Is the Amex Platinum once again the king of premium rewards cards?
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest information.
In order to get potential cardholders thinking about applying for a premium travel card in the short term, issuers have gotten more creative with welcome bonuses. After all, we’re in the midst of a pandemic and travel isn’t on everyone’s radar.
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Take The Platinum Card® from American Express as an example. Besides a generous welcome bonus of 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 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 points on up to $15,000 in combined eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets during the same first six months of card membership. That’s an additional 9x points on top of the 1x point you 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 credit card since the launch of the Reserve in 2016. Sure, there are other premium airline or hotel credit cards (though those inherently appeal to a more limited audience). There’s also the Citi Prestige® Card — but it’s mostly taken itself out of the race by cutting benefits at a time when others are adding them. The information for the City 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, how does the Platinum card now fair against the Reserve? As you can see below, it’s a bit more complicated than simply the bonus itself. Let’s dive in.
What happened before the pandemic
Early in 2020, Chase decided to refresh the Sapphire Reserve, raising the annual fee to $550 (for new cardholders; existing renewals will be processed at $450 through 2020) and adding new perks — including bonus points for Lyft rides and discounts and statement credits for food delivery from DoorDash.
By raising the annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve to $550, matching the Amex Platinum (see rates and fees), Chase removed one of the biggest arguments in favor of opting for the Reserve. If it’s not going to try and compete on price anymore, then the focus shifts to the sign-up bonus, bonus categories and card perks to see which card comes out ahead.
And then the pandemic happened.
Amex was a first mover to create non-travel benefits on the Platinium, offering up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (up to $20 per month) from May through December 2020. However, this is set to expire at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Chase made periodic, ongoing changes throughout the last nine months.
For instance, Chase Sapphire Reserve 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 made significant changes to keep existing cardholders engaged. Amex had the foresight to make the Platinum’s limited-time benefits last through the end of the year, while Chase deserves kudos for continuously improving Reserve’s card perks. The Reserve also won TPG’s 2020 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Premium Travel Credit Card.
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.
It offers the most comprehensive airport lounge access benefits of any credit 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. 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). Enrollment required for select benefits.
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. Despite this being a top request from customers, Chase doesn’t offer any sort of elite status to Sapphire Reserve cardholders.
Why there’s still room for competition
Despite all of this, the Amex Platinum is far from perfect on the travel perks front. It does offer an up to $200 annual airline fee 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 for select benefits.
The Sapphire Reserve, in comparison, offers a $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 Platinum credit does not cover). And now, during the pandemic, it can be used on groceries and gas purchases too.
The Sapphire also has an edge for most people when it comes to bonus categories. While the Platinum offers a nice 5x points per dollar on airfare booked directly with the airline (up to $500,000 on these purchases starting Jan. 1, 2021) and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, that’s a pretty narrow definition.
And while the 10x bonus on groceries and gas is a huge perk, keep in mind that it’s for a limited time (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 oft-forgotten 10x bonus category for Lyft rides, an incredible 20% return on an increasingly popular service (according to TPG valuations).
By adding $60 in annual DoorDash statement credits for 2020 and 2021, as well as a 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 points on any future DoorDash purchases you make above the credit limit.
The Amex Platinum was the original premium travel rewards credit card, decades before the Sapphire Reserve launched. For new cardholders, the 10x points on up to $15,000 in combined eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets during the same first six months of card membership is an enticing proposition.
However, after those six months — and for existing Platinum cardholders — Amex will have to do more as we look towards 2021.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum now tied 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.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
Featured photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy.
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