American Express is laying down a serious challenge to its market rivals with its ultra-competitive American Express Explorer Credit Card, a premium rewards card aimed at the well-heeled leisure and business traveller. The benefits attached to the card are extensive but finely-tuned to deliver the maximum benefit to travellers at minimum cost – in fact, effectively zero net cost.
This is a rewards credit card linked to the American Express Membership Rewards Gateway program. It has the least complicated and most inclusive points earning rate of all high-tier American Express Membership Rewards personal credit cards. The rates are:
Many credit cards do not allow any points at all to be earned on ATO payments, so earning 1.0 points per dollar on government payments is a significant benefit. There’s also no monthly or annual points cap. This is in contrast to many competing cards which have restrictive absolute caps, or points thresholds which, when reached, cause the points earning rate to drop significantly.
Points earning can be boosted temporarily by shopping with Amex bonus partners. Download the American Express mobile app to be alerted to the existence of bonus partners wherever you happen to be.
You can also receive bonus points for referring a friend who successfully applies for the same card, under the American Express referral program.
Membership Rewards points never expire, provided your card account remains open.
Your points account balance will be boosted at the very start, with a gratifying bonus points offer. Simply spend at least $3,000 in the first three months – a relatively modest target that many people will be able to achieve via everyday spending – and a huge number of valuable bonus points will be added to your account.
This offer is not available to anyone who has, in the previous 18 months, held any card directly issued by American Express.
American Express does not operate its own merchandise catalogue. Instead, it gives you plenty of options to use points for travel, but you can still choose to shop with points or use them to get a credit on your account. The choices are:
The annual fee for this card won’t bother you, because every year after you pay your annual fee, you’ll receive a credit to spend with American Express Travel Online for an amount more or less equivalent to the annual card fee. It can be used for flights, hotels, tours or car hire, for yourself or someone else. Use it every year and your card, with all its attendant benefits, is effectively free.
The benefits keep rolling in. Every year you’ll also receive two free passes to the highly-regarded American Express Lounge at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport or Melbourne International airport, with complimentary access for your accompanying children under the age of 18.
Given that you’d need to pay $55 per person to access the lounge once you’ve used your two visits for the year, this benefit alone is worth $110 per year.
Here’s yet another travel perk. If you book two consecutive nights at any hotel belonging to The Hotel Collection program, you’ll receive a US $100 credit, plus a room upgrade when available. The Hilton Sydney, the Intercontinental Double Bay in Sydney and the Grand Hyatt and Intercontinental in Melbourne are all members of The Hotel Collection.
No travellers’ card would be complete without complimentary travel insurance. But there’s much, much more. Here’s what you’ll get:
Cover is activated by paying for the item with the card or points, or paying trip fares with the card, or points, or the $400 travel credit.
Cardholders receive access to pre-sales tickets for premium events, and specially-curated dining experiences around the world.
You can’t derive benefit from a card you can’t use, and there’s no getting away from the fact that Amex cards are still declined more frequently than Visa or Mastercard, or attract a higher surcharge.
But look at it this way. Even if you choose to redeem your points for retail gift cards (generally agreed to give a lower-value return than airline points), you’ll get a decent return for your spending, which means you can afford to pay a surcharge of up to around 1.0% without being any worse off.
Just pull out your Amex card at every possible opportunity, but keep a low-fee or no-fee Visa or Mastercard in your wallet for those few occasions when your Amex card is waved away.
Anyone contemplating switching to this card will almost certainly have arrived at a stage where travel and special experiences are an affordable and desirable adjunct to their lifestyle. For them, the American Express Explorer Credit Card is a travel facilitator. Rewards points, bonus points, lounge passes, travel insurance and the annual $400 travel credit combine to make this card virtually irresistible, because it brings the next journey closer while being effectively cost-free.
It’s no secret that Amex has other premium travel cards in their sights. They are trying to woo you away from cards like the Westpac Altitude Black Credit Card and the NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card. They are both in the same premium benefits category as the Amex card, with similar annual fees, and they are worth checking out. But neither of them has a $400 travel credit to offset the annual fee, year after year.
Reviewed by Yvonne Taylor
Lead Product Analyst