Is the Amex Platinum once again the king of travel rewards cards?

Jan 9, 2020

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The Chase Sapphire Reserve® and The Platinum Card® from American Express have been in a neck-and-neck race for the title of the best premium rewards credit card since the launch of the CSR 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 other are racing to add them.

Barely a week into the new year, the hottest story of 2020 by far is Chase’s decision to refresh the Sapphire Reserve, raising the annual fee to $550, effective Jan. 12, 2020, and adding new perks — including bonus points for Lyft rides and discounts and statement credits for food delivery from DoorDash.

Further Reading: Significant changes confirmed for Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card

While Chase sold these changes as a benefit enhancement, many people have complained about their annual fee going up by $100 a year in exchange for benefits they may not have any interest in. The Amex Platinum was the original premium travel rewards credit card, decades before the Sapphire Reserve launched. With the Chase card’s changes, could it be restored to its position at the top of the pack? Let’s take a look

How Amex benefits from these changes

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

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 we’ll have to focus on the welcome bonus, bonus categories and card perks to see which card comes out ahead.

Anyone who missed out on the 100,000-point welcome bonus that the Sapphire Reserve launched with wishes they could go back in time and get their hands on it. While it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see that bonus again, you can still get a 100,000-point bonus on the Amex Platinum if you’re targeted through CardMatch or even though a snail mail offer (offers subject to change at any time). If we want to focus instead on the publicly-available bonuses, the Platinum still takes the lead. It offers new applicants 60,000 Membership Rewards points after they spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months, 20% more than the 50,000 point-bonus available on the Sapphire Reserve after cardmembers spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

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 when flying Delta. 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. 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 and it’s too early to crown it the sole king of premium rewards cards. 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. 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).

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

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 and airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, that’s a pretty narrow definition. That’s also only one bonus category to speak of, leaving a lot of potential points on the table. 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 the new 10x bonus category for Lyft rides, an incredible 20% return on an increasingly popular service.

One of the biggest blind spots of the Amex Platinum is supermarkets and dining. To earn rewards there, you’d need to turn to the American Express® Gold Card, adding another $250 in annual fees to your yearly total (see rates and fees). 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 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.

Bottom line

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. Some customers are happy with the new benefits on the Sapphire Reserve, while others will likely decide that the new annual fee is too much. Ultimately, these cards each offer a very different set of perks that will appeal to different types of customers. Those looking for luxury travel will likely fare better with the Amex Platinum, while foodies will do better with the Sapphire Reserve.

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

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

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