By now, I’m sure you have heard about the news about the American Express Platinum card. American Express has announced new benefits coming to the Platinum card, which will go in effect on March 30, 2017.
New Benefits for American Express Platinum Cardmembers
Let’s just get this out of the way: the new benefits will come at a cost. The annual fee for the Platinum card will increase to $550, from the current $450. You can continue to add up to 3 additional Platinum cardmembers for $175 a year, and can add Gold cardmembers for free. Gold members will not receive benefits like lounge access, but their spending will earn bonus points just like the primary cardholder.
Here are the new benefits:
- Uber Rides with Platinum: A monthly $15 Uber credit ($35 in December) that must be used within that month. Only available to the primary cardholder, but can be added to any Uber account (that you add your primary card to). You will also be an UberVIP, which is a program that pairs you with better cars and better drivers, but may mean a longer wait in smaller cities.
- 5x on Selected Hotel Bookings: Earn 5x points on selected prepaid hotel bookings made through AmexTravel.com, including The Hotel Collection bookings. Fine Hotel & Resorts bookings are post-paid and are excluded.
- Free Additional Gold Cards
- New card design (metal)
- Guesting Privileges with Priority Pass: 2 guests allowed with Priority Pass
These perks will join the existing list of benefits:
- $200 annual airline fee credit (per calendar year)
- $85 or $100 TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credit
- Hilton HHonors Gold status
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)/Marriott Gold status
- Access to Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta
- Access to American Express Centurion Lounges (LAS, DFW, MIA, SFO, SEA, LGA, etc.)
- PriorityPass for access to 900 airport lounges
- Access to Fine Hotel & Resorts and The Hotel Collection
- Access to Boingo Hotspots
Pain Points of the Hodgepodge of Benefits
Even before this announcement, benefits that come with the American Express Platinum card are not the easiest to use. It’s clear why American Express is doing that—for breakage, to bank on people who won’t take full advantage of it. But for the people who do take advantage of it, using the benefits sometimes triggers an internal “ugh” for me.
The $200 annual fee credit is nice, but you have designate a specific airline. As I’ve explained before, if you are flying that airline so frequently, chances are you don’t incur a lot of incidentals to begin with. Perhaps you have status that will get you onboard perks, or you may have a co-branded credit card that already provides fee waivers. So for some folks, you are left with $200 from which that you basically have to do some awkward dances to extract value. Not that it’s not worth it—but it’s annoying.
The new Uber credit follows the same scheme, and unlike the airline fee credit which can be a once-a-year ordeal, you have to use up your $15 every month. That’s not hard, if you ride $15 worth of Uber every month. But note that the credits may apply after any Uber-branded credits (like refer-a-friend credits) you already have, so you will have to watch carefully to make sure you have actually used the Platinum Card Uber credit every month. Again, just annoying.
5x points on airfare is wonderful, and I’ve taken advantage of it a number of times. However, the Platinum card is the only major premium travel card that doesn’t come standard with trip delay insurance, so I mostly use the card to pay for domestic travel. In the contrary, if you pay for your air ticket with the Citi Prestige, you will be reimbursed up to $500 for meals and essential items just after a 3-hour flight delay.
The 5x points on hotels is yet another example of hoop-jumping nonsense. Why advertise statuses to Hilton and SPG/Marriott, when booking through amextravel.com essentially make those statuses irrelevant? I’d gladly take a 3x points multiplier for all hotel bookings over a 5x multiplier on the kind of hotel bookings that I maybe make only once or twice a year.
Just Who is the Platinum Card Really For?
Chase Sapphire Reserve got a lot of buzz even before it was available, and continues to be a top-of-wallet card for many people. And I think their success is largely based upon a simplistic benefits and earning structure. With a $300 travel credit, you are basically looking at Priority Pass Lounge accesses and earning 3x points on travel and dining for $150. That’s easy to explain, easy to understand, easy to use.
Chase casts a wide net with the Sapphire Reserve. Whether you are an urban dweller who eats out all the time, a business traveler who frequents airports and hotels, or a suburban head of household who might buy airplane tickets a few times a year, you can derive value from the card.
Meanwhile, American Express seems to be going an entirely different direction. Instead of aiming for mass appeal, they are seemingly targeting a very specific market. That market, in my mind, is urban dwellers who frequent airports with Delta or Centurion Lounge. They are the folks who can extract the most value out of this card, and should definitely considering it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone else won’t be able to derive value from the card. I live in a city without a Centurion Lounge, and primarily fly American. But I travel enough times a year that I will gladly pay the new effective annual fee of $150 for Delta SkyClub and Centurion lounge access. I don’t regularly use Uber anymore, but definitely spend more than $15 on it each month. Additionally, for just $175 a year, I get three additional Platinum cards so my family members can also get lounge access, and I consider that a good deal. You may very well find yourself in the same situation.
I don’t mean to paint an overly bleak picture; the reality is I’m just lamenting the fact that American Express doesn’t seem to get it with the kinds of confusing benefits that often require jumping through a lot of hoops. The Uber credit seems to be an attempt to come up with something unique, but the execution and the rationing of the credit fell short.
I can’t speak for all millennials, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s a generation that values flexibility tremendously. Maybe their spending isn’t quite up to par with the GenX folks now, but if Chase can manage to position itself as the leader in credit card rewards and travel benefits, as millennials reach the peak of their careers, I think they are likely to look at Chase in similar ways older folks see American Express.
If American Express is hoping to compete for the same crowd that got excited over Chase Sapphire Reserve or even the Citi Prestige, they’re not quite there in my opinion. Of course, I’m not their accountants, and I’m sure they have done their market research, and maybe they think this is the best decision for them.
Should You Apply For or Keep the Platinum Card?
If the Platinum card is your only premium travel card, you’ll be happy about the new guesting privileges with Priority Pass. If you spend at least $100 on Uber once a year, and value Uber credits at face value, you will at least come out even compared to the old Platinum Card. If the Platinum card is your only premium travel card, you’ll be happy about the new guesting privileges with Priority Pass. If you ride Uber more than that, well, it’s a net positive. I have previously written about why I keep all three premium travel, flexible currency cards around, and you can read about it here.
So if you already have the platinum card, I really don’t see a reason why you should consider cancelling the card, unless you are opposed to paying $550 in annual fee upfront, or that you don’t ride Uber at all. Keep in mind that existing cardmembers won’t see an increase in annual fee until September 1st, 2017.
If you don’t currently have a Platinum card, and realize you can derive value from the card, I’d recommend applying for it before March 30, when the annual fee goes up by $100.
There are now three premium credit cards commanding $450 – $550 a year, in exchange of a number of benefits and the ability to earn flexible “points” currencies.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige, I’m keeping the card happily, and use them regularly. I am proud to be a cardholder, and I tell people about them all the time. With the Platinum card, I am only begrudgingly keeping it, but maybe that’s enough for American Express.