Amex Train: How to redeem a business class around-the-world trip with American Express credit cards

I know you’ve heard stories about people travelling around the world by applying for credit cards and getting huge signup bonuses. Heck, I myself have applied for some of the best travel credit cards in Canada to take advantage of the bonuses, but how does a typical couple do it who isn’t interested in applying for 15 credit cards?

With American Express credit cards and the flexibility of their points, it’s surprisingly easy to accumulate points fast. Known as the Amex train, this strategy is when you apply for specific American Express credit cards and then merge or transfer your points so you can create the perfect itinerary.

Before you continue reading, note that this strategy should only be used if you can pay off the full balance every month. There’s no point in earning points if you’re going to be paying 20%+ in interest charges.

Amex train

American Express Membership Rewards

First off, the American Express Membership Rewards (MR) program is arguably the best travel program in Canada for two main reasons: it’s the most flexible and it’s the program for which you can accumulate the most points on a short period of time. For this reason, there are five Amex cards giving MR points that make my list of top travel credit cards.

The flexibility of Membership Rewards

Amex MR points are highly valuable due to their great range of possibilities. Points can be used via the Amex travel portal or through the Amex fixed points programs, but the key feature of AMEX Membership Rewards is that you can also convert your points to many other travel loyalty programs. For example, you can get any of the following for 10,000 MR points:

  • 10,000 Aeroplan miles
  • 10,000 Avios miles
  • 7,500 Delta, Asia, Alitalia or Ethitad miles
  • 12,000 Marriott points
  • 10,000 Hilton points
  • $100 in travel credit
  • $100 in statement credit (if the points come from a Platinum business card)
  • $70 in statement credit

Accumulating large amounts of Amex Membership Rewards points quickly

There are currently five cards where you earn Membership Rewards:

  • American Express Platinum Card
  • American Express Business Platinum Card
  • American Express Gold Rewards Card
  • American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
  • American Express Cobalt

Each of these cards has huge sign-up bonuses, so you can pile a significant amount of points quickly.

Here is an example of a couple (Alex and Sam) that would each sign-up for these cards and refer each other when possible for bonus points. The list of all cards with their key features can be found further below.

  • Alex signs up for the Business Platinum (75K bonus with my referral link + 8.75K on spending)
  • Alex refers Sam (25K) to Business Platinum (83.75K)
  • Alex signs up for the Personal Platinum (60K bonus with my referral link + 6.25K on spending)
  • Alex refers Sam (15K) to the Personal Platinum (60K bonus + 6.25K on spending)the
  • Alex closes his Business Platinum as they want to sign-up to business gold and you can’t hold the Business Gold and Business Platinum at the same time
  • Sam refers Alex (25K) from his Business Platinum to the Business Gold (40K bonus + 5K on spending)
  • Alex refers Sam (10K) to Business Gold (40K bonus + 5K on spending)
  • Sam signs up for the Personal Gold (25K bonus + 2.5K on spending)
  • Sam refers Alex (5K) to Personal Gold (25K bonus + 2.5K on spending)

After reaching the minimum spend on these 4 cards, they would have by now both spent $19,500 to and have paid $1,398 in net annual fees. Sam would have 252,500 MR points plus and Alex would have 272,500 MR points. To maximize this strategy, you need to start with a referral link so you get the extra 10,000 points.

I should also note that every time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score takes a hit of 10 points, but that will go back up after a few months of making payments. If you’re going to follow this Amex train strategy, it’s probably best to spread out your applications.

amex train australia

Making a round the world trip for 165,000 MR

When looking into details on the Aeroplan award redemption chart, you will notice that a business round-trip ticket to Australia can be redeemed for 165,000 Aeroplan miles. Since Membership Rewards can be converted 1:1 to Aeroplan, you can get a round-trip ticket to Australia for 165,000 MR.

A little known, but very valuable feature of the Aeroplan program is that when you are travelling to another continent, you are allowed one destination (1 to 330 days) plus two stopovers (1 to 330 days) and up to 16 layovers (less than 24 hours). Taking advantage of this feature has been nicknamed doing a mini round the world (or mini-rtw).

This means that someone can make a round the world trip for 160,000 miles. Here is an example:

  • Canada – San Francisco (layover of 23 hours)
  • San Francisco – Tokyo (layover of 23 hours)
  • Tokyo- Beijing (layover of 23 hours)
  • Beijing – Melbourne (destination – 3 weeks)
  • Melbourne – Singapore (layover 23 hours)
  • Singapore – Bangkok (stopover – 2 weeks)
  • Bangkok – Istanbul (layover 23 hours)
  • Istanbul – Vienna (layover 23 hours)
  • Vienna – Zurich (stopover 2 weeks)
  • Zurich- Canada

This would all be in business class on some of the best airlines and planes of the world. Not only does travelling on business class give you better seats, but it also gives you access to business class perks such as free food and drinks in planes, access to business class airport lounges and free luggage. If you were to pay for the above itinerary, it would cost you roughly $15,000+.

Note that this itinerary can’t be booked online. You need to call Aeroplan and give them the list all flights that you want to do. If you need help redeeming such an itinerary, there are a few agencies that specialize in award booking and can help you for a fee.

Final numbers

After each spending $19,500 on 4 Amex cards and having paid $1,398 in annual fees, Sam and Alex would have more than enough points to redeem an around the world trip on 4 different continents in business class. They will even have 87,500 MR and 107,500 MR left respectively which can be redeemed for 3 round-trip (4 for Alex) flights in North America on Aeroplan or be combined for 234,000 Marriott Rewards points. Alternatively, the points can also be used as $875 / $1,075 in statement credits to lower net annual fees to $523 / $323. That’s one heck of a return for riding the Amex train.

You might be saying to yourself, how is it worth spending $19,500 to get a round the world ticket that’s only worth $15,000? Well, the idea is that you would have spent that $19,500 on anyways so you’re just maximizing the points you get in return. If you used a regular cash-back card witht same spend, you’d only be getting back at max $400 and that assumes a 2% return.

Adding the AMEX Cobalt

Once Alex and Sam have done all 4 Amex Platinum and gold cards, they can refer from the personal gold (5K) to the Cobalt card. If they each spend $500 per month in food coded merchants (this would include any purchase in a grocery store including gift cards, so $500 per month should be easy to do), they would each get 2,500 MR-S from spending plus 2,500 MR-S as a bonus each month.

So for a total of 60,000 MR-S each after 12 months for $6,000 and $120 in fees. This can be pooled for 144,000 Marriott points for stays or be used as $600 each in travel credit, reducing almost to zero all the annual fees to acquire enough points for an around the world trip of a lifetime!

With the American Express Cobalt card, you hear Membership Reward Select (MR-S) points which are slightly less valuable than regular MR cards, but can still be transferred to Marriott at the 1,000:1,200 ratio.

List of American Express credit cards giving Membership Rewards

  • AMEX personal Platinum see full review here
    • $699 annual fees (minus $200 annual travel credit = $499 net)
    • 60,000 MR points after spending $5,000 (via referral link)
    • 15,000 MR points per referral (Platinum cards and business gold)
    • 1.25 MR per dollar spent
    • Best perks for a travel credit card in Canada
  • AMEX Business Platinum see full review here
    • $499 annual fees
    • 60,000 MR points after spending $7,000 (via referral link)
    • 15,000 MR points per referral (Platinum cards and business gold)
    • 1.25 MR per dollar spent
  • AMEX personal gold see full review here
    • $150 annual fees
    • 25,000 MR points after spending $1,500
    • 5,000 MR points per referral (personal gold and Cobalt)
    • 2 MR per dollar spent on gas, grocery, drugstores and travel
    • 1 MR per dollar spent elsewhere
  • AMEX business gold see full review here
    • $250 annual fees
    • 40,000 MR points after spending $5,000 (via referral link)
    • 5,000 MR points per referral (Platinum cards and business gold)
    • 2 MR per dollar spent on 3 selected suppliers
    • 1 MR per dollar spent elsewhere
  • AMEX Cobalt see full review here
    • $10 monthly fees
    • 2,500 MR-S points after spending $500 each month (first year)
    • 5,000 MR-S points per referral (personal gold and Cobalt)
    • 5 MR per dollar spent on food (grocery, restaurant, bars…)
    • 2 MR per dollar spent on travel and transport (flights, hotels, gas, taxi…)
    • Note that MR-S can’t be converted into airline miles

Final thoughts

Following the Amex train isn’t for everyone, but the idea here is to educate you about how valuable American Express cards can be if you want to travel the world on points. If you don’t want to apply for a ton of credit cards, just focus on one or two from my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada.

By |2018-12-01T08:55:57+00:00September 3rd, 2018|Budget Travel, Credit cards, Personal Finance|

9 Comments

  1. Steve September 4, 2018 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    From the changes with the Amex Gold (personal), they stop people from cancelling and re-applying again to get the welcome bonus. So your strategy is good, but I believe it’s only good for one time. I haven’t read about T&C for the platinum personal/business, but wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the same deal.

    • Barry Choi September 5, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Oh I’m sure Amex discourages churning. I wrote the post to sort of inspire people and to teach them how valuable sign up bonuses are referrals can be. It’s definitely not a tactic that everyone should follow.

  2. Laura September 7, 2018 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Awesome article and suggestions. Your example is a great demonstration that with some planning it is more than worthwhile! I have always wanted to do point maximization and earn a free trip but have been worried it would cost too much in annual fees.Is there anyway to limit the fees? Even if it means less lucrative points?

    • Barry Choi September 7, 2018 at 9:08 pm - Reply

      Laura,

      You can’t really limit those fees since any cards with no fee don’t have lucrative signup bonuses. I like to think of the fees as prepaying for my travel. Yes, the fee may be $120 for a card, but I’m getting $600 – $1,000 in travel points, that’s worth it.

  3. Laura September 8, 2018 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    True! Might be the time to try it out!

  4. Allan November 29, 2018 at 4:47 am - Reply

    I like the Amex points plan you laid out. I have a similar plan that currently sees us in New Zealand , biz class, all on Amex points (mostly bonus points).
    Re. Your AC Air Canada, stop over layover Round the World itinerary. Is it realistic to expect AC to route you so oddly to get sll those stops and lay overs in. Won’t they insist on giving you to most direct route?

    Also, I have trouble getting even simple trips and flights with Aeroplan. I can’t imagine that seats would be avail for all those flights, esp w the 23 hour stopover condition. Is it realistic in a practial sense?

    • Barry Choi November 29, 2018 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Allan,

      Air Canada doesn’t openly show those routes, but based on their own rules, it would qulify. You just need to find the individual legs and then call Aeropln to stitch them together.

      It is practical, it just takes time to figure out. If you’re lazy like me, you could always pay someone to do it for you e.g. Prince of Travel or https://www.awardmagic.com/

  5. Mike December 7, 2018 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    We’ve done Australia and NZ twice in business class using Aeroplan points. However, there are one or two things to remember. Firstly, unless you are prepared to pay quite a bit in fuel and other surcharges you need to avoid certain of the Aeroplan partners, including Air Canada. (We travelled United to Chicago, ANA to Tokyo, Air NZ to Auckland, Asiana from Sydney to Chicago via Seoul, and United back to Ottawa). By doing this we avoided pretty well all surcharges and saved around $600 per ticket. The other point is that it is very difficult to get two business class tickets to Australia, NZ, Japan and other popular destinations.
    You need to start looking for availability as soon as seats open up (around a year in advance) and you need to be very persistent. Sometimes there will only be a couple of Aeroplan seats available on each flight. You will also find that Aeroplan will offer you itineraries where only one short leg is in business class and the rest in economy, while charging you for a full business class trip. Also, some business class seats on these flights don’t open up until the last minute, so you have to be both alert and very flexible. Note also, that it is much easier to get reward seats under United’s frequent flyer plan than it is under Aeroplan. (Of course this could all change as AC takes back control of Aeroplan.)

    • Barry Choi December 7, 2018 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      Mike,

      All very good points. Being flexible is key.

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