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Why the Amex Platinum card is best for active-duty military

Feb. 23, 2021
17 min read
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I have my nine years of active-duty service in the Navy (Beat Army!) to thank for getting me interested in points and miles. Traveling and moving all the time was hurting my family's wallet and I knew there had to be a better way to cover some, if not all, of our travel expenses.

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(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Among the many travel strategies and benefits I took advantage of during my service, one of the best was getting and maximizing The Platinum Card® from American Express, which I continue to have and use to this day. While the Amex Platinum normally has a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees), the true out-of-pocket annual fee for those on active duty is a nice, round $0. Let's look at why such a great offer exists and what makes one of the best cards so beneficial for active-duty military members.

Why the Amex Platinum is the best card for military members

The Platinum Card now is viewed almost reverently in military circles because its high $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) is waived each year you're on active duty. Plus, the card comes with perks that align nicely with the needs of those in the military. For example, the Amex Platinum gets you into American Express Centurion lounges and Priority Pass lounges, comes with multiple annual credits valid toward airlines and Uber, provides credits you can use toward free streaming services and more. You can also be reimbursed for your application fee to Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Clear. Enrollment is required in advance for some benefits.

Additionally, the card can immediately elevate your hotel elite status to Gold with programs such as Hilton and Marriott.

That's all on top of the 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards points awarded after spending $6,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening. That 100,000-point bonus is valued at $2,000 by TPG. If you are remotely interested in the card, also check CardMatch to see if you may have an even better welcome offer of 120,000 or 150,000 Amex points (offer subject to change at anytime, and not everyone will have targeted offers for more points).

American Express waives the annual fee not only for Amex cards — such as the Amex Platinum — but also for any accounts when an active-duty member is registered as an authorized user, including on your spouse's account. With the Amex Platinum, that's a savings of $175 a year for up to three authorized users (see rates and fees).

As a result, my fellow officers and senior enlisted all became familiar with the card and held it themselves. We even had office pools where we rotated referral links so the new person coming to the office could apply and one of us would earn a referral bonus of extra points.

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Amex Platinum benefits

Now that you have the Amex Platinum card — without paying the $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) — it's time to dig into some of the top benefits that come with it.

Delta Sky Club access

Because of the Fly America Act, and the rule that all official travel must be booked through the Defense Travel System, Delta is often the airline for your official government travel. When you're flying Delta and have the Amex Platinum in your wallet, you get free Delta Sky Club entry on your day of travel.

Related: The best Delta Sky Club lounges in the US

Sky Clubs have come a long way in the last few years and, in my opinion, are the best domestic airline lounges. Remember the free lounge entry is only for the cardholder. But, if your traveling partner has a Platinum authorized user card and is also traveling on Delta, they can get in at no charge, too.

Delta Sky Club Salt Lake City (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Amex Centurion Lounge

If you're not flying on Delta and your airport has one of these Amex Centurion Lounges, they're an also excellent option to visit before or between flights, since your Amex Platinum card will get you in — regardless of what airline you're flying that day.

Once inside an Amex Centurion Lounge, you can enjoy amenities such as seasonally-inspired food from renowned local chefs, signature cocktails, premium spirits and curated wines — all complimentary. Some lounges offer spa services, wine tasting areas, family rooms and shower suites — also all complimentary.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Priority Pass membership

The U.S. military travels the world, requiring more than just Delta Sky Club access to be comfortable in the majority of airports we transit. Priority Pass lounge club membership picks up the slack and allows you and two guests to enter any of the 1,300-plus lounges for no additional charge. I was consistently pleased to find a Priority Pass lounge in almost every airport the Navy required me to visit across Asia and the Middle East. Enrollment required for select benefits.

$200 in Uber credit

(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.)

In order to go out and enjoy yourself while traveling, all ranks in the military are required to have a plan to avoid potential DUI situations. They also often have a curfew. Uber comes in handy here, and it's even better when you have up to $15 in Uber credit every month (with an up to $20 credit in December) courtesy of your Platinum Card. Credits are only good for use in the U.S. (one of my biggest pet peeves right now with Uber), and they do not carry over to the next month. They can also be used toward Uber Eats if you don't need or want a ride that month.

$200 in airline credits

Every calendar year you receive up to $200 in statement credits from a participating airline of your choice to cover any incidental fees — such as checked bags and inflight food and beverage — you charge to your Platinum card. I view this benefit as the icing on the cake for the Amex Platinum when you aren't paying an annual fee. On top of waiving your annual fee, Amex gives you another $200 to spend with an airline of your choice each and every year. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Hotel elite status

Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Gold status come with being an Amex Platinum cardholder. These will make your hotel stays worldwide more comfortable, may score you breakfast in some Hilton properties, and should give you bonus points in your hotel loyalty accounts on government-paid room nights.

Remember you have to use your Government Travel Charge Card to pay for the room, meaning you won't earn points via your credit card, but you can keep the points earned for staying the night in your hotel account. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Enjoy complimentary breakfast with Hilton Diamond or Gold status (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit

If you're in the military, you need Global Entry. If you stay in service more than a few years, you're going to travel internationally, and there's a good chance it will be via commercial air.

Get Global Entry now and skip the immigration line upon return to the U.S. You can be reimbursed for your application fee if you pay with your Amex Platinum card as it offers a statement credit for the $100 application fee. Plus, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck for free. You'll be reimbursed once every four years for the fee. If you already have Global Entry, use it to get a friend or family member registered for free. Anyone can use the credit, not just the cardholder.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and Military Lending Act

The ability to get cards such as the Amex Platinum without paying an annual fee during active duty service is largely thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Military Lending Act (MLA). SCRA offers financial and legal protection for, among other things, credit cards, mortgages and taxes. Some of the most important of these benefits include:

  • Reduced interest rates. The interest rate on debt — including credit cards, car loans, business obligations and some student loans, as well as fees, service charges and renewal fees — is cut to 6 percent for anything incurred before entering active-duty service. For mortgages, the lower interest rate extends for a year after active-duty service.
  • Foreclosures are postponed. No sale, foreclosure or seizure of property for nonpayment of pre-service mortgage debt is allowed if done during or within nine months after your service on active duty, unless there's a valid court order. This is especially helpful in states that allow foreclosures to proceed without involving the courts.
  • Deferred income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service, along with state and local taxing authorities, must defer your income taxes due before or during your military service if your ability to pay is materially affected by military service. Also, no interest or penalty can be added because of this deferral.
  • Protection for small-business owners. If you own a small business, your nonbusiness assets and military pay are protected from creditors while you're on active duty. This also applies to business debts or obligations.
  • Termination of automobile leases. You may terminate an automobile lease under circumstances that include: signing a lease agreement before being called to active duty; signing an agreement and then receiving permanent change-of-station orders outside the continental U.S.; or signing an agreement and then receiving orders to deploy.

The MLA protects service members as well as their dependents from certain lending practices. The highlight of the MLA is the implementation of the Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) regulation. This prevents creditors from exceeding 36% annually in total credit-related charges to covered borrowers under the MLA.

The MLA has been amended multiple times since it was enacted in 2006, which expanded what credit services were covered in an attempt to prevent credit agencies from shifting and hiding fees. This expansion of covered services prompted many credit card companies to waive annual fees in order to avoid complications. You can find an in-depth explanation of the MLA here.

There was a relatively recent change in the way American Express processes annual fee waivers and benefits for military card members. Whether your annual fee is waived based on the SCRA or MLA depends on the time you apply for the card versus when you entered active service. If you held the card prior to active service, your fee is waived based on the SCRA. If you apply for the card after you are active duty, you need to request relief under the MLA.

You can request Amex SCRA benefits online but must call or chat with an Amex rep to request MLA benefits.

When should you apply for the Amex Platinum?

The Platinum Card is one you can utilize and maintain throughout your military service with no annual fee. However, if you're active duty and planning to maximize your credit card benefits, consider your Chase 5/24 status first, ensuring you have a path to earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Applying for the Amex Platinum will add to your 5/24 standing, so you don't want to prevent yourself from getting a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Other military-friendly Amex cards

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Like the other Amex cards, this card's $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) is waived for active duty military personnel. And it doesn't hurt that the popular Rose Gold version of the card is back.

The welcome offer is 60,000 valuable Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases with the card in the first six months of account opening. These points are valued at $1,200 by TPG. The card earns a generous 4 points per dollar spent at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with an airline and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Receive up to $120 in annual dining credits with select merchants and up to $120 per year in Uber credits. The card also now has a $10 monthly credit you can use towards Uber or Uber Eats in the U.S. (up to $120 annually). That puts the card at $240 in annual credits dolled out in monthly increments. The card must be added in your Uber app to receive this benefit. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The card's $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) is waived for active duty members. Right now, new card members receive 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

The card also gives you an annual companion pass valid on select flights in Main Cabin, Comfort+ or first class at each renewal, 20% off in-flight purchases, gets the cardholder into the Delta Sky Club when flying Delta and into the Amex Centurion Lounge when flying Delta.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

The Hilton Aspire card awards more credits each year than the $450 annual fee costs (see rates and fees), even if you had to pay the annual fee. But, since the annual fee is waived for active duty military, the math gets even better. In addition to the generous welcome offer of 150,000 Hilton points after you use your new card to make $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening, the card also gives you instant Hilton Diamond elite status. TPG values those points at $900.

It also awards up to $250 in airline incidental credits each year, up to $250 in annual resort credits at Hilton properties and unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access. Enrollment required for select benefits.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card

(Photo by Sara Wass for The Points Guy)

The card's $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) is waived for military members, and the current welcome offer is for 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of cardmembership.​ TPG values this bonus at $630.

This card awards 6 points per dollar of eligible purchases spent at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with an airline and 2 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases. Perks include an up to $300 annual statement credit on eligible spending at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program (though this benefit is changing to $25 in monthly dining credits on Sep. 22, 2022), an annual free award night (worth up to 50,000 points) every card anniversary, Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and reimbursement of your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee.

Cashback Rewards Plus American Express® Credit Card from USAA

This no-annual-fee card offers 5% cash back on your first $3,000 in gas station and military base purchases each year, 2% back on your first $3,000 in grocery purchases each year and 1% back on all other purchases. You can redeem these rewards for cash in the USAA Service Rewards Center.

The information for the USAA Cashback Rewards Plus Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

I've had the Amex Platinum Card since 2012 and was sad when I saw the annual fee for the first time after leaving the Navy.

Every time I use my card now, it reminds me of the years of value my wife and I received from the card all around the world — for absolutely nothing out of our pockets. There are several other benefits not listed above for the card, and these could also provide significant value based on your own individual situation, but the bottom line is that who are active duty military may be well served to get the Amex Platinum and enjoy all the perks while not paying an annual fee.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson and Ryan Smith.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

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

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