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Is the Amex Platinum still the king of premium rewards cards?

July 02, 2021
10 min read
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For nearly 40 years, The Platinum Card® from American Express has been a trailblazer the premium rewards card market. But since Amex recently increased the Platinum's annual fee to $695 (see rates and fees), this controversial change makes consumers wonder whether the Amex Platinum is still the king of premium rewards cards.

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Besides a generous welcome bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in your first six months of card membership, the unique element of the current offer is a bonus multiplier on non-travel purchases. New cardholders will now be able to earn 10x on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you "Shop Small" in the U.S. during the same first six months of card membership. That’s an additional 9 points per dollar on top of the 1x you'll typically earn for these purchases.

Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card have been in a neck-and-neck race for the title of the best premium rewards card since the launch of the Reserve in 2016. Sure, there are other premium airline or hotel cobranded cards, although those inherently appeal to a more limited audience. There's also the Citi Prestige® Card -- but it has mostly taken itself out of the race when it decided to cut benefits -- including car rental insurance, trip cancellation and interruption protection, worldwide travel accident insurance, trip delay protection, baggage delay protection, lost baggage protection, Citi® Price Rewind, and 90 day return protection -- in a time when competitors have added them.

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

So with a refreshed welcome bonus, annual fee increase and added perks, how does the Platinum card now fare against the Reserve? As you can see below, it's a bit more complicated than simply the bonus itself. Let's dive in.

Related: Amex Platinum vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which card is right for you?

What happened before the pandemic

2019 was a golden year for travel, with a record-high number of air travelers. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

In early 2020, Chase refreshed the Sapphire Reserve, raising the annual fee to $550 while adding new perks, including bonus points for Lyft rides, plus discounts and statement credits for food delivery from DoorDash.

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Yet, Amex has taken it a step further for 2021 by increasing the annual fee of the Amex Platinum to $695 (see rates and fees). If Amex is no longer going to try and compete on price anymore, then the focus shifts to the welcome offer, bonus categories and card perks to see which card comes out ahead.

And then the pandemic happened.

Related: Which card should I use? A guide to navigating COVID card bonuses and benefits

Who adapted to the pandemic-era better?

Qantas Airways aircraft parked at Sydney Airport. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Out of all the issuers, Amex was the first to create non-travel benefits on the Platinum. However, these temporary statement credits were only available for cardholders until the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, Chase made periodic, ongoing changes that still remain intact as some consumers aren't ready to hit the skies just yet. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve's already flexible $300 annual travel credit can also be used toward purchases at grocery stores and gas stations through the end of 2021. Finally, Reserve cardholders can maximize cash back with Chase’s Pay Yourself Back.

At the end of the day, both Chase and Amex have made significant changes to keep existing cardholders engaged. However, Chase deserves extra kudos for continuously improving Reserve's card perks. Plus, the Reserve also won TPG's 2020 Reader's Choice Award for Best Premium Travel Credit Card.

Related: Why I’m keeping my Amex Platinum even though I’m traveling less

Amex Platinum's long-standing benefits

Premium cards with their hefty annual fees are supposed to help average people travel a bit more luxuriously, and the Amex Platinum absolutely excels at that.

The Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport (LGA). (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

It offers the most comprehensive airport lounge access benefits of any card on the market, and the competition doesn't come close. Platinum cardholders enjoy a Priority Pass select membership (although Amex removed the ability to access Priority Pass restaurants), access to Amex's growing collection of Centurion lounges and access to Delta SkyClubs on same-day Delta flights. Enrollment required for select benefits.

The ability to consistently gain lounge access even on domestic flights is a huge plus, and puts the Platinum well ahead of the Sapphire Reserve, which only offers a Priority Pass membership (with restaurant access).

For those travelers who want a taste of the good life but don't necessarily travel enough to earn elite status, the Platinum is also a good choice, because it offers complimentary Gold elite status with both Hilton and Marriott, giving you access to elevated benefits at more than 10,000 hotels around the world (enrollment required). Despite this being a top request from customers, Chase doesn't offer any sort of airline or hotel elite status to Sapphire Reserve cardholders.

Why there's still room for competition

Travel's back, and you'll want to make sure you have the right credit card to accompany your first trips since the pandemic. (Photo by Yelizaveta Tomashevska/Getty Images)

Despite all of this, the Amex Platinum is far from perfect on the travel perks front. In exchange for the annual fee increase to $695 per year (see rates and fees), Amex has added new annual statement credits that you may (or may not) deem useful to your everyday life, including the following:

  • Up to $200 annual hotel statement credit on Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings with Amex Travel when you pay with your Amex Platinum.
  • Up to $300 annual Equinox credit (distributed in $25 statement credits monthly) on select Equinox memberships.
  • Up to $179 Clear membership credit.
  • Up to $240 in annual digital entertainment credit (distributed in $20 statement credits monthly) at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times.
  • Enrollment required for select benefits

In terms of long-standing benefits, the Amex Platinum also offers (an up to) an up to $200 annual airline incidental fee statement credit to help offset its yearly fee, but this credit is fraught with restrictions that make it hard for the average traveler to use. Enrollment required.

Related: Why Amex should change its airline fee credit right now — and how they can do it

While the Sapphire Reserve offers fewer credits, they feel less gimmicky in comparison. Cardholders will enjoy a straightforward $300 annual travel credit that gets automatically applied to a broad range of purchases, including hotels, ride share services and actual airfare purchases (something the Amex Platinum credit does not cover). And now, during the pandemic, it can be used on groceries and gas purchases until the end of 2021.

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

While the Platinum offers a nice 5x points per dollar on airfare booked directly with the airline (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, that's a pretty narrow definition. And while the 10x bonus on restaurants and small businesses is a huge perk, keep in mind that it's for a limited to the first six months from card opening and is only applicable to new cardholders.

Sapphire Reserve's bonuses

The Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on dining and travel, and while that is less than the Amex Platinum's 5x, the Sapphire Reserve's broad definition of both of these categories makes it more valuable to the average cardholder. Plus there's an often-forgotten 10x bonus category for Lyft rides, an incredible 20% return on an increasingly popular service (according to TPG valuations).

Rideshare services have become incredibly popular over the last few years. (Photo courtesy of Lyft)

By adding $60 in annual DoorDash statement credits for 2021, as well as a complimentary year of unlimited free delivery through DashPass, Chase offers you the ability to get everything you want out of a single card, while still earning 3x on any future DoorDash purchases you make above the credit limit.

Bottom line

(Photo by Josh Gribben for The Points Guy)

The Amex Platinum was the original premium travel rewards card -- decades before the Sapphire Reserve launched. For new cardholders, the 10x on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you "shop small" in the U.S. during the same first six months of card membership is an enticing proposition.

However, after those six months -- and for existing Platinum cardholders -- the Amex Platinum may not be the best choice for everyone.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum differing in terms of annual fee, the competition between these two cards has gotten much more interesting. Ultimately, these cards each offer a very different set of perks that will appeal to different types of customers. Those looking for luxury travel long term will likely fare better with the Amex Platinum, while those looking for a more straightforward premium card will do better with the Sapphire Reserve.

Application link: Amex Platinum for 100,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 or more in six months.

Application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve for 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 or more in three months.

You may also want to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for an up to 150k-point Platinum Card® from American Express. These offers are subject to change at any time.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Josh Gribben for The Points Guy)
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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