I’m Going to Europe!

Thanks to Membership Reward (MR) transfer partners, I will be flying business class on Brussels Airlines (SN). The original plan was to transfer my MR points to Etihad and book 2 round-trip tickets for ~73,000 points, but that didn’t work out. So I transferred my points to Aeroplan and booked the same tickets, just for more points.

Flying Brussels requires flying out of either New York (JFK) or Washington, DC (IAD). This trip will originate in New York, meaning my second visit to New York. Peter Lik has galleries around the country, and I discovered him when I found his gallery in Hawaii last June, and I’ll be stopping by the gallery in New York.

Europe is a large continent so I will be a little more specific. My main purpose for this trip is to be in Paris, France for the final stage of the Tour de France this year. Other countries I’m visiting are England, German, and obviously Belgium.

While I have strong, and close, roots in Northern Europe, this trip is primarily for tourist and sight-seeing fun. As well as watching the Tour de France live in-person.

What to do When Annual Fees Post

Many credit cards with annual fees waive the annual fee the first twelve months. Twelve months have passed since I got my first credit cards with an annual fees (AFs) so my twelve months of waived annual fees have ended. This means I have to decide what to do with these cards.

My three options are:

  1. Cancel the card and not pay the annual fee;
  2. Keep the card and pay the annual fee; or
  3. Keep the card, but product change the card to a no-AF version

Keeping a budget for the entire year has meant I budgeted enough money each month to be able to pay any annual fees (AF) once it came time to pay up. However, a year of use has helped me learn more about my spending habits, and how much I value each of the cards I have acquired.

So what am I doing with these cards?

The biggest reason I’m okay with signing up for credit cards is knowing I am building credit history, so I prioritize options 2 and 3 from above.

Now, I could cancel all of my cards and the accounts would continue to increase my Age of Credit History for 10 years until they fall off my credit report (10 years from now), but I’d rather keep them forever and have 30+ year old accounts. Plus, keeping as many accounts open helps me build a relationship with banks.

Product Changing

I wrote about flying to Hawaii using points from the United MileagePlus Explorer card and flying to the east coast to visit family using American Airlines miles from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card last year. And I decided to product change these two cards instead of canceling or paying the AFs.

By product changing (PCing) these cards within 30 days of the AF posting, the $95 annual fees were refunded to my accounts. If the cards did not have fee-free versions, I would have canceled the cards and still been refunded the annual fees.

Canceling

Another card mentioned in the post about flying to Hawaii was the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. I am still unsure of what to do with this card because it offers good category bonuses, but I’m not sure if I would benefit from earning Membership Reward points since I don’t spend enough to accumulate enough for a full trip. Fortunately, I have a couple more months to decide whether I will cancel the card or pay the AF.

A third card I used during my Hawaii trip was the Barclaycard ArrivalPlus. This card allowed me to redeem points to zero out the cost of the GoCity Card I bought to hit all the tourist attractions. These points are very flexible, but the ArrivalPlus requires a minimum of 10,000 points ($100) to redeem against a travel expense. I could have changed the card to the no-AF version, but I had too much trouble with the card so I ended up canceling it.

Keeping and Paying the Annual Fee

At the other end of the spectrum, I am planning to keep the Hyatt and IHG credit cards from Chase and pay the annual fees because I get a free 1-night stay from each card every anniversary. The Hyatt certificate restricts use to category 1-4 hotels. However, the IHG annual certificate has no restrictions on hotel categories, so I could spend the night in Times Square for the $49 annual fee on the card.

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?

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.