The Cable

This Chinese Billionaire Used Amex Points to Rise to the Top of the New York Art World

Liu Yiqian used credit card points to rise to the top of the art world.

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A former Chinese taxi driver turned billionaire is now one of the most renowned art collectors in the world. Turns out that he used credit card points to get there.

Liu Yiqian is the chairman of the Sunline Group, whose interests include chemicals, financial services, and pharmaceuticals. He’s worth about $1.4 billion, according to Forbes, and he stunned the art world this week when he revealed that he beat out five other bidders at Christie’s New York to purchase Nu Couché, Amedeo Modigliani’s painting of a nude woman. It didn’t come cheap: Liu ponied up $170.4 million for his prize, believed to be his first large Western art purchase.

The way he might have done it could provide some insight into how he went from driving a cab to being a billionaire and one of China’s leading art collectors. In the past, he has put art costing tens of millions of dollars on his American Express credit card, earning millions of reward points in the process. These points can be redeemed for everything from shopping to air travel.

According to Bloomberg, in 2014, when he paid $36 million for an ancient Chinese ceramic cup, Liu used his Amex Centurion card and earned 422 million points (he caused a minor stir when a picture of him drinking out of the cup was posted online). A few months later, he again used his Centurion card to pay $45 million for a 15th-century Tibetan tapestry, earning millions of more points. According to Vanity Fair, he used the points he earned to fly his family to New York, where he bought a $4.9 million Tibetan yogi statue (he caused another minor stir when a picture of him posing as the statue in his underwear emerged).

No word on whether he used a similar strategy to buy the Modigliani. Either way, he has racked up enough points that he’s not going to be paying for air travel anytime soon.

Photo credit: Timothy Clary/Getty Images

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