Reader question reveals 9 things you ought to know about Amex cards


A few days ago a reader emailed a seemingly simple question.  He had applied for the Amex Bonvoy Business card and was told by Amex that he had too many credit cards. He had to close one card in order to get approved for this new one.  He then described the cards he currently has and asked me to recommend which one he should cancel.

As I thought about how to answer this question, I was struck by how much useful information underlies the question.  By teasing apart both the question and my potential answers, I identified 9 things everyone ought to know about Amex credit cards…

Reader Question

I decided to apply for the Marriott business card in order to get the additional 15 elite nights. I already have 5 AMEX credit cards, and they were nice enough to point out the difference between charge and credit cards, and to explain that I had to close one of my five credit cards in order to get this card.

My question to you is which one would you close? Here are the other cards I have:
– 2x Hilton Aspire (only one is eligible for the $20/mo restaurant AMEX offer due to the fact it’s an AMEX offer, but it is still hard to let these go due to the $250 Hilton, weekend night, and $250 airline credits…it more than pays for itself)
– Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant – $300 credit + free 50k night pretty much pays for itself
– The “vintage” Marriott Bonvoy (the $95 fee one) – hard to give this up with the $10 restaurant credits and free 35k night, plus I can’t get it anymore
– Delta Reserve – definitely could not give this up due to the elite status bonuses and upgrade priority boost.

I guess it’s a great credit (pun intended) to AMEX that all of these cards are so hard to give up! I’m stumped. What would you do?

Amex credit cards vs charge (Pay over Time) cards

When you apply for an Amex card, you might get denied due to having too many Amex credit cards or Amex charge (pay over time) cards.  Delta, Hilton, and Marriott cards are all credit cards whereas transferable points cards like the Amex Gold Card and Amex Platinum Card are Pay over Time (charge) cards.  For details about which is which, please see: Which Amex Cards are Credit Cards? Which are Charge Cards? How many can you have?

The Amex Green card is a weird hybrid.  When applying for the Green card it counts as a Pay over Time card (which it is).  When applying for other credit cards, the Green card adds to your credit card count.

Amex new credit card limit: 4 or 5 (it depends)

While many people have more than 4 or 5 Amex credit cards, Amex won’t approve you for a new credit card unless you are under the limit.  For some, the new card limit is 4 credit cards and for others the limit is 5 credit cards (we don’t know why it varies).  The only way I’m aware of to know your limit is to apply for a new Amex credit card, get denied, and then talk to a rep who will tell you how many credit cards you need to close in order to get approved for the new one.

In my family, based on recent applications, I know that I have a 5 credit card limit for new cards, whereas my son has a 4 credit card limit.  I’m not sure what my wife’s current limit is.

Hilton Aspire more than pays for itself, if…

Conrad Bora Bora.  This is one of many Hilton hotels that could offer incredible value for your free night certificate.

The $450 Hilton Aspire card is absolutely loaded with perks.  Here are some of the most valuable perks:

  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year
  • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year
  • Annual Weekend Night Reward upon approval and every year upon renewal
  • Free top-tier Diamond Status

If you know how to eke out full value from both the $250 resort credit and the $250 airline incidental fee credit each year, you’ll already be ahead $50.  You can then think of the annual weekend reward night as being essentially free.  That’s huge.  The reward night is good at almost any Hilton property worldwide.  You could easily use a free night at a hotel that otherwise would cost $500 or more (sometimes far more).

For tips about getting the most from the $250 credits, see these posts:

Those who started the year 2021 with the Aspire card have even more reason to value the card.  This year only, Amex is offering an automatic $20 per month restaurant rebate (but only for those who had the card as of January 1, 2021).

It’s possible to have two Hilton Aspire cards

If you already have a Hilton Aspire card and apply for another one, you’ll likely be denied.  That said, if you have another consumer Hilton card such as the no-fee Hilton card or the Hilton Surpass card, you should be able to upgrade that card to the Hilton Aspire.  You might even get lucky and qualify for a large upgrade bonus.

Marriott Bonvoy cards consumer + business = 30 annual elite nights

Marriott offers credit cards through both Amex and Chase.  With any current Marriott card, you’ll automatically get 15 nights towards elite status each year.  For the most part, this is not additive.  For example, if you have two consumer Marriott cards, you’ll still get only 15 elite nights per year.  Same if you have two business Marriott cards.  The trick to getting 30 elite nights is to have one consumer card and one business card.

Marriott requires earning 50 elite nights each year to get to meaningful elite status (Platinum status).  With both a consumer and business Bonvoy card, you’ll be more than half way there each year, automatically.  Plus, those automatic elite nights count towards lifetime elite status.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is not a no-brainer (except this year)

The $450 Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card is not as loaded with valuable perks as the Hilton Aspire.  The most valuable of the Brilliant Card’s perks are:

  • 50K Free Night Award each year upon renewal
  • $300 Marriott statement credit per membership year

Unlike the Hilton Aspire, this card’s annual statement credits don’t alone cover the full annual fee.  And the card’s annual free night is capped at hotels otherwise costing 50,000 points for the night.  On the other hand, the $300 Marriott statement credit is easier to use than the Aspire’s $250 resort credit because the Marriott credit can be used at any Marriott hotel worldwide.

I recommend the Bonvoy Brilliant card only to those who highly value the card’s annual 50K free night certificate.  Others would do better with the $95 Bonvoy card which comes with an annual 35K free night certificate.

Those who started the year 2021 with a Bonvoy Brilliant card, though, are probably going to want to keep the card throughout the year.  The reason is that, starting in February, Amex is offering an automatic $20 per month restaurant rebate (but only to those who had the card as of January 1, 2021).  If you max out earnings on this rebate, you’ll get $20 x 11 = $220 back!

Marriott Bonvoy (né SPG) Card: You can still get one

Before Marriott acquired Starwood hotels, the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Amex card was a widespread favorite for frequent flyers.  The SPG card was eventually converted to the Marriott Bonvoy card shown above.  While this $95 card is no longer considered one of the better rewards cards on the market, it is useful for those who can get good value from the card’s annual 35K free night certificate, and 15 elite nights.

The Marriott Bonvoy Card is not available to new applicants, but it’s still possible to get one.  Anyone with a Bonvoy Brilliant card can product change to the Bonvoy Card.  If you don’t already have a Bonvoy Brilliant card, you can sign up new (and hopefully qualify for the welcome bonus) and later downgrade to the $95 Bonvoy card.

Dining and wireless credits survive downgrades

For 2021 only, Amex is offering automatic dining and cell-service credits to those who had Delta, Hilton, or Marriott cards as of January 1st.  Dining credits are available for consumer cards and wireless credits are for business cards. Details can be found in these posts:

Amex gives the biggest credits to those with the most expensive cards.  For example, the $450 Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Aspire cards each get $20 per month vs. only $10 per month for the $95 versions of the cards.

Interestingly, the offer you get is based only on what card you had at the beginning of the year.  This can work against you if you upgrade during the year.  For example, if you started the year with the no-fee Hilton card, which gets a $5 monthly dining credit, and then upgraded to the $450 Hilton Aspire, you’ll still get only $5 per month.  On the other hand, it can greatly work in your favor if you go the other way and downgrade to a cheaper card within the same brand.

60 days to reprocess an application

(AKA: Use your existing credit cards to lock in a signup bonus)

credit card due dates

If you apply for an Amex card and are denied, you have 60 days to call to have an application reprocessed under the terms of the original application offer.  This gives people who are over the Amex credit card limit an option to lock in a card bonus for longer.  For example, suppose there’s a great offer ending soon for an Amex credit card, but you’re not ready to sign up yet (for whatever reason).  You could sign up for the offer right before it expires, get denied due to having too many credit cards, and then wait up to 60 days to call to have the application reprocessed.  To get approved at that point, you’ll have to cancel enough credit cards to fit under the credit card limit.  If approved, you’ll qualify for the welcome bonus that you originally applied for even if it is no longer available.

Amex doesn’t usually do hard credit inquiries for existing customers so there’s virtually no risk in locking in an offer this way.  The only real risk I can think of is the possibility that Amex will mess up and approve you despite you being over the credit card limit.

Greg’s answer to the reader’s question

The reader was denied for a Marriott Bonvoy Business card because he currently has 5 Amex credit cards.  He was told that he could get approved if he cancels one of his existing cards.  Here are the Amex credit cards that I think he should definitely keep:

  • Two Hilton Aspire Cards: I think he should keep both of these as long as he can maximize value from the annual $500 in credits. If so, keeping the two cards is like getting two uncapped free Hilton nights each year.
  • Delta Reserve Card: The reader made it clear that he highly values elite Status Boosts earned from this card.  Who am I to argue?

Now we have to decide between the $450 Bonvoy Brilliant card and the $95 Bonvoy card.  Either card can be product changed to the other, so which one he picks to cancel isn’t really all that important.  Assuming both cards are eligible for monthly dining credits this year, we can sum up the cost and value of each card.  The following assumes that the reader has already earned dining credits for January through March and so there are 9 months worth of credits still available:

  • Bonvoy ($95): Get 35K free night + $90 in dining credits
  • Bonvoy Brilliant ($450): Get $300 Marriott rebate, 50K free night, plus $180 in dining credits

If we assume full value for all credits, we can simplify:

  • Bonvoy: Get 35K free night for $5 ($95 annual fee – $90 credit)
  • Bonvoy Brilliant: Get 50K free night for -$30 ($450 – $300 – $180 = -$30)

If the reader can eke out full value from the credits, then the Brilliant card is the one to keep this year.  If the reader decides next year that he’d rather have the $95 card he can then downgrade to that at any time.  In fact, he could downgrade now to the $95 card and he would still keep the $20 per month dining credits for the rest of the year.  One great option is for the reader to wait for the Bonvoy Brilliant’s 50K free night certificate to be deposited to his account and then downgrade to the $95 card.

The reader didn’t want to lose out on his $10 per month dining credits on his legacy Bonvoy card.  If he doesn’t mind signing up later for the Bonvoy Business card, he could wait until late in the year to cancel the $95 consumer card and could then sign up new for the Bonvoy Business card.  On the other hand, if he doesn’t want to lose out on the current business card offer, he could at least wait up to 60 days from when he applied before calling back to close the Bonvoy card and reprocess the Bonvoy Business application.  During that time, he should be able to snag a couple more $10 credits.

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