How our cruise writer got $4,456 in value from his Amex Platinum in a year — even during the pandemic
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Until about 18 months ago, the idea of paying a $500+ annual fee to carry an American Express card seemed downright insane to me. Even if it was made out of fancy metal.
When I would get mailers touting The Platinum Card® from American Express, I’d toss them straight into the recycling. But then I read The Points Guy founder Brian Kelly’s Amex Platinum review, which makes the case for why the card is one of the best on the planet for travelers. It was like a lightbulb went off. How had I missed this?
Soon I would have one of the cards to call my own. I also would have a job at The Points Guy. The reason I had stumbled upon Brian’s story was that I was doing my due diligence on the site. It had just asked me to help with its budding move into cruise content.
Reading that review at The Points Guy — one of the most thorough and thoughtful I had ever seen about any product — cemented two things in my mind. One, I definitely wanted to work for this place. And, two, I was definitely getting one of these cards.
I’m still not sure which decision has had a bigger impact on my life.
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I’m truly loving my role overseeing cruise content at TPG. But I may be loving my new Amex Platinum card even more. In my first year with it, as I’ll explain below, I’ve gotten $4,456.30 worth of credits, discounts and other perks out of it — even with the new coronavirus limiting my travel at times.
Obviously, that’s quite a bit more than the card’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
The allure of The Amex Platinum card
As you can probably tell from the introduction above, I’m no points-and-miles expert. Or, at least, I wasn’t when I first joined The Points Guy in January 2020. I was hired for my expertise on cruising. But I do travel a ton — both on personal trips and for work. And, thanks to that due diligence reading this site, I quickly saw the huge appeal of the Amex Platinum for someone like me.
In fact, I sort of went crazy with excitement over it, and — after using it for a year — my excitement has only grown. I have become a bit of an evangelist for the card. Hence this story.
What got me so excited about the Amex Platinum? As Brian pointed out in his review, it comes with a crazy long list of benefits that are helping me travel like a king, including trip insurance, access to multiple airport lounges, shopping protections, Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, and access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program.
In addition, it offers:
- Up to $200 in statement credits annually on incidental fees charged by one airline you select.
- Uber VIP status and up to $200 in annual Uber credits, split into monthly $15 credits for U.S. rides plus a $20 bonus in December (they’re also good for UberEats and scooters).
- Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry every four years or an $85 fee credit for TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years (depending on which application fee is charged to your card first).
- Up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, split into two $50 statement credits for the two halves of the year.
- Complimentary memberships in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive.
- An extended warranty that extends eligible manufacturer’s warranties of five years or less by up to one additional year.
- Purchase protection that protects recent purchases against theft, accidental damage or loss for up to 90 days from purchase date.
- Return protection on an eligible item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the merchant won’t take it back. American Express may refund the full purchase price, excluding shipping and handling, up to $300 per item, up to a maximum of $1,000 per calendar year per card account.
The path to $4,456 in first-year value
I’ll now admit something that, as a staffer at The Points Guy, is a little embarrassing: For most of my 25-plus years as an adult, I only have had one credit card. I definitely have not been maximizing my points-earning potential by carrying a wallet full of cards, each with its own specific purpose. And, even now, though I have seen the maximize-your-points-and-miles light, I still have just two cards in my wallet — the Amex Platinum and the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card.
I have grand plans to add several more, including the American Express® Gold Card, which I plan to use for dining worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (it offers 4x points for each category; up to $25,000 per calendar year at U.S. supermarkets, then 1x), and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, since I’m in the process of shifting more of my flying to American Airlines.
But I plan to add these slowly, so as not to ding my credit score in the short term.
As a result, a large percentage of my total card spending goes on my Amex Platinum. This is one reason I was able to get so much value out of the card the past year. But it’s not the only reason.
In my first 12 billing cycles with the card, I got value from:
- Outright statement credits totaling $697.60, plus $86.20 in discounts from using the card. That’s a total of $783.80 in actual cash back or cash savings.
- Lounge access that I value at $350.
- Membership Rewards points worth $3,322.50.
In addition, I may or may not have gotten up to another $200 in statement credits. As I’ll explain below, I have a variation of the Amex Platinum that only is available to Charles Schwab customers called American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab. It’s exactly the same as a regular Amex Platinum, except that it comes with one very unique extra perk: An annual statement credit called a Schwab Appreciation Bonus of up to $200, depending on your Schwab account balance.
The information for the Amex Platinum Card for Schwab has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I’m being a little coy about the amount of Schwab Appreciation Bonus I received, if any, as it would require me to divulge the balance of my Schwab account. I figure that’s an overshare.
Here are all the ways I got value out of the Amex Platinum in my first year with it:
Uber credits: $125
When I first applied for the Amex Platinum, I was sure I would use the full up to $200 Uber credit in my first year with the card. But, as you can see, I left $75 on the table.
The new coronavirus is to blame. I use Ubers a lot, but only when traveling, and my traveling came to an abrupt halt in March. Since the Uber credit is allotted in $15 monthly increments — except in December, when you get a $35 credit ($15 plus a $20 bonus) — that meant I only was able to maximize this benefit during the first seven months that I had the card.
There was another way I could have used the Uber credits from March onward. They also can be used for Uber Eats purchases. Alas, my wife and I aren’t order-out people. We like to cook at home. I could have forced it by making one night a month Uber Eats night. But where we live, at the far edge of the Philadelphia suburbs, near farmland, there aren’t a lot of great Uber Eats choices.
Saks Fifth Avenue credits: $99
I will tell you right off the bat that I am not a Saks Fifth Avenue kind of guy. Most days, you’ll find me in a $6.99 T-shirt from H&M, not a $1,195 Kiton sports shirt. But free money is free money. So I set out to take full advantage of the annual up to $100 Saks credit that comes with an Amex Platinum card. As you can see, I was 99% successful.
As I had no intention of actually spending real money at Saks, I tried to find items that exactly matched the credit, which comes in two installments. You get a $50 statement credit to offset purchases from January through June, and then another $50 statement credit to offset purchases from July through December.
I will say that it is not easy to spend just $50 at Saks. But it’s doable. Just curb your expectations. With the first tranche, I came away with … four pairs of socks. Everyone needs socks, right? The only caveat is that I overshot my $50 allowance by $4.30. So they weren’t totally free. With the second tranche, I hit the $50 mark almost on the head and got a great deal, to boot. I spent $49 for a reversible cashmere beanie that normally sells for $128.
As an aside, I will say that the beanie is a major upgrade in my life. My current beanie, which has been my only winter hat for more than 20 years, is made of the cheapest acrylic. I got it on sale at Old Navy for around $4. Amex Platinum, my head thanks you!
Airline fee credits: $303.60
The airline fee credit that comes with an Amex Platinum truly is a great perk, particularly for those who don’t have elite status that gets them free bags and seat assignments. You can apply the up to $200 credit to just about any incidental airline expense including lounge access. The only caveat: You have to pick a single airline in advance with which you will use the credit.
Since I normally fly a lot, I have high enough status with several airlines to never have to pay extra fees. But I still found this perk hugely valuable. I used it specifically to pay all the incidental charges that one of my daughters racks up flying to and from her college in Colorado. Since United has nonstops between Philadelphia and Denver, I picked United for my airline, and I was able to get credit for $303.60 in extra charges and fees from the carrier in my first year with the card.
Note that total is not a typo. Since the $200 credit is per calendar year, you actually can snag more than $200 in value from this perk in your first year with an Amex Platinum. I got back $149 in credits for United fees that I charged in 2019 after I got the card in August 2019, and then I got back another $154.60 in fees that I charged through July of 2020 — for a total credit of $303.60 during my first 12 months with the card.
Amazon promotions: $86.20
One perk that I didn’t even know about when I signed up for the card is the occasional discount promotions that Amazon offers for Amex cardholders.
These offers typically give targeted customers an opportunity to save up to $50 on eligible Amazon purchases by redeeming just 1x Membership Rewards point.
I took advantage of two of these targeted offers in my first year with the card, both of which gave me 20% off Amazon orders up to a $50 credit. In the first case, I captured the full $50. In the second go-round, I only ordered enough to get a $36.20 credit. In both cases, I only bought things that I would have bought anyway. For the first order, for instance, I hit the necessary spend in part by stocking up on a year’s supply of contact solutions.
Wireless phone service credits: $60
Sometimes free money just rains from the sky. Or, at least, that’s how it felt in May when American Express announced it would temporarily be giving Amex Platinum holders a monthly up to $20 credit toward wireless telephone services purchased directly from a U.S. service provider.
I already was charging the $56.37 monthly bill for my AT&T phone to my Amex Platinum, so I didn’t have to do a thing to start receiving the $20 monthly credit just weeks later. My first year with the card thus included $20 wireless credits for May, June and July.
American Express added the wireless credit to keep Amex Platinum cardholders happy during the coronavirus crisis. With cardholders traveling less during the outbreak, some of the card’s existing perks such as airline credits had in theory become less valuable. So the wireless credit was a way to offset that loss of value.
The wireless phone service credits are scheduled to continue through Dec. 31, 2020.
Streaming subscription credits: $60
This was more free money falling from the sky. In addition to adding an up to $20-a-month wireless phone service credit for Amex Platinum holders in May, American Express added an up to $20-a-month streaming subscription credit. As with the wireless credit, it’ll continue through December.
In this case, again, I didn’t have to do a thing to get the full credit. I already was paying my monthly $17.05 Netflix bill on my Amex Platinum. A $17.05 per month credit for that began arriving in May.
In addition, I pay $5 a month for a basic Proton VPN service on my personal computer that, a bit inexplicably to me, also seems to count toward the streaming credit. I get a $2.95 credit for that charge each month — bringing my total monthly credit to the full $20.
My first year with the card thus included $20 streaming credits for May, June and July.
Insider tip: A basic VPN service is a good thing to have if you travel a lot overseas, as it lets you access websites that might otherwise be blocked by various authoritarian regimes.
Shop small offer credits: $50
In one final add-on perk that came out of the coronavirus crisis, American Express in June announced that Amex cardholders could get up to $50 in credit when spending money at a small business. Called the Shop Small Offer, it brought $5 in credit each time a cardholder spent at least $10 at a small business — up to 10 times.
I immediately signed up for the credit and quickly used it all visiting small, locally owned craft breweries in my area (I’m a big craft beer fan). They had just begun opening back up for socially-distanced, outdoor-seating-only tasting visits in June when the credit was announced, even as many restaurants remained closed. Where I live, microbreweries can’t serve food, but patrons can bring something to eat while sampling beers, so my wife and I turned these brewery trips into our big COVID-era nights out.
The way I look at it, one beer during each outing was on American Express. Cheers to them!
In case you’re wondering, the safety procedures that breweries took in our area through the summer were quite extensive. Everyone had to wear masks (except when seated at a table with a beer), and tables — all outdoors — were spaced far apart and regularly sanitized.
Centurion Lounge access value: $200
Amex Platinum cardholders enjoy complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges, which — trust me — is the most spectacular perk. There only are 12 of them. But if, like me, you regularly fly out of an airport with one, this perk alone might be worth getting the card.
Centurion Lounges aren’t any old lounges. They’re stylish and sophisticated, with food menus from award-winning chefs and top-shelf cocktails at each location, plus complimentary massages and spa treatments at some locations. At my main airport, Philadelphia (PHL), the meals at the Centurion Lounge are designed by one of Philadelphia’s star chefs, the James Beard Award-winning Michael Solomonov. They’re truly wonderful.
It’s hard to place a value on this sort of perk. Unlike the Uber credit, there’s no actual “real money” benefit to having access to Centurion Lounges. You don’t get actual cash back to offset your statement balance. The value depends on what you make of it.
For me, access to the Centurion Lounge in Philadelphia is a significant value. Many of my trips are overnighters to Europe, and given the short flight times to European hubs, which leaves very little time to sleep, I’ve developed a strategy over the years of eating a nice dinner before getting on the plane and then skipping the meal on board and immediately going to bed. This assumes I am in a lie-flat business seat, of course.
The Philadelphia Centurion Lounge is the perfect place for such a pre-flight meal, and eating there probably saves me about $25 every time I fly. Hence, I am assigning each lounge visit a $25 value. If I’ve counted right, I visited the Philadelphia lounge eight times before COVID-19 began curtailing my travel, resulting in a $200 total value to me from this benefit.
Other lounge access value: $150
As noted, I’ll hit the Centurion Lounge when I’m flying out of Philadelphia. I also often visit Star Alliance lounges when traveling internationally on Star Alliance carriers. I have access to them for free as a Star Alliance Gold member (a status level that, in theory, I’ll have for life as a perk of being a United Airlines Million Miler). But there still are times when I need access to another lounge, and this is where what Amex calls the Global Lounge Collection comes into play.
I visited about 10 lounges that were part of this collection in the months before COVID-19 began curtailing my travel, and I am putting a $15 value on each visit.
Schwab Appreciation Bonus: $0 to $200
As mentioned above, I have a slight variation of the Amex Platinum card that only is available to Charles Schwab & Co. customers, called The American Express Platinum® Card for Schwab. It’s one of several variations on the Amex Platinum that you can get, including The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
The most notable difference with the Schwab version of the Amex Platinum is that you can get an additional credit of up to $200, depending on your Schwab balance. I’m not spelling out exactly how much of this credit I got, if any, as that would require revealing how big a balance I carry in my Schwab account. But this is how it works:
- Schwab customers with qualifying account balances equal to or greater than $250,000 receive a $100 credit.
- Those with qualifying balances equal to or greater than $1,000,000 get a $200 credit.
- Those with a balance under $250,000 get no credit.
Thus I could have gotten either $0, $100 or $200 in additional Amex Platinum credit through this perk in my first year with the card. Only my wife knows.
Membership Rewards Points value: $3,322.50
If all I had gotten out of my Amex Platinum over the past year were the credits and discounts mentioned above, I would have been happy. They more than covered the Amex Platinum’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). But the value of all of those credits and discounts combined pales in comparison to the value that I got out of what may be the card’s biggest perk: The Membership Rewards points that come with every dollar spent.
In my first year with the card, I racked up 166,125 of these points. At TPG’s valuation of Membership Rewards points, this is a benefit worth an astounding $3,322.50 — not that I spent $166,125 on the card. I got the points three ways:
A 100,000 point targeted welcome bonus
The Amex Platinum currently comes with 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership. But, occasionally, American Express will bump that up to 100,000 bonus points in targeted offers (use the CardMatch tool to see if you’re eligible; targeted offer, subject to change at anytime). I was lucky enough to snag just such a targeted offer that was specifically for Charles Schwab customers.
Points through my spending
As an Amex Platinum cardholder, you’ll get at least 1x Membership Rewards point for every dollar spent. But you’ll also earn 5x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline or through the Amex Travel portal — it will be capped at $500,000 per calendar year beginning on Jan. 1, 2021 — plus 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com.
In addition, American Express occasionally runs special offers bringing additional bonus points for spending with specific vendors. For instance, at various times over the past year, I got 2x points for shopping at Shoprite, Saks Fifth Avenue (my free beanie!) and Lowe’s as part of limited-time promotions.
In all, I spent $30,640 on my card during the first 12 billing cycles, but I received closer to 40,000 points for that spending, thanks to the 5x and 2x offers.
Points through my family’s spending
In addition to racking up points with my personal spending, I played another card that increased my point gathering over the past year — three cards, actually. I added my wife and two of my three daughters to my Amex Platinum account as authorized users, getting them each a special Gold Card. These are separate cards that are in their names but with all the points (and charges) accruing to my account — but note this card isn’t the same as the Amex Gold Card. There was also the option to give them their own Amex Platinum cards for a $175 annual fee (see rates and fees).
My wife uses her Gold Card when she’s out-and-about shopping, but — perhaps more significantly — she also runs some of her work expenses through the card. She’s an art teacher, and when she needs to buy art supplies or take a professional development course, she can charge it to her Amex card and then get it reimbursed later.
My oldest daughter, who lives with us, is allowed to use her card for things we need for the house. Instead of giving her cash to run to the store for kitty litter, we tell her to stick it on the Amex. My youngest daughter, who is in college up in New York, is allowed to put her electric bill, school books and a few other school-related expenses on the card.
Over the first 12 billing cycles, my wife charged $20,970 to her Additional Gold Card, and my daughters ran up another $4,781 in charges. Most of it was 1x spending, so it added another 26,000 or so point to my haul.
The total tally of points from spending between the four of us was 66,125.
The ability to get additional Gold Cards for family members for free is a great perk, in my mind. It’s something that I suspect is overlooked by many Amex Platinum cardholders.
The perks I missed
Amazingly, despite getting more than $4,000 worth of value out of my Amex Platinum, I still missed taking advantage of some of its perks. For instance:
- I didn’t use the up to $100 credit for Global Entry. I already have Global Entry. I’ll use this eventually when it’s time to renew.
- I never used the American Express Travel Portal, which allows you to book discounted premium tickets online and redeem American Express Membership Rewards points directly for travel reservations and activities, rather than transfer your rewards to airline or hotel partners like Delta SkyMiles or Marriott Bonvoy.
- I never had a reason to rent a car using my complimentary memberships in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive.
- I have never used the Amex Platinum cruise perks, since when I cruise, it’s usually on assignment for somebody else who is making the arrangements.
The initial fee for an Amex Platinum seems mighty steep. For years, it was too steep for me. But, as I learned in my first year with the card, the benefits of carrying one can far outweigh the cost.
A big chunk of the $4,456 in value that I got from my Amex Platinum in my first year was from the imputed value of the 100,000 welcome bonus, of course. And I got some one-time benefits from the COVID-related temporary credits. But even if you strip all that out, I still came out way ahead.
This is a card I expect to be carrying for a long, long time.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
Featured photo by The Points Guy
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