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?

How to Use Citi ThankYou Points (TYP)

Citibank has several cards which earn their flexible reward points called ThankYou Points (TYP). I talked about these cards in my post about TYP earning cards which you can read here.

These points are similar to Ultimate Rewards points from Chase and Membership Rewards points from American Express by having multiple options for redemption.

TYP have a lot of uses: paying student loans or mortgages, redeeming for gift cards or statement credits for select expenses, transferring to airline and hotel partners, or redeeming the points through the TYP portal for flights based on cash prices.

For this post, I’ll focus on the redemptions giving each point a value of at least 1 cent. That is, 100 points = $1.00 or more.

The “better” methods:

  • Loan payments (might have devalued recently)
  • Gift cards
  • ThankYou Point travel portal
  • Transfer to Hotels or Airlines

Other uses for TYP:

  • Statement credit
  • Cash back (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP at Amazon (bad value)

From the list of “Other Uses”, statement credits are the best option at a value of 0.75 cents per points (cpp) while cash back has a value of 0.5 cpp. These two redemptions are essentially the same (redeeming points for straight money) but different methods.

To give you an idea of what these values mean: 100 points can be redeemed for either $0.75 as a statement credit, or the same 100 points can be redeemed for $0.50 cash back (going directly into a bank account).

If you have a couple hundred points that you want to use up, redeeming those points for a statement credit could save you the money from a meal or two.

As for the “better” methods, loan payments and gift cards are exactly 1 cpp. Transferring points gives a value which varies on which airline or hotel you transfer to and what you’re booking with that hotel or airline.

Hilton seems to be the only hotel transfer partner where 1000 TYP convert into 1500 Hilton points.

Airline partners TYP can be transferred to included:

  • JetBlue
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Air France and KLM (Flying Blue)
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways

Booking travel through the TYP portal gives either 1, 1.25, 1.33, or 1.6 cpp depending on which card you have, what you’re booking, and how long you’ve had your card.

TYP have the following values through the travel portal if you have:

  • Citi Prestige
    • 1.6 cents/point (cpp) for American Airline flights
    • 1.33 cpp for other airlines (1.25 cpp starting July 23, 2017)
    • 1 cpp for car rentals, hotels, and cruises
  • Citi Premier
    • 1.33 cpp for American Airlines flights
    • 1.25 cpp for all other airlines, car rentals, hotels, and cruises

The good redemptions tend to be either booking American Airline flights with the Citi Prestige before the end of July this year, flights on any airline with either card, or transferring points to other airlines where the cents/point value is strictly dependent on the flight booked.

However, this means you need large amounts of points except for short flights like from SFO to LAX or LAX to PHX. This is where many people might consider using their low balance of TYP for a statement credit against a meal they enjoyed.

Introduction to the Chase Branded Credit Cards

Chase has a variety of name branded credit cards and all but one of them, the Slate, earn Ultimate Rewards points. Each card has its own perks and advantages and this post will compare these benefits across the Chase branded credit cards.

The Chase Slate card is a good choice for people who are looking to either build credit, pay off credit card debt with a 0% APR or balance transfer, or someone looking to get a credit card which gives a credit score on each statement. For someone looking for a rewards credit card, the other Chase credit cards are going to what you’re looking for.

Chase Rewards Cards: Ultimate Rewards (UR) Earning Cards

The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited credit cards offer:

  1. Freedom
    • 5 points/$ for rotating categories (changing every 3 months)
    • 1x points on all non-category spending
  2. Freedom Unlimited
    • 1.5 points/$ on all purchases; no 5x or 1x categories.

Owning both cards means someone will earn either 1.5 or 5 points/$ spent at no cost because both cards have no annual fee. This quarter (October-December 2016), the 5% category for the Freedom is department stores, wholesale clubs (Sam’s Club or Costco), and drug stores.

Chase offers the Sapphire Preferred (CSP) with:

  • 2 point/$ on travel and dining
  • 1x on all other purchases
  • Redeem 1000 UR points for $12.50 of travel through the UR portal
  • Transfer UR points to partner airlines and hotels
  • No foreign transaction fee

This cards works well to fill the gap between 5x restaurant categories on the regular Freedom and earns more than the flat 1.5x of the Freedom Unlimited. Car rentals are considered travel expenses and the CSP offers primary rental insurance making the CSP a way to reduce the cost of renting a car by not needing to pay for rental insurance.

Chase recently released a new card called the Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and has an annual fee of $450. The perks include:

  • 3 points/$ on travel and dining (compared to 2x for the CSP)
  • 1 point/$ on all other purchases
  • $300 annual travel credit (not just airline fees)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSAPreCheck reimbursement
  • 1000 UR points = $15.00 in the UR portal
  • Lounge access through Priority Pass Select with unlimited guests for free

This card fills what I felt was a big void left by Chase for many years. This directly competes with the Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige more than the Chase Palladium did because someone had to be a Chase Private Client (available to people with at least $250,000 in Chase accounts) to apply. $300 annual travel credit is more broadly applied and greater than the $200 and $250 annual airline fee credits offered by the American Express and Citi cards.

Business owners can apply for either the Chase Ink Cash or Ink Plus business credit cards. Both cards earn:

  • 5 points/$ on select business purchases
    • office supply stores
    • cell phones
    • landlines, internet, and TV
  • 2 points/$ at gas stations and hotels
  • 1 point/$ on everything else

The major differences between these two cards is the Ink Cash has a maximum category bonus of the first $25,000 spent in each category and no annual fee whereas the Ink Plus maxes at $50,000 in each category with a $95 annual fee which is not waived.  Also, the Ink Plus has no foreign transaction fee and the Ink Cash has the 3% foreign transaction fee, the same as the Freedom cards have.  Both cards earn UR points and can be switched (product change) to the other after at least 12 months of the card being open.

Ultimate Rewards Points

Like American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR) points have a variety of uses, but better with better redemption rates. I will go into detail on how the UR points can be used in a later post, so stay tuned.

 

You can apply for the Chase Freedom from this link and earn 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $150 in cash back or more) after spending at least $500 in the first 3 months of the account being open.

Paying off Credit Card Debt

Total credit card debt in the USA was up to $712 billion as of 2015, so it’s fairly easy to say someone reading this blog either has credit card debt or knows someone with credit card debt. If you think you don’t, then you might fall into the “technically you do” category since you “technically” have debt if there’s a balance on your card(s), even if you’re like me and will pay the entire balance when the statement closes. Needless to say, there are options to reducing your credit card debt and reducing the amount you owe.

First and foremost is getting a hold of your cash flow: figure out how much money you bring in each month (if it changes month to month figure out a safe average amount), figure out how much you need to survive (food, housing, etc.). Once you have that amount see if you have any money left over. Hopefully you have some left over so you are not going further into debt (if you are, I’m very sorry but this next portion probably isn’t for you at this point in time).

Now, having extra money is necessary for paying down debt, but if you’re paying interest because your credit cards have interest rates (likely no less than 15%) then you’re probably making very little progress in eliminating that debt. One simple solution to paying off your credit card debt faster is to open a new card with 0% interest (and hopefully balance transfer fees) for a certain number of months. Most cards have at least a 12 month 0% time frame. Others have 15 months or 18 months, and a couple have even 21 months. These 21 month 0% APR cards are the Citi Simplicity and Citi Diamond Preferred cards.

Citi has an unofficial rule not to accept a second application less than a week after the first application and no more than 2 applications in a little more than 2 months. If you plan to get those Citi cards for the maximum time with 0% interest then make sure to wait at least a week between applying for each.

Let me show some math to exemplify the power of a 0% interest rate credit card:

  • Starting balance and interest rate: $10,000 and 15%
  • Balance transfer fee: 3% (from your current card, 0% to the new card)
  • Monthly payment to payoff in 21 months
    • 15% card: $544.37/month
    • 0% card: $490.48/month
  • Savings from 0% card over 21 months
    • Each month: $53.89
    • Total: $1,131.69

While saving $53.89 a month might not be much, it can really add up. And you can also transfer the balance to a new card near the end of the 21st month to a new card that offers 15 or 18 months so you can make smaller payments each month. I did the math for this situation, original balance of $10,000 with a balance transfer at month 0 and 21 with a 3% transfer fee and paid in full in 39 months.

  • Minimum payment for 21 + 18 month: $267.70/month
  • Over 39 months:
    • $57.84/month less
    • $3212.40 total
    • 12 months sooner

Paying 0% interest over 39 months means you will end up paying $57.84 a month less than if you were paying 15% interest, but you will still be paying over $3,000 less over those 39 months with minimum payments more manageable than the 21 month goal.

Individual cases will be different so if your balance and interest rates are lower then your savings will be less, if your interest rate and balances are higher your savings will be more, if one is higher and the other is lower then your situation is not so straight forward.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself paying off credit card debt you should first look at your money flow and set up a budget. Next, don’t be afraid to open a new credit card to take advantage of a long 0% interest rate period. But don’t spend more with either of the card, at least not more than what you can pay back at the end of the month.

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.

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.