Point Hacks Credit Card Guide

American Express Essential Guide

The American Express Essential Card comes with a range of benefits that are appealing to the mainstream consumer – but not necessarily those that are reward points focused. I’d say that rewards points are a benefit of the card, rather than a focus.

The card has no annual fee (as a feature of the card, not an offer), comes with smartphone screen insurance, and 0% on balance transfers for 12 months.

Who’s the American Express Essential Card for?

This card will likely suit those:

  • who are averse to cards with high annual fees and are looking for a no or low annual fee card that still earns rewards points
  • who may not meet the income threshold for premium credit cards
  • where the higher cost of a premium credit card outweighs the benefit of the card’s additional features, due to your income or spending being too low to either use these features or obtain maximum value from them
  • those who want to start earning points from their credit card spend with little risk

Digging into the details of the American Express Essential card

Card Details

CardAmerican Express Essential
Loyalty ProgramAmerican Express Membership Rewards Gateway
Points earned from spend1 Membership Rewards points earned per $ spent
Included insurancesSmartphone Screen Insurance, Purchase Protection, Buyer’s Advantage and Refund Protection
Overseas transaction fee3% of the converted amount
Minimum income$40,000 p.a.
Annual fee$0

Effective Frequent Flyer Program Point Earn Rates

Frequent Flyer ProgramPoints earned from spend
Velocity Points0.75 point / $
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles0.75 Mile / $
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles0.75 Mile / $

Consider this card the little, hipster brother of the Platinum Edge. The card looks very cool, with a neat pearlescent cream and dark blue design that I haven’t seen on any other American Express card globally before.

American Express Essential Card

Earning points with the American Express Essential card

I’ll start with the points angle first. The Essential Card earns points into Membership Rewards Gateway, not Membership Rewards Ascent.

Gateway has lower transfer rates out to a smaller number of partners than Ascent, with 1 Membership Rewards point equal to 0.75 airline points in Velocity Frequent Flyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and some others.

The full list of airline and frequent flyer partners in the Membership Rewards Gateway program are:

American Express Essential Guide was last modified: November 8th, 2018 by Keith

All frequent flyer program partners have a transfer rate out to Membership Rewards of 4 Membership Rewards = 3 frequent flyer points, except for Air New Zealand which is 400 Membership Rewards points = 3 Airpoints Dollars.

American Express Gateway Rewards PartnersTransfer Rates
Asia Miles
Emirates Skywards
Etihad Guest
Malaysian Airlines Enrich
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
THAI Royal Orchid Plus
Velocity Frequent Flyer
1 Membership Rewards point = 0.75 frequent flyer point
Marriott Rewards-Starwood Preferred Guest3 Membership Rewards points = 2 Marriott points
Hilton Honors1 Membership Rewards point = 1 Honors point
Air New Zealand Airpoints100 Membership Rewards points = 0.75 Airpoints
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

The effective earn rate on the American Express Essential for most airline partners is 0.75 frequent flyer points earned per $.

With the Amex Essential there’s the usual Amex restriction of earning 0.5 points per dollar spent with utilities, insurance, telecommunications providers and government bodies.

It’s worth noting that Membership Rewards Ascent, a feature of the $195 Platinum Edge, offers a greater number of transfer partners compared to Membership Rewards Gateway, and an increased transfer rates of (generally) 1 Membership Rewards point to 1 airline mile.

You can also redeem your Membership Rewards points for gift cards from Helloworld travel and a range of others at 13,500 Membership Rewards = $100 credit – and for credit with American Express Travel, David Jones and a range of other partners.

However, frequent flyer points should always offer more value than these immediate redemption partners.

The card is also eligible for Amex Offers, which provide American Express cardholders with rotating promotions and discounts for a variety of products and services, as well as the Local Champion game, where cardholders use the Amex app to earn additional bonus point per $ spent at retailers where they shop the most.

Other benefits of American Express Essential

Beyond points, this is where American Express is trying to innovate a little with this card – primarily with the Smartphone Screen Insurance is unique in the market as a credit card insurance offering, and it will cover you for screen repairs up to $500, with a 10% excess on the claim.

For those with slippery fingers or pockets and with no other insurance that would cover this (like your home and contents) then this could be worth a few hundred dollars in case of breakage.

Otherwise, there are also insurances like:

  1. Purchase Protection – covering breakage or theft of an item up to 90 days after purchase
  2. Buyer’s Advantage – extending the manufacturer’s warranty on items
  3. Refund Protection – if you’re refused a refund on an unused item within 90 days of purchase

The PDS of the full set of insurances for the Essential is here.

Half the battle with these insurances is that you have to remember you have access to them as a cardholder when things go wrong, so have a read of the PDS and mentally file them away if you become a card member.

American Express Apple Pay & Android Pay support

American Express cards support both Apple Pay & Android Pay, meaning you can use this card on your smartphone for easier payments. Find out more in our guides for each of the compatible services.

American Express Essential Guide was last modified: November 8th, 2018 by Keith

Other no annual fee points-earning cards in the market

There are few no annual fee points-earning cards out there (although there are few with low fees, under $100).

As a result, American Express other no annual fee points-earning cards, the Qantas Discovery Card and Velocity Escape Card, are the main alternative products.

The Qantas Discovery Card earns 1 Qantas point per $, while the Velocity Escape earns 1 Velocity point per $ spent. Both cards also have the reduced earn rate of 0.5 points per $ for transactions to Government / Utilities, but neither come with the smartphone screen insurance.

Otherwise, most people looking to maximise their Membership Rewards points earn should look at the Platinum Edge, with it’s pumped up earn rate at Supermarkets of 3 points per $, and better transfer rates to the full set of Membership Rewards airline and hotel partners.

The Edge’s $195 fee is also offset by the value of the $200 Travel Credit each year.

Summing Up

The Essential card will suit both those who are after frequent flyer and travel rewards benefits, as well as those who are not totally hooked on rewards and frequent flyer points but do want to ensure they are getting some kickback for using their credit card for their everyday purchases.

For the travel reward seeker, the Membership Rewards Gateway program has a great selection of airline and hotel partners.

With points available to be used for pay for purchases at David Jones or to offset any charge on your statement, and with Amex Offers on the card as well, there’s appeal to many bargain-hunters who aren’t going to go after all the frequent flyer redemptions out there as well.

American Express also offer Apple Pay integration allowing easy payment for iPhone users, and given the no annual fee, does provide a number of benefits with no ongoing ‘cost’ to hold the card if you’re not carrying a balance on the account.

American Express Essential Guide was last modified: November 8th, 2018 by Keith

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  1. Interesting – looks like the charge card but it’s in fact a credit card.

    Assuming one already has an Ascent account, does this then mean you have two separate rewards accounts (just like if you had an Ascent and Ascent Premium account)?

      • Just thought I’d provide an update: Amex were kind enough (without even me asking!) to roll the Ascent points into the Ascent Premium account. My Ascent points disappeared for a few days so I called up to ask what was going on and was advised that they were in the process of being rolled over. Checked this morning and they’re there! 🙂

Links to this article

  1. American Express Explorer and Essential Smartphone Screen Insurance

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