Amex Platinum versus a volcano — reader success story
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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Andrew, whose elite status helped him deal with an "explosive" situation:
My wife and I were on a diving trip to the Philippines and Indonesia. We were set to fly from Manila to Bali on an 8 p.m. flight, arrived at the airport late and had to rush to our gate just before the door was going to close. To our surprise, we arrived to a gate with no line to board the plane. We started looking around and realized a lot of people were on their phones. After approaching a gate attendant, we learned that a volcano was erupting about 30 miles from the airport, and all the ash in the air meant no planes could take off or land.
Panic began to set in as I realized we were stuck in an airport that isn't ideal for long stays, in a city we know nothing about. By a stroke of luck, we had reserved a room at the nearby Hilton Manila for our eight-hour layover earlier in the day — we originally booked it for an overnight layover on a different date, but when our plans changed, they agreed to reschedule the non-refundable reservation so we'd at least get something out of it. I had also applied for The Platinum Card® from American Express earlier this year, and I activated all the benefits (including the upgraded Hilton Honors Gold status) as soon as it arrived.
I couldn't reach the hotel by phone, so I emailed the address I had used to coordinate rides to and from the airport, and let them know we would likely be coming back once we figured out what was happening with our luggage. I received an immediate reply saying the hotel was sending a private van to wait for us, and that hotel staff were on their way back up to the room to prepare it for our second arrival of the day. When we got to the hotel (along with hundreds of other guests now stranded in Manila), we were met by a team of employees who tended to everything we needed.
Our luggage was ushered away to our room and we were taken to the Executive Lounge, where a representative was waiting to not only help us with our likely-prolonged stay, but also make any other arrangements we needed. It wasn’t until I saw the line out the door for reception that I realized how fortunate we were to get right in. After we arrived in our room around 10 p.m., the front desk called and asked if we were doing okay. They said they understood how stressful something like this could be, and wanted to send us some food and drinks to help.
I write this because I’m sure a lot of people look at a card with a high annual fee and think twice about applying. They look over all the benefits and calculate whether they will be able to recoup the cost, but I realized those benefits can be even more valuable when things go wrong. Without them, we likely would have been left fending for a taxi at the airport (along with thousands of other people) and without a hotel room. They could have easily turned us away and charged one of the groups that ended up sleeping in the lobby five times what we paid, but they took care of us. Even though we were still stuck, it was in an upgraded room with all sorts of amenities to make our stay more comfortable.
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The service Andrew and his wife received went beyond the published benefits of Hilton Honors Gold status, and I find those unwritten, unexpected perks can be as valuable as the standard ones I rely on. Perhaps his story is just an example of outstanding customer service from the Hilton Manila, but having elite status surely didn't hurt. While hotel status isn't always worth the investment (especially if you're earning it through actual stay activity) it can grease the skids to get you a favorable outcome in tight situations. I don't advocate pursuing status just because it might be useful someday; instead, my point is that elite status and credit card benefits provide value in ways you can't always anticipate.
I've had similar experiences with the Platinum Card: I routinely save money with Amex Offers and have occasionally used both the purchase protection and return protection benefits. The premium roadside assistance also saved me the cost of a AAA membership until Amex got rid of it this year. None of those benefits were on my radar when I applied, but they all proved valuable. Of course, the inverse can also be true, as benefits that sound useful don't always pan out. The takeaway is that you should think twice about applying for a card with a high annual fee (or any card really), but base your decision on the full picture and not just the marquee benefits. By regularly taking inventory of your credit card portfolio, you can make sure each card is pulling its weight.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Andrew a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!