Is Upgrading to the American Express Platinum Worthwhile?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
recently helped my parents book an epic trip to Italy using 125,000 Delta SkyMiles each for Alitalia business class from New York (JFK)- Rome and returning from Milan back to JFK. My parents used their miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to pay for some nice bed and breakfasts in Italy, and then used Hyatt and Starpoints to cover the remainder of their hotel stays.
I've been talking with them about their trip and they're pretty much all set, but my Dad called today asking about which cards he should use abroad. They know the Barclaycard Arrival Plus has Chip + PIN technology, which will come in handy, but my Dad has been a loyal Amex Gold and SPG Amex cardholder for years, but sadly both of them charge foreign transaction fees. When we traveled on our father/son trip to Europe a couple of years ago, I had to literally slap his wrist several times when he tried to pay with those cards. Earlier today Nick Ewen wrote about cards we wish didn't have foreign transaction fees, and both of those cards are on the list.
My dad said he called American Express and they offered him 50,000 Membership Rewards points to upgrade his longstanding Amex Gold card to the American Express Platinum Card, and he was wondering if it's worth upgrading since that means an increase in the annual fee from $150 to $450.
My response: Absolutely.
Simply put, for that $300 difference, he'd get:
- $200 in airline credits to use until the end of 2014 (and I tipped him off about how you can use this credit to buy airline gift cards).
- In 2015 he'll get another $200 in airline credits, since the credit is based on the calendar year.
- Delta SkyClub access for himself plus access to the swanky new Amex Centurion Lounges for him and two guests.
- Global Entry reimbursement ($100)
- Priority Pass Select lounge access
- Starwood Gold Status (See How To Renew Your Platinum Amex SPG Gold Status)
- No foreign transaction fees
- Purchase protection so he can buy stuff in Italy and know its protected even if it were to be stolen or break on the train between cities .
Plus, at 1.8 cents apiece, to me those 50,000 points are worth at least $900. On this trip alone, he had transferred existing Amex Membership Rewards points to Delta to book their flights on Alitalia. For 125,000 Delta SkyMiles and $50 each, they got tickets that would have cost a total of $5,011.60, meaning they got over 4 cents per point in value for their redemption. If you can redeem for that kind of value, the 50,000 points would be worth roughly $2,000!
Once I talked my dad through these benefits, which over the next year will be over $1,300 in just the points and airline credits (and there are many more benefits I didn't even touch on), he realized that upgrading to the American Express Platinum card was a no-brainer. If you have an existing Amex charge card, you can always call member services and see if they'll offer you a deal to upgrade your card. If not, you can apply as a new cardholder and still earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points (after spending $5,000 on the card in the first 3 months).
American Express does send out targeted offers from time to time, so keep an eye out for them in the mail. For instance, I recently got The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN (with a targeted offer of 100,000 points), which has the same basic benefits along with some enhanced options like OPEN savings and better flight redemption rates.
You can also check the Card March Tool to see instantly if American Express has identified you for an offer. I've spoken with reps at American Express, who said they've recently uploaded some lucrative targeted offers for consumers. There's no hard credit pull for checking, and other issuers put targeted offers from time to time, so scope it out if you haven't done so recently.
Overall, on the surface it may seem like $450 a year is a huge fee, but if you get a solid sign-up bonus and know how to maximize the benefits (especially the yearly $200 in airline rebates), the Platinum card is a no-brainer for many travelers.