American Express steps up travel benefits for Platinum card


There was a time that the American Express Platinum Charge Card was a tremendous value for road warriors. The list of benefits was impressive, from airport lounges to point accrual to other perks, like concierge service. And the benefits covered a broad chunk of the travel landscape.

In recent years, however, the shine has started to fade. Some of it was little things, like the concierge service effectively becoming an operator with OpenTable and Google trying to find stuff that might work. There were some big things, too, like partners dropping out of the Membership Rewards program at an alarming pace. Sure, some others showed up, but the value was slipping. When AmEx raised their foreign exchange fees to 2.7% that was yet another reason to keep the card in my wallet rather than whip it out as I wandered the globe; the points just aren’t worth paying that much extra for on every transaction, especially when better cards offer 0% f/x rates.

The final nail in the coffin seemed to be the decision by Continental to withdraw from the Membership Rewards and Airport Lounge programs. This move was announced back in September 2010 and it isn’t much of a surprise considering how tightly Continental has been tied to Chase in recent years. They even have their own premium credit card that includes lounge membership and some other travel benefits, and a similarly high annual fee.

And then AmEx was mostly quiet. There have been some ads and AmEx has shrink-wrapped the AirTrain at Newark touting the features of their Membership Rewards program to its customers at Continental’s hub. But the actual feature set hadn’t really gone anywhere useful. Until now.

First off, the end of foreign exchange fees finally happened. It was promised months ago in competitive response to Chase, Citi and a couple other issuers. Fortunately it has finally happened.

There is also the $200 “fee” credit that can be assigned to any one airline. Designated to offset baggage, food or other fees during a trip, this is a pretty sweet deal. It is not without fine print, but for the most part it is a solid benefit.

To address the lounge issue AmEx added US Airways as a partner last July. That was pretty good, but not so useful for international travel. That move was trumped by the addition this week of Priority Pass Select membership for card holders. The access is only for the primary card holder, not for guests and not for additional gold card holders, but it is still a pretty solid benefit, particularly overseas.

And, just for kicks, AmEx is also giving card holders free enrollment in the Global Entry program. This last one is actually the benefit I’ll probably get the most value out of. Sure, it is only $100, but I almost certainly wouldn’t have paid it myself given that I have not yet had a long line experience where it would have mattered.

Overall, it seems that AmEx really is trying to step up and provide value for the $450 annual fee. I’ve carried the card for nine years now and each year I say that I’ll cancel unless the value is there. They’ve still got me paying and these moves just ensured another year of fees. If I was only ever flying on Continental/United Airlines it would be a harder decision to make. But since I have options and I do fly with other carriers it is an easy one for me. At least this year.

For more details from AmEx on the card benefits check out their new site here.

And if you do not have an AmEx Platinum yet but are intrigued by the possibilities, you can apply for one here. It comes with 50K points for only $1000 spend in the first three months, which pretty much offsets the annual fee, and that’s before you get in to any of the benefits noted above. Definitely worth a look these days.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

10 Comments

  1. I am an additional card holder with amex plat and was given access to PP. Is there any documentation where it says additional card holders are not allowed?

  2. Indeed, I misread the fine print on the Priority Pass membership w/r/t additional cards being eligible. Additional Gold cards are not but Platinum cards appear to have no such restrictions. My bad.

  3. The link doesn’t say anything about 50k bonus rewards. Does this link actually work even though the page does not refer to them?

  4. Which link, Dan? The “apply for one here” link definitely shows the 50K enrollment bonus when I click on it.

  5. It must have been a cookie thing. I tried in another browser, and it worked fine. Thanks!

    1. Glad to hear it, Dan. It is back to being a pretty solid card, assuming you have reason to take advantage of its benefits.

  6. You didn’t mention their Fine Hotels/Resorts program. I find this program to be a tremendous value, saving me well north of $2,500 per year on hotel breakfasts and late check-out fees that I would otherwise incur.

    1. @NYBanker: Indeed, I skipped over the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. I also skipped the on-board cruise benefit, SPG Gold and several other things that the card has as perks. Why? Because FHR is horribly overrated to me.

      Yes, the late check-out is nice, but many hotels will provide some leeway just for asking. And the free breakfast is great if you like eating in a hotel restaurant but for my travel dollar I’d rather be in the local cafe, paying pennies on the dollar to the hotel rates if I bother to eat breakfast at all (and I often don’t). There’s also the fact that the hotels on offer are, generally speaking, well outside my price range. If I’m paying an extra $150/night for the room the “free” breakfast isn’t quite so free anymore.

      I’ve had one terrific FHR experience – on our honeymoon in Bangkok; incidentally one of the first posts on this blog (and written by my wife) – but I’ve also had pretty pathetic experiences with them in Vegas. At the end of the day it simply doesn’t hold value to me. If it works for you and help to offset the $450 annual fee then go for it!

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