What’s In My Wallet? And Yours?
By Robert McGarvey
The giant has awakened – and it has sweetened the perks that come with its Platinum Card.
Take that, upstarts.
The question: are the upgrades good enough to keep American Express Platinum cardholders in the fold after a scheduled 20+ % fee increase kicks in later this year?
Either way, Amex had to do something. Indeed, this was a long overdue move on Amex’s part. Grumbles had grown that the card just was no longer worth the $450 annual fee, especially as it lost one airline club access privilege after another and only Delta remains on board.
Club access probably had been the key Platinum card benefit so these losses were a big deal.
And that gave competitors room to maneuver.
The big buzz in high end credit cardholder circles for the past year has been about Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, with an annual fee of $450 and freebies ranging from $300 in annual travel credits to a 100,000 mile sign up bonus and good airport lounge access.
A few hands also clapped about the Citi Prestige Card.
Along the way, Costco dumped Amex for Citi and, said some, this was a real blow to American Express. Don’t ask me. I have never been in a Costco and have no plans to – but I suppose that did matter to some Amex cardholders.
Here’s the money question: had my loyalty to Amex wavered as it lost benefits? Note: I have been an Amex cardholder for 40 years, much of that the gold card but maybe 15 years ago I switched to Platinum. In recent years had I questioned if the Platinum Card continued to be worth the dough? You bet, especially when United and American yanked their clubs out of the mix (and before them, Continental pulled out in 2011) and that club access had been what kept me smiling, with both Amex and air travel.
Suddenly my questions about each rose.
But – even before the new wave of benefits – I still found enough to like in the Platinum Card. Such as the Centurion Lounges, which I continue to believe are the best domestic airport lounges. Amex also had added Priority Pass lounges a couple years ago (now a perk with the Chase card) and, by now, Amex insists its network is the largest, comprising 1000+ lounges in 120 countries. It’s not perfect but it is pretty good and once you have been in a Centurion Lounge you wish you had access to them wherever you traveled in the US.
The club access now is as good as – probably better than – what they had when United and American were in the mix.
There’s also a $200 annual airline fee credit for charges such as lounge access or checked bags and, yes, it genuinely works. I have bought a bottle of champagne and I have checked a locked bag with a handgun inside (fully disclosed at check in of course) and in both instances fees were reimbursed and with no teeth gnashing about my consumer choices.
I’ve also gotten the TSA Pre fee reimbursed by Amex. Or go for Global Entry and Amex picks up that tab. One or the other, not both.
And gold status in the Hilton HHonors program. Ditto for Starwood and, since its merger, that means Marriott too.
There also is a concierge service, for help arranging restaurant reservations and such like. Those who use it a lot like it a lot.
Did those perks add up to $450? In my mind, absolutely. I admit I never ran detailed calculations. But I was satisfied I was getting my money’s worth.
Now Amex is upping its perks. Notably it is issuing 5X points on hotels booked via amextravel.com. That complements the existing 5X rewards on airfare purchased via that site.
It says it has added enough airport lounges to have some 90 lounges in the US alone.
It also is offering a $200 Uber credit, plus Uber VP status and, you know what, I confess I still haven’t used Uber but now I will. Good for me, good for Uber, good for Amex.
The bad news is that Amex is bumping the Platinum Card annual fee from $450 to $550 – but I’ll keep it in my wallet.
Besides, this year Amex is replacing the plastic card with a metallic one and how cool is that?
I’m staying put. What about you?