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AMEX/Diners

The charge card category is an exclusive one, for years inhabited by only two players: American Express and Diners Club. Diners Club is no longer accepting applications for new individual cards, so American express is the only current option.

Charge cards, as the name implies, are cards which require that the outstanding balance be paid off each and every month (although there’s more flexibility in that regard than is generally known). That’s the first point of difference with credit cards. The second point of difference concerns airline miles. Amex and Diners don’t award airline miles directly; they award points. And the points, in turn, can be converted to miles in the programs of participating airlines as well as points in participating hotel programs.

If your travel patterns are such that you can pour most of your miles into a single program, it probably makes sense to use the card associated with that program. You get the advantage in most cases of almost universal acceptance of VISA or MasterCard, and the convenience and cost-efficiency of using a single card.

Many travelers, however, must distribute their miles among a primary program and several secondary programs. That’s where the multi-mile flexibility of Amex and, formerly, Diners can be a frequent traveler’s best friend.

Diners always enjoyed a significant advantage over Amex in transfer options. Where American Express Membership Rewards points can be exchanged for miles in 11 airline programs, Diners Club Rewards points are convertible into miles in the programs of 20 airlines. (Diners once had a significant competitive advantage over Amex in this area, but no more. See “How Diner Lost its Mileage Mojo” for the story.)

Diners also boasted more hotel partners, allowing points transfers into seven hotel programs versus four for Amex.

Today, however, such comparisons are moot, and American express cards linked to the Membership Rewards program are more appropriately compared to such convertible points cards as the Starwood Preferred Guest and Chase Sapphire Preferred credit cards.