Why I’m keeping my Amex Platinum even though I’m not traveling
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with Amex card updates in response to coronavirus.
When it comes to premium travel credit cards with perks galore, The Platinum Card® from American Express is at or near the top of almost every list. Unfortunately, with nonessential travel at a complete halt, many of our favorite travel cards are being thrown into the sock drawer. With the $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) on my Amex Platinum now due at the height of a paralyzing global pandemic, I had to make a decision: keep, cancel or downgrade.
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Let’s walk through the options that I had — and why I ultimately decided to keep my Amex Platinum card — at least for now.
New Amex perks
When this story was originally published, Amex had not yet announced a slew of updates to its lineup of cards in direct response to coronavirus. The new credits on the Platinum card are worth up to $320 for the rest of 2020. These are temporary benefits intended to lure cardholders into, well, using their cards. For Amex, it also will help slow the stream of people who would otherwise cancel or downgrade their travel-perks-heavy Platinum card. The new perks include:
- Up to $20 per month from May through December 2020
- Up to $20 per month from May through December 2020
Related reading: 6 Amex Platinum benefits you can use from home
I had already decided to keep my Platinum card a week before these additional perks were announced, but for anyone on the fence, this could make the decision a little bit easier.
Platinum annual fees during coronavirus
There are a ton of benefits — both travel and nontravel — that are offered on this card. Anyone with a Platinum card prioritizes these perks differently, but the bottom line is that if you’re not traveling, you’re not able to fully optimize this card. Although American Express is adamant about not offering widespread annual fee assistance, it is providing several new perks as mentioned above.
This is an important point for two reasons.
Chase offered a statement credit to some Sapphire Reserve cardholders
Amex is not following in Chase’s footsteps. Chase recently offered a $100 statement credit to some Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders, specifically citing COVID-19. Here’s part of the note that Chase sent to Sapphire Reserve customers whose renewal date fell between April 1 and July 1, 2020:
“We recognize this is a difficult time for everyone. As a way to help, we’re providing you a one-time $100 statement credit toward the 2020 $550 annual fee on your Reserve credit card. On an upcoming billing statement (based on your renewal date), you’ll see a $550 charge for the annual fee, followed by a $100 statement credit. We know COVID-19 has affected people in many different ways.”
Retention offers happen during normal periods too
Second, while there is much data on Amex Platinum cardholders receiving bonuses or spend offers to keep an account open, these are strictly on a case-by-case basis. Amex isn’t generously doling out credits and Membership Rewards points because of a pandemic. These offers are limited to individuals who are being targeted by Amex’s retention department.
Related reading: My Amex Platinum retention bonus: 20,000 Membership Rewards points
Retention offers have been available to cardholders for years, and are not specific to what’s happening in the world now. With that said, it is definitely worthwhile to give Amex a call to see if you’re targeted for any of these offers. Ask to be transferred to the Amex retention line and speak with someone from that department.
Related reading: When can you downgrade your credit card account?
My attempt at a retention offer
I’ve had an Amex Platinum card for four years, and it’s served me well from the get-go. In March 2019, I was offered 30,000 Membership Rewards points to keep my account open and spend $3,000 in three months. I eagerly accepted that retention offer last year. But because I did, I no longer qualified for any statement credit, points, or annual fee deductions this year.
In my calls (and a live chat) to Amex, I had no luck securing any retention bonuses for keeping the card. That makes sense, because Amex typically restricts the frequency of retention offers — even during a pandemic when you obviously can’t use some benefits.
Keep, cancel or downgrade
If you’re in a similar position, here are your options when your Amex Platinum annual fee arrives:
- Keep the card (as mentioned, be sure to see if you qualify for a retention offer)
- Cancel the card
- Downgrade to another Amex charge card: American Express® Gold Card or American Express® Green Card
- Downgrading to an Amex credit card is not permitted
- Downgrading must be within the same card family (i.e., you can’t change from the Amex Platinum to a Delta Amex cobranded card)
- Amex doesn’t officially require you to hold a card for a certain period before downgrading it — but you should probably wait at least one full year
Related reading: Pros and cons of downgrading your card right now
Weighing my options
Here is how I weighed my options and what I decided to do:
Option 1: Downgrading
Via a downgrade, you can quickly reduce your annual fee without totally losing your account and its history. I would have considered downgrading to a no-annual-fee card such as the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, and then eventually upgrading back to the Amex Platinum when the time was right. However, downgrading to a credit card isn’t allowed by Amex, so your only options are the Amex Gold and Amex Green, with annual fees of $250 and $150, respectively (see Amex Gold rates and fees, and Amex Green rates and fees).
The information for the The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related reading: What’s the difference between a charge card and a credit card?
Also, I have had my Platinum account for four years compared to my Gold account, which I’ve had for two years. If I were to decide to downgrade in the future, I would downgrade my Platinum to the Gold and then cancel my existing Gold account. Why? Because your credit score is determined in part by the length of your credit history, an older account with a healthy credit history is better than a younger one.
Related reading: Will I pay the full annual fee when product changing a credit card?
Option 2: Canceling
Although I strongly considered canceling the card, I put a lot of value in the Platinum card and am confident that I’ll be able to fully make use of it again later this year. By canceling — and then reapplying months from now — I’d waste a valuable slot in Chase’s 5/24 rule, and it’s not like I would qualify for another welcome bonus.
Now with the new perks valued at $320 for the rest of 2020, it makes even less sense to cancel if you can actually make use of these benefits.
Related reading: What to do before you close a credit card
Option 3: Keeping
After carefully weighing my options, I ultimately decided to keep my Amex Platinum account open and pay the annual fee. My hypothesis is that I won’t be flying for at least six months (through fall 2020). That means for this time period, I won’t be able to use benefits such as Amex Centurion Lounge access or the Platinum’s included hotel and car rental elite status. That’s a significant drawback, no doubt.
Related reading: How to maximize benefits with the Amex Platinum Card
However, there are plenty of nontravel benefits that I will use in the interim with Uber and Saks Fifth Avenue (and now streaming and wireless credits). Also, I highly value the customer service I receive from the Premium Global Assist® Hotline and took that into consideration, too. Phone calls from Amex Platinum reps are answered instantly, even during the pandemic.
Finally, let’s say that in a couple of months from now I see that travel won’t be in the cards even later this year, or my financial situation has changed. I can still decide to downgrade to the Amex Gold and receive a prorated refund on the Platinum’s annual fee.
Benefits I still use on my Amex Platinum
In previous years, I have been able to reduce my effective annual fee through the various credits and premium travel perks. I still use the following perks that help offset the $550.
- Up to $200 in annual Uber credits — I order Uber Eats for food delivery in New York City and easily use this benefit.
- Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits — I have used this to purchase some travel accessories and easily use this benefit.
- New: Up to $120 in streaming credit — I’ll use this toward my Netflix and Spotify bills each month.
- New: Up to $120 in wireless credit — I’m on a family plan, so I won’t be able to use this benefit, unfortunately.
Related reading: 3 ways to use your Amex Platinum Uber credit while stuck at home
The tough part here for me is the $200 airline incidental fee credit. Amex hasn’t made this the easiest to use. It is no longer possible to purchase airline gift cards to trigger the credit, so it’s not only more difficult to use when you’re not traveling, it’s difficult to use period. However, I’m confident I’ll be able to use the airline credit through a few methods that still trigger the benefit.
I’ve been able to take advantage of many Amex offers on my Platinum card which have helped to slightly offset the annual fee. These include discounts on merchants I would be shopping with anyway such as grocery stores and Amazon.
Related reading: Your ultimate guide to Amex Offers
Although I can’t use some of the Amex Platinum perks currently, I decided to keep the card even though I won’t be doing much spending other than what it takes to earn the credits being offered.
This isn’t a strategy that makes sense for everyone, but this is the decision that works for me. In about a month, I will reevaluate what’s happening in the world and whether I should downgrade this account to the Amex Gold. Until then, I plan to use my Uber, Saks and streaming credits to make the most of the card.
Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.
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