When I took advantage of a 100,000 point sign-up offer to obtain an American Express Platinum Card last year, I planned to collect the sign-up bonus, use it for a year, take advantage of the $200 in airline credit for calendar year 2013 and 2014, then cancel this month before my next $450 annual fee was due. But even with American Express cutting American Airlines and US Airways as lounge partners, I have decided to keep the card.
With the award chart inflation of United Airlines and Hyatt, Chase Ultimate Reward Points have become marginally less valuable. The Star Alliance network still offers the more comprehensive route network and best award availability on the whole and United does not collect fuel surcharges, so booking with United will still be valuable after the 01 February 2014 devaluation.
Hyatt is much less attractive today than yesterday, but I would still rather burn 30,000 points to stay at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris then pay over $1,000 for the same room, so the Hyatt points will still be valuable too, just less so.
But American Express points have become relatively more valuable. The addition of Emirates as a transfer partner, even with its fuel surcharges and not-so-attractive rates is at least another option. Aeroplan remains a great buy to Europe as long as you avoid Lufthansa and ANA is great if you are perspicacious on your distance traveled. Iberia is having a great sale right now and Air France/KLM Flying Blue is dependable for saver award flights to Europe, sometimes at a 50% discount. Even stingy Singapore Airlines is a nice option–with Suites Class seats from New York to Frankfurt for under 70K miles at the saver level.
Loyalty programs are tightening up as the economy picks up and numbers improve, but there are always deals to be found and while I will not focus all my spending on American Express, I will focus a sizable chunk of it on it. With no specific trips in mind at the moment, I plan to divide my spending roughly evenly between American Express and Chase this year.
The $450 annual fee on the American Express Platinum card is not something to take lightly, but in weighing the pro and cons, I see the following advantages in keeping the card—
1. $200 in airline credit each year
The terms and conditions are a bit fuzzy, but I have now used this credit in both 2013 and 2014 to buy a $200 gift card from united.com, good for travel systemwide, and received a $200 credit from American Express just a few days later both times.
2. A special $200 credit toward airline fees on American and US Airways
Certainly, new sign-ups will not get this additional credit, but when American Express announced that on March 22, 2014 its lounge relationship with American Airlines and US Airways would end, it sent out a peace offering to each cardholder, based on loosely on their annual spending on the card, with an offer for this additional compensation, ranging from $200 and up. I have used my AMEX card to access AA lounges, but since most of my travel is on United, I consider this extra $200 a bonus and will try to secure a gift cards or perhaps miles with the $200.
3. Delta Lounge Access (when traveling on Delta same-day)
And there is still Delta lounge access—a valuable benefit considering the decent nibbles available in most Sky Clubs. Sometimes I do wind up on Delta and Sky Club access really helps to lessen the blow of economy class.
4. Priority Pass Select Membership
Rocky outlined this in greater detail, but American Express covers your entrance to Priority Pass lounges around the world—and there is one in nearly every major airport and even smaller ones too. The lounges are good too—I hung out in the British Airways Terraces Lounge at Washington Dulles today with my Priority Pass card. One guest is permitted for $28. I like having access to many Alaska Airlines lounges through this program as well.
5. Access to American Express Lounges
I have yet to visit the Centurion Lounges in Dallas and Las Vegas, but they are very highly regarded with good food and comfortable amenities. Even more important for me, AMEX is opening another lounge in the United Terminal at SFO later this year. Say goodbye to the United Club! A club is opening in New York LGA as well and there are rumors of other future locations. There are also American Express VIP lounges in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and Delhi which Platinum cardholders have access to.
6. Purchase Protection + Extended Warranty + Return Protection
Most of us focus on the points, but an oft untapped benefit of the card is that if you buy a new iPhone and drop in in the toilet, AMEX will cover you. Or if you stupidly leave your new iPad in the seatback pocket, AMEX has you covered. Even if you buy some clothes and keep them too long to return them, you can receive up to $300 in compensation.
Here’s some details I’ve copied verbatim from AMEX:
- Embedded Protection – Just use your Card and Purchase Protection1 can protect eligible purchases against accidental damage or theft for up to 90 days from the date of purchase. Platinum Card® and Delta Reserve® Cardmembers have access to lost item coverage in addition to theft and accidental damage coverage.
- Worldwide Coverage – Coverage includes eligible purchases made worldwide with the Card, including gifts purchased for others. Purchase Protection1 can reimburse you for up to the amount charged to the Card.
Your laptop breaks the day after the warranty expires. No need to worry if you purchased it with your Card, thanks to Extended Warranty!
- Embedded Protection – Charge your eligible purchases that have a valid U.S. manufacturer’s warranty of 5 years or less to the Card.
- Extend Your Warranty – Extended Warranty can extend the terms of the original U.S. manufacturer’s warranty for up to one additional year on eligible purchases with warranties of 5 years or less, when the eligible purchase is charged to the Card.
- If you try to return an eligible item purchased fully with your eligible American Express® Card in the 50 United States of America, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands within 90 days from the date of purchase and the merchant won’t take it back, we can refund the purchase price.
- Up to $300 Coverage – You can be reimbursed for up to $300 per eligible item, excluding shipping and handling, up to $1,000 annually per Card account.
7. Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance Plan
I foolishly rented with Thrifty in Frankfurt last month and they pulled a [typical German] “we cannot waive your car insurance without an official letter form your credit card company on company letterhead sayung you are covered” so I got hit with something like an extra 25EUR/day for a 5-day rental. That’s 1/3 of the annual fee right there!
With AMEX, you can decline the collision damage waiver worldwide and are protected up to $75,000 against theft of or damage.
8. No Foreign Transaction Fees
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Should you sign up for the card now? It depends.
The best current sign-up offer is 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 on the card within three months, quite a bit less than the 100,000 miles offered about a year ago. But I also don’t expect AMEX to run any 100,000-mile promotion anytime soon, perhaps not at all this year. In fact, it would not surprise me if we did not even see a 50,000 mile sign-up offer.
If you already are using a good points-earning card like the US Airways MasterCard from Barclays or the Chase Sapphire Card, hold off a bit just in case American Express does decide to offer a better sign-up bonus. If you are not using a travel credit card or are using a card like CapitalOne that only earns you a penny or two per dollar spent, I would strongly consider this card for its overall value even if you are not a frequent traveler.
I listed my reasons for keeping the card above, but note that the AMEX Platinum Card also reimburses $100 of Global Entry fee and offers a Companion Business/First Class ticket program with several airlines in which if you buy a full-fare ticket, you get the second ticket for free, paying only taxes on it.
Your credit must be excellent to be approved for the card and you should certainly not just sign-up for the card for the points (even though I value the points at about $450), but this is a card I keep in my wallet and use regularly. It is certainly worthy of your consideration.