Money at 30: American Express Platinum Card Review

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Money at 30: American Express Platinum Card Review

This review has been a long time coming… or at least it feels that way. It’s now been a few months since I took the plunge and decided to apply for the Platinum Card from American Express — also known as the Amex Platinum card, American Express Platinum, Plat, and other such variants. For most of that time, I’ve been pondering and gathering my thoughts on the card, waiting for the time when I could share them with all of you. Well, that day has now come!

So what is the American Express Platinum card and is it worth the cost? Let’s take a look at everything I think you need to know about the card along with some of my experiences so far:

What You Need to Know About the American Express Platinum Card

Charge card vs. credit card

The first thing to know about the Amex Platinum card — and something I personally didn’t realize until deep into my research — is that it’s technically not a credit card. Instead it’s a “charge card.” Now, if you’re like me, you may have assumed these two terms were interchangeable but it turns out there is a difference. So what is it?

A charge card means that you’ll need to pay off your complete balance each month. Furthermore there is no stated credit limit on charge cards. This isn’t to say that you can go hog wild and spend an unlimited amount of money on your card but no formal limit will display on your credit report.

I will say that Amex does manage to blur the lines between a charge and credit card with their Pay Over Time feature. This option allows you to finance large purchases (with interest). Personally I haven’t used Pay Over Time yet. In fact, as someone who’s always paid their balance in full anyway, the charge card aspect of the Platinum card doesn’t really impact me. Nevertheless, it’s definitely something to consider when looking to apply.

Annual fee

Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room. The American Express Platinum card carried one hefty annual fee: $550. Because of this, you’d be forgiven if you immediately wrote the card off. However, as you’ll see, I think there is still plenty of value to be found in the card that goes above and beyond that $550. Still, dropping that much for a card off the bat can be a big pill to swallow.

Sign-up bonus

Like most cards, the Platinum card offers a sizeable bonus when you are approved for the card and spend a certain amount of money on it within your first few months. When I applied, my offer was 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. However, there are apparently highly targetted 100,000 point offers — or even 125,000 — found through CardMatch. I’ve also seen some people stumble upon 70,000 or 75,000 point offers but 60,000 is the standard.

I will say that the $5,000 minimum spend requirement did scare me a bit as that’d be a stretch under normal circumstances. Luckily, I had some travel to book at the time, so it turned out not to be an issue. Of course, if you do need a more clever solution, you might consider trying to pay rent with your card in order to meet your minimum. You’ll definitely want to have a plan in mind ahead of time as missing out on this sign-up bonus would be a huge bummer.

Earning points (and their value)

Outside of your sign-up bonus, you can of course earn points on a number of purchases. The majority of these purchases will earn you 1X points (e.g. $120 spent will earn you 120 points). However there are two travel categories that will earn you 5X in points.

First, airline bookings made directly through the airline or via the Amex Travel portal yield 5X points. Similarly, prepaid hotel bookings made through the Amex Travel site also earn 5X. Note the language of that latter category as I’ve seen some confused by it: only prepaid hotel bookings made on Amex Travel qualify for this 5X points.

So what are these points worth? Well, that depends. According to The Points Guy, Amex Membership Rewards points are currently worth 2¢ per point on average. However that’s based on the assumption that you 1) transfer points to American Express’ airline partners and 2) find a deal (oftentimes in business or first class, which can have outsized value). This is also best achieved when certain airline partners offer transfer bonuses, further increasing your value.

As for other use cases, they’re not quite as favorable. For example, spending your points on a statement credit will only earn you 0.6¢ per point. Meanwhile gift cards are a slightly better value, ranging from .07¢ to 1¢ per point. You can also redeem points on the Amex Travel site at a value of 1¢ per point. Finally, if you have the Charles Schwab version of the Platinum Card (note: this is separate from the regular Platinum card and must be obtained on its own), then you cash out MR points for 1.25¢ per point.

The bottom line is that those looking strictly for cashback are better off looking elsewhere. Moreover maximizing the value of your points will likely require research — not to mention travel. Having only redeemed 1 MR at this point (I’ll explain that one later), I unfortunately can’t share details on what type of value I’ve been able to get for my points but I am looking to get over 1¢.

Credits

To help make up for that major annual fee, the Amex Platinum comes with a number of credits. These include:

  • $200 in Uber credits per year ($15 a month January through November plus $35 in December)
  • $200 in airline incidental credits (good for bag fees, lounge guest passes, on-board food, etc.)
  • $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits ($50 good from January through June and another $50 good from July through December)
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit (once every five years)

For the Uber credits, you’ll need to add your Platinum card to your Uber account. Then the $15 (or $35 in December) credits should show up in Uber Cash on the first of each month. By the way, these credits work for rides in the U.S. as well as Uber Eats orders #protip. Double pro tip: opting for the pick-up option in Uber Eats can help you skip delivery fees and make the most for your credit.

As for the airline incidental credit, this may be one of the most controversial aspects of the card. Unlike the travel credit featured on the Chase Sapphire Reserve (more on that later) that can be used for a variety of purposes, Amex has some very specific rules for what qualifies as an “incidental.” For example, fares, upgrades, and other common fees are excluded while seat selections, baggage fees, and in-flight refreshments do qualify. The problem is that, depending on which airlines you fly and whether or not you have status with them, you may not incur many of these “incidentals.”

Another issues with the airline incidental credit is that, in order to use it, you’ll need to select a single airline for which it will work. This can apparently be changed sparingly but you may need to call customer service in order to do so. In my case, I was a little disappointed that Allegiant wasn’t included on the list of qualifying airlines as it’s the carrier I fly that has the most such fees. In any case, if you do make a purchase that fits the bill, a credit should be applied to your account a few days later.

The Saks Fifth Avenue credit is one that’s relatively random. It can also be a bit hard to use but for an entirely different reason than the airline credit. The problem here is that, to be blunt, Saks ain’t cheap. So, even with $50 off, you may end up spending a pretty penny just to buy anything. That said, we got pretty lucky our first time out as my wife found some shoes she liked that were on sale for $52. Since you also get free shipping thanks to ShopRunner, we only spent a couple dollars out of pocket for something that is arguably worth the $50. Sure enough, a few days after making our purchase, the $50 credit showed on our account.

Something else I want to shout-out regarding the Saks credit is that you can use Rakuten in conjunction with this offer since it’s a statement credit and not a coupon. Thus you could conceivably get $5 back on top of your free $50 purchase. Also, in case you were wondering, the credit only applies at Saks Fifth Avenue proper and not at Saks Off 5th.

Finally, having joined Global Entry in 2018, I haven’t yet been able to make use of this credit. Still, I’m sure I will once it’s time to renew.

Overall, while I might not factor in the face value of these credits, they do help offset the annual fee in my mind. The Uber credits alone have proven useful while the Saks credits can be put to good use if you’re willing to put the time into searching for deals. In terms of the airline credit, I do wish it was a bit easier to use. Nevertheless, I have been able to take advantage of it so far.

Status

One aspect of the Platinum Card that is perhaps a bit underrated is that it entitles you to complimentary status with certain hotel chains and rental car companies. This includes Hilton Honors Gold Status and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status as well as status and discounts from Avis, Hertz, and National.

Having not rented many cars in my day, I can only speak to the hotel status. The top dog here seems to be the Hilton Honors Gold, which gets you free breakfast at many properties along with other perks. Meanwhile the Marriott Bonvoy status seems to not be as powerful, although I’ve found it to be useful so far (more on that later). There’s also a hidden benefit in these status perks — but, again, I’ll get there.

Protections

I’ll admit that, when I made the decision to apply for the Amex Platinum card, I didn’t give much consideration to things like purchase protection. However, the more I hear about these types of programs, the more I’ve come to realize how important and valuable they can be. Moreover, American Express recently introduced travel delay and cancellation protections that I am now super glad to have.

Some of the protections that American Express offers are return protection, a baggage insurance plan, car rental loss and damage insurance, purchase protection (for stolen or damaged items), and now trip delay and cancellation/interruption insurances. Thankfully, I have not had to use any of these yet. There’s also far too much info to cover with these protections, so I highly recommend checking Amex’s policy guides for all the details.

Lounge access

Among the many perks that appealed most to me when I was looking at applying for the American Express Platinum card was the airport lounge access it’s offered. Here’s a quick rundown at what’s included:

  • Priority Pass Select with access to 1,200+ lounges
  • Delta SkyClub access when you’re flying Delta
  • American Express Centurion Lounge access

When I started looking at premium cards, Priority Pass was a name I came across over and over again. Looking at their line-up, I realize I’ve walked by many of their participants on my travels. Sadly, I’ve also seen several reports that, due to the popularity of Priority Pass (thanks in part to the number of credit cards that include it), these lounges can get overcrowded and even turn away guests.

That’s what made the Amex Platinum really stand out for me. Although there aren’t currently any of their famed Centurion Lounges at my most frequented airports, it’s that third option that really got my attention: Delta SkyClubs. As a regular Delta flyer and ATL connecting passenger, having access to SkyClubs is a gamechanger. Not only is Delta’s hometown hub lousy with them — with some concourses even featuring multiple clubs — but some of the larger ones even feature showers. I can’t tell you how nice of a perk this is after coming off an 8+ hour flight.

I should note that there is a caveat with the Delta SkyClub access. First, as I noted, you need to be flying Delta (or a Delta-marketed flight — e.g. holding a Delta ticket for a flight on Air France metal) to gain access. Also, while many Priority Pass lounges as well as Centurion Lounges allow you at least a free guest or two, Delta charges $29 per guest. In case you were wondering, yes, this fee is eligible for reimbursement if you select Delta for your airline incidentals credit.

While I’ve used the Delta SkyClub perk the most so far, I have also had the good fortune of trying some of the other lounge options as well. As I was waiting at Hartsfield-Jackson overnight, my wife and I decided to try the Minute Suites. Here, our Priority Pass entitled us to one free hour as well as a discount on subsequent hours. Although this was far from a typical Priority Pass lounge experience, it was certainly nice.

As for the Centurion Lounge, we just recently had a chance to try the location at Las Vegas’ McCarran airport a few weeks ago. Having read that these lounges are also becoming known for crowding and waitlists, I was a bit worried as I walked up. But, with it being early in the morning, we had no issues getting, finding a seat, and having some breakfast.

With all of that considered, if you’re a Delta loyalist like myself, I really think that this single perk puts the Platinum over the top. Meanwhile those who live near an airport with a Centurion Lounge (FYI — more such lounges are on the way) might also find this to be a reason to pick the Plat. As for everyone else, the only downside regarding the Priority Pass is that it no longer includes Priority Pass restaurants whereas the Chase Sapphire Reserve version still does.

Amex Travel and Fine Hotels & Resorts

In order to earn your 5X points on hotel bookings, you’ll need to utilize the Amex Travel portal. This is a fairly straightforward platform that seems similar in price and function to Expedia (I’ve even heard rumors that it’s powered by that site). But beyond the regular travel listings, you may also come across selections from the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection.

When you book through the Fine Hotels & Resorts Collection, you’ll enjoy special benefits such as late check-outs, $100 credit to use during your stay, room upgrades when available, free breakfast, complimentary WiFi, and more. Looking at the travel portal for myself, one property that seems appealing is the NoMad Las Vegas (located at the Park MGM Resort). Whereas some of the other Vegas hotels in the collection include a $100 spa credit, NoMad’s is a $100 food and beverage credit. Between the Park MGM housing Eataly and La La Noodle, I can spend that $100 faster than you can finish reading this sentence.

Something to keep in mind is that, while some of the Fine Hotels & Resorts offers may seem like good deals, others may be marked up to a point where that $100 credit isn’t worth it (especially for longer stays where the value gets diluted). Thus you may want to shop around and weigh your options. The same can also be said of the Amex Travel portal in general — although I’ve been pleased with the pricing I’ve found on bookings so far.

Concierge service

Seeing as the Platinum is a premium product, you’d expect there to be a certain level of service that comes with it. That’s what the concierge service promises. The idea is that you can call up Amex’s concierge line and ask them to assist you with such things as booking reservations, getting tickets, or getting recommendations.

Personally, I have yet to use this service and honestly have no idea what I would use it for. I’ve also heard mixed reviews about how effective their services actually are. So, as the cliche goes, your mileage may vary with this one.

Authorized users

Finally, like most other cards, you can add authorized users to your Platinum card. However there are two different options for this: giving your AUs some of the platinum benefits for a fee or just giving a “gold” card for free. For the former option, you can add up to three people for a total annual cost of $175 (and then another $175 annual fee for each person after that) while, as mentioned, the “gold” card option doesn’t come with any fee.

I put “gold” in quotes here because this option shouldn’t be confused with the American Express Gold card. That charge card offers such perks as 4X on dining, 4X on grocery purchases, and more. Of course it also comes with a $250 annual fee. So lest you think that you can outsmart Amex by adding your spouse (or “player 2,” in card enthusiast talk) as an AU and using the card for these bonus categories, you will be in for a rude surprise. Instead, these “gold” cards merely act as a way for your authorized users to make purchases on your account. From what I’ve read, though, each AU card is eligible for its own Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit — so that’s something!

As for the Platinum AU option, while it will come equipped with some perks, it doesn’t include all. Most notably, the Uber, Saks, and airline incidental credits do not apply. That said, the lounge access and status benefits do remain intact, making this a savvy gift if you have a frequent traveler in your life whom you trust to make an authorized user.

Why I Choose the Platinum Card Over the Chase Sapphire Reserve

It’s hard to talk about the American Express Platinum card without mentioning the other top dog in travel cards: the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Truth be told, I’ve actually heard more about the CSR and how great it was so I might have just defaulted to that had I not done more research. Yet, in the end, the Plat won my vote.

Why? Here are a few main reasons:

Better lounge line-up

Like I mentioned, the additions of Delta SkyClubs and Centurion Lounges really helped push me toward the Platinum card. That decision only seems more justified as I read about how crazy busy many Priority Pass lounges have become. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still glad to have that Priority Pass… but I’m even more glad to have SkyClub access.

5X on flights

When booking flights, the CSR offers 3X back while the Platinum card has 5X. Game over, right? Okay, it’s not quite that simple as Chase’s 3X actually applies to a much broader “travel” category. This means that you don’t need to book through a specific portal in order to obtain the bonus. Still, considering that I rarely book flights through third parties, it makes more sense to go with the higher accrual rate.

Status benefits

Lastly, while I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d use Hilton or Marriott gold status when I decided on the Platinum card, I now see these as additional sizeable benefits over the CSR. Not only have these statuses saved me money so far but I can easily imagine them continuing to do so. Thus, decision: justified.

That said, the CSR does have plenty of perks — such as the easier-to-use travel credit and a better redemption value for statement credits — that others might find more appealing. Therefore, I’d definitely recommend doing your own research.

My Experience with the Platinum Card So Far

Instant Card

For as much as I love my Amex Platinum card now, my relationship with it didn’t get off to a great start. That’s because I was counting on Amex’s Instant Card feature so that I could load my new card to Apple Pay and get cracking on meeting that $5k minimum spend while traveling. Unfortunately for me, while I was able to generate my card number, adding it to Apple Pay proved to be a problem. This led to several calls to Amex, with some operators telling me that those instant card numbers weren’t meant to be added to a digital wallet… despite the fact that that’s what they advertise on their site.

Eventually, after several calls, I gave up and had to miss out on using the card for that trip. I’m still not sure what the issue was as I’ve heard from plenty of others who have been able to add their cards to Apple Pay without issue (that does seem to be the whole point, despite what the reps I talked to told me). Of course I do take most of the blame here as I should have applied for the card earlier instead of waiting until the 11th hour before a trip. C’est la vie.

The moral of the story is, while an instant card number should work, learn from my mistakes and apply at a time when you’ll be available to get your physical card a few days later.

Amex Offers

This was another benefit I was ignorant to before applying for the Platinum card. Funny enough, it’s quickly become one of the most valuable perks I’ve found. Since obtaining my card, I’ve saved $115 from Amex Offers — not to mention earning extra points and discounts as well.

I’ve actually written a whole post cataloging my Amex Offer victories but, in short, they’ve allowed me to earn statement credits for purchases from GoPro, Sam’s Club, and other retailers. The biggest of these was my GoPro purchase, where I saved $60 on a purchase of $300 or more. Plus, I’ve also been able to take advantage of different types of offers on Amazon, saving me $30 on a purchase of $60 or more (FYI, this $30 isn’t even included in my aforementioned $115 savings total).

Although you’re sure to come across several Amex Offers you have no use for, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this section as some good stuff might just pop up.

Travel perks

As I had hoped, having the Platinum card has made my travels better in many ways. From the ability to relax in an airport lounge and grab a free bite to eat to saving $16 a day on in-room WiFi thanks to the included Bonvoy status, it’s truly been a blessing. But, as I’ve teased, I also discovered a hidden benefit that comes with the Amex Platinum.

After reading Reddit, Facebook Groups, and other nerdy resources, I learned of a thing called status matching. Long story short: I was able to take the Hilton Honors Gold status that came with my plat, match it to Wyndham for temporary Diamond status, and then take that to Caesars to earn Diamond there. That last step is key as Diamond members enjoy such benefits as $100 celebration dinner, free show tickets, and more. I got a chance to try this out first-hand while visiting Vegas for CES last month and I was blown away that it actually worked!

Incidentally, I also found the card to come in handy at CES itself as there was an Amex Lounge at the convention center open to Platinum members and other cardholders. This turned out to be a godsend as it allowed me to get some work done, relax, and — most importantly — enjoy a couple of free Americanos.

Earning points

Last but not least, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many points I’ve been able to amass since opening my card. Currently, I have just over 88,000 points in my account. This includes the 60,000 sign-up bonus, a few Amex Offers that put multipliers on my purchases, and now even points earned via Rakuten.

Although it’s too soon to tell what I should be valuing my Membership Rewards points at, going with the Points Guy’s 2¢ estimate, I tend to use my Platinum card in cases where I would otherwise only earn 1% back with one of my other cards. Of course I’ve also been sure to use the card for the 5X categories and for items that I want protections on.

Sure 88,000 points isn’t a massive amount but I can already see flights and trips that I could easily book with that amount. Moreover I’m honestly surprised that I’ve been able to earn more than 28,000 points (on top of my bonus) in just five months given my modest spending. In any case, I look forward to earning many more.

Final Thoughts on the American Express Platinum Card

Make no mistake: applying for a card with a $550 annual fee was not something my wife and I took lightly. Luckily for us, after only a few months of having the American Express Platinum card, I’m convinced that our decision was a good one. With credits that help offset that annual fee and can be used relatively realistically, Amex Offers that have proven particular lucrative, protections that can come in handy when things go wrong, lounge and status benefits that can make your travels a bit more comfortable, and more, I have to say that I honestly find the Amex Platinum to be well worth it.

At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend that just anybody get this card. There are some vital considerations to be made when determining if you’d get value out of the Platinum card or whether you’d be better off with a competitor like the Chase Sapphire Reserve — or even just sticking to annual fee-free cards. I’d reckon that this calculation will come down to how much you travel, how much you value things like lounge access, how often you use Uber, etc.

Ultimately, if you’re a frequent traveler and can afford to spend $550 upfront in order to gain potentially more on the back end, then I think you’ll love adding the American Express Platinum card to your wallet.


Also published on Medium.

Author

Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at https://moneyat30.com/

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