The new Plenti rewards program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is, as AmEx says, the first of its kind. It combines features of store loyalty programs, card-linked offer programs and traditional credit card rewards into an absolutely sprawling platform.
Uniqueness aside, should you try to cash in on Plenti – or apply for the credit card tied to the program? We took a deep dive into the details and found that Plenti has potential if you can get a grip on all its moving parts.
There are two layers to Plenti – the rewards program and the Plenti credit card (which can boost your earnings but isn’t required for the program).
Plenti credit card
You don’t have to get this card to join Plenti, but, if you do, you’ll earn 1 Plenti point per dollar spent on all eligible purchases anywhere. The card has no annual fee and comes with the usual benefits befitting a no-fee AmEx: Extended warranty, purchase protection, return protection, secondary rental car insurance coverage and travel accident insurance. It also has an EMV chip, for greater acceptance abroad.
If you don’t want to get the credit card, you can still join the Plenti program. You just won’t get the boost of 1 point per dollar on all spending — and will be limited to earning rewards with the program’s partners only. Sign up online, and you’ll receive a Plenti loyalty card and key tag in the mail. Whenever you make a purchase, you will present your Plenti card at checkout (or insert it into the card reader) and follow the directions. If you’re shopping online, you’ll use your Plenti card number. Points you earn will automatically be deposited into your Plenti account.
The program is vast, but here are the basics:
- Shopping at Plenti partners: You’ll earn points when shopping at Plenti’s partners, including AT&T, Exxon, Macy’s, Mobil, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Alamo Rent A Car, Direct Energy, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hulu, National Car Rental and more (full list here). You can pay however you wish (credit card, debit card, cash), but you will still need to present your Plenti loyalty card. The only exception at this time is if you’re shopping at Macy’s and have linked your Plenti card to your Macy’s credit card, in which case your Macy’s card will suffice.
The number of points you’ll earn per purchase at partners varies, so check the terms before you shop.
- Utilizing relationships: You can stack rewards by getting your other credit and loyalty cards involved. For example, at Macy’s, using your Macy’s credit card with your Plenti card gets you 10X the points on the same purchases:
Even better, if you link your Macy’s American Express card, you can get Plenti points by using it outside of Macy’s as well.
- Claiming bonuses: You can earn extra points by shopping in the Plenti Online Marketplace. You can also find and activate special offers online or within the Plenti app for extra points on certain purchases. Such bonuses generally have to be activated in advance — but in-store signage at some retail partners will guide you to purchases that get you extra Plenti points with no advance activation needed.
- Transferring Membership Rewards points into Plenti: You can top off your Plenti balance by transferring Membership Rewards points earned on another American Express card into the program (500 MR points gets you 400 Plenti points). We recommend thinking long and hard about this decision, however. For one thing, you’re sacrificing 100 MR points for every 500 you transfer. For another, Membership Rewards points can be transferred directly into various hotel and airline reward programs, a valuable perk that Plenti does not offer.
Using your Plenti points
- Redeem as you shop: You’ll need a balance of at least 200 points to begin redeeming. Instead of logging in to online banking and cashing in your rewards, you will use them in real time at the point of purchase. Present your Plenti card (or insert it into the card reader) and follow the instructions. If you have enough points, you’ll be prompted to use them for purchase. At Exxon, for example, you might see this:
As of this time (May 2015), the only partners you can redeem points at are Macy’s, Rite Aid and participating Exxon and Mobil stations. The value of your points depends on where you redeem them, but, according to the Plenti program’s site, they’ll be worth at least 1 cent each. To calculate the value of your Plenti points on a case-by-case basis, use these formulas.
Pros and cons
Depending on your goals, what might be a con to one person might be a pro for you. So instead of a black-and-white pros-and-cons list, here’s a catalogue of things to consider.
- Exclusions: All reward programs have exclusions, and Plenti is no exception. One of the most notable is that you generally can’t earn Plenti points when purchasing gift cards at partner retailers. That may be disappointing, as buying gift cards for extra rewards is a favorite strategy for many reward chasers. Certain luxury brands at Macy’s are also not eligible for rewards, which may be disappointing for anyone who just bought a $500 purse.
- An abundance of options: You can earn extra Plenti points on things that fall outside traditional credit card rewards programs, including paying your insurance premiums and adding a new line to your wireless service. And then there all those ever-changing, limited-time offers, which can earn you even more. This makes Plenti a robust and flexible program — but chasing all your options might exhaust you. If so, a more consistent cash-back program may be a better fit.
- You can use rewards in real time: Cashing in your rewards at the register may be preferable to making time to log into a rewards account and mulling over your options. If you’re the type to let your rewards collect dust for years, Plenti may be the anecdote. However, it can be hard to make sure you’re getting the best value for your points when a line is forming behind you and you have mere seconds to decide if you’d like to redeem your points on the spot.
- Limited redemption partners: The partners that allow you to earn points far outnumber the partners that allow you to redeem them. The redemption value (of at least 1 cent per point) isn’t bad – and gasoline, groceries and clothing purchases are exactly the kind of regular expenses for which consumers might welcome a discount. But if you’re not near an Exxon or Mobile station, a Rite Aid or a Macy’s, the redemption options won’t be convenient. American Express could always add more redemption partners in the future, though.
- You can keep using your existing cards: You can present your Plenti card or key tag to collect Plenti points – and then pay with any other rewards card and collect its points, too. For example, you might present your Plenti card at Macy’s and collect 1 point for every $10 spent – and then pay with a rewards card offering 5 percent cash back that quarter on department store purchases.
The bottom line
Plenti solves one of the most common problems with rewards – not using them. Due to its real-time, streamlined redemption scheme, you’ll be invited to use your rewards whenever you check out at a partner retailer. The program also doesn’t have to interfere with your existing reward strategies because you can use any credit card for the actual payment. That means you can embrace Plenti’s short-term, instant gratification system without surrendering the long-term strategizing you’re doing with your travel rewards cards, for example.
The Plenti credit card doesn’t add much additional value – although, with no annual fee, it might be worth swiping at merchants that fall outside your existing rewards cards’ bonus categories.
Time and sanity are also things to consider when it comes to your rewards strategy, however. Plenti has, well, plenty of options for boosting your earnings. If you’re the type to obsess over squeezing every possible reward point out of ever purchase, Plenti could become a time-consuming hobby.