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I was recently explaining rewards credit cards to a friend who is interested in putting their toes into this world of traveling better for less thanks to miles and points. I love talking about this stuff in person to those who are new to it because it really gives me some good reminders about how crazy it all sounds at first…especially when said out loud and to other real humans. I recommended they start with some of the easier cards including those with a $0 introductory fee the first year, but since the husband in the family does travel quite a bit, I did allude to there being some more premium cards with bigger annual fees that sound scary at first, but really can be worth it if you utilize the perks.
Explaining some of this out loud really got me thinking about why some of the cards with bigger annual fees are worth it for us. Am I just fooling myself, or does the math really add up even after the annual bonus is a distant memory? The answer is, as always, it depends. One of the cards I thought about a lot because of this recent discussion was the Amex Platinum. We have had one in some form or fashion for many years now, even though the annual fee is several hundred dollars per year. Currently the business versions are $450 per year while the personal versions are $550 per year. That isn’t chump change, but instead is a very real amount of money to spend to keep a charge card that we barely even charge things on, yet we still keep the card and keep paying the fee and here’s why….
The Sign-Up Bonus Makes it Easy to Get
Okay so you (sadly) don’t get a sign-up bonus every year just for holding the same card, but it sure does make it much easier to say yes the first year. Currently the personal Platinum Card® from American Express awards 60,000 Membership Reward points after you put $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months and the Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN awards 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 in the first three months and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 in those same three months.
Looking just at the personal card’s sign-up bonus, 60,000 Membership Reward points is pretty darn valuable, and many in this hobby would value that many Membership Reward points at close to $1,000 if you redeem with travel partners. As an example, 60,000 Membership Reward points is enough for a round trip business class (domestic first class) ticket to Hawaii on United booked via Singapore Airlines!
$200 Annual Airline Fee Credit
Moving on beyond the sign-up bonus, year after year we are able to easily spend the $200 airline fee credit…usually within weeks of the year starting. Technically the $200 fee credit is supposed to be used for things like bag fees, change fees, airline lounge passes, seat assignment fees, in-flight food and entertainment fees, etc. However, in practice sometimes the statement credits are triggered by other airline charges, including gift card purchases.
Because we travel so much, this $200 annual airline fee credit is as good as cash to me, dropping the effective cost for us to hold the Platinum Card immediately down from $550 to $350. Though in all honestly, we haven’t paid a $550 annual fee yet as we haven’t renewed since the fee increased.
$200 Annual Uber Credit
I’m a suburban dweller who has a car and is passed her days of getting hammered and needing a ride home, so I am not a frequent Uber user in my day to day life. However, we do use it on our travels, especially in cities like New York, Washington DC, Boston, and more where we don’t really need a car, but don’t always want to walk or use public transportation. The Amex Platinum gives you $200 in total annual Uber credits. These are dolled out in the form of $15 in credits each calendar month, with an additional $20 bonus in December, as long as the Platinum Card is added as a payment method to the Uber app.
With my husband traveling to other cities as much as he is right now, we are using 100% of these Uber credits, so at least for now this $200 credit is actually worth $200 to us, though your math may be different if you don’t frequently use Uber. Assuming a $550 annual fee, we are now down to $150 in real costs after factoring these two $200 annual credits.
Airport Lounge Access
One of my favorite features of the Amex Platinum Card is that it gets you and two guests into many airport lounges with a same day boarding pass. Airport lounges aren’t essential for life, but they sure are nice, and from a practical standpoint they actually save my family money on food costs when we travel. As I’m sure you know, it can easily cost $10 per person to eat in an airport – more if you move beyond the fast food and pizza type restaurants.
However, the Amex Centurion Lounges have hot buffets with decent food where you can eat without spending an extra dime. If you are traveling with two guests that is easily $30 saved per use – and more than that if you were planning to have drinks since these lounges have an included full bar as well.
Again, this perk is worth anywhere from zero to a ton for you, depending on how frequently you use the lounges. There is an Amex Centurion Lounge in Houston, so we make pretty good use of this perk not only at other airports, but also at our home airport. For the sake of easy math, I’ll conservatively say this perk saves us $150 year in airport food costs, but in all honestly it is probably way more than that. And that number doesn’t even factor in the relaxation and convenience factor of having access to the lounges and their family rooms!
If you placed the same value that we do on those first three benefits, you have now hit the $550 annual fee in value from the perks. Your math will vary, but now the rest of the perks are now icing on the cake for us.
Free Breakfasts, Upgrades, and More via the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts Program
We have an anniversary coming up and we are thinking about a splurge to stay for the weekend at the Fairmont in Banff. This is not going to be a cheap stay if we are able to make the trip, but this is one of the many hotels around the world in the Amex FHR program. If you book through them, you get free daily breakfast for two, guaranteed 4PM late check-out, a decent shot at a room upgrade, and a unique property amenity valued at $100 – in this case it is lunch for two at the property. I would suspect that daily breakfast for two on two mornings and a lunch for two at this property would ring in at least at $150, though it would not shock me if it was more. That isn’t even putting a value on late checkout, the potential upgrade, etc. If you use the FHR program you absolutely get value from the included perks.
The Fairmont won’t be cheap, but there are much more affordable hotels in the program, especially in Las Vegas where you can get the breakfasts, late check-outs, $100 property amenities, and more at places like The Bellagio, The Palazzo, Aria, and more. Rooms at those properties in Vegas can be had for under $200 per night – and you still get all of those perks sometimes worth almost as much as your stay!
Of course the value this program has for you may range from $0 – to many hundreds of dollars per year, but I would comfortably say we usually save at least $200 per year on things like breakfast that we would have paid for anyway because of the FHR perks, and on some years that number is much higher.
Depending on how you look at it, the Amex Platinum Card is now saving us money…
Included Elite Status Levels
The Amex Platinum gives you access to a few elite status levels that can help make your travel easier, or even less expensive in some cases. This includes Hilton Gold (which can get you breakfast and lounge access), Starwood Gold (which matches to Marriott Gold), and National Car Emerald Club Executive Membership. It also gives you access to a code with Hertz that gives you a four hour grace period on car rentals. This has saved me tons of money when you need the car a few more hours than a round 24, but don’t really need it for another full day!
Again, you may value these sort of things at $0, but I’ve saved hundreds over the years – especially with the Hertz rental grace period code.
Mercedes Specific Savings and Perks with the Mercedes Amex Platinum
We have the Mercedes version of the Amex Platinum, and with that card you get $1,000 certificate each year that you spend $5,000 on the card towards a purchase or lease of a new Mercedes. We have actually used that certificate once and it really just did take $1,000 off the total after the price was negotiated. We simply handed it over to the finance person and the total dropped by $1,000 paid with the certificate. You also get a 2,000 excess mile waiver on a lease through Mercedes-Benz Financial, in case that helps you out.
This version of the card also gives you a $100 Mercedes accessory certificate each year, which we have put to use most years for things like fishing shirts for Josh, glass and travel coffee containers, etc.
We don’t mind that this stuff has a Mercedes logo on it, so there is some value in this perk for us. We also like the 5x points it pays on Mercedes charges since we have some of those with car maintenance, etc. Again, these perks may be of no value to you, but they have value to us, so I’ll call it $100 per year, though the year we used the $1,000 certificate it was obviously more than that.
Free Medical Evac, Purchase Protections, Amex Offers, and More….
Having an Amex Platinum opens you up to a host of other perks such as included medical evacuation in some situations, lots of purchase protections, special access to events, the ability to save money via Amex Offers, and more. You can get access to Amex Offers even on Amex cards with no annual fee, but some of the offers are so good I use them on all of my cards so again we get real value even from these perks, but your savings will vary.
It is a very good idea to really question if you are getting enough value out of your various cards to justify paying the annual fees each year – especially when the fees are as high as the Amex Platinum’s annual fees. Sometimes the correct answer is that you aren’t getting your money’s worth and to move on. However, the math really does work out for us with the Amex Platinum, and as long as we keep traveling with regularity, I suspect that will stay the same for several years to come (though perhaps we will change up our flavor of Amex Platinum at some point). It isn’t the right card for everyone, especially beyond the first year when you get the sign-up bonus, but for regular travelers it is worth a strong consideration.
I’d love to hear how your family does the math in similar situations!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.