If you’ve landed here, you’ll probably want to see our updated article that discusses some additional data points on the Amex Hilton and Marriott cards.
Over the past few months, several credit cards introduced promotional short-term bonus earning categories for purchases at grocery stores. We tested many of these promotions with gift card purchases, some to great success and some to great failure.
Several of these promotions expire on July 31, so we wanted to provide data points that can assist Middle Age Miles readers in making decisions in these last few days. Other promotions ended back on June 30, but the data points on our efforts may be quite instructive to inform our decisions and risk-reward tradeoffs for future promotions.
- We had substantial problems with grocery store GC purchases using Amex cards when purchasing in any meaningful volume
- As a corollary, we believe that once we were on Amex’s radar screen as making large grocery purchases on a card, it may have resulted in Amex taking a closer look at other cards where our grocery purchase volume was lower
- We have not had any problems with grocery store GC purchases using Chase or Citi cards and have received all promotional points associated with Chase and Citi offers
Our Purchase Methodology
Before diving into the data points, it’s worth a note about how we purchased GCs at grocery stores. We tried to take certain steps that we hoped would help reduce the risk that bonus points would not post. On each grocery store GC purchase, we:
- Purchased only 1 GC, for $500; and
- Always included at least 1 other “real grocery” item with our purchase
As a result, our purchase amounts were variable, although of course clustered around the $500 mark. Purchase amounts ranged from about $497 (GCs purchased with a $10 off promotion from Safeway-family stores) to about $530.
Data Points on Various Cards
Amex Hilton Aspire
The Aspire card was where we took our biggest swing and where we’ve suffered the biggest disappointment. We really liked the uncapped earning at 12x Hilton Honors (HH) points. Plus, on one Aspire card, we were shooting to get up to $60,000 annual spend to earn an additional Free Weekend Night Certificate.
We note that the Amex terms and conditions say that “purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of any cash equivalents” are not “eligible purchases” to earn points. On the other hand, in our experience Amex has always awarded bonus points for supermarket spend on co-branded cards, even if the purchases included gift cards. For instance, in the past we have used the 6x bonus category on the Amex Hilton Surpass card to help us reach the $15,000 annual threshold to earn a Free Weekend Night Certificate on that card, and we’ve earned the 6x bonus points with no issues.
This time, though, the result was different. Amex has not awarded HH points for large supermarket spend. We actually earned HH points on our first statement that closed during the promotional period, as had been business-as-usual in the past, but not on the rest.
Here are the details (we’ll refer to our 2 Aspire cards as “Aspire6” and “Aspire7” to help keep them separate):
Statement #1 – Aspire7 – Closed 5/12/20:
- Total charges = $5,878 (all groceries; most purchases ~$500 (but not all))
- HH points earned = 64,056
All points posted to our HH account within a few days of the statement closing date. We also earned Hilton Honors base points for these purchases (for lifetime & annual elite status qualification purposes), as we discussed in detail in this article.
Everything looked good at this point, and we ramped up our grocery spending.
Statement #2 – Aspire7 – Closed 6/11/20:
- Total charges = $16,485 (all groceries except for a Hilton Garden Inn charge for $258; most grocery purchases ~$500 (but not all))
- HH points that should have been earned = 198,312
Right around the time this statement closed, we began seeing reports of people not receiving their HH points within a few days after their statement closed. Thus, for almost the entire period of this statement, we were operating under the assumption that 12x HH points would post as expected, just as they had done on our May Aspire7 statement.
In addition, the data points of people not receiving HH points were ambiguous. Several months beforehand, Amex had introduced a new policy allowing it several weeks after the statement closing date to post HH points. That policy went into effect on May 1, so one possibility was that Amex was simply delaying the posting of HH points under the new policy. In addition, we didn’t see any data points at that time of people being denied HH points. Within a few days, though, we saw data points where people had been told by Amex that their account was under manual review. At that point, we anticipated that trouble loomed.
HH points for this statement did not post until 23 days after statement closure, on July 4. When they did, the posting was quite odd. The ultimate result was that we received 14x HH points (as would be expected) for our $258 Hilton charge, and no points at all on any grocery purchases, regardless of the amount (including several small purchases in the $10-20 range).
The posting to our HH account looked like this:
- HH points awarded for regular spend (3x * $16,483 in total purchases) = 49,449 points earned
- Bonus HH points awarded for Hilton charge (+11x * $258) = 2,838 points earned
- HH points taken away (3x * $16,225 in grocery purchases) = -48,675 points
- Net HH points awarded = 49,449 + 2,838 – 48,675 = 3,612 HH points
In addition, 52,287 base points posted to our HH account – that is, 3x on all of our purchases, including grocery purchases, plus the extra 11x on our $258 Hilton charge (49,449 + 2,838 = 52,287). This seemed odd, but at least we got a little something out of these purchases that may help us achieve lifetime Diamond status some day.
Statement #3 – Aspire6 – Closed 6/25/20:
On this statement, we had a variety of charges, although the majority were grocery purchases in the $500-ish range:
- Total purchases = $4,093
- Grocery purchases = $3,587
- Grocery purchases in the $500 range = $3,534
- Grocery purchases for low amounts = $53
- Hilton purchases (14x HH points) = $5
- Airfare purchases (7x HH points) = $253
- Restaurant purchases (7x HH points) = $248
- Grocery purchases = $3,587
If everything posted correctly (including 12x on the grocery purchases), we should have earned 46,551 HH points from our spend on this statement.
As of today, 27 days after the statement close date, we have not received any points in our HH account for this statement. We’re unsure whether the statement is still under review or whether Amex has decided to award zero points for the entire statement.
We’re concerned that our earlier spend on the other Aspire7 card may have caused this Aspire6 account to be flagged for GC grocery spend as well. We have no way to really know for sure, though.
Statement #4 – Aspire7 – Closed 7/12/20:
On this statement, we had one grocery charge of about $500, at the very beginning of the statement period, plus a variety of other charges:
- Total purchases = $1,108
- Grocery purchases = $559
- Grocery purchases in the $500 range = $508
- Grocery purchases for low amounts = $51
- Hilton purchases (14x HH points) = net -$21 (purchase of $237 offset by a credit of $258)
- Airfare purchases (7x HH points) = $254
- Restaurant purchases (7x HH points) = $316
- Grocery purchases = $559
As of today, 10 days after the statement close date, we have not received any points in our HH account for this statement.
However, this statement contains the following section regarding HH points earned:
We’ve studied this statement in some detail, and we still haven’t completely figured it out. It looks like Amex is “reversing” a big chunk of the HH bonus points that I earned on the June statement for this card. Of course, those points never posted, so hopefully we don’t get double-dinged. We note that the “Current Period” deduction for US Supermarket bonus points, 140,994, would be 9x bonus points on $15,666 in purchases.
We’re anxious to see how this plays out, if any when points actually post to our HH account.
Amex Marriott Bonvoy
The Amex Marriott Brilliant and Bonvoy cards each have a promotional rate of 6x Bonvoy points per dollar of spend, through July 31. This promotion is capped at $7,500 total spend per card.
In our estimation, the Marriott Bonvoy promotion was less valuable than the Hilton promotion. At our baseline values of 0.67 cents per Bonvoy point and 0.45 cents per HH point, the Marriott promotion worked out to a points rebate of about 4.0%, whereas the Hilton promotion provided a points rebate of about 5.4%.
Thus, we prioritized the Hilton promotion and only turned to the Marriott deal after we saw data points of people having issues with the Hilton promotion. Initial data points suggested that people with grocery spend of less than several thousand dollars per month were not impacted, so we decided to give the Marriott deal a shot at low volume.
We’ve received 1 statement containing grocery purchases during the promotion period. The statement closed on 7/10/20 (12 days ago).
The total purchases on the card for this statement were $2,074. All charges were from grocery stores in amounts in the range of $500. Our statement shows that we earned 12,444 Marriott Bonvoy points (6x * $2,074).
As of today, there has been no activity in our Bonvoy account related to this statement. We’re not sure if the points just haven’t posted, or if Amex reviewed the statement and decided to award zero points.
We wonder whether this account was flagged as a result of the activity on our Amex Hilton Aspire cards that we discussed earlier. There’s no way to know for sure.
In any event, we’re not optimistic about earning these points, and we don’t plan to put any more grocery charges on this card during the promotion period.
Chase cards – Sapphire Reserve, World of Hyatt, Marriott Boundless, Ritz Carlton Visa
Well, we’ve covered the bad news above – it’s now time for some other news that is good and much more concise.
Chase has had grocery promotions on several cards. Promotions on the Sapphire Reserve/Preferred and World of Hyatt cards ended in June. The promotions on the Marriott Boundless and Ritz Carlton Visa cards continue through July 31, so they’re still available.
Each Chase promotion was capped. The Sapphire Reserve/Preferred and World of Hyatt promotions were capped at $1,500 per month for May and June. The Marriott and Ritz Carlton promotions were capped at $5,000 in total grocery purchases.
The good news is that we have received all of the bonus points for the promotions on all of these cards. We maxed out the Sapphire Reserve and Hyatt promotions each month, all with grocery purchases of about $500. We charged up to about $3,000 in groceries during a single statement period on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton cards. All points posted as expected under the promotion, and within a few days of the statement close date, on the usual timeline.
Citi Premier card
We have more good news on the Citi front. In early June, Citi announced that it would award 3x ThankYou Points (TYPs) for supermarket spend on the Premier card going forward. There’s no end date for this category; rather, it’s an acceleration of a favorable change to the Premier card that had been scheduled to take effect in August. The supermarket bonus category on the Premier card is uncapped.
We thought the Hilton and Amex promotions were better than the Premier’s 3x TYP earning given our baseline values. We give TYPs a baseline value of 1.25 cents per point, so the bonus came in at 3.75% – a bit lower than our baseline returns on the Hilton and Marriott deals.
We have 2 Premier cards, and we have received all of the TYPs for the supermarket bonus category on both cards. The most supermarket spend we have changed to a Premier card during a single statement period is about $2,000 (all of the purchases were in the range of $500). All TYPs posted as expected, shortly after the statement close date.
You win some, you lose some. We certainly knew that there was risk involved with hitting the Amex Hilton grocery spend promotion hard, and that risk has certainly materialized. We received some points early in the promotion, but a lot of spend went for naught.
We still have a few unanswered questions on the Amex side, but we’ll just have to wait and see how those play out.
Going forward, we also have a question about whether Amex’s focus on neutralizing bonus points-earning on grocery spend will spread to other cards. Cards such as the Amex Gold and Amex EveryDay Preferred card have non-promotional, “standing” bonus categories for US supermarket spend that could be impacted. We don’t yet have personal data points on these cards. We’ll probably try them again going forward unless we see bad data points from other sources, but we’ll only do so in very modest amounts.
What are your experiences with the grocery bonus categories? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
At Middle Age Miles, we love to bring you travel, credit card and points-and-miles information that you can use to help make your travel dreams come true. To see all of our tips and insights, please Like and follow us on social media at:
Please share and re-tweet our posts and tell all of your friends about Middle Age Miles! Thank you!