

$1,050–1,575

Platinum

150,000 MR points

60,000–100,000 MR points

$462–1,342

Aeroplan

75,000 Aeroplan points

20,000–50,000 Aeroplan points

$525–1,155

Air Miles Reserve

7,500 Air Miles

2,000–3,000 Air Miles

$525–675

Business Platinum

100,000 MR points

75,000–100,000 MR points

$0–550

Business Gold

60,000 MR points

40,000 MR points

$440

Business Edge

55,000 MR Select points

40,000 MR Select points

$225

Bonvoy

105,000 Bonvoy points

65,000 Bonvoy points

$225

Bonvoy Business

105,000 Bonvoy points

65,000 Bonvoy points

$225

Even if the premium cards settle long-term around 100,000 points, higher than they were before, you’d still be giving up 50,000 points, worth $1,000+, by putting those cards off. After all, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Maybe it’s a fool’s errand trying to forecast where the industry will go in the future, but generally speaking, I’d say that a great boost on a great card is a stronger play than a good boost on a good card.

Summer of Amex Number Cruncher

Clearly there’s no one answer – that’s why this is such an interesting question!

Play around with the parameters that capture your constraints, and let the numbers speak for themselves.

Points Valuations
MR
MR Select
Aeroplan
Bonvoy
Air Miles
Settings
Keeper Card

Spend Categories


Card Net Gain ↕ Return on Spend ↕ Return on Fees ↕

Conclusion

As much as we like to hype up every amazing credit card offer, it's never as simple as just getting the biggest and best ones out there. With so many glistening signup bonuses this summer, we can never quite catch them all, and it can be very overwhelming trying to analyze everything.

With less than three weeks left before these offers end on August 3, 2021, the clock is ticking to get your plan in place.

Because these offers are so short-lived, you'll have to take on the fees and spend concurrently. Don't bite off more than you can chew, and be sure to prioritize the opportunities that will bring you the most value.