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American Express Has Some Tricks Up Its Sleeve

Source: Flickr / eschipul.

When it comes to credit cards, American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) is in a class by itself. While there are plenty of card issuers offering airline miles, hotel points, and cash rewards, American Express has set its products apart from the competition in terms of the benefits they offer and the strategies they use to get people to spend money. These could potentially mean big bucks for Amex in the coming years, and here's why.

The benefits are unmatched and unique
There are plenty of credit cards offering rewards, cash back, and other benefits, but American Express' advantage is the uniqueness of their products. A quick look on shows there are 106 credit cards offering some type of rewards, and just 12% of these are American Express cards. However, American Express offers certain perks you simply can't find anywhere else for the same price.

The Blue Cash card offers up to 3% cash back in fixed (not rotating) categories, with no annual fee, as well as a free Amazon Prime membership, a unique benefit. Amex offers the best benefits cards for two of the most popular hotel loyalty programs, Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton HHonors. And, the range of business cards and their benefits is simply unmatched. Virtually every American Express card has a business-oriented counterpart.

Choices are better than the competition
For instance; most airlines team up with one credit card processor. Barclays issues US Airways cards, Citigroup issues American Airlines plastic, and American Express has Delta  (NYSE: DAL  )  as a credit card partner. Well, the difference here is selection. There are four different levels of Delta SkyMiles cards to choose from, ranging from a basic card whose $55 annual fee simply lets the cardholder earn miles to the "reserve" card with a $450 fee which includes a Sky Club membership, priority treatment, the ability to earn status, and other benefits. There are Gold and Platinum cards in the middle with corresponding levels of benefits as well.

The other airlines mentioned each have just two options each. Citi doesn't have a "cheap" American Airlines option targeted at infrequent travelers, and Barclays doesn't offer a high-level US Airways card frequent travelers would want.

Spending incentives could bring in serious cash, especially at the end of the year
The new spending incentives for frequent flyers are an ingenious move, and I think they'll give both companies a big boost once 2014's numbers are released.

In the past, frequent flyers earned their "status" with Delta (silver, gold, platinum, or diamond) simply by the miles they flew. Now, in an effort to make the program a little more exclusive, Delta is also requiring a minimum amount of spending on flights in order to achieve the same status, starting at $2,500 annually for silver status.

However, customers have a "loophole". To become exempt from the requirement (known as Medallion Qualification Dollars), a waiver can be obtained by spending $25,000 on a Delta-branded American Express card during the year.

A lot of frequent travelers really value their status, and may choose to use their Amex more for everyday purchases in order to hit the spending threshold.  Personally, I'm very excited to see how much this incentive increases spending on American Express cards, not to mention how much extra income it brings to Delta.

Is now the time to get in?
These unique advantages and incentives to spend should mean more money in American Express' pockets. I think the new incentive to spend more on Amex cards will matter more than people think it will, and we could get a surprise once the company's 2014 year-end numbers are in.

Additionally, the card offerings are constantly evolving and improving, and the company has proven itself as an industry leader. It's no wonder Warren Buffett loves this company so much that he's accumulated more than 14% of the outstanding shares since the 1960's.

Will American Express have an answer for this trend?
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Matthew Frankel

Matt brought his love of teaching and investing to the Fool in order to help people invest better, after several years as a math teacher. Matt specializes in writing about the best opportunities in bank stocks, real estate, and personal finance, but loves any investment at the right price. Follow me on Twitter to keep up with all of the best financial coverage!

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