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AmEx Platinum Worth a Second Look

SmarterTravel

The AmEx Platinum card, at $450 a year, isn’t for the economy minded. And users of less expensive AmEx cards, as well as many bank cards, can enjoy many of the card’s same features. But Platinum Card has recently added to its list of unique features, and you might want to give it a second look. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

The most interesting new feature helps lower the cost of airline extras. Starting immediately, the Platinum Card will absorb the costs of baggage fees, flight change fees, and in-flight food and airport lounge day passes, up to a maximum of $200 each year, for flights on “your favorite airline” (which you select each year) when ticketed with a Platinum card. If you take full advantage of the fee value, this feature, in effect, cuts the cost of the card from $450 to $250 a year.

Also important: Starting sometime in early 2011, Platinum Card will eliminate the foreign exchange surcharge on purchases charged outside the country. That surcharge, currently at about 3 percent, is par for the course among bank cards, but, once it’s eliminated, AmEx Platinum will join Capital One, a few Chase premium cards, and very few others in adding no surcharge at all—an important plus for people who travel abroad a lot.

The other new features are less important:

  • When you use AmEx Membership Reward points to pay for various travel services, AmEx will rebate 20 percent of those points back to the cardholder’s account. Although that’s better than no rebate, the whole idea of “Pay with Points” probably does not appeal to most current or potential Platinum cardholders. When used to pay, the points are worth approximately one cent each, and even with a 20 percent rebate, that’s not much better than you can do with many other cards. In fact, if you really want to use credit card points to pay for tickets, you’re better off with a Capital One Venture card, where the points are worth two cents each.
  • AmEx has developed a free mobile app for smart phones that provides various trip management functions, including real-time flight updates, sharing travel plans, airport and airline seat guides, and a travel phone directory. AmEx values this app at $49 a year. Although I haven’t tested it (and, for that matter, I’m not that much of an app maven), I suspect you can duplicate most of those functions with other free apps.

Some of the existing Platinum Card features would probably be more useful to potential users:

  • The Platinum Card gives you no-cost access to airport lounge clubs operated by American, Delta, US Airways, and (but only through next September ) Continental. Given that each of those club programs typically charges more than $450 per year in membership fees, the Platinum Card is a sensible alternative.
  • I first enrolled in Platinum Card more than 30 years ago, mainly to take advantage of its business class twofers with several important airlines. Back then, getting two business class seats to Europe or Asia for the price of one full-fare ticket was a good deal. The single twofer wasn’t a great deal more expensive than two economy class tickets, and my wife and I used it that way. Since then, however, full-fare business-class tickets have become so expensive—and business-class fare discounts have become so common—that the twofer feature is now valuable mainly to travelers who can charge their businesses for a full-fare ticket and use the twofer to take someone else along at no extra cost.
  • The Platinum Card Concierge service helps make all sorts of travel arrangements. You have to pay, but at least they get done. We used it once to score very tough tickets to the Vienna Opera.

The card also offers a list of other extras that you might or might not find useful. But the feature cluster of airline fee reduction, club access, and zero foreign surcharge can make sense to many of you. Visit the American Express website for more particulars.

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