It’s been some time since American Express tried to shake up the higher end of the rewards card market – but they have just launched a new card which attempts to do just that.
Dubbed ‘American Express Explorer’, it’s positioned with a $395 annual fee which is offset by a yearly $400 travel credit to be used with American Express Travel.
The headline bonus for new American Express customers is 100,000 Membership Rewards Gateway points which convert at 4 points = 3 frequent flyer points in most frequent flyer programs. There’s a $1500 minimum spend within 3 months to trigger the bonus points.
Points earned from ongoing spend are set at a solid 2 Membership Rewards Points per dollar, which equates to 1.5 frequent flyer points per dollar, again for most (but not all) frequent flyer partners.
You’ll also receive access to the American Express lounge in Sydney twice per year without charge – a nice perk for infrequent international travellers in Economy.
|Card||American Express Explorer|
|Loyalty Program||American Express Membership Rewards Gateway|
|Points earned from spend||2 Membership Rewards points earned per $ spent
Transfers to most frequent flyer programs at 4 points = 3 frequent flyer points
|Minimum Income||$65,000 p.a.|
|Included Insurances||Smartphone Screen Insurance, Medical Emergency Expenses Cover, Purchase Protection, Buyer’s Advantage and Refund Protection|
|Annual fee||$395 p.a.|
Effective Frequent Flyer Program Point Earn Rates
|Frequent Flyer Program||Points earned from spend|
|Velocity Points||1.5 points / $|
|Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles||1.5 Mile / $|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1.5 Mile / $|
Earning points with the American Express Explorer
The card belongs to the American Express Membership Rewards Gateway program for points earn and redemption. We’ve covered Membership Rewards in depth, and frequently, on Point Hacks – our full guide is here.
Read the full guide to American Express Membership Rewards points programRead the Guide →
The headline points earn rate on spend is 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar, but as this card belongs to Membership Rewards Gateway, that’s equal to 1.5 frequent flyer points (in Velocity, KrisFlyer, Asia Miles and most other frequent flyer programs) per dollar spent.
You’ll also earn the full points on the Explorer card for utilities and bills, unlike some other cards American Express offers. This means you’ll get full points on ‘telecommunications’ and ‘utilities’ , but not on government charges – such as ATO and Australia Post.
The decision to put the Amex Explorer into the Gateway flavour of Membership Rewards is an interesting one – as it adds a little bit of confusion to the value of the points from this card – it’s otherwise a card with simple, effective features. It’s the second mainstream card to link to the Gateway after the recent launch of the no fee American Express Essential card.
Let’s simplify the points earned on Amex Explorer. Membership Rewards Gateway points transfer out to most frequent flyer programs at a lower rate than other Membership Rewards linked cards, which lowers the value of the signup bonus and the ongoing earn rates.
That doesn’t mean that the points bonus and earn rate on the Amex Explorer is poor – far from it – but does mean it can’t be compared on a like-for-like basis with most of the other cards in the Membership Rewards range.
Until recently, Membership Rewards points, such as those earned from the American Express Platinum Edge or Platinum Charge, have mostly been earned by cards linked with the Membership Rewards ‘Ascent’ flavour of Membership Rewards.
The simple thing about Membership Rewards Ascent is that 1 Membership Rewards point transfers to 1 frequent flyer point – that’s true for Velocity, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and most others too.
Membership Rewards Gateway however links to most frequent flyer programs at 4 Membership Rewards points equal to 3 frequent flyer points – so the signup bonus and points earn rates are as shown below.
|American Express Gateway Rewards Partners||Transfer Rates|
Malaysian Airlines Enrich
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
THAI Royal Orchid Plus
Velocity Frequent Flyer
|1 Membership Rewards points = 0.75 frequent flyer point|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||100 Membership Rewards points = 0.75 Airpoint Dollar|
American Express Travel Online
David Jones Pay with points
American Express Foreign Exchange
eGift Cards and Gift Cards
Select+Pay with points
Points for Credit Card
|13,500 Membership Rewards points = $100 travel reward|
In summary, 1 Membership Rewards point on this card is not 1 frequent flyer point – that’s a shame.
$400 Annual Travel Credit with Amex Travel
We’ve written about Amex Travel previously – it’s the travel booking service that Amex offers to most of its cardholders for either preferential rates or bonus points.
As a cardholder, the $400 credit appears in your account on the Amex Travel website and can be redeemed for flights, hotels, car hire and any other experiences available through Amex Travel.
The great thing about the travel credit, by comparison to a free flight or hotel benefit, is that you can use it for anything bookable through Amex Travel – it’s just way more flexible. Prefer to pay for Business or First Class? You can use the credit to offset these costs. Same for any flight, on any route, that Amex Travel sell online.
One thing about the credit you should be aware of – it’s not generally refundable if you decide to cancel your booking, which is not ideal, but make sure you factor that into your decision as to when and where to use it.
The credit is renewed yearly after your annual fee is charged – i.e. around the time you pay your annual fee in future years, the new $400 credit will show in your Amex Travel account once again.
If you make even just one trip a year where you can use the credit, the $400 travel credit is nearly as good as cash and massively helps to offset the $395 annual fee of the card – just remember the restrictions around having to book through Amex Travel, and that it’s non-refundable.
Amex Explorer Card Design
Anyone familiar with points-earning credit cards may have heard of the American Express Centurion card – this is the invite-only, several thousand dollar per year Charge Card offered to high-net worth and high-spending individuals, and reportedly comes with a range of exclusive benefits.
The Centurion card is made out of a hunk of metal, and is shown on the left below:
Amex has decided to up the ante with the aspirational value of the Explorer card (on the right above) by placing the Centurion motif front and centre, just as they’ve done with the Amex Essential and Platinum Charge cards.
I would guess the similarity in the design of these latest round of cards is not a coincidence, but it does leave some of the Amex’ existing card designs (such as for the Platinum Edge) out of sync with their current thinking.
Included Travel Insurances
As usual with the included insurances with credit cards it’s not really possible to make a solid recommendation – each insurance is usually good for different reasons and different people.
The Explorer comes with the following headline insurance policies:
- Smartphone Screen Insurance – up to $500 of screen repairs if you accidentally break your smartphone screen, with a 10% claim excess
- Medical Emergency Expenses Cover – up to $2,500,000 towards medical treatment
- Travel Cancellation Cover – up to $30,000 in the event that your travel is cancelled for specific reasons
- Baggage, Money and Documentation Cover – up to $10,000 to cover loss or damage to baggage, money or documents
- Travel Inconvenience Insurance – up to $500 if your flight departure is delayed for four hours or more
One example of the coverage included – the travel insurance has similar car rental ‘loss damage waiver’ cover as its big brother, the $1,200 p.a. Platinum Charge card – just with a slightly lower total vehicle value cover of $100,000.
Worth noting – the smartphone screen insurance coverage is activated when you are paying for your smartphone contract, or paid for your phone outright, on your Explorer Card.
Similar conditions, just like most other credit card insurances, apply to the travel insurances – you’ll need to have paid for the travel expenses on your card, with Amex Travel Credit, or with your Membership Rewards points to be covered.
You can read the PDS for the insurance benefits of the Explorer Card here.
This guide references some of the benefits of insurance policies provided with this credit card.
You should read the PDS and obtain independent professional advice before obtaining this product.
Our take on the American Express Explorer
This is a very compelling new card proposition from Amex.
If you have been using a black bank card like ANZ Black or Westpac Altitude Black then the effective frequent flyer points earn rates for spend with the American Express Explorer are comparable or even better, and with a broader range of transfer partners.
Offers on other banks’ black cards have been very aggressive over the last year, backed by no annual fee deals with chunks of bonus points.
However the wider range of points transfer partners and the $400 travel credit are likely to make the Amex Explorer a more appealing proposition to have in your wallet for ongoing use.
Each year the $395 annual fee is being more than rebated by the $400 travel credit, with the main consideration being that you’ll need to use it by booking through Amex Travel.
When it comes to earning points, it also could work well for people whose spend are not focused on the bonus categories found with other Amex-issued cards – such as supermarkets and fuel with the Platinum Edge, or dining, travel and overseas spend with the Platinum Charge or Velocity Platinum.
The lack of bonus categories, but with a high effective frequent flyer point earn rate, means that it’s simple to consider just how many points you might be earning, and whether the card will work for you.
If weighing up against a ‘black’ bank American Express and Visa/MasterCard companion account, then the American Express cards with those accounts generally have comparable points earn rates, and of course you don’t get a linked Visa or MasterCard with this account.
However most bank companion Visa/Mastercards offer quite low points earn rates anyway, so you may be better off looking at a standalone Visa or MasterCard if you are looking to maximise your points earn. It does add some complexity though.
Talking of complexity, the fact that the card is on the Membership Rewards Gateway program also adds some confusion, which hopefully we cleared up in the section on points earn above. You just need to remember not to compare the points earn and bonuses with other Membership Rewards Ascent cards, and keep in mind the effective earn rates to frequent flyer programs when comparing to other bank cards.
All up, this is a card tailored to those looking for simplicity – high points earn from your spend, a large travel credit, insurance coverage, and two Amex lounge visits at Sydney Airport.
This post first appeared on Point Hacks - The Best Frequent Flyer Deals & Offers In Australia., please read the originial post: here