According to The Points Guy, American Express is changing some of the benefits of its signature Platinum Card. Although the annual fee will increase by $100 — to a total of $550 — I think this is more than offset by the improvements. On the other hand, a net improvement doesn’t necessarily mean the card as a whole will be a good choice.
New benefits are reported to kick in on March 30, 2017, and include the following:
- 5X points on hotels booked directly through American Express (limited to prepaid rates at travel.americanexpress.com). You can already earn 5X on flights booked directly through American Express or the airline.
- $200 in credits each year for Uber and VIP status. The credits are distributed as 11 monthly credits of $15, plus $35 in December, and expire each month. Apparently VIP status gets you better drivers in some markets.
- Complimentary Gold cards for up to 99 authorized users. These cards still earn 5X on eligible flights and hotels but do not get other benefits, like lounge access.
- Although not really a benefit, the plastic card is also being replaced with a metal card similar to some other high-end cards. The card number will be printed on the back.
Some people can make a reasonable argument that these changes are long overdue. If the card was a bad deal at $450, does that necessarily make it a good deal at $550? Maybe the benefits should have been improved without an increase in the fee in order to stay competitive. Here I think that the $200 Uber credit is really what tips the balance because when fully utilized it means the fee is actually decreasing by $100 net.
However, it won’t be useful for everyone. Value remains in the eye of the beholder, and some perks like Centurion Lounge access were only relevant to certain travelers. If we did not have a Centurion Studio in Seattle, I would probably not be a cardholder today. Similarly, I rarely use Uber. (I actually like the bus; I chose to live where I do in part for the easy transit options.) $15 a month is barely enough for one night out, which means to use this credit I will likely spend more, not less.
Originally there were rumors that the 5X bonus points on hotel stays would apply to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which would have been the only thing that excites me. I like the Fine Hotels & Resorts program for stays at great hotels like the Alfonso XIII in Seville, but I hate paying with my Platinum Card because the points earned are so measly. It’s still a problem, and it’s still not fixed by these program changes. I’ll likely continue to book directly with the hotel since that provides access to a broader selection of rates with more favorable cancellation terms.
In general I’m not motivated to switch flight and hotel purchases to Amex. You’ve been able to get 5X points on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex for a while now, but I disliked using different cards for flights and hotels — there are enough cards out there that offer you a bonus for both. If you feel differently, Membership Rewards points are worth about 1.5 cents each in my book, for a total return of 7.5% when booking eligible travel.
I do hope that American Express makes the new metal card an optional feature. I am more and more frustrated with them and find that it can be difficult to use them in situations that matter most. Last year I had a particularly large expense that needed to be paid with a physical imprint. The metal cards in my wallet and my wife’s purse both failed to work despite several attempts. I had to use my Amex Platinum Card even though it earned fewer points. It’s a rare situation these days but also one reason I continue to carry it with me everywhere.