Here’s a recap of our Platinum Card webinar with a pair of executives from American Express
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It’s been a busy few years for American Express.
But the biggest splash came just a few months ago, when Amex launched a dizzying array of new perks — followed by last month’s announcement of even more new benefits with Walmart and SoulCycle. These changes have brought about an increased annual fee (now up to $695; see rates and fees), but there’s still the potential to get immense value from the card.
In addition, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express recently underwent its own makeover, adding several new benefits (and increasing its $595 annual fee to $695 as well if application received on or after 1/13/2022; see rates and fees).
But are these new benefits enough to justify the higher annual fees?
We dove into this very topic on yesterday’s webinar with representatives from Amex.
On Tuesday Nov. 16, my colleague (Juan Ruiz) and I sat down with a pair of executives from American Express: Rafael Mason, senior vice president of U.S. premium products and loyalty programs, and Courtney Kelso, executive vice president and general manager of global commercial card.
We covered a lot of ground during the session — so read on for a recap plus the full recording of the session.
What led to these new perks?
Rafael noted that, as the issuer began to see the light at the end of the (pandemic-related) tunnel, cardholders weren’t looking to return to normal but instead were looking for more opportunities to experience life — and Amex wanted to deliver.
“We wanted to lean into the moment,” he said, “and deliver more value — and it was a broader lifestyle spectrum than ever before.”
Courtney, meanwhile, spoke to the trends American Express saw in small-business spending over the pandemic in designing the changes on the Business Platinum card.
“We looked at six key categories where we saw a new and intensified need of spend … technology, shipping, wireless, recruiting, software and construction,” she said. These were all addressed with the card’s updates in an effort “to add even more value to our business cardmembers that [are] looking to grow and thrive.”
What about easier-to-use benefits?
When it comes to the Platinum Card, one of the most common pieces of feedback we get from readers here at The Points Guy is that the perks (especially now) can be both too hard to utilize and too hard to keep track of. In fact, Rafael even indicated that Amex “100% agrees with” the notion that customers want better benefits, not just more benefits.
So what about making it easier?
It doesn’t sound like that’s in the cards (pun intended). When asked about automatic enrollment or even allowing customers to individualize the benefits that matter the most to them, both executives highlighted features that don’t require enrollment — like 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 in airfare purchases each calendar year) and the accelerated 1.5x earning rate on the Business Platinum.
Rafael also encouraged customers to explore everything that they have at their disposal.
“If you’re on this call and a Platinum cardholder,” he said, “please go into the membership section of your app and enroll in the credits that are relevant for you.”
I pressed Rafael about the Platinum Card’s annual up to $200 airline fee statement credit — which is limited to a single airline and only applies to select ancillary fees — though sadly, there wasn’t much concrete information that Rafael could share. Enrollment required.
“I won’t speak about any specific changes or benefits that we may be evaluating,” he said. “What I would say is that we’re always evaluating the benefits that we offer on the product, and we’re always thinking about how we can make them better.”
What are they hearing from customers?
Many of the questions that came through from attendees were quite vocal in nature, pointing out the higher annual fees on these cards and the struggle to get the corresponding value. So how is American Express gathering information like this?
Rafael mentioned feedback coming from call centers around the world, pointing out that it “plays an important role in defining the strategy of our product.” He also highlighted the increasing use of social media channels to keep an eye on the pulse of the consumer. However, the most important source of feedback is customer data.
“We feel really good about the levels of engagement that we’ve seen in just the past three to four months with all of the features that we’ve just launched,” he said, pointing out that Amex is pacing ahead of its own projections for engagement at this point — though of course, with higher annual fees set to kick in for renewals on (or after) Jan. 1, 2022 on the personal Platinum Card, only time will tell if that engagement remains.
Speaking of annual fees …
Are the increased annual fees worth it?
The annual fee on the Platinum card was just $450 less than four years ago — but now it sits at nearly $700. But since existing cardholders won’t see that new fee hit until 2022, many have several more months before deciding whether the card is worth keeping — all while enjoying the new perks (most of which took effect as of July 1).
We even launched a poll on this topic, asking our attendees, “Do you feel that the new $695 annual fee on the Platinum Cards is worth it?”
And the results were telling:
- Yes: 16%
- No: 46%
- Unsure: 35%
- N/A: 3%
That’s right. On a call where over 85% of the attendees self-identified as Platinum cardholders, just 16% said that it would be worth paying the $695 annual fees.
However, data shared by American Express stands at odds with these results. The company noted that acquisitions of new consumer and business Platinum Cards reached all time highs during the third quarter of 2021 — particularly from millennial and gen-Z applicants.
In addition, new accounts on premium products more than doubled year over year, and they represent nearly two-thirds of all new American Express accounts in Q3. So it’s clear that many customers feel that the updated benefits make this card a great option — and easily worth the annual fee.
Read more: Is the Amex Platinum worth the annual fee?
But what would Rafael and Courtney say to a current (or potential) customer who balks at such a cost?
“The first thing I would say is that the new Platinum Card delivers over $1,500 of value to customers, and it’s a diverse set of benefits across the travel and lifestyle spectrum,” according to Rafael. He went on to point out that some of these benefits “are not always very well understood by customers but can deliver a lot more than $1,500” — highlighting the Fine Hotels + Resorts program along with some of the less-tangible benefits like hard-to-get reservations and special access to certain events.
Courtney, meanwhile, highlighted how businesses can enjoy the high “spending capacity to make the types of purchases that you need to run your business.”
Of course, it’s ultimately up to each existing cardholder to decide whether it’s worth keeping (or canceling) the Platinum Card when these higher fees kick in — and based on the poll results, it’s clear that many are at least considering cancellation.
Of course, we dove into many other topics during the call — including lounge access and the current state of travel. If you want to see more from the conversation with Rafael and Courtney, be sure to check out the full recording right here:
Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy
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