Over the last couple of weeks American Express has revealed tweaks to their personal Platinum charge cards. Most of the finance and travel bloggers I read agree that, while Amex has been under pressure to improve their offerings in response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, they’ve made changes that were not as much of an improvement as many cardmembers had hoped.
Imagine Bart Simpson pointing at a cake right about here.
In return for a $100/year increase in annual fee (now $550/year), the personal Platinum card offers up to $200/year in Uber credits, 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and… that’s about it for tangible enhancements.
There was also mention of Uber VIP status (in cities where that status is offered), enhancements to Global Lounge Program (new Priority Pass lounges, mostly), and a reminder of the 5x MR Points already granted for airfare booked with amextravel.com or the airlines directly. And for those of you with authorized card users, you can choose to give a Gold card rather than Platinum and save the $175/year charge for the extra 1-3 users.
Note that these changes affect the personal Platinum charge cards, including certain cobranded Platinums through financial institutions and Mercedes Benz, but excluding credit cards labeled platinum like the Delta Amex cards. I expect that corporate platinum cards will not see these changes, as they are already lighter on benefits than the regular platinum cards–half the airline fee credit, and no Starwood Preferred Guest status.
The last round was more impressive
In October 2016, Amex announced 5x MR points on airfare, as mentioned above, for the personal card.
The Business Platinum card added a 50% refund of MR points redeemed for airfare (on your chosen fee credit airline, or business/first class travel on any airline) as well as 1.5x MR points on charges over $5,000. And as with any MR benefit, you can redeem with one card’s benefits regardless of which card you earned the MR points on. Just book your reward travel with the Business Platinum card, and you get your rebate.
For people holding one or both cards, those benefits were very positive. Having used the MR refund benefit a couple of times already, I found the Business Platinum benefit to be very useful.
More details on the juicier benefits
The Uber credits come in the form of $15/month in credit, with a bonus in December bringing you to $35 that month. You have to have a Platinum card linked to your Uber account for this benefit to apply, but you do not have to pay the fare with your Platinum card. If you don’t ride Uber on March 30 or 31 of this year, you’ll miss out on the first credit of the new policy. And if your Uber travel is paid for by your employer, well, they’ll get the benefit, as your final charge from Uber will have the credit applied rather than a statement credit afterward.
The 5x MR points have more restrictions than some other benefits on the card–primarily related to the prepaid booking restriction. Fine Hotels and Resorts reservations are not included, and you must pay with an eligible Platinum card, whereas the FHR reservations allow you to use any American Express card on your account (good for getting those Blue Sky Preferred travel points, or Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints on the SPG Amex cards). And prepaid offers aren’t always the best offers available even within Amex Travel.
If your authorized users don’t need Centurion Lounge access, or the every-four-years fee credits for TSA PRE or Global Entry, giving them the Gold card instead of Platinum may be worth the $175 savings. And you can likely use the credit and then downgrade the additional card(s) for a couple of years if your additional users usually travel with you.
When does this all kick in?
The cutover date is March 30, 2017. Personal Platinum charge card accounts applied for and approved before that date will get the $450 annual fee for the first year, but all of the benefits beginning March 30. Current cardmembers (and new members approved before the fee increase) will see the $550 annual fee on their first renewal on or after September 1, 2017.
What should Amex have done to better chase Chase?
To be fair to American Express, it’s hard to compete with the Chase Sapphire Reserve even after the 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Point promo expired. At a value of 2 cents per UR point, that was $2,000 worth of credit with optimal redemptions, or $1,500 toward travel through their portal. Even if you take a suboptimal 1 cent to 1 point redemption, it’s still $1,000, enough to cover nearly three years of annual fee.
Today Chase has a 50,000 UR point promo for new accounts, or $500 cash/$750 travel value after a $4,000 initial spend in 3 months. Along with that, you get a $300 annual travel credit that can be used far more generously than Amex’s airline-specific airline fee rebates, and 3x points on liberally-defined travel and dining options (air and ground transportation, hotels and short-term rentals, and of course all sorts of restaurants).
I would have liked to see the Uber benefit pooled or rolled over, and if it were given as a statement credit, I could still use Uber for work on my corporate card and not donate that money to my employer. I do travel personally several times a year, so I can take advantage of some of the credits (probably at least $80), but I may find myself using Lyft for work just in case I can use the Uber credit for myself later in the year.
Making the hotel 5x MR bonus applicable to any amextravel booking, or any hotel booking reserved and charged to the American Express card, would make that bonus far more useful. As it stands, I don’t expect to get any benefit out of it from my travel patterns at all.
Making the additional card fee for Platinum lower would have likely been an easy option, and would definitely soften the blow of the $100 increase. For me with one additional card, making the additional card fee $95 for example (instead of $175) would have made the increase a wash easily.
And of course, stretching the fee credit beyond a single annually-selected airline, or offering broader redemption options within that airline, would have been an amazing step. Extending the 50% rebate offer from the Business Platinum card (or even a 25% rebate) to personal card members would have been a nice touch as well, for those who do not carry both cards.
There’s still a chance that Amex will make further changes that will qualify as improvements, rather than distractions, although I expect we’ll be waiting another six months or so for that to happen (if it does).
So where do we go from here?
Three good reasons to keep the card beyond the fee increase:
- You use Uber at least once every month or two, where you are not reimbursed by your employer. Take a $15 personal ride every 2-3 months and you’ll make up the fee increase.
- You can take advantage of prepaid hotel reservations on a regular basis. $2,000 in annual prepaid hotel reservations would result in at least a $100 value in MR points beginning March 30th, or if you can use the Business MR rebate, $1,334 annually would cover it.
- Your additional users can get by with Gold instead of Platinum. The $175/year fee for the first three additional users easily covers the $100/year increase.
I already track the benefits of any card I pay an annual fee for. Last year, the cash value of the benefits across my AF cards was nearly as much as the fees, and I saw several non-cash benefits (free status offers, new account bonus values for miles/points, etc) that pushed the total value to about 2.25x the annual fee total (although some showed a much stronger per-card benefit than others).
I have over a year to try the new benefits before my fee increases, and a few months to decide whether to downgrade my additional user or retain that platinum card. So there may be one or even two rounds of further enhancements before I have to evaluate the value differential.
It seems like an obvious choice to retain the Business Platinum card, but barring changes to my benefit use patterns or the Personal Platinum card benefits, I may find myself rolling back to a lower-fee card (or dropping the personal Platinum altogether).
And when I escape the 5/24 jail from Chase, the Sapphire Reserve card is definitely on my list. (It might be worth an upgrade from Chase Sapphire Preferred, based on the points and travel credit alone, but I’m hoping for another over-50k signup bonus in the next year.)
Caveat: The value of miles and points in the rewards card market can vary depending on how you earn them, how you redeem them, and how you feel about the time spent researching both decision modes. You can find other bloggers’ valuations by searching Google for Membership Rewards point values or Ultimate Rewards point values. Same goes for hotel and rental car status benefits. Your Mileage May Vary.
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