Last year, American Express launched a checking account product for small businesses. At the time, Amex promised that it would be possible for account holders to cash out Membership Rewards points(MR) through their checking accounts at some point in the future. While the ability to cash out MR via a free checking account sounded great, most of us assumed that the conversion rate would be terrible.
Well, we were half right. American Express has announced that Amex Business Checking account holders can now cash out Membership Rewards at a rate of 0.8 cents per point…fairly paltry. However, account holders that also have a Business Platinum card will be able to redeem up to 1,000,000 points per year at 1 cent each, just .1 cents below the rate offered to cardholders of the Schwab Platinum card.
At the same time, Amex revealed a 20,000 MR welcome offer (changed from $300) for opening a new Business Checking account, maintaining a $5,000 balance for 60 days and completing 10 transactions on the account. The checking account also earns 1.10% APY (on up to $500K in balance), 0.5 MR on debit transactions and has fee-free ATM access at any MoneyPass location in the US.
- Earn 20,000 Membership Rewards points when you open a new American Express Business Checking account, deposit $5,000, maintain that balance for sixty days and complete 10 qualifying transactions (see below) within sixty days.
- Business Checking account holders are now eligible to cash out Membership Rewards at a rate of 0.8 cent per point (unlimited points per year). Account holders that also have a Business Platinum card can cash out Membership Rewards at a rate of 1 cent per point (maximum of 1,000,000 points annually).
Terms and Conditions
To be eligible to earn a Welcome Offer of 20,000 Membership Rewards points, you must meet each of the following qualifying criteria:
- Open a new American Express Business Checking account
- Deposit a total of $5,000 or more in “new money” into your account within twenty (20) days of account opening (the new money must also post to your account and appear in your Available Balance within twenty (20) days of account opening). “New money” is defined as deposits that are not deposited from any other American Express® Business Checking account and are not deposited using our Redeem Membership Rewards points for Deposits feature;
- Maintain an average balance in your account of at least $5,000 for sixty (60) days, starting on the date that your deposits of new money are equal to $5,000 or greater;\
- Complete 10 qualifying transactions within sixty (60) days of account opening. “Qualifying transactions” are defined as mobile deposits, and electronic/online transactions, including ACH, Wire, and Bill Payments made to or from your account. Business Debit Card transactions and deposits using our Redeem Membership Rewards points for Deposits feature are not qualifying transactions. Transfers between American Express® Business Checking accounts held by the same business are not qualifying transactions.
- After you have completed all the above qualifying criteria, American Express will credit the Membership Rewards points to the Membership Rewards Program Account linked to your American Express® Business Checking account within 8-12 weeks.
Before now, the only way to cash out Membership Rewards was by holding an Amex Charles Schwab Platinum card or the Morgan Stanley Platinum card. The Schwab Platinum allows you to cash out MR at a rate of 1.1 cents per point into a Schwab investment account and the funds can then be transferred into your normal checking account. This option to cash out is part of the reason why Nick chose the Schwab Platinum as his third pick in last week’s “3 Cards, 3 Continents” draft. The Morgan Stanley card only offers 1 cent per point, which has made the Schwab Platinum the most common option for those wishing to convert points to cash.
Now, the free American Express Business Checking account lets you redeem points for cash as well. There is a bit of a catch, though. In order to get the improved rate of 1 cent per point, you must also hold a Business Platinum card (and the $695 annual fee that comes with it). Also, that improved rate is limited to a maximum of 1,000,000 points per year while the standard rate of 0.8 cents per point is unlimited.
While both Nick and I have both used the Schwab Platinum to convert the rewards from the Amex Points Parade into cash at 1.1 cpp, I can’t imagine a situation where I would do it at 0.8 cpp (the standard rate for business checking account holders). 1 cent per point could potentially be more interesting, but it requires a Platinum card as well, this time the Business Platinum.
So, either way, in order to get a passable rate of return, it’s necessary to have a Platinum card with at least one year of a $695 annual fee. Personally, I will probably sign-up for the Business Checking account at some point, simply for the welcome offer and to see what it’s like. However, if I choose to redeem more points for cash, I’ll do it through Schwab, as that extra 0.1% is worth $100/100,000 MR redeemed.
That said, this could be a useful option to keep in mind for folks who already have the Business Platinum (especially for those who got in on the 150K or 250K targeted offers) as it gives the same ability to cash out points without adding another card or affecting your 5/24 status. It also offers a useful fallback in case those of us with the Schwab card eventually decide that the coupon book of credits and extra 10% sweetener aren’t worth the annual fee any longer.