Evaluating my credit card portfolio - American Express

When pursuing points and miles using credit card sign-up bonuses, you soon accumulate a lot of credit cards. I was accustomed to carrying multiple cards before I became immersed in these rewards, but the number of cards I currently hold has tripled. As an early-year task, I decided to undertake a top-to-bottom review of my open accounts in order to decide if any should be closed. There are more than a few credit card products on the market that I would like to obtain, so I want to strategize how to adjust my card portfolio in 2018. In a series of posts, I will review the cards I hold from various issuers and decide if it's time to close any. Part of my review will assess how an existing card combines with any new cards I am considering. Because potential cards can impact a keep-or-cancel decision, I will mention relevant products that are on my radar, but I will postpone a full analysis until I am ready to adjust my collection. Last week, I provided background to frame my analyses. Today, I want to review my outstanding American Express cards.

Evaluating my credit card portfolio

American Express rules

Amex Logo.png

In my earlier background article, I noted that credit sign-up bonuses you previously earned may come into play. Unfortunately, that does not apply with American Express, because the bank has a "once in a lifetime" policy on card sign-up points. This means that once you have held a specific credit card product, you are ineligible to receive a sign-up bonus on that same product again, so there is no incentive to cancel in order to earn a new bonus. A rule that Amex does have that encourages you to close any unused accounts is a limit on the number of their cards that you can hold.  

You are permitted to have five open American Express credit card accounts at any given time, though the number of open charge card accounts is unlimited. To clarify the distinction, a credit card allows you to carry a balance - almost always a bad idea! - while a charge card balance must be paid in full each month. If you are maxed out on open accounts and there are other Amex cards you would like to obtain, you would need to close at least one account.

My cards

I currently hold six American Express cards. With only one of those being a charge card, I am maxed out on Amex credit cards.

  • Credit Cards

    • Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

    • Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

    • Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card

    • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

    • Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

  • Charge Cards

    • The Business Platinum Card from American Express

Let's take a look at the benefits of these cards and the value I receive from each.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card/Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card

Amex Delta Platinum.png

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express are substantially similar so I will analyze them together. The SkyMiles Platinum card is my oldest Amex credit card product and my second oldest credit card account overall. I opened a standard Amex Delta SkyMiles Card in 1997, upgrading to the platinum version within the last decade. I could now kick myself for upgrading since I did not get a signup bonus but made myself ineligible for a bonus on this product! Right off the bat, the age of the Platinum account means there is virtually no chance I will close it. If I can't justify the annual fee, the account's longevity argues for conversion to a product with no or lower annual fee. Let's consider the benefits the card offers and the value of these to me.

  • Annual companion certificate - Good for one round-trip domestic Main Cabin companion ticket when purchasing a ticket in select fare classes

  • Zone 1 Priority boarding on Delta flights (up to eight passengers on a reservation)

  • First checked bag free on Delta flights for each person on the reservation

  • 2x SkyMiles on Delta purchases, 1x SkyMiles on all other purchases

  • Miles Boost - earn 10,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $25,000 on the card in a calendar year; double the miles when spending $50,000

  • Discounted access to Delta SkyClubs ($29 per person)

  • 20% savings on in-flight purchases of food, beverages and audio headsets

  • Annual fee $195

If you do not primarily fly Delta, this card is probably not very compelling. However, living in Atlanta, Delta is virtually my only domestic airline. While I don't fly more than two or three times per year, I almost always check luggage. At $25 per bag per flight, that benefit provides $100-$150 of value. If my wife is flying on the same reservation, that total jumps to $200-$300. Last year, I used the companion certificate and saved $162. While hard to assign a dollar value, I also greatly value priority boarding for flights when I do not book Comfort+. As you can clearly see, my savings on checked luggage fees alone can essentially offset my annual fee, and, if I use the companion certificate, I am in the black.

The double SkyMiles on Delta purchases is little enticement to me since I can realize more value when booking airfare with any airline by using other cards that accrue flexible reward currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou Points. I get no value from SkyClub discounts since my Amex Business Platinum Card includes SkyClub access as a benefit. Finally, I would never put $25,000 in spend on this card for only 10,000 SkyMiles.

In total, the value I receive from the card means that I at least break even on the annual fee. Coupled with the age of the account, this card is a mainstay in my portfolio. This leads to a fairly obvious question: is there any reason to carry both a platinum and gold version of a Delta SkyMiles card? The short answer is no because these products have largely duplicate benefits. The Business Gold version of the Amex Delta SkyMiles card is nearly identical to the consumer platinum version. The key exceptions are:

  • No companion certificate

  • No Miles Boost

  • No discounted access to SkyClubs

  • Annual fee is $95

Amex Delta Gold Business (Angle).png

I signed up for this card last year for one reason: the sign-up bonus. Since completing the initial spend required for 50,000 SkyMiles, the card has been in my "credit card notebook" where it will stay. The only question is when will I cancel the card? Reading numerous points and mile blogs, the consensus is that it is best to wait at least 10-12 months before cancelling a card lest you make banks unhappy and risk being flagged as a “churner." However, there is an explicit wrinkle in this card's terms and conditions:

If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome bonus offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome bonus offer (s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit the welcome bonus to, we may freeze the welcome bonus credited to, or we may take away the welcome bonus from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.

It is pretty clear that I will need to wait for the first anniversary of the card, which means paying the annual fee for next year. Perhaps, I can wrangle an offer of additional bonus points to keep the card, but I have not had any such offers from Amex in the past. Besides, given the limit on the number of credit cards, I will be ready to remove an unneeded card from my portfolio.

Amex Everyday Preferred Card

This is my default card for non-bonused spend. As I have written before, the benefit of this card boils down to its points-earning power:

American Express Everyday Preferred.png
  • 3x points - In U.S. Supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year

  • 2x points - U.S. gas stations

  • 50% points bonus - 50% bonus on all points when you using the card 30 times in a billing cycle

Unless another card in my portfolio has a category bonus larger than 1.5 points per dollar - I have yet to not use the card 30 times in a month - this is the card I use. I will certainly not be closing this account.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card/Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card

Amex Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card & Business Card.png

I will examine my two Amex Starwood Preferred Guest cards together as I did with my Delta cards. Like the Delta products, the consumer and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest cards are substantially the same. Except where noted, the following benefits apply to both cards:

  • 2x Starpoints on purchases at Starwood and Marriott hotels

  • Credit for five nights and two stays per year toward SPG elite status

  • Access to Sheraton Club Lounge (Business card only)

  • SPG Gold Status with $30,000 spend (Business card only)

Starpoints are one of the most valuable flexible rewards currencies, When you transfer Starpoints to partner frequent flyer programs in blocks of 20,000, you receive 5,000 bonus Starpoints. Previously, having both cards was very useful each year to jump start earning SPG Gold status. However, my Amex Business Platinum Card includes Gold status, so, as long as I hold that card, I do not need to earn that level of status. This makes the stays and nights offered by the cards - which combine toward your annual threshold requirement -effectively worthless since currently do not travel enough to have a shot at SPG Platinum. While Starwood is not my go-to hotel chain, I try to stay at their properties when I can due to the value of Starpoints. While I value the ability to earn these points, I get similar value by putting any hotel spend, including Starwood, on my Citi Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier cards which earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on travel. That leaves only the Sheraton Club Lounge as a perk, but I do not use this very often since I only stay at actual Sheratons on occasion; I would not miss this benefit.

The question mark with these cards is that Starwood has merged with Marriott; the speculation in the points and miles community is that the SPG program will likely merge with Marriott Rewards in the near future. Depending on the structure of a new loyalty program, earning Marriott points may be less compelling. To be honest, I do not have a strong argument for keeping either of these cards. However, since I seek out Starwood properties when I travel, I am inclined to keep one of the two. The lounge access is the tiebreaker in favor of the business card, putting the consumer card on the chopping block.

The Business Platinum Card from American Express

I have already spent a considerable amount of time considering whether to keep my Amex Business Platinum Card. This card is probably the toughest call out of all my American Express products, if not my entire portfolio. This is a charge card so it does not count against the credit card limit. For its hefty $450 annual fee, the card offers a rich set of of benefits:

  • 5x Membership Reward points on flights and eligible hotels on amextravel.com

  • 1.5x Membership Reward points on purchase of $5,000 or more

  • Annual $200 Airline Fee Credit - on one qualifying airline, receive up to $200 statement credit for incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight purchases

  • Access to Global Lounge Collection - Includes American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta SkyClubs and a Priority Pass Select membership

  • 10 Gogo inflight internet passes annually

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status

  • Hilton Honors Gold status

  • Access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts

  • Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check application fee (once every four years)

  • 35% Bouns when booking any First or Business Class flight using Membership Rewards points

  • Purchase protection and extended warranty

I won’t lie, the card itself is gorgeous - silver metal with a textured finish and black lettering. But do all these benefits justify the annual fees?

The benefits range in attractiveness from ones I use extensively to ones that I would not miss. Though the $200 annual airline fee credit is nominally for incidentals, you can use it to purchase small-denominated gift cards. I have already obtained $400 in Delta Air Lines gift cards via this credit with another $200 available for 2018. This credit reduces the effective annual fee to a much more reasonable $250. I have already used the Global Entry credit ($100) to cover my stepson’s application. Eventually, he or my wife will need to renew so I can use the credit again in the future. 

The lounge access can be categorized as “valuable but lightly used.". Since I obtained the Citi Prestige Card with its Priority Pass membership, I typically visit the Club at ATL prior to any of my flights departing from Atlanta. The Amex Business Platinum provides access to Delta SkyClubs which are sometimes better than Priority Pass options, and I am anxious to try the much-written about American Express Centurion Lounge Collection. I consider the Gogo passes similarly: very useful but not a perk I am able to fully enjoy due to my limited number of annual flights; last year, I used two or three of these passes. Though I used one to stream video on a long international flight, I am reluctant to value that heavily since I doubt I would have I have purchased the same access.

Hotel status is important to me since I use hotels far more often than I fly. I especially enjoy SPG Gold. However, as noted above, we don’t know the future for Starwood Preferred Guest and I am often unable to find Starwood properties on my road trips to maximize the benefit of SPG Gold. Hilton Honors Gold is far more beneficial since a large proportion stays are at Hampton Inns. However, Hilton Honors Gold is available via the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, a product I plan to acquire soon. 

Overall, if I were a road warrior, this card would be a no-brainer but since I fly 2-3 times per year, it’s a tougher call. I renewed this year for my second cardmember year but I will have seriously consider the total value, aside from the airline credit, that I receive before I renew again.

Next Steps

With the release of the new Amex Hilton cards, I am very anxious to apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card which currently offers up to 100,000 Hilton Honors points for new cardmembers. Amex business cards do not count against the Chase 5/24 rule, but once I optimize my Chase card portfolio, I will be far less concerned with the 5/24 rule and I will be able to apply for Amex consumer credit cards. There are other Amex credit card products I plan to obtain: two consumer Hilton Honors card and any Delta SkyMiles product I have not already had. Also, another compelling small business card is the Blue Business Plus Business Credit Card from American Express is very compelling.

From my analysis, three key points stand out. Since I am maxed out at five Amex credit cards, if I want to acquire any of the above Amex credit cards, I need to close at least one of my accounts. Also, since I plan to keep the Amex Business Platinum Card, having two Starwood cards is unnecessary. Finally, the Delta Gold business credit card is superfluous, but I have to wait until after the card anniversaries to avoid the risk of being charged for the value of the 50,000 Delta SkyMiles sign-up bonus. Given all of this, my next steps will be as follows:

  1. Immediately close the consumer Starwood card since the Business version offers Sheraton lounge access in addition to all of the benefits of the consumer card.

  2. With a slot free, apply for the new Amex Hilton business credit card.

  3. After making any changes to the my Chase card holding and after the Delta Business Gold card passes the 12-month mark, close that account and layout a plan for the consumer Amex cards I want.

With the limit of Amex credit cards and the fact that I won’t be closing at least three of these accounts for the foreseeable future, I should be able to pursue points and miles with new American Express card products for at least two years.