Maximizing Amex Post 4: Platinum Card Review

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This is another installment in my Maximizing Amex series where I examine the benefits of American Express cards and Amex’s Membership Rewards Program. The articles include; Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering. Post 2: Understanding Membership Rewards. Post 3: Understanding Transfer Bonuses. Post 4: Platinum Card Review. Post 5: SkyTeam Transfer Partners. Post 6: Oneworld Transfer Partners. Post 7: Star Alliance Transfer Partners. Post 8:Understanding Emergency Travel Assistance and Travel Accident Insurance. Post 9: Purchase and Return Protection and Extended Warranty. Post 10: Car Rental Benefits. Post 11: Gold and Premier Rewards Gold Card Comparison.

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here

This post is all about the American Express Platinum charge card and the multitude of benefits that come along with the card. While there are a ton of benefits, the card does come with a hefty $450 annual fee, so you should evaluate whether it makes sense for you.

High level details:
Annual Fee: $450
Card type: Charge card, which means there is no pre-set spending limit, but you have to pay it off every month or else you get hit with serious fees and high interest rates.
Points: Membership Rewards First. 1 point per dollar spent, 2x points for travel, 4x through Amex Bonus Points Mall
Foreign Transaction Fees?: No
Qualification: There’s no definitive qualification criteria, but you generally have to have good credit. A positive history with American Express helps too, but is not required.
Current Sign-Up Bonus for New Cardholders25,000 points after you spend $2,000 within 3 months. Those 25,000 points can be transferred to a number of airlines and hotels, as highlighted in my Membership Rewards Overview post. Note: the 25,000 points are only available to first time Platinum Cardholders who apply using the link. If you call Amex to upgrade an existing card you might get a lower bonus. Make sure you are logged out of your Amex account when you apply via the link, or else it won’t show. Once you apply fresh, you can combine accounts under one Amex login.
Additional cards: $175 will get you up to 3 additional cards. That fee is flat, so the price for 1 additional card is the same as getting 3 more. Additional cardholders get all benefits of the card, except the $200 airline credit.

Key benefits of the card in Addition to Membership Rewards:

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership. Cardmembers will continue to receive access to participating Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select (enrollment is required), and Airspace lounges in JFK, CLE and BWI airports.

Airport Club Access Program: Showing your Platinum card will get you access to Delta, American Continental (Until September 30, 2011) and US Airways lounges. You must be traveling on that carrier and show a ticket, except for US Airways, which allows entry even if you are flying on a different carrier. You can bring two guests or your spouse and any children under 21 are covered.

$200 Airline Fee Credit: Every year you can select an airline and American Express will automatically refund you up to $200 throughout the year when you incur any fees. The marketing materials about this benefit state that baggage, in-flight food and drink, flight change fees and lounge day passes, but people have also reported receiving rebates for airline gift card purchases, full lounge membership, award ticket fees, and even cheap flights. Yes, you heard that correctly. As with all IT, many of these reimbursements probably shouldn’t have been reimbursed, but the system is not programmed well enough to decide what is eligible or not. In general, this benefit is pretty flexible and if you do any amount of traveling, you should have no problem getting the full $200 in value. American Express also has phenomenal (in my experience) customer service, so even if your charge doesn’t automatically get reimbursed, you can ask them to consider it and many people have gotten Amex to reimburse using this method. This feature was only rolled out about 6 months ago, so it is still evolving. And we are still learning the limits of the program, but so far reimbursements have been generous.

Priority Pass Select Membership
: In addition to the Delta/American/US/Continental lounge access program, you also get Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you free access to hundreds of international and independent airline lounges. All guests are $27, though some lounges allow family members in for free. This includes Alaska Airlines lounge access.

Global Entry Fee Rebate: The US government charges $100 to get Global Entry (which I raved about in this post), but if you pay using your Platinum card, Amex will automatically rebate you that $100 dollars.

25% Bonus on Pay With Points: A benefit of Membership Rewards First is a 25% bonus when you redeem points to pay for airfare directly with Amex travel. Normally 1 point = 1 cent, but with the Platinum card 1 point = 1.25 cents. So a $500 flight which would normally cost 50,000 points, would only cost 40,000 points if you have a Platinum card. Plus, you earn miles (including elite miles) on Pay With Points purchases, so this can be a valuable benefit if you want to save money on airfare, but still earn elite status. Other programs that allow Pay With Points/Miles redemptions (like Delta) do not allow you to accrue miles or elite status on those redemptions.

Starwood Gold Status: Once you have a Platinum card, just call Starwood at 1-888-625-4990 and tell them you have an Amex Platinum card and want SPG Gold Status. They’ll make you fax in proof that you have the card, but once you send it, they’ll upgrade your Starwood account to Gold status. Starwood Gold (normally attained after 25 nights or 10 stays) gets you a 50% bonus on Starpoints, room upgrades, 4pm late checkout and overall better customer service.

Fine Hotels & Resorts Program: When you book hotel stays through this program and pay with your Platinum card, you get room upgrades, free breakfast for two, late check-out (4pm) and other amenities like spa credit and free golf. Overall, FHR rates might be a little more expensive, but the breakfast benefit alone can save you over $50 a day. I also love the 4pm late check-out when I’m staying at a hotel where I don’t have elite status. Booking as a FHR guest allows you to differentiate yourself from the masses and get enhanced customer service.

Purchase Protection: I don’t think people realize how valuable this benefit can be. American Express prides itself on customer service, so if you purchase something and it gets stolen/broken/lost, Amex will refund you. I remember reading a post on Flyertalk about someone’s hat blowing off on a cruise and Amex instantly refunded them the $70 since they bought it with a Platinum card. I’ve generally only heard good stories about this benefit, so it can easily save you more than your yearly fee if you ever need to take advantage of it.

International Premium Companion Ticket: If you buy a full-fare first or business class ticket, you can get a second for free. This benefit isn’t hugely valuable unless you frequently buy super-expensive tickets. However, this can be very valuable for people who can book full-fare business class for work and thus you can get your spouse/partner to come along for free in the same class of service.  Click here for a list of participating airlines.

Premium Car Rental Program: With the Amex Platinum you enjoy elite status with Hertz, Avis, and National. Elite status allows for quick checkout and upgrades as well as a 4-hour return grace period when you use the Platinum rate. There’s also an option to buy premium insurance directly through Amex for about $20 a rental, which can be a huge savings over buying it from the car rental company directly.

Equinox Fitness Benefits: If you sign-up for Equinox gym membership with your Platinum card you get: Special membership pricing, 4 Personal Training sessions, 1 50-minute Signature massage or facial. Equinox is pretty expensive, but if you are going to sign-up anyway, this can be a really valuable benefit.

Bonus Points Shopping Mall: Earn 4x the points for spend when purchasing from select retailers with your Platinum card through Amex’s secure shopping portal. Bonus Points Mall includes more than 160 online retailers such as Target, Barnes & Nobles, Godiva, Spa Finder, FTD, Staples, Best Buy and Home Depot.

Cruise Priveleges Program: Up to $300 per stateroom shipboard credit or a two-category stateroom upgrade, exclusive amenities that vary by cruise line, double Membership Rewards points and $100 Annual travel  benefit. Partners: Azamara, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland, Paul Gauguin, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Windstar and Yachts of Seabourn. Book by calling Platinum Travel Service at 1-800-443-7672. I personally haven’t used this benefit yet, but TPG reader John tweeted me that on his most recent Celebrity cruise, he got $100 onboard credit, a bottle of premium wine (~$85) and two specialty restaurant covers (~$60).

There are some other smaller benefits like exclusive event invitations and even random gifts from Amex, but I think the ones highlighted above give you a sense of what the Platinum Card is all about.

If you are considering getting a Platinum card for the first time, but you aren’t sure about the $450 annual fee, the 25,000 point sign-up bonus is so lucrative that this deal is a no-brainer in my opinion. Those 25,000 points can instantly be redeemed for $300+ in airfare, so that one benefit alone almost pays for the annual fee. The great thing is that you can try out the card, get the bonus and if you decide it’s not the right card for you, you can downgrade to a cheaper Amex card or cancel before you have to pay the next year’s annual fee and you get to keep the sign-up bonus and all points earned (note: if you do cancel your Amex account, I recommend using/transferring all points before the account is canceled.) Note: The sign-up bonus is even more valuable for Delta flyers because there’s a promo available until May 31st where you can get a 50% bonus and 25,000 MQMs when you transfer 50k Amex points or more to your Delta Skymiles account. This will not only get you 75,000 Skymiles, but also earn you elite status until February 2013!

As far as keeping the card year after year, that’s only something you can decide is worth it for you based on your travel patterns and needs. For me, it’s an easy decision because I love the flexibility of Membership Rewards and I absolutely depend on the spending power and customer service of the Platinum card. Plus the lounge access, free Global Entry and hotel upgrades help take my travel a lot more comfortable.

If you do decide to get a Platinum card, please consider applying through my link. I can guarantee it will take you to a secure Amex application that has the 25,000 point sign-up promotion attached to it. I get a commission, but that is what keeps this site running and allows me to write these posts and answer any questions you may have about the deals.

Feel free to ask questions or share your Platinum experience below.

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