American Express Platinum Card – Still Worth It With No American/US Airways and Restricted Delta Lounge Access?

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With last month’s news that American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders would no longer get access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs and US Airways Clubs as part of the cards’ benefits package as of March 22, 2014, and the fact that only the cardholder will get into Delta SkyClubs for free, a lot of people have been asking me whether it is still worth it to carry the card. The bottom line is that there’s no clear answer- it depends on how much you value the perks that are going away and the benefits that still exist for being a cardmember. I still do think a lot of people can get more value out of the card than the $450 annual fee, but many may not. Here’s a rundown of the key benefits of being a cardmember:

$200 Airline Rebate: As a cardholder, you get a $200 airline rebate once per calendar year, meaning every January 1, you get $200 to spend on an airline that you designate. The rebate is automatic – as long as you purchase any of the following items directly from an airline, the charge should get automatically rebated from your statement.

Approved items:
Checked baggage fees
Overweight/oversize baggage fees
Change fees
Phone reservation fees
Pet flight fees
Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships
Seat assignment fees
In-flight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, etc)
In-flight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet)

Though the airline rebate will not automatically trigger when you purchase airline tickets, one way people have been able to maximize the rebate is to buy $200 worth of gift cards or vouchers with the airline, which you can then use on tickets. Often their expiration dates are well past December 31 of that year as well, so it’s a way to extend the life of the benefit, and it’s better than trying to wait throughout the year and maybe get fees back (it is kind of hard to track what you have been reimbursed). Most readers report success when purchasing vouchers in amounts of $100 or under. You can get more ideas from my recent post about how to spend the $200 most effectively. Valuation: $200.
Platinum cardmembership confers automatic Priority Pass Select membership.
Platinum cardmembership confers automatic Priority Pass Select membership.

Airport Lounge Access: This was one of the cornerstones of the Platinum cards, though as I mentioned, this benefit is changing in a major way come March. Until then, when you have a valid ticket for same-day travel, the Platinum card gets you access to Delta, American and US Airways lounges. After March 21, though, it will just be Delta lounges that extend this benefit – and then only to the cardholder him/herself. Anyone extra costs $29 per person.

However, in addition to the airline-specific lounges, the card also confers Priority Pass Select membership on cardholders, with access to over 600 airport lounges in 100 countries no matter which airline you are flying at the time. In order to attain Priority Pass Select access, you have to call the Platinum card customer service line and actually ask for it, so be sure you do that. And remember, your card only covers you – so if you are traveling with anyone else, they’ll have to pay the $27 fee…or it will be charged to the Platinum card you have linked to your Priority Pass Select membership. To counterbalance the AA/US Airways loss, Amex has started opening its own branded Centurion lounges where Platinum cardholders get free access. However, they only currently have lounges at Las Vegas and Dallas airports with plans for lounges in San Francisco and LaGuardia in NYC for now. For more information, read my post on Understanding the Amex Platinum Lounge Access Benefit. Valuation: I’d say about $200 per year if you max out your lounge visits and value perks like free WiFi and snacks.

Global Entry application fee refunded.
The Global Entry application fee refunded.

Global Entry Application Reimbursement: If you’ve been thinking of getting Global Entry (which will also qualify you for TSA PreCheck, and which I personally love) to get you out of lengthy customs and immigration lines when you return from traveling abroad, when you charge the $100 application fee to your Platinum card, you get a $100 statement credit, so it’s free. You can find out more by reading my post on My Experience Getting the Global Entry Fee Refunded Using My Platinum Amex. Valuation: $100.

Pay With Points: When you have a Platinum card, you can redeem your Membership Rewards First points at a rate of 1 cent each using Amex Travel’s Pay With Points option. However, if you have the Business Platinum card, you can redeem your points at a fixed rate of 1.25 cents each – a 25% bonus. So a $500 flight that would normally cost you 50,000 points would only require 40,000 points if you have the Business Platinum card. While I don’t usually use my Membership Rewards points in this way, it could be a good redemption option for those who want to save a little money on airfare while still earning miles and elite status on those flights.

SPG Gold feat

Automatic Starwood Gold Status: When you have a Platinum card, you can get automatic Gold status with Starwood by calling SPG up at 1-888-625-4990 and telling them you have an Amex Platinum card. You then have the representative call Starwood on your behalf to upgrade your Starwood account to Gold status. Starwood Gold is normally attained after 25 nights or 10 stays, and gets you a 50% bonus on Starpoints (so you earn 3 points per $1 spent at Starwood properties), free internet, room upgrades, 4pm late checkout and overall better customer service. Given that internet can cost $10-$20 per night depending on where you are, plus room upgrades averaging about $10-$50 per night, even if you only have a couple of stays per year, you can still get some value from this benefit. Valuation: $100.

Screen shot 2013-11-03 at 8.44.55 PM

(Potential) Automatic Hilton Gold Status: Back in November, Amex and Hilton announced that Platinum cardholders would receive instant Hilton HHonors Gold status through 2014. You had to call in and activate by December 31, 2013, and I’ve confirmed that this is no longer available, but it might come up again in 2014.
Gold Status normally requires 20 stays, 40 nights or earning 75,000 HHonors points within a calendar year, and gets you the following perks:•  Complimentary high-speed internet access
•  Room upgrades based upon availability
•  25% bonus on all HHonors Base Points with every stay
•  Complimentary Health Club access to hotel owned and operated facilitiesThe potential for room upgrades plus those bonus points (learn more about how to maximize your HHonors points earning) and the free internet are definite pluses in my book. Especially in Europe where internet can cost you in the neighborhood of 20 euros a day, that could be huge savings. You can find the full list of Gold benefits here. Valuation: $100.

Fine Hotels and Resorts gives you many benefits
Fine Hotels and Resorts is a potentially valuable perk.

Fine Hotels & Resorts Program: The Fine Hotels and Resorts program for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders is a hotel booking site that includes a bunch of added perks and benefits when you book a hotel stay through it. Benefits include availability-based room upgrades, free night offers, complimentary breakfast, early check-ins and guaranteed 4pm check-outs, resort credits for expenses like restaurants or spa treatments, and sometimes free WiFi. Room rates are typically about the same as those being offered on the hotel’s website, but these perks can add up to thousands of dollars of extra value per stay. What’s even better is that though you normally have to book a room directly through a hotel or loyalty program’s website in order to earn points and elite credit from your stay, hotel programs consider FHR as a travel agent rather than an Online Travel Agency (OTA), you get points and elite credit and still enjoy elite benefits and these value-added perks. It’s like having the best of both worlds and getting the most value possible out of your stay. Valuation: $200.

Purchase Protection: Holiday shopping season is over, but if you used your card to buy your gifts, you’ve got an extra layer of insurance protecting your purchases. Amex’s purchase protection program offers coverage for up to 90 days after the date of purchase if your merchandise is lost, stolen or damaged, and includes purchases made all over the world for you or someone else up to the cost charged to your card up to $10,000 per purchase and $50,000 per card per year. Amex also has return protection where, if you change your mind and want to return an item, they’ll refund the charge even if the merchant won’t take it back, up to $300 per purchase and $1,000 annually. Amex also offers extended warranties for up to 1 year on purchases where the manufacturer’s warranty is 5 years or less. So using your Amex Platinum card could end up saving you a lot of money if your purchases don’t work out as well as you’d like, or if they are lost, stolen or damaged (and we’ve all heard horror stories about how that’s happened to gifts in suitcases). Valuation: $100.

Those are just some of the many benefits the Platinum card includes (there are more like the Premium Companion Ticket and Premium Car Rental Insurance) but if you can take advantage of them and really max each out by planning your travel strategically, you can more than make up the value of that $450 annual fee – even with the loss of American and US Airways lounge access.

Overall Valuation

So here’s how I see the card’s benefits valuation breaking down.

Sign-up bonus: I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents a piece, so the 25,000 points that both the personal and business Platinum cards come with right now = $450. However, the bonus sometimes goes up to 50,000 points or even 100,000 points, so if you do not yet have this card I might wait for one of those offers to come around. I’m going to leave this out of my final valuation, but just in case you were wondering. Rather, I’m basing my overall valuation off the value you can get from these benefits every year.

Airline Reimbursement: $200
Lounge Access: $200
Global Entry: $100
Starwood Gold Status: $100
Hilton Gold Status: $100
Fine Hotels & Resorts: $200
Purchase Protection: $100

So all in all, if you are savvy about maxing out each of these, your benefits package could add up to about $1,000 in extra value each year – and potentially more if you can really max out the ones like Amex FHR bookings, lounge visits, the Business Platinum Pay With Points 25% bonus, and hotel elite status. However, conservatively, I’d say you’re getting $1,000 in value minus the $450 annual fee for $550 each year.

Do you have the Amex Platinum card? If so, what benefits do you leverage and how?

For more information, see these posts:
The Amex Platinum Card Review
Is the Amex Platinum Worth the $450 Annual Fee?
Maximizing the Amex Platinum $200 Annual Airline Rebate
Understanding the Amex Platinum Lounge Access Benefit
The Amex Platinum Fine Hotels & Resorts Program
My Experience Getting Refunded for the Global Entry Application Fee With My Amex Platinum Card

Know before you go.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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