I have one claim to fame in the points and miles blogging world, and it’s that I was the first one to realize that signing up for Morgan Stanley’s robo-investing platform (“Access”) makes you eligible for a Morgan Stanley Amex Platinum card. Well, I probably wasn’t the first person to realize this, but I was the first person to write about it, thus putting the whole enterprise at risk of being shut down and really fucking over the people who had quietly realized this same thing on their own but who didn’t have such a pathological need to be liked that they then went and blabbed about it on their seldom-read points and miles blogs. Oops.
Anyway, Amex is going on some kind of crazy spree right now where they’re showering anyone and everyone with tidal waves of points. Since these things tend to be cyclical, it’s pretty safe to say that we’re in the “Membership Rewards is drunk at the strip club” phase, which I can only assume will be followed by the “Membership Rewards has a bad hangover and a ton of regret” phase in which they claw back a bunch of points that they retroactively decided were gained via gaming the system. But at least for right now, the gettin’ is awfully good. So far in July, across my various cards, Amex has offered me hundreds of thousands of points through various bonuses (not all of which I can take advantage of, given how high the spending requirements for some of them are). I’ve never seen anything like it since I got into this game.
Flashback: remember in 2015 when the normally-targeted 100k Platinum offer went public for a day, but you had to apply by phone? And so many people went nuts for it that it literally crashed Amex’s phone system? I do, because I was one of the people that called 75 times that day trying to get the damn offer… and now 100k is the standard public offer PLUS some combination of statement credits and/or big spending bonuses on categories like restaurants and groceries for the first six months. All I can think is that Amex is either anticipating that a lot of people are going to dump the Platinum card now that the fee is going up, or that they promised their shiny new partner Equinox a certain number of new members and they need to recruit like crazy.
Inception style flashback-within-a-flashback: remember the time I speculated as to the reason behind why a big company did a thing that they did and people in the comments were like, “What the fuck do you know, you stupid asshole?” I love the internet…
So what does this all have to do with Morgan Stanley? Well, you may remember that, in addition to the Platinum card, there’s also a no-fee co-branded card that earns “full” Membership Rewards points and also can be used to move points to a Morgan Stanley investment account (at a penny per point). I wrote a primer on the Invest With Rewards program a couple years ago that you may want to review if you aren’t familiar, although you probably get the gist.
In the past, this program hasn’t been very popular, given the much more lucrative Schwab equivalent that lets you cash out for 1.25 cents per point. However, perhaps chafing at the liability that gazillions of newly issued Membership Rewards points represents on their books, Amex isn’t really dying to cash them out at such a good rate to your Schwab account anymore, so they’re dropping the rate to 1.1 cents per point. Still better than Morgan Stanley, but not by as much.
More importantly, the no-fee Schwab Amex card earns cash back directly into a Schwab account — not points. That means that if you want to get straight cash for your Membership Rewards balance without paying an annual fee, the Morgan Stanley card is your only option. In addition, the math for why Schwab is still the better option is getting worse and worse — justifying the 1.25 cpp cashout ratio against a $550 annual fee was one thing… 1.1 cpp against $695 is tougher.
Oh but the new credits? Well, here’s what I’ll concede: If you’re an Equinox gym-exercising, baggage-checking, Peacock-watching, Failing New York Times-reading, Audible-listening, Uber-riding, Saks Fifth Avenue-shopping, Centurion lounge-hopping young professional, then you can disregard this post. Likewise, if you’ve already determined that you want to keep a Platinum card indefinitely and you don’t need a free authorized user (which you get with the Morgan Stanley version), the extra 10% in cashout value with Schwab makes sense. For everyone else, it might actually be time to consider giving over one of your Amex slots to the Morgan Stanley card. (I should also mention that I just assume that everyone reading this has gotten the bonus for all extant Platinum card flavors by this point — if not, then that changes the math considerably.)
Especially considering that you’d actually get a $100 sign-up bonus on the Morgan Stanley card (10,000 points, which I’m assuming you’re going to cash out, since that’s the point of this thought experiment), you need to come up with $800 in justification to keep the Schwab card as your Membership Rewards cash value backstop. With any Platinum card becoming harder and harder to justify as the fee balloons, it may actually make more sense to whittle an Amex portfolio down to a solid everyday earner (either Everyday Preferred or Blue Business Plus), a premium situational earner (like the Gold or Green card), and the Morgan Stanley card as a cash backstop.
But why am I talking about keeping a backstop in the first place? This brings us back to the inevitable clawback phase that I’m sure is right around the corner. Amex is getting more creative about limiting peoples’ accounts, and apparently there’s a brand new cruel-and-unusual version of Amex jail where you can visit your points and see them all standing at attention in your account like hundreds of thousands of little Rory Calhouns, but you can’t actually transfer them to any travel partners. Now, perhaps it’s likely that accounts subject to such a restriction would also not be able to use Invest with Rewards, although my point is that it’s good practice to have as many potential options for your Membership Rewards points as possible.
I suppose I should include a quick disclosure that I’m not personally going to do this, but that’s only because I don’t have a Morgan Stanley account anymore, and I don’t want to tie up $5000 in an Access account right now. However, it’s definitely on my radar, especially as my Membership Rewards balance grows thanks to Amex’s July of pure debauchery. Let the good times roll — may they never end!
They’re definitely gonna end.