Is the Amex Platinum worth it for a points and miles newbie? I booked a trip to find out
Welcome to the first installment of a year-long series where Tarah Chieffi, TPG's family travel reporter, shares her experience using various points, benefits, credits and access from her first-ever premium rewards credit card, the Platinum Card from American Express.
A few years ago, when my husband suggested we sign up for a premium travel rewards credit card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I immediately scoffed at the idea.
Why in the world would we need a credit card with an annual fee upward of $500?
After digging deeper into the world of points and miles (a common side effect of writing for TPG) and reading about the room upgrades, airport lounge access and free breakfasts that I could enjoy with a premium travel card, I decided to swallow my pride and tell my husband he was right. We should try out a premium rewards card after all.
But $500 is still $500, and I didn't take the decision to apply for a premium card lightly. I researched each card and its benefits to ensure I would get back at least the full amount of the card's annual fee using the various perks (travel and otherwise) that came along with the card itself. After hours of reading TPG articles on the subject, we decided to go with the Amex Platinum.
My husband and I had been planning to visit New Orleans since before the pandemic, and with my shiny new card in hand, it was time to test its capabilities by finally booking that trip.
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Booking my trip using Amex Travel
I started by searching all New Orleans hotels in the American Express Travel portal that were available on the dates we planned to visit. We did need to pay in advance via the Amex Travel portal, but we earned 5 points per dollar in the process.
During my search, I noticed that certain properties were flagged as being part of the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts collection or The Hotel Collection, both of which come with additional perks when you book through Amex Travel. (Keep in mind, The Hotel Collection benefits are only available when you book a stay lasting two or more nights.)
With only two days to spend exploring the city, we wouldn't be spending enough time at the hotel to justify the higher-priced hotels in the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts collection, which helped me narrow my search.
After a round of analyzing potential properties, I went with The Eliza Jane, part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt.
The location was walkable to the French Quarter yet far enough away to quiet the raucous noise of Bourbon Street. The historical building's industrial-chic style won me over at first glance.
I knew I'd receive a $100 credit to spend on qualifying on-site expenses like drinks and dining, as well as a room upgrade at check-in (if available), but I was surprised to receive an email from Amex Travel almost immediately after booking with a discount code for various local tours and experiences. I didn't have time to use any on this trip, but the discount code in the email can be used anytime before the end of the year.
One of the newer perks of the Amex Platinum is a $200 annual hotel credit on prepaid bookings at Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection properties, which requires a minimum two-night stay. (Enrollment is required for select benefits.) By booking my reservation at The Eliza Jane through the Amex Travel portal, I was eligible to receive this as a $200 statement credit.
For a two-night trip, this essentially lowered the rate by $100 per night — not too shabby when you take into account the other perks I was hoping to enjoy upon arrival.
Normally, when booking through third parties, you don't earn hotel points or elite-qualifying nights. However, Fine Hotels and Resorts and The Hotel Collection reservations usually do qualify. And sure enough, my stay did. That's a huge bonus for those who are chasing elite status. I earned 4,423 World of Hyatt points (2,401 base points plus 2,022 through the Bonus Journeys promotion), which TPG values at 1.7 cents each.
Checking in to the hotel using my Amex Platinum
I'll admit, I am pretty shy when it comes to asking for upgrades or freebies, so I was relieved to be greeted as an Amex Platinum cardholder at check-in and told that I had received a complimentary upgrade to a one-bedroom suite.
That upgrade gave us about 150 additional square feet, which included a separate living area and a much better view than the standard room I had booked.
The friendly front desk agent handed me a letter that detailed the perks available to us. I was prepared for the $100 amenity credit and room upgrade, but I was surprised to find out that breakfast for the two of us would be included as well.
When I asked how I could use the amenity credit, the agent told me that I could apply it toward purchases at the lobby bar or in the hotel gift shop. My husband and I love a good IPA, but I had my doubts we'd work our way through a $100 bar tab over the course of 48 hours, so the gift shop was a nice backup plan.
Related: How I used this awesome Amex perk for a much-needed night away
Enjoying my Amex Platinum hotel perks
We headed straight upstairs to see our suite. It was spacious and retained so much of the building's original charm, as The Eliza Jane has served as a warehouse for distributing liquor, gunpowder and a local daily newspaper over the years. It leans into soft colors, rich fabrics and fluffy pillows to offset the harshness of the exposed brick walls and ceiling beams.
My husband joked that I was the only person in New Orleans who'd rather stay in than go out, but I was never disappointed when it was time to head back to the room and snuggle into my cozy bed at the end of the night.
When we got up each morning, we enjoyed an impressive complimentary breakfast served buffet-style in the hotel's restaurant, which is otherwise closed due to COVID-19. There were classic breakfast buffet items like eggs, bacon, sausage and pastries, plus Southern staples like grits and an assortment of hot sauces available for seasoning. We had been scouting New Orleans breakfast spots prior to our trip, but it was nice to save that money and spend it elsewhere.
Thanks to New Orleans' convenient lack of an open container law, we were able to stop by the lobby bar a few times for to-go beers to be consumed on our walk to the French Quarter. As expected, we were left with an on-site credit surplus, which we took care of prior to check out by purchasing a T-shirt from the gift shop.
We used our cards (I added my husband as an additional cardmember during the sign-up process, as certain perks extend to other authorized users) all over New Orleans in an attempt to work toward meeting the $6,000 spend threshold I need to reach in the first six months of card membership to earn 80,000 bonus American Express Membership Rewards points. According to TPG's current valuations, Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each, making the sign-up bonus worth a hefty $1,600 in travel. Challenge accepted.
We hit up hot spots like Cochon, Cafe du Monde and Pat O'Brien's, along with local favorites like the Napoleon House and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar.
Taking advantage of one last Amex Platinum perk for the trip home: Clear membership
I've had TSA PreCheck for a couple of years and will never go back to my days of standing in the regular TSA line. That's especially true now that I can receive a statement credit when it's time to renew that membership with my Amex Platinum card.
I've been a bit more hesitant to pony up the additional $189 annual fee for Clear Plus expedited security clearance, but as luck would have it, my new card covers that, too. (Enrollment is required for select benefits.)
Clear Plus isn't available at my home airport, but I had access to it at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). We stopped a Clear Plus agent before heading to security and she walked us through the initial sign-up process before showing us how to use the biometrics kiosks and escorting us to the baggage screening area.
The entire process took less than 10 minutes, and on subsequent trips using TSA PreCheck and Clear Plus, I've gotten through security screening shockingly fast.
I think it's safe to say that after one trip, I'm a premium travel rewards card convert.
On this trip alone, I saved $200 on my hotel room, got upgraded to a suite, received complimentary breakfast and drinks and breezed through airport security with my new Clear Plus membership. With all that and a free T-shirt from the hotel gift shop to commemorate my first trip as an Amex Platinum card member, what more can you ask for?
We'll soon find out, as I'm already planning my next trip with my new Amex Platinum. There are still a variety of perks and built-in credits to unlock and plenty of places I want to see, so stay tuned to see how it goes when I start redeeming the bonus points and receiving more benefits for the very first time.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.