A few days ago American Express announced yet another new feature for their Platinum card, which is a product that always gets a lot of attention around these parts. This time it’s 10 free inflight Gogo passes a year for Business Platinum cardholders. Apparently folks who hold personal Platinum cards never use Wi-Fi on planes, so their identical $450 annual fee somehow does not warrant this benefit. This is because everyone knows that inflight Wi-Fi is only used for conducting business and being productive, not for wasting time screwing around on Facebook. People in business never waste time screwing around on Facebook.
This new Gogo feature comes on top of the addition this past June of complimentary Boingo access at hotels, airports, and retail locations as well as the option to get a waiver of the TSA PreCheck fee instead of Global Entry for those who mainly travel domestically. For a while Amex was offering a free year of Amazon Prime as a Platinum signup bonus, but now that bonus is on the Amex Everyday cards so it would appear they decided no one with actual money to spend wants Amazon Prime.
Compared to the value of Platinum card perks in the past, these new benefits are weak tea. I’ve written before about the limited value of credit cards with high annual fees, but in many ways the Platinum is the granddaddy of this type of card. So you’d think when it comes to new benefits they’d be leading the pack, or setting the bar, or climbing the mountain… to the top… so they’d be at the top… okay, I’m out of clichés.
But I honestly don’t think there’s any question about it — the Amex Platinum is absolutely no longer worth its ginormous annual fee.
It’s all about the lounges.
Amex is compensating for something with all these new benefits, and we all know what that something is without even having to look at the size of their feet (and by the way, science says that’s all a myth anyway so stop pointing at my small feet with that knowing look, will you?)
They’re still desperately trying to make up for the huge loss of American and US Airways lounges earlier this year, which came on top of the departure of Continental lounges when they merged with United in 2011 and the reduction in access to Delta lounges just this past May.
While I’ve argued in the past that domestic lounges aren’t all that impressive (see “Airport Lounges < Auntie Anne’s + Drinks at Bennigan’s“), there’s no doubt that lounge access has historically been the key selling point of the Platinum card and there ain’t as much of it anymore. Now the only lounges you get access to are Delta’s (free only if you like traveling alone), the Centurion lounges (great if you happen to be in one of 4 places on the planet) and the Priority Pass Select collection which can be useful internationally but aren’t particularly inspiring domestically (though I do like me some Alaska Airlines Board Room pancake-machine pancakes).
But for $450? That’s not enough, American Express. The pancake machine is not enough.
What about the airline fee credit?
“Yes, yes,” titter the Conventional Wisdomers, “but you can offset most of that $450 in the first year with the $200 airline fee credit.”
True, you can. But you can offset even more of the huge annual fee with the Citi Prestige card, which is now offering a $250 annual airline fee credit. Oh, and by the way, unlike the Amex Platinum, the Prestige includes airfare as an eligible expense. No worrying for days on end about whether those gift card charges will improperly trigger the credit — if you charge $250 in annual airfare expenses, they’ll be covered.
Wait, aren’t Membership Rewards points more valuable than Citi ThankYou points? Maybe, but when I can get 3x ThankYou points for travel, 2x for dining and entertainment, 9 transfer partners including Singapore Airlines, and a guaranteed 1.6 cents per point valuation on any American or US Airways airfare, I’d say it pretty much evens out. In fact, if Citibank ever gets around to adding American Airlines as a ThankYou transfer partner, I’d say American Express is going to get stomped like a corporate attorney at Jurassic Park.
But what about lounge access on the Prestige? No problem. With the Prestige you actually get a better Priority Pass than the Platinum card plus Admirals Club access anytime you’re traveling on American. You can also bring others into the Admirals Club with you — either up to two traveling guests or your immediate family. (By the way, I like that Citibank has gone out of their way in their Terms and Conditions to make this an either/or clause. It shows I’m not the only one trying to sneak their family through security to the Admirals Club whenever I’m flying alone. “Come on, kids! Let’s go to the airport and get free snack mix and Coors Light!” “Yaaaaaay!”)
The Devil’s Advocate says skip the Amex Platinum until it’s good again.
At times there are some impressive Membership Rewards signup bonus offers floating around, and there’s a valid argument to be made that 100,000 bonus points is worth $450. But I’ve only seen that offer on the Business Platinum cards recently; personal offers for 100,000 bonus points appear to be highly targeted. So when Amex is only offering 25,000 bonus points or the like for a card that costs $450 a year, you’re better off with a Prestige where you can bump the bonus to 60,000 points and get improved lounge benefits along with a superior airline fee credit.
I know American Express is reading this because they’re a huge company and I assume they have someone whose job is to do nothing but surf the internet and read stuff about their huge company. Even if that’s not someone’s “official” job at Amex, I’m certain there’s more than a few staffers doing exactly that in order to avoid doing their actual work. So Amex, the following personal letter is from me to you…
Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- Why 90,000 Virgin Atlantic Miles Are Worthless. Or Priceless. I’m Not Sure.
- I Will No Longer Be A Sucker For Small Business Saturday
- When It Pays to be Flexible With Your Award Travel
Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.