From private jets to Walmart credits: What has Amex done to my beloved Platinum card?
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I’m a maximizer at heart. I want to make the most of any experience whether it’s travel, the breakfast buffet at my hotel…or my credit card perks.
Recently though, I’ve begun to question my allegiance to one particular card because, frankly, it’s becoming a chore to maximize.
The Platinum Card® from American Express has been in my wallet since my early 20s. Granted, I haven’t seen that many iterations of the Amex Platinum. But in my six-or-so years of having the card, I’ve witnessed its list of perks get more and more bloated as its annual fee has ballooned from $450 to $550 and now to $695 per year (see rates and fees).
Earlier this year, I wrote about the evolution of the Platinum card to encompass more “lifestyle” benefits. But its most recent update — one that included a Walmart+ subscription and SoulCycle statement credit — had me scratching my head and thinking, “What is Amex doing to my beloved Platinum card?”
Here’s what I’m still wondering.
When did the Platinum start losing its way?
Instead of going through the long history of the Amex Platinum (it dates back to 1984, after all), I’ll focus on changes from the past few years, and especially in 2021.
While mostly travel-focused for many years, the card’s perks have begun to extend well beyond just travel in recent years. In 2017, shortly after I became a cardholder, Amex began its snowball of adding statement credits (along with annual fee increases). First, there was an up to $200 annual Uber statement credit. Then, cardmembers began to receive an up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit in 2018. Those two joined existing perks like the card’s up to $200 in annual statement credits toward airline incidental fees.
But more major changes were still in store.
Enrollment required for select benefits, terms apply.
2021 Amex Platinum changes
Amex’s latest moves this year show that while the Platinum isn’t entirely shedding its travel focus, it is expanding its perks package in an attempt become an everything card — well, at least for certain demographics. The card has taken on new benefits that include statement credits for everything from Equinox memberships to digital entertainment, and even private jet memberships.
I began to wonder why Amex was making these changes — who is this card even for any more and, more importantly, is this still the right card for me?
“A lot of the value we put in [to the Amex Platinum] is either co-funded or merchant-funded, and we’ll continue to work with our partners to do that,” Steve Squeri, American Express CEO and executive chairman, said in a 2020 third-quarter earnings call.
Partnerships are the name of the game, and this is where Amex has gone down a proverbial rabbit hole this year, in my opinion.
A laundry list of partner-driven perks — from Wheels Up private jet discounts to Equinox credits — were introduced in July 2021 to lend the card even more potential value. But with them, the annual fee leapt up another 26%, from $550 to $695 per year.
Some may argue that the card began to lose its edge long before this year. But for me, the Amex Platinum lost its way with these developments, specifically. Amex’s reliance on third-party perks as a core value proposition may hurt the issuer in the end as cardholders discover their card has begun to resemble nothing so much as a high-priced coupon book.
Perks for the sake of perks
There is no doubt that credit card perks are great, but there is also a point at which the Amex Platinum’s seem to have shifted to quantity over quality. And at what point does the opportunity cost of keeping track of these benefits outweigh the actual value cardmembers like myself can derive from them?
The Amex Platinum card by itself now has at least 10 different built-in credits that are doled out in four time frames that range from monthly to semiannually, annually and every 4 – 4.5 years.
The annual statement credits include:
- Annual airline fee credit of up to $200.*
- Up to $200 back in statement credits each calendar year on prepaid Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Amex Platinum.*
- Up to $189 back per calendar year on your Clear membership (expedited security).*
- Up to $300 statement credit when purchasing one SoulCycle at-home bike — on up to 15 bikes per calendar year.*
Monthly perks include:
- Up to $15 in Uber cash for U.S. services per month ($35 in December).*
- Up to $240 digital entertainment credits annually split into $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with your card at one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM and The New York Times.*
- Up to $300 Equinox credit annually split into $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships.*
- Up to $155 in statement credits toward Walmart+ membership annually to cover the $12.95 monthly fee. Plus Ups are excluded*
Its twice-per-year statement credit is:
- Annual statement credits of up to $100 at Saks Fifth Avenue ($50 credit January to June; $50 credit July to December).*
The four-year perk is:
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100, and every 4.5 years for PreCheck).*
*Enrollment required for select benefits, terms apply.
That is a lot to keep track of.
While there is the potential for $1,800 in value by maximizing every single credit to its fullest, that assumes you’ll know what they are, and more importantly, that you care about each specific benefit and the services it covers, notably that extremely limited digital entertainment perk.
There’s also an element of psychology and consumer behavior involved — is an offer compelling enough for a cardholder to go out of their way to use it? For instance, an existing Peloton user will most likely not switch to SoulCycle, just to maximize an up to $300 statement credit on a $2,500 bike.
Personally, I don’t have use for the Wheels Up private jet discounts the card now offers. Nor do I find an Equinox credit or Walmart+ membership especially valuable. And I have to seriously go out of my way to use the digital entertainment and Saks credits. For instance, I already have Amazon Prime so I don’t need Walmart+, and Saks is not somewhere I typically shop.
What’s more, the launch of some of these new benefits seems rather off-brand for Amex and the premium cachet that its strives for.
Who is the Platinum card for anymore?
For years, the Amex Platinum card has not only been a premium card, but it’s also been a status symbol of sorts. Platinum card membership opens the door (literally) to numerous high-end, bespoke events from a speakeasy at the U.S. Open to installations at Art Basel.
And of course, there’s access to the Global Lounge Collection, including Centurion Lounges, as well as other elite-like perks in the realm of travel and lifestyle.
However, over the last year, that prestige feels like it has been diluted significantly.
For instance, while a monthly Walmart+ membership offers convenience, including free and fast shipping on items from Walmart.com, there may be a disconnect from a consumer perspective of what Walmart stands for versus what the Amex Platinum stands for. My initial reaction was complete confusion as, on the surface, it seemed like a disjointed partnership.
With such varied benefits, many requiring activation and sometimes follow-up with Amex just to save a few dollars, this begs the question: Who is the Amex Platinum’s target demographic? And what kind of cardmember is Amex focusing on these days?
There are still positives
That said, I’m keeping my Amex Platinum (for now) because I still find value in lounge access, luxury hotel benefits and several of the credits that I mentioned previously such as the annual up to $200 Uber Cash credit.
On the lounge front, Amex says it has the largest collection of lounges of any credit card issuer with more than 1,300 partner lounges in 140 countries. This includes Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, Escape Lounges (Centurion Studio Partner), Lufthansa lounges and more. In most cases, if I’m flying out of an airport in a major city, I’ll be able to access a lounge thanks to my Platinum card.
The Amex Platinum also offers impressive perks for hotel stays. Beyond the new $200 annual statement credit on prepaid hotel stays through Fine Hotels and Resorts or The Hotel Collection, you and any Platinum Card authorized users on your account can register for complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status. Over the years, Marriott Gold status has helped me secure late checkout, early check-in and some unique perks, such as free afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton Maldives.
As an Amex Platinum cardholder, I can also book hotels through Amex’s Fine Hotel and Resorts program and receive elite-like perks such as complimentary breakfast for two, guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout, room upgrades when available and even a benefit specific to each hotel worth at least $100.
All in all, the Amex Platinum remains a valuable card for me thanks to its ongoing travel benefits. However, as it shifts away from travel and more towards specific-branded lifestyle perks, I’ll have to rethink paying the annual fee on the card each year, especially if it continues to go up in cost.
What I’d like to see Amex do next
As I said, I’m not getting rid of my Amex Platinum anytime soon, though it’s not a foregone conclusion that I’ll keep it either. In my ideal world, I’d like to see Amex take a few specific steps to regain the card’s value proposition — at least as I see it.
Amex should refocus on pinpointing benefits that cardholders can easily take advantage of and that offer solid value, even if that means paring back on some of the more recent “lifestyle” perks.
First up on the chopping block? That new SoulCycle perk. In one of the more confusing marketing statements that I’ve seen, Amex says that the up to $300 statement credit on an at-home SoulCycle bike is valid for up to a total of 15 bikes per calendar year. That’s a $300 discount on a $2,500 bike…that Amex expects some folks to take advantage of 15 times? Unless you’re starting your own spin studio, I’m not sure what Platinum cardholder is purchasing that many SoulCycle bikes, and the statement credit is negligible enough per purchase not to make it worthwhile.
What I’d propose is that, instead of 10 statement credits with varying terms and time frames, Amex should consider creating just a handful of benefits with permanent annual credits that are valid at a wider list of retailers.
For instance, why is the Platinum’s digital entertainment credit only valid with four services? These limitations create frustration amongst cardholders, myself included. Not only should a perk be widely applicable, but also it should be popular enough to be used amongst a mainstream audience.
Right now, Amex seems to be focused on driving revenue through partnerships and not what matters to cardmembers. The Platinum should be doubling down on its travel value proposition and make its benefits more flexible, not less. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit is valid toward a wide range of travel purchases, including mundane things like parking meters, making it one of the easiest rewards card perks to use. Amex should take a page out of Chase’s playbook, focusing on simplicity and a broad range of eligible purchases.
The Amex Platinum card seems to be facing an identity crisis. It is trying to do too many things, all in the name of adding to its lengthy list of perks and benefits, but without actually benefiting cardmembers in meaningful ways.
At the same time, no cardholder should get a headache just trying to figure out how to make the most of a premium, $695-per-year card. Amex hopes to play a role at the top of your wallet whether you are at home or away, including lifestyle elements of how you workout, eat and are entertained. But it should reconsider its approach.
Instead of piling on extraneous benefits, the issuer should instead create a simplified list of perks, keep the lounge access and luxury travel elements and make it easy to know what perks you have and haven’t used. By doing that, Amex could steer the Platinum card back on track. While I’m not giving up my Amex Platinum card just yet, I just might if something doesn’t change.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.
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