From the perspective of points-productivity, the American Express Platinum card would be hard-pressed to rise to the top of any users’ list. Simply, its annual fee and 1% points accrual rate would likely defeat most break-even levels. How then, can this card be useful in maximizing rewards?
This card’s rewards program distinguishes itself from many others from the unique services and features it offers as part of card membership. If these are fully utilized, we believe it can more than return the value of the cost of entry. Many of the features offered have the effect of enhancing or enabling accessibility to experiences. In this review, we’ll cover some of the more interesting features of card membership.
- Fine Hotels and Resorts program
- 24/7 Concierge Service
- $200 annual airline credit
- Covers the cost of enrollment into Global Entry – a $100 value
- Premium level membership into one of three car rental programs
- Free Enrollment into Priority Pass Select – a $399 value
- Complimentary airport lounge access to US Airways Club, American Airlines Admiral’s Club, and Delta Sky Club Lounges provided you’ve purchased a valid ticket from the respective airline. Each of these normally charge $450 and up, annually, for membership.
- Access to Membership Rewards First program
- Purchase Protection applies to lost items as well as accidental damage and theft for up to 90 days from date of purchase.
- Gold status in Starwood Hotel group
- No foreign currency transaction fees.
- Many redemption options for points including: transfer to participating airlines for miles, direct flight redemption via their travel service, or merchandise, gift cards, and hotel stays.
- Access to exclusive events
- Many others…
- $450 annual fee for single user. Additional $175 for 3 additional card holders.
- 1% points earning for every purchase. Some select retailers, accessible via the American Express website, have 2-10% earnings.
- Card acceptance. The American Express payment network has about half the card acceptance of cards from the Visa or MasterCard payment network.
Airport Lounge Access
There’s no doubt that this is one of the more sought-after features of the Platinum card. Platinum card membership offers complimentary access to US domestic lounges from US Airways Club lounges, American Airline Admiral’s Club lounges, and Delta Sky Club lounges. Furthermore, access to an additional 600+ lounges, located around the world, are made possible through the Priority Pass network. Membership to each of these lounges individually would cost $399 and up, annually, so this is a tremendous deal.
However, let’s be clear, airline specific lounge membership and lounge access made possible through Platinum card membership are not equivalent. There are a few distinctions:
- Airline specific lounge membership offer access to lounges located both internationally and domestically. Lounge access made possible through the Platinum card is only domestic except those available from the Priority Pass network.
- Airline specific lounge memberships do not require a valid ticket for entry. With the Platinum Card, only US Airways lounges offer access without a valid ticket from that same airline.
- For short layovers, the proximity of a Priority Pass lounge to your departure gate may not offer enough of a convenience to be used effectively.
The usefulness of this feature varies. This service can be useful for relatively simple requests like ordering flowers, making restaurant reservations, or in a crunch, for identifying the names and locations of particular restaurants in a desired location.
In general, however, we wouldn’t describe the utility derived from its use as greater or better than had we been left to our own devices. With the increasing availability of smartphones, we did not find frequent uses for this service.
Fine Hotels and Resorts Program
American Express cites several complimentary benefits (valued up to $450 per use) from the use of their Fine Hotels and Resorts program. This includes:
- Room upgrade, depending on availability
- Noon early check-in, depending on availability
- Daily continental breakfast for two
- 4:00 pm late check-out
- Additional benefit depending on the hotel or resort
- The 4:00pm check-out is awesome! This extends your stay with the hotel/area for almost another day, free of cost. Leisurely enjoy the amenities of the location or hotel without rushing breakfast and packing to make the conventional 11am check-out. We love this benefit and never had this perk denied.
- Noon, early check-in. This wasn’t available when we had membership but it follows the same logic as the prior point – it extends your recreation time at no additional cost.
- Room upgrade. This can be hit or miss based on availability. We benefitted 50% of the time in our two experiences with this program.
- Daily continental breakfast. A great feature. In both experiences, the resorts had an in-hotel restaurant offering an excellent breakfast buffet. We paid the bill as normal. The hotel automatically deducted the cost at check-out. Nice!
- Other amenities: this depends on the hotel. Sometimes this can be a credit on spa services or for dining. The value is usually $100. We had no problems with its redemption in any of our experiences.
- The properties participating in this program tend toward the luxurious. Some run $300-$400 minimum for one night and many are considerably more. If this is outside consideration in your travel budget, the Fine Hotels and Resorts program will offer little utility.
- Cannot use points to book these hotels and participate in the FH&R program.
$200 airline credit
This requires an additional registration step through their website. During registration, select the specific airline for which you’d like this credit to be applied. That’s it, fees and services offered by that airline and charged on your Platinum card are automatically deducted; up to $200 annually. We’ve had success deducting lounge fees, food purchased on the plane, and baggage fees. The credits were applied very quickly.
The Annual fee
There’s no getting around it, the $450 annual fee is hefty. Again, for the right consumer, it can provide exceptional features and services that more than justify the cost. That being said, there are times American Express run incentives which can defray the cost of membership for the first year. Here’s our experience:
50,000 initial bonus Membership Rewards Points
The conversion value of points to dollars is commonly accepted as 100 points to $1. 50,000 points, then, more than covers the cost of membership. Some have reported, 100,000 points as part of a targeted offer. We applied during their 50,000 points promotion.
50,000 additional Points
We got word of a promotion code that doubled the number of bonus points for a different American Express card. We called the CS number and inquired on the applicability for holders of the Platinum Card. After some research, the CS responded that there was a code available, if the requirements for obtaining the original 50,000 points were successfully met. Moral of the story, it never hurts to ask.
The American Express Membership Rewards program had a sale on a number of their offerings, one of which was a 40% discount on their traveler’s checks. Normally, the exchange rate is 20,000 points per $100 travelers check or a $0.005/point redemption rate. During the sale, it was marked down to 12,000 points per $100 travelers check. The exchange of our cumulative points during this offer netted $900 in traveler’s checks.
-$450 membership fee, +$900 traveler’s checks for a net cash gain of $450! Thank you American Express! This doesn’t even include the other services we’d taken advantage of during the course of the year including around $120 from the airline credit, $100 credit for Global Entry membership, and lounge visits.
Who might benefit from this card
The $450 annual fee may likely be the biggest obstacle for further consideration by many people. But, consider that in exchange, it comes with a rich set of services and benefits. Frequent travelers or users that already have a generous recreation budget will find the most utility from this card. The features and services provided through membership have the effect of extending, enhancing, or increasing the accessibility of your current lifestyle. The points then, are just icing on the cake.