I was very much on the fence about my Amex personal Platinum card. The card is best-in-class for flights purchased directly from airlines. It has solid benefits, although many are either difficult for us to fully use and/or duplicative of benefits we have from other cards. Other than airline paid fares, points-earning is poor. We found it tough to justify the card’s $550 annual fee.
We were very much undecided on the card, but my retention call made all the difference. I received a fantastic offer of 50,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points with no additional spend required, as long as I paid the annual fee. We were thrilled, and the retention offer made the card an absolute keeper.
Background of My Personal Platinum Card
I applied and was approved for the Amex personal Platinum card in mid-December 2018. This was back in the era where the card’s $200-per-calendar-year airline fee credit was easy to use. Back then, we could select American Airlines as our preferred airline, then purchase two $100 AA gift cards and easily be done with the credit. We did this before the end of 2018, and we did it again in January 2019 before gift cards stopped triggering the airline fee credit.
Between the easy airline fee credits and the sign-up bonus of 60,000 MR points (plus a referral bonus for Philly), our first year with the card was an easy winner.
Our annual fee posted in early January. When we originally applied, we were thinking we would “triple-dip” the airline fee credits (once in Dec 2018, once in 2019, and once in very early 2020 before the annual fee had to be paid). With gift cards no longer working for the airline fee credit, though, it’s much tougher for us to use the credits, and it takes longer to do so. We wouldn’t be able to use the credits before our annual fee would come due, save perhaps a quickie use for something unnecessary and/or low-value.
Key Benefits & Features of the Amex Personal Platinum Card
We’ll go over many of the key benefits and features of the Amex personal Platinum card here. As we go through the benefits, we’ll include commentary on how much or how little value they provide to us.
- Annual fee = $550
- Points-earning structure:
- 5x MR on (a) airfare purchased directly from airlines; (b) airfare purchased from Amex Travel; and (c) prepaid hotel bookings on Amex Travel, including Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) bookings.
- 1x MR on everything else
- Recall that our baseline value for MR points is 1.5 cents per point; the 5x MR point-earning categories are best-in-class as they result in a strong effective points rebate of 7.5%
- Thus, depending on the amount of airfare you purchase, the 5x points-earning can be quite valuable
- Finally, there’s one nuance to the FHR bookings worth noting, which is that sometimes you can pre-pay to get the 5x MR points-earning, but the reservation is still refundable if you cancel in time – we have not used this, but it has the potential to be valuable
- $200 airline fee credit per calendar year
- Like many of its card credits, Amex makes this difficult to use. You have to choose an airline in advance, and only certain charges qualify (“incidental airline fees”)
- Qualifying incidental fees officially include:
- Checked baggage fees (including overweight/oversize)
- Itinerary change fees
- Phone reservation fees
- Pet fees
- Seat assignment fees
- In-flight amenity purchases (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, headphones)
- In-flight entertainment fees (but not in-flight Wi-Fi)
- Airport lounge day passes & annual memberships
- And the following types of charges are expressly excluded from the airline fee credit:
- Airline tickets
- Mileage points purchases
- Mileage points transfer fees
- Gift cards
- Duty-free purchases
- Award tickets
- Notwithstanding the “official” rules, we’ve seen data points of the following types of charges triggering the airline fee credit (with AA chosen as the selected airline):
- Cash portion of miles + cash upgrades
- Purchases of AA miles using the “Mileage Multiplier” offered by AA when purchasing a ticket
- Additional fees incurred when using a SWU to upgrade to a higher class of service
- For us, as AA elite members (for now), it’s tough for us to use the credits since we don’t incur many “incidental” fees. We grind through the credits, using most of them, but the credits aren’t worth anywhere near the $200 face value to us any more.
- $200 in Uber credits per year
- $15 per month from January through November, then $35 in December
- We are very irregular Uber users. We tend to use most of these credits, but only by modifying our behavior. In about half the months we end up ordering Uber Eats on the 29th or 30th, just so the credits don’t go to waste. By the time you factor in service & delivery fees and a tip, the credits aren’t worth much to us.
- $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits per year
- $50 to be used January-June + $50 to be used July-December
- Again, we have used these, but only with modified behavior on things we wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. That said, the belt I purchased with our July-December credit has become my go-to, and I’ve easily gotten $50+ in value out of it.
- Trip delay and cancellation coverage
- Beginning 1/1/20, Amex added trip delay and trip cancellation coverage to many of its cards, including the Platinum card
- This pairs beautifully with 5x MR points-earning on airfare, and the combination might be enough to make the Platinum card a keeper for many people
- Airport lounge access
- This includes: (a) Centurion lounges; (b) Delta Sky Clubs (only when flying Delta; (c) Priority Pass (lounges only; not PP restaurants); (d) Airspace, Escape & Plaza Premium lounges
- This can be a very valuable benefit, especially for Delta flyers and people with a Centurion lounge at their home airport.
- For us, though, (1) we don’t use the Centurion lounges very often, even at our home airport, DFW – the short of it being that we rarely get to the airport long enough in advance to enjoy it, and we don’t tend to drink right before flying; (2) even when we want to go to a Centurion lounge, we have Business Platinum cards that give us access; (3) we almost never fly Delta; (4) for Priority Pass access, we use the PP from our Ritz Carlton Visa card, which is better in terms of guesting privileges and allows access to PP restaurants; and (5) I can only think of once in the past 4 years that we’ve been in any of the other lounges (the Airspace lounge in San Diego). As a result, for us the Airport Lounge benefit holds little to no value.
- Hotel elite status – Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold
- HH Gold is actually a useful status because it includes breakfast
- Marriott Bonvoy Gold doesn’t give much of value – a small bump in points-earning and perhaps an occasional upgraded room
- For us, these benefits are worth nothing – I have higher HH Diamond status from holding the Amex Hilton Aspire card, and I have higher Marriott Platinum status through hotel stays.
- Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check
- Up to $100 credit every 4 years for Global Entry or every 4.5 years for Pre-Check
- This can have value, but for us it’s duplicative of a lot of other cards
- Other benefits include:
- Access to the FHR program – We have used this, and at times it can be a very valuable benefit, with property credits, free breakfast, upgraded rooms and late check-out at participating properties. It requires paid rates and is largely duplicative of other programs like Chase Luxury Hotels & Resorts (LHRC) as well as Virtuoso, Signature Travel Network and chain-specific programs like Hyatt Prive that don’t require any particular credit card at all. This benefit is also duplicated by a Business Platinum card.
- Platinum concierge service – we’ve tried a few times and haven’t gotten much value from this
- The Hotel Collection – $100 property credit and a possible room upgrade when you stay for 2+ nights at participating properties; but you generally don’t earn points or get elite qualifying nights for these stays; we haven’t used it
- International Airline Program – discounted premium-class fares on flights departing from the US, on certain specified airlines
- Current participating airlines include (1) AeroMexico; (2) Air China; (3) Air France; (4) Air New Zealand; (5) Alitalia; (6) Asiana; (7) Austrian; (8) British Airways; (9) Brussels Airlines; (10) Cathay Pacific; (11) China Airlines; (12) Delta; (13) Emirates; (14) Etihad; (15) Iberia; (16) JAL; (17) KLM; (18) LATAM; (19) Lufthansa; (20) Qantas; (21) Qatar; (22) Singapore; (23) South African; (24) Swiss; (25) Virgin Atlantic
- We haven’t used this benefit. We can see discounted fares when searching for the benefit, but we’re not sure how much value the program provides as a practical matter.
- Rental car benefits, including (a) discounted rates with Hertz that also include a very useful benefit of an extra 4-hour grace period on returns (for example, if you pick up a rental at noon, you’re only charged for one day if you return the vehicle before 4:00 pm the next day); and (b) National Emerald Club Executive status
- ShopRunner 2-day free shipping at certain retail merchants (also a benefit of many other Amex cards)
- No foreign transaction fees
Summary of the Benefits to Us
Here’s how we size up the value of the benefits to us:
- 5x MR points on airfare – This is a very useful benefit. We put about $12,000 in airfare on this card during 2019. Going forward, the number is probably a bit less. Assume for the moment that we use the card for just $8,000 in airfare in a year. Our next-best alternative is the Citi Prestige card (for now; this card may be on the chopping block). The Prestige earns 5x ThankYou Points (TYPs) for airfare. Our baseline value of TYPs is 1.25 cents per point. Thus, putting airfare on the Platinum card results in an effective 7.5% points rebate, whereas airfare on the Prestige results in 6.25% (5 * 0.0125). The difference is 1.25% per dollar. If we spend $8,000, that’s a difference of $100 per year.
- If we cancel our Prestige, the gap widens. Our next-best card would be 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR). At 1.5 cents per UR point, the CSR results in a points rebate of 4.5%. Now, the difference is 3%. With $8,000 spend, we’d now be talking about a benefit of $240 per year. (The math for our US Bank Altitude Reserve card is the same as for the CSR.)
Doing rough justice, the Saks credit may be worth about 50% of face value to us, the Uber credits perhaps 60%, and the airline fee credits about 70%. That very rough math gives these benefits a value of $50 + $120 + $140 = $310. If anything, we may be overvaluing these benefits, because it requires modified behavior for us to use them.
The other Platinum benefits are worth little to nothing to us. That said, we do place some small value on access to Amex FHR and access to Centurion/Delta/Escape/Airspace lounges.[We also place some value on holding this card to be able to blog about it an informed way. I’m excluding this from the calculation for purposes of this article, because readers don’t receive that value.]
As you can see, none of this presents a compelling case for us to pay a $550 annual fee to keep the Platinum card for another year.
What Were Our Options?
Our options after our annual fee posted were: (1) pay the annual fee and keep the card; (2) product-change to an Amex Gold personal card; (3) product-change to an Amex Green personal card; or (4) cancel the account entirely.
Let’s think about the product-change possibilities for a minute:
The Amex Gold personal card might be a good option. We already hold one Amex Gold card. But for an annual fee of $250, we could get access to 4x MR point-earning at US supermarkets for up to an additional $25,000 in spend. For those who can maximize this benefit by purchasing gift cards at grocery stores, this may be a compelling benefit. It might be possible for us to use this, but we’re trying to cut back MS activity to the best cherry-picked deals. Other benefits would include an additional $100 airline fee credit and the $10/month dining credit (I suppose we could eat $20 of cheeseburgers from Shake Shack each month instead of $10!). As for potential downside, there has been some speculation that holding multiple Amex cards of the same type may be something that Amex checks when determining who is a “good” customer and who is a “bad” customer. So, product-changing to get a 2nd Amex Gold card may entail some risk.
The Amex Green card would also be a possibility, with its 3x MR-earning on travel and restaurants. We already have those categories covered, so although the Green card could be appealing for some, even with its $150 annual fee, for us it wouldn’t be a value-add. More importantly for us in particular, I’ve never had the Green card, and I don’t want to product-change into it and eliminate my possibility of getting a once-per-lifetime bonus on that card.
With any product-change downgrade to a Gold or Green card, we’d want to use the $200 airline fee credits for 2020 and at least the first $50 of Saks credits before downgrading. If we couldn’t do this before the annual fee came due, we could always initially pay the fee and then receive a pro-rated refund upon downgrading. In addition, by product-changing the Platinum card, we might soon become eligible for an attractive upgrade offer to change back to the Platinum. And finally, there’s potentially some intangible benefit to keeping cards open with Amex and paying annual fees, to keep us off the shutdown list and away from the “no bonus for you” pop-up on any new applications.
All of this analysis reiterates our original point – it wasn’t a clear-cut call on what to do with our renewing Platinum card, pending our retention call. We were leaning toward downgrading to Gold, for the enhanced 4x points-earning ability at US supermarkets up to another $25k of spend there plus additional airline fee and dining credits, notwithstanding any potential risk from holding two of the same card.
Our Home-Run Retention Offer
Last week I called the number on the back of my Amex Platinum card (800-525-3355) to ask whether there were any retention offers available. I didn’t go into the call with high hopes, as I hadn’t received a good retention offer from Amex in quite a while.
Spend on the card during 2019 had been about $13,000, with about $12,000 being airfare purchases earning 5x MR points.
As usual, I advised the agent that I’d recently received a statement where my $550 annual fee had posted, that I was trying to decide whether to keep the card or cancel it, and I wondered if there were any retention offers that might be available to incentivize me to pay the annual fee and keep the card open. The call was a bit of a roller-coaster ride.
The front-line agent asked me briefly about how I was using some of the benefits of the card (usually a bad sign), but then said that she would put me on hold so that she could get the retention department on the line (definitely a good sign).
The retention agent (he identified himself as an “Account Manager”) then proceeded to grill me about my use of the card benefits. I answered truthfully, that we had used the airline fee/Uber/Saks benefits for the most part, but that we had to go out of our way just to try to use them. I noted that we often order Uber Eats at the end of the month, just so the credit doesn’t go to waste and that we wouldn’t have normally shopped at Saks but again didn’t want to waste the credit. The agent also noted that I had used the 5x points-earning benefit a lot, to the tune of $8,000 in the past 10 months. Things weren’t looking good.
After the Q&A session on the card benefits and spend, though, the agent suddenly said that he had 2 retention offers that I could choose from if I was interested – a $500 statement credit, or 50,000 MR points. There was no spend requirement attached to either offer; I would simply need to agree to keep the card open and pay the annual fee.
The choice was a no-brainer to me – take the 50,000 MR points, which we value at about $750, and keep the card open. I advised the agent of this choice and told him that I’d pay the statement including the annual fee as soon as we hung up (which I did).
The retention agent said that the MR points would post within 8-12 weeks, but the points were in my account by the next business day.
We were absolutely thrilled with this offer, and we’re glad to still have the ability to earn 5x MR points on all of our paid airfare during 2020 (with trip delay and cancellation coverage)!
This decision would have been much tougher if we’d received a smaller spend-based offer, like other DPs we’ve seen recently – some for 30k, 20k or 15k MR points, with spend requirements. 30k MR points with $2-3k spend requirement probably would have been a keeper for us, whereas 15k MR points with a spend requirement probably would have still left us preferring a product change.
What do you think of our keep-or-cancel analysis for the Amex personal Platinum card? Any benefits and features you value more highly or less? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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