I have a simple rule with credit cards – I want something in return from the card vendor, every time I use the card (other than the credit, that is). As an Un-RoadWarrior, my 1st choice is always Airline Miles. My all time favorite cards for earning miles are the American Express cards. Here I will review three programs available with American Express cards that I have used to earn Airline miles. They are:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card
- HiltonHonors American Express Cards
The main advantage of earning miles using these particular programs offered by American Express Cards is that you can defer which airline you want to earn the miles on until later.
This is distinctly different from an airline branded credit card where you have no choice as you can only earn miles on the airline whose mileage program issued the card (duh!) I would like to point out here that American Express too has airline branded credit cards. The Delta mileage program card is an example.
In case of these three cards discussed here, you earn points in the program associated with the card. You can then redeem these points for awards in that program itself, or transfer these points as Airline Miles to any of several Airline Miles programs available. So, to the airline you want and when you want!
American Express Membership Rewards:
This is the most popular Rewards program from American Express. It comes with almost all of their credit cards and usually at no additional fee beyond the card’s annual fee. This program has great rewards you can redeem its points on and also an extensive list of Airline Miles you can transfer points to. Here is the latest list of the Airline programs to which the transfer option is available.
A big downside to converting Membership Rewards points to airline miles for is that if one is converting points to a US-base
d airline, there is a tax that needs to be paid (yes, Uncle Sam wants your miles too!). The rate of this tax at this time is $0.0005 per point, with a maximum fee of $75 (effective 09/01/2009, it will be $0.0006 per point, with a maximum fee of $99). There is no tax if one is converting points to a non-US based airline. Another reason to accumulate miles on non-US based airlines.
Another downside of the Membership Rewards program is that the points earned are associated with the card itself. If at any time you decide to cancel the card, the points accumulated become void.
Starwood Preferred Guest and HiltonHonors:
The Starwood Preferred Guest (aka SPG) and the HiltonHonors American Express cards are pretty similar to each other in function and options. Both are hotel rewards programs. As you can probably guess by the names, the SPG card is for the Starwood group of hotels: Sheraton, Westin, W (the hotel not the ex-president), etc and HiltonHonors is for the Hilton group – Hilton, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, etc. Like the Membership rewards program, these programs also allow the points to be transferred to Airline Miles programs. In fact, as you can see here for SPG and here for HiltonHonors, the list is even more extensive than that for the Membership Rewards program. SPG also has an ongoing promotion that award an additional 5,000 miles for every 20,000 points transferred to an airline program.
I love these two programs and have points in both. I see no downside to either. Both cards also have great hotel rewards available too. Also, if you charge enough in a year on the cards, you get Silver status in the respective programs.
Why American Express?
A lot of people don’t like American Express cards because they are not accepted in as many places as Visa and Mastercard. That is true. On the plus side, the #1 reason I love American Express is because of their excellent and consistent customer service – anywhere in the world. Visa and Mastercard can never give you that. The reason being that Visa and Mastercard do not issue the cards, banks do. And the customer service you get is from the issuing bank. As they say – YMMV, based on the bank. With American Express, they alone issue the cards and they handle the customer service, hence ensuring a minimum standard. And of course, they have these excellent, flexible rewards programs.
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