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.
Inside this review
- High points earning rate
- Boost the points rate even higher
- Bonus points offer
- Redeeming Membership Rewards points
- Free travel voucher every year
- Two airport lounge passes every year
- $US100 hotel credit
- Complimentary insurance policies
- American Express Experiences
- But Amex cards aren’t accepted everywhere
- Why would you switch to this card?
- Take a look at the competition
High points earning rate
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:
- 2.0 points per dollar on all purchases, except
- 1.0 points per dollar on government purchases (ATO, Australia Post, local government rates &c)
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.
Boost the points rate even higher
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.
Bonus points offer
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.
Redeeming Membership Rewards points
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:
- Transfer points to frequent flyer programs with Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.
- Book flights, accommodation and tours with Helloworld, Webjet and American Express Travel Online.
- Convert Membership Rewards points to hotel program points with Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy.
- Redeem your points for foreign currency at an American Express Currency Exchange store
- Shop with points at David Jones Online and Ticketmaster
- Swap points for a range of retail, entertainment or travel gift cards, e.g. a combined Coles Group & Myer Gift Card
- Get a credit on your card account, effectively converting points into cash.
Free travel voucher every year
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.
Two airport lounge passes every year
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.
$US100 hotel credit
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 $US100 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.
Complimentary insurance policies
No travellers’ card would be complete without complimentary travel insurance. But there’s much, much more. Here’s what you’ll get:
- Domestic travel insurance, for the primary cardholder and accompanying family members, covering luggage, flight delays, missed connections, unavoidable trip cancellation and personal liability
- Annual multi-trip overseas travel insurance, providing all the domestic travel insurance benefits plus emergency medical expenses
- Transport accident cover, delivering cash compensation for serious injuries sustained on public transport and planes
- Purchase protection insurance, covering personal items against loss, theft or accidental damage for 90 days after purchase
- Extended warranty insurance, doubling the manufacturer’s Australian warranty, up to a maximum of 12 additional months
- Refund protection cover – if a retailer refuses to let you return an unused item, up to 90 days after you bought it, Amex will refund the purchase price (up to $500)
- Car rental insurance excess waiver, for both international rentals and domestic rentals more than 150 km from your home
- Smartphone screen cover reimburses up to $500 of the repair cost each time a cardholder’s phone screen is accidentally damaged
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.
American Express Experiences
Cardholders receive access to pre-sales tickets for premium events, and specially-curated dining experiences around the world.
Amex Offers program
The Amex Offers program provides regularly updated discounts and cashback offers for shoppers and travellers. There’s an app available if you want to see live offers on your phone.
Predictable interest rate
Cash advances are not available with this card, and the interest rate on purchases balances carried over to the following month is at the higher end of credit card interest rates. Therefore, don’t choose this card to see you through even temporary liquidity problems. It’s a card designed, not for someone likely to be paying interest, but for a person keen to preserve and enjoy their existing comfortable financial position.
The card is compatible with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay, apps which convert your smartphone into a secure digital wallet. It’s fast and convenient.
Service and security
You expect and deserve world-class service and security with a card like this, and you’ll get it. As well as 24/7 priority service you will enjoy an online fraud protection guarantee. If you lose your card, or if it is stolen, Amex assures you that they will replace it “virtually anywhere in the world”.
But Amex cards aren’t accepted everywhere
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.
Why would you switch to this card?
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.
Take a look at the competition
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.