Changes to the American Express Platinum Charge Card

A week ago, on March 31st, American Express made some changes to their Platinum Charge card. Some simple and small, others more dramatic.

Here is a list of all the changes, in no particular order:

  • Card is now made of metal
  • Increased annual fee to $550
  • 5x rewards category for hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • Monthly Uber credit, max of $200/year
  • No annual fee for Gold cards for Authorized User cards

The biggest change was increasing the annual fee from $450 to $550. However, the Uber credit was added to make up for this increase while also, potentially, competing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s $300 annual travel credit. The airline fee credit and the new Uber credit brings the Platinum card “travel credits” up to $400.

I feel the card being metal was long overdue considering the Chase Sapphire Preferred has been made of metal since it’s release (in 2011 I believe) and only has a $95 annual fee. Another small change that I think is great, the removal of annual fees on Gold cards for Authorized Users (AU). Previously, AU Gold cards were either $45 or $50, and a separate Gold Card has an annual fee of $160.

The Platinum card still doesn’t have bonus categories for food like the Gold and Premier Rewards Gold cards I discussed in my Introduction to American Express Charge Cards post. Now you can earn – 5x points on flights and hotels with the main Platinum card, and earn 2x points on restaurants with the Gold AU card.

With that said, the 5x points on hotels are not as simple as the 5x points on flights. For flights, you can book on amextravel.com or directly with the airline. Hotels have to be booked through the amextravel website, and they have to be qualifying hotels.

Qualified hotels are prepaid bookings which includes hotels from The Hotel Collection (HC), but not the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR). I am disappointed with requiring pre-paid bookings being these tend to go through 3rd party sites.

The Platinum card gives complimentary Gold status with Starwood Preferred Guest. However, booking a stay at an SPG property through the amextravel site prevents you from adding your SPG number to the reservation and earn rewards or get the benefits of having Gold status.

So this new reward category forces people to choose whether they want the benefits of any potential status they might hold (like Gold at SPG or Hilton) by booking directly with the hotel or earn 5x points through amextravel.com.

If you’ve read my post about A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle, you’ll know some hotel reward programs allow you to earn points very easily which can equal a free reward night pretty quickly.

Earning points with a hotel program will be better than earning 5x Membership Rewards with the Platinum card most of the time. If you tend to go to which ever hotel is cheapest, instead of sticking with a single hotel program, then 5x points would make more sense for you.

Overview of the Changes and Final Thoughts

Some of these changes I like, such as no annual fee for Gold AU cards, and some were overdue, like the card being made of metal.

I don’t buy airplane tickets, and AirBnB is usually cheaper than a hotel, so the 5x categories aren’t worth much to me if I had the Platinum card. A generic travel credit or travel bonus category like the Chase Sapphire Reserve would serve me much better since I usually buy train tickets.

Do you like these changes, or would you rather not have the higher annual fee and a generic travel category?

Flying American Airlines SFO – DCA: Part 2, the Departure

This is a continuation of Flying American Airlines SFO – DCA Part 1: The Arrival

Going back to DCA from Baltimore was smooth but stressful because I was cutting things close on time. I hopped on a MARC train, caught the Metro Red Line, transfered to the Yellow Line, and arrived at DCA with about an hour to get to my terminal before boarding began.

Flying Away from DCA towards Miami

I hurried to security because of feeling rushed which lead me to standing in the security line for the Gates 25-34 line when I was leaving from Gate 40. Neither security line were too long, but I wished I had TSA PreCheck or Global Entry so I could have gone through the much shorter security line.

Gate 40 was around the corner from the food shop and the number was not visible from the walkway to the Gates. A good idea is to check terminal maps either before or at the airport so you have an idea of where your gate is like I did to prevent worrying you missed your gate along the way.

Like my previous flights, Group 1 boarding was more like Group 5. I was in row 13 and the front of the plane was rather empty. Each row probably averaged 2 people where the middle of the plane had maybe 2.5 people/row.

As for the seats, there was a cushion on the back rest that made me lean forward more than I already was with the seat upright. The cushion went up to my upper back right around the middle of my shoulder blades so the seats are probably uncomfortable for anyone above 5′ 8″. Reclining my chair helped me be a little more comfortable but only made the leg room less comfortable, because the seat slides forward while reclining the back.

Uncomfortable
American Airlines 737 seat back cushion

Leg room could have been better because I always felt the bottom of the chair in front of me when I extended my legs even a little. My row was in front of the first exit row which only had one person. I could have moved back a row but decided not to since this was a short flight.

Being in row 13 meant I had a closer view of the 1st class cabin which made me curious to try business or first class on a domestic flight. For this flight, the flight attendants were not too busy so I was able to get a few waters to hydrate. Anyways, I will be sticking with Economy for now.

Flying into MIA was smooth, we even arrived an hour early, but our gate (D12) was busy so we had to wait 35 minutes to finish our arrival. Once I was off the plane I headed to the gate next door for the elevator up to the MIA Centurion Lounge.

Centurion Lounge in Miami

Mixed pretzels and soft drinks were the only free food options during the 3 hour flight to Miami so I was fairly hungry upon landing. After finding a seat in the Centurion Lounge I made a drink with the espresso machine (no mocha option so my 1st drink was a latte) then I grabbed a salad, a banana, and a chocolate chip cookie.

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Meal with salad and latte

After the light meal I wanted to see if anything else at the food bar looked appetizing. I found a small dish with a small piece of chicken on a yellow mushy substance, so I took a chance and tried the dish.

This was the best dish I have had in any of the lounges I have been to (all 4 of them) so I went back for seconds, and would have gone for a third serving but I needed to leave to get to my gate. Also, I was creative with making a mocha by combining a hot chocolate with a single espresso due to the lack of a mocha option.

Delicious
Chicken dish from the Centurion Lounge in Miami

Before leaving I explored the rest of the lounge, and took some pictures along the way.

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View from inside the lounge

The entrance had a hallway on either side, the right side only had two sections while the left side had about 6 areas including a second espresso/tea bar with chocolate chip cookies. Various seating types and arrangements were found on the left with mostly counter/bar type seating on the right of the entrance.

 

Making My Way to Terminal D, Gate 23

After taking the elevator from the 4th floor, where the Centurion Lounge is located, down to the 2nd floor, where all the gates are, I followed the signs towards Terminal D. I thought 15 minutes would be enough time to get from Terminal E to D but I underestimated by a long shot.

Walking out of the Gate 10/12 area I flew into I found signs directing me up two flights of stairs, to floor 4, where I took the AirTram from Location 1 to Location 3. At Location 3 I had the options to either take an elevator or stairs down from Floor 5 (yes, we apparently went up a floor without any change in elevation) to Floor 2. I elected for the elevator.

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View of American Airlines planes from the first AirTram

Following the elevator ride down to Floor 2 I needed to walk through about 10 hallways until I found myself at another set of stairs which lead to a second AirTram. This tram went between Terminals D and E.

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Wide view of Terminal D from the D/E tram

Arriving in Terminal D I no longer had to navigate stairs and elevators…until I got to my gate. Several more hallways later I arrived at my gate to find the entire flight had boarded and I had another escalator to descend before walking onto my plane.

I was glad to see some people still in the walkway into the airplane, but that also meant I would have a long wait to get to my seat towards the back of the plane.

Flying Away From Miami

This flight was mostly full but with enough seats still open that Flight Attendants were informing people in the middle and window seats there were plenty of aisle seats to move to later in the 6 hour flight if they liked to. I had an aisle seat, so I did not need to move. The charging outlet at my seat was not working so I ended up moving to one of the last rows in the back.

I had not been drinking much water the last day on the East Coast so I wanted to refill on water, however the Flight Attendants (FA) were not so happy about it. About 4 hours into the flight I had drank 2 full bottles of water, which happened to be about 1 L each. When I asked for another cup of water an FA came back and told me “You’ve drank two whole bottles already. We’re going to give you another bottle but this will be your last.”

Final Thoughts

With a rough start getting to the East Coast and DC, with some misadventures during my stay, I still enjoyed visiting my brother and family before starting back at school. With about 40,000 AAdvantage points left from the sign-up bonus, I certainly will not let them expire, and I want to make sure my departure from SFO was only a fluke in an otherwise functional airline (all the other segments of my trip went by without much trouble).

The Platinum card from American Express

Update: American Express has changed the points earning for the Platinum Charge Card for booking flights. According to this press release:

Beginning October 6, consumers with a Platinum Card from American Express will receive 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel.

The Platinum Charge card from American Express is a card with hefty benefits for the frequent and experienced traveler. This card is also for an infrequent flyer looking to increase the ease of a trip for little to nothing.

As I mentioned in Introduction to American Express Charge Cards, the Platinum charge card does not have any bonus categories like the Gold and Premier Rewards Gold (PRG) cards aside from the Amex Travel website. The Platinum charge card earns 1 Membership Rewards (MR) point for each dollar spent on anything, 2x MR on the Amex Travel website, and now 5x MR on flights directly from airlines or flights on amextravel.com.  What the Platinum card does have are numerous perks and features that often cost a lot of time and money to achieve.  These perks also include things like being reimbursed the application fee for TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry, and giving same day access to numerous airport lounges.

Most notable are these perks:

  • TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry application fee reimbursement ($85 or $100 respectively)
  • $200 airline fee credit (per calendar year)
  • Free access to The Centurion lounges, Delta Sky Clubs, and Airspace lounges
  • Complimentary enrollment in Priority Pass Select (the same as Priority Pass Prestige)
  • Gold status with Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton HHonors

Fee Reimbursements

If anyone has flown in the last decade they have most likely encountered TSA in the US.  Getting through security in the US is faster with TSA Pre✓. Arriving from another country (aside from Canada and Mexico) requires going through immigration and can take a long time. Global Entry (GE) allows the immigration process to be much faster. Someone who does not fly internationally should still consider enrolling in Global Ebtry instead of TSA Pre✓ since the GE Known Traveler Number can be used with all tickets and use the TSA Pre✓ security line where it is available.

The Platinum card comes with a $200 airline fee credit, double that of the Premier Rewards Gold card, and the airline for both cards can be different. Owning both the PRG and Platinum cards means someone can have up to $300 in airline fees reimbursed (as statement credits) to them each calendar year. Opening the Platinum charge card towards the beginning or middle of the year should make it easy to get closer to the maximum total of $400 in airline fee credits from this card in the first 12 months.

Lounges

American Express offers an airport lounge called The Centurion Lounge with locations in Dallas and Houston (DFW and IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Miama (MIA), and San Francisco (SFO). Seattle (SEA) has a Centurion Studio which is a smaller Centurion Lounge. For amenities, these lounges offer complimentary drinks, food, shower suites, high speed Wi-Fi, magazines and newspapers, and a few others.

A separate group of lounges is provided by Priority Pass, and the membership offered through the American Express Platinum charge card(s) gives free access to card holders with the option of bringing in up to 2 guests for $27/person. This is equivalent to the Priority Pass Prestige membership which costs $399 annually. This lounge membership opens up the doors to over 900 lounges worldwide. Similar to the Centurion Lounges offered by American Express, these lounges do not require you to be flying with a specific airline like Delta Sky Clubs. Delta Sky Clubs can be accessed for free when flying same-day on Delta flights.

Currently there are 3 Airspace lounges offered: San Diego (SAN), New York (JFK), and Cleveland (CLE). The reviews for these lounges seem to indicate they are rather small and not much more than secluded gate waiting areas with an inadequate selection of free snacks. Airspace lounges are accessible by having the Platinum charge card.

Hotel Statuses

HHonors Gold status offers 9 benefits, only one distinctly different from Silver but 4 more than the basic member level of Blue:

  • 25% bonus points earned for stays (15% for Silver, 50% for Diamond)
  • 5th Reward Night Free
  • Access to health and fitness centers
  • Bottled water at hotels which offer them

When I stayed at the DoubleTree at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu Hilton HHonors Gold (I had Diamond, actually) status helped me out with a free continental breakfast for 2 and the option of a discounted personally made-to-order omelet.  By comparing the prices of the basic room rate to the price of including breakfast in the room rate I found Gold and Diamond status are worth about $30/night. HHonors Gold offers the same Wi-Fi as Blue and Silver so Diamond does have more of a benefit than 50% vs 25% bonus base points.

Starwood Preferred Guest Gold offers 3 SPG points (versus 2) per $1 spent on stays, free in-room Wi-Fi, late checkouts and room upgrades when available.  I have not had the chance to value these perks but Starwood property reward night are usually rather cheap and earning enough points from staying at the hotels or resorts will quickly and easily amount to a free night or weekend getaway.

Final Thoughts

The Platinum charge card from American Express comes with a $450 annual fee which may shock many people, but if you are someone who can and will benefit from the travel benefits of this card then you should consider applying for the card.

The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Welcome to my analysis of the Premier Rewards Gold charge card from American Express.

First and foremost, this card is one of the four charge cards offered by Amex which I introduced in the American Express (Amex) charge cards post from Monday. This is also mainly a travel card. With travel perks in mind, the key advantages and benefits of this card are:

  1. Points earning categories
    • 3x points when paying an airline directly, e.g. buying a ticket from Southwest
    • 2x points at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets (e.g. Safeway but not Target), and at amextravel.com
    • 1x everywhere else like other Membership Rewards earning cards
  2. $100 airline fee credit
  3. Access to The Hotel Collection and personal travel services (also available to regular Gold card cardholders) found through the Amex Travel website

The 2x categories for gas stations and restaurants are perfect for both someone traveling and everyday workers because many people drive to and from work or go out to eat.  The secret category Amex did right is the supermarket bonus category because everyone has to eat so the PRG earns extra points regardless of how you eat, unless you grow all of your food.

Moving on to the travel specific benefits of this card, the 3x MR when buying directly from airlines can quickly add up. Even for someone flying a handful of times a year. To show the simple math behind this, a plane ticket between SFO and SEA in October is as low as $195 which comes out to an earning 585 points when using the PRG. Since Membership Rewards points can be redeemed for at least 1 cent/points (1cpp) the 585 points comes out to no less than $5.85.

Combining the 3x MR points with the $100 airline incidental fee credit can prove to be effective points earning. The annual fee for the PRG can be effectively reduced by $100 if the full $100 airline fee credit is redeemed. The credit is given per calendar year, rather than account year, which means a total of $200 in airline fee credits are possible to be claimed in the first 12 months.

On top of the airline fee credit and travel oriented bonus spending categories, the Premier Rewards and regular Gold cards provide access to personalized travel service which is essentially access to travel agents for specific countries or activities like France or Hawaii or beach vacations.  These cards also enable hotels in The Hotel Collection to be found when searching for hotels through amextravel.com.

I want to make this distinction:  the personalized travel service and The Hotel Collection is different and separate from the concierge and Fine Hotels & Resorts offered by the Platinum card. Those services are discussed in an upcoming post about the Platinum card and its numerous benefits.

 
You can apply for the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express by following this link and you will receive 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months of owning the card.

What Are Membership Rewards Points and How Do I Earn Them?

American Express offers a rewards program called Membership Rewards. Most purchases with cards earning Membership Rewards (MR) points will earn 1 point for each $1 spent. A few of the cards offer bonus categories for either everyday spending or specifically for someone traveling, like on airfare.

MR points can be redeemed for gift cards, like 7,000 MR for a $50 gift card (0.7 cents per points or 0.7 cpp), as statement credits (usually a 0.6 cpp value), pay with points at certain retailers or online at amextravel.com (0.6-1 cpp), or transfer MR to another Amex rewards/payment program called Plenti. The last option I haven’t mentioned yet is transferring Membership Rewards points to airline or hotel partners, and this method is generally the way to get the best value, over 1 cent/point.

I have compiled a short list of credit and charge cards which earn Member Ship Rewards points. Clicking the name of the card will take you to a blog post (if there is one yet) explaining the card and benefits. After the name is the typical bonus associated with the card offered publicly:

  • American Express Green Card: 0 – 25,000 MR
  • Gold Card from American Express: 0 – 25,000 MR
  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: 0 – 50,000 MR
  • Platinum Card from American Express: 0 – 40,000 MR
  • Amex EveryDay Credit Card: 0 – 25,000 MR
  • Amex EveryDay Preferred Card: 0 – 50,000 MR

Introduction to American Express Charge Cards

Update: I have added a link to the Platinum charge card review, and updated the information about the Platinum charge card earnings based on this press release:

Beginning October 6, consumers with a Platinum Card from American Express will receive 5X Membership Rewards points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel.

Update: I have added links to the Premier Rewards Gold charge card review as well as my explanation of Membership Rewards.

American Express offers charge cards which are similar to credit cards in the sense a charge card is used to pay with credit rather than directly from your personal bank account. The differences between charge and credit cards are the lack of a hard and definitive limit to how much can be spent on the card (think an invisible credit limit), and the statement balance has to be paid in full by the payment due date without the option of paying a fraction or small amount of the full statement balance.

The Green, Gold, Premier Rewards Gold (PRG), and Platinum cards are the four charge cards offered by American Express. Charge cards earn Amex no money by means of interest like credit cards so each charge card comes with an annual fee: $95 for the Green and $450 for the Platinum cards with the Gold at $160 and the Premier Rewards Gold card at $195. However, each card earns at least 1 Membership Rewards (MR) point per $1 spent on any transaction (no cash advance for charge cards) with the perk of earning 2 MR per $1 spent at amextravel.com. MR points can be used for a variety of things such as paying for something or as statement credit, redeeming for gift cards, or transferring points to airline and hotel partners or Plenti.

Both Green and Platinum cards earn 1 point on anything and everything without any bonus categories, besides 2 MR at the Amex Travel site. The Platinum card offers numerous perks well worth the $450 annual fee, where as the Green card does not offer any perks (not even access to The Hotel Collection) despite having that $95 annual fee. The Platinum card now earns 5x MR points on tickets directly from airlines or on flights purchased at amextravel.com.

Additionally, the Gold and PRG cards each offer 2 MR per $1 spent at restaurants as a bonus category, and offer access to the aforementioned The Hotel Collection hotels found at amextravel.com. The PRG has category bonuses which are not offered by the regular Gold card: 3 MR/$ on airfare purchased directly from airlines, 2 MR/$ at gas stations and supermarkets.

I will go into further detail on the perks offered by the Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum charge cards in future posts outlining the benefits of each card. Each card has an annual fee but the fee can be greatly decreased making the card (and perks offered by each card) have an effective lower cost.