Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

Is the basic Morgan Stanley Amex card worth one of your precious, precious Amex slots?

While the Platinum card gets the majority of the attention paid to Morgan Stanley’s Amex co-brand cards, they do offer a no-annual-fee option for some reason. (I say “for some reason” since Morgan Stanley isn’t known for courting the type of people who would be averse to paying high annual fees — after all, the majority of their clients are paying seven-figure sums each year for wealth management.) But the card exists, irrespective of my inability to envision their target customer. Frequent Miler published a good primer on the card back in 2017, but I’ll sum up the two main features of this card just in case you don’t want to click over there (though you really should):

  • It earns “full” Membership Rewards points, making it one of only two no-fee cards that earns transferrable points (the other being the Amex Everyday). (Update: Commenter Phill Sims reminded me that the Blue for Business card also earns MR points with no annual fee.)

  • It has some decent bonus categories for a no-fee card, even if it isn’t all that great for everyday spend.

In the past, meaning the pre-Access Investing days, it probably wasn’t worth going to the trouble of getting an eligible Morgan Stanley brokerage account just to get this card. I mean, it’s okay, but a 10,000 point bonus was barely worth the hard inquiry a few years ago. Today, however, my attitude is to get points wherever and however I can, and assuming I’m not trying to limit my new accounts in order to appease a particular bank, I’m not against opening a card and spending $1000 on it just to earn a measly 10,000 points.

That’s not the only reason to look at this card, though. There’s another, much more interesting benefit to the card that everyone should be aware of: Invest with Rewards. This is basically the same feature as Amex offers on the Charles Schwab Platinum card, although the transfer ratio is a penny per point, rather than Schwab’s more generous 1.25 cents per point. It would be great if the no-fee Schwab Amex offered Invest with Rewards, but alas it only earns straight cash-back into your Schwab account, so you can’t leverage the superior earning rates of other cards in the Amex portfolio. As a result, if you want to backstop your Membership Rewards balance with a reasonable cash-out option, the Morgan Stanley card is your only play.

Would anyone ever do this? I’m not sure it makes sense. You can go back and rerun the numbers I referenced in my Schwab post with a 1:1 ratio instead of 1:1.25 to see if any of the scenarios still look attractive. However, the fact that no one in the world has ever recommended moving Ultimate Rewards points to a Chase Freedom card in order to cash them out at a penny apiece suggests that doing so with Membership Rewards points would be similarly stupid.

I can envision a scenario where it would be a good idea to use up an Amex slot (remember, you only get five credit cards), though: as a replacement for the Everyday card as your “last resort” Amex card that keeps your Membership Rewards balance alive. After all, why not get yourself a little free insurance in case your dog needs thousands of dollars in dental surgery by giving yourself the option of cashing out your six-figure Amex balance instead of trying to raise the money on Gofundme? (In case you’re wondering if I’m speaking from personal experience, I’ve never had to raise money this way, but my dog only has around 8 teeth left, and if you amortize the total cost of her dental work across those teeth, it comes out to around $800 a pop. And she still acts all snooty toward me.)

Two caveats need to be pointed out. First, the preferred way to get the Morgan Stanley Platinum card is to open an Access account but not to fund it. This gives you about a 75-day window in which Amex will approve you for a Morgan Stanley card before Morgan Stanley shuts down your Access account due to inactivity. After that, Amex may cancel your card, or they may not. It’s not a good idea to do this if you want to keep the card open permanently, though, so if you were going to get this card for any reason other than the sign-up bonus, you’d also need to sideline $5000 in your Access account.

Second, and much more significantly, I don’t actually know if you can transfer points into an Access account. Unlike with Schwab, which lets you transfer directly from your Amex account home screen, you have to go through Morgan Stanley’s website. In fact, Amex kind of hides that you can even do this in the first place — you have to dig down into the list of benefits to find any information about Invest with Rewards, and the only options are to click through to Morgan Stanley’s website or to call their service center. Given how tenuous the whole “Access account —> Morgan Stanley credit card” situation is, I’m hesitant to call and potentially blow up my spot. I know I know, it’s not much of a backstop to my Membership Rewards balance if I can’t move the points into my Access account the next time Neko’s teeth start falling out.

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I did find a link in my Morgan Stanley account for Invest with Rewards, although the link led to an error page in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. I guess at this point I’ll have to take an incomplete, which is fine since I don’t have an open Amex slot right now anyway. I may try calling in just to ask about the Invest with Rewards website error in general, without mentioning Access Investing or anything, and if I get any meaningful information, I’ll update this post.

Regardless of whether or not moving Membership Rewards points into an Access account is possible, I still think it’s a worthwhile thought experiment to consider a reasonable value at which to cash out your Amex points. Due to the popularity of my Schwab post, people seem really interested in the idea of cashing out points for 1.25 cents each. Is that extra 1/4 cent the dealbreaker, or does the superior points earning rate across Amex’s card portfolio make a one-cent cash-out option more attractive for Amex than it would be for Chase? Not sure where I come down on that one, actually.

[Update: The following paragraph is wrong. I learned today that if you have less than $5000 invested, you can’t move any money out — your only option is to close the account down and withdraw everything.] Finally, as long as we’re on the subject of Morgan Stanley and Access investing, I’m gonna mention something that occurred to me recently. As everyone knows, the minimum amount to fund an Access account is $5000 (if you choose to fund it at all). That’s what I did, and my account has really taken a shit lately due to the downturn in the market. That means I have less than $5000 in my account right now, and I have yet to receive any sort of warning from Morgan Stanley that I’m under the minimum. This has got me thinking that I could push the limit by transferring money out of the account to see how low I need to get before they start warning me that I need to put money in. It might set off some alarm bells that my account is yielding abnormally low management fees or that I have multiple outgoing transfers, but the worst case scenario would just be that I need to move the money back. It’s worth trying, since I wouldn’t mind finding a way to keep the account open indefinitely without having to tie up $5k.

Sorry this post is kind of open-ended — I started writing it without fully thinking through the logistics of what I was describing, so I realize I got tripped up a little. Hopefully I can come back and tie up some of those loose ends, but in the meantime, I’m curious if you’d even care enough to give the Morgan Stanley card one of your Amex slots to begin with.

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