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There's an increasingly mad scramble among credit card issuers to get their cards into consumers' wallets, and to increase the spending of consumers who already use their cards. Luckily for travelers, that scramble has revolved most fiercely around travel-rewards cards.
The most visible activity has been focused on acquiring new cardholders, with average sign-up bonuses reaching historic highs. The 100,000-mile bonus from British Airways and the 110,000-mile bonus from Capital One are the most recent examples.
Such outsized bonuses are nice for nabbing a short-term windfall. But perhaps of more interest—and certainly of more value in the long term—have been the additional perks issuers have been bundling with their cards. Among them:
- Access to discounted awards for Citi AAdvantage MasterCard holders
- Waived foreign-transaction fees for a growing number of rewards cards
- Baggage-fee waivers from several airline cards
- Elite-qualifying miles for some Delta- and United-affiliated cards
Such perks not only add value to the cards themselves; they make the programs they're linked to more valuable as well.
New From American Express
The latest value-add is from American Express. Rather, the latest are from American Express. There are two new benefits, both linked to the Platinum and Centurion charge cards.
Priority Pass Select Membership
Priority Pass Select is a lounge program that affords members access to 600 airport lounges at around 325 airports.
Normal price for unlimited lounge visits: $399.
Priority Pass is in addition to cardholders' access to the airport lounges of American, Continental/United (but only through September 30), Delta, and US Airways.
Free Global Entry
The new Global Entry program "allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States." (The pre-approval process, it should be noted, is not insignificant, requiring a face-to-face interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, in addition to the obligatory paperwork.)
The fee: $100, for five years.
Deal or No Deal
These are significant additions to cards that already feature solid benefits. But those benefits come at a price. The annual fee for the Platinum card is $450; and the invitation-only Centurion card costs $2,500 a year, plus a $5,000 initiation fee.
I've pointed out that the fee for the Platinum card can easily be justified by frequent travelers who are in a position to take advantage of the savings available from using the card. For example, cardholders are entitled to use the airport lounges of American, Continental/United, Delta, and US Airways. Purchasing those lounge memberships would normally cost $500, $475, $450, and $450, respectively.
But the perks only have real value if they will actually benefit you, given your real-world travel patterns. And the new benefits are decidedly oriented toward overseas travel.
Priority Pass lounges are disproportionately located at non-U.S. airports, and Global Entry is by definition a program for international travelers. So these new perks are of most interest, and value, to frequent international flyers. And even if you do travel overseas, if you already fly in business or first class, Priority Pass is probably redundant, since many airlines already extend lounge access to those flying on premium-fare tickets.
Still, even for domestic-only travelers, the Platinum card has plenty to offer, including:
- The above-mentioned airline lounge access
- $200 airline fee credit
- 20 percent bonus when using Membership Rewards' Pay with Points
- Free companion airfare when booking a first- or business-class flight on one of 22 airlines
Add it all up, and the value of the perks handily trumps the annual fee—but only if you take advantage of them.
Reader Reality Check
Could you justify paying $450 a year for the Platinum card?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.