Credit Card Review: American Express Platinum

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The AMEX Platinum currently has a 60k membership points bonus if you spend $5k within the first 3 months of opening the account. This card also has a steep annual fee of $550 (not waived the first year) so it’s not for everyone. The 60k points could easily net you $1,200 worth of travel and cover your annual fee for 2 years if you didn’t derive any other benefit the card offers. AMEX membership points can be transferred to a multitude of airlines and hotels.  I received an upgrade offer from AMEX a few months back that offered 60k points and I jumped on it. I still rate the Chase Sapphire Reserve as the best among the premium credit cards. However, the  AMEX Platinum might actually be of greater value for some of you. Here are some of the benefits you can get with the AMEX Platinum:

1) 60k bonus points after spending $5k over the first 3 months

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AMEX Membership Rewards points have a lot of value because of the multitude of airlines and hotels they have as transfer partners. Among the airline partners: Delta, Etihad, Emirates, Singapore, British Airways, Iberia, Air France/KLM (via Flying Blue), etc. Hotel transfer partners include Starwood, Hilton, and Choice hotels.

 

2) Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check

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AMEX will reimburse you the $100 fee for Global Entry or $85 for TSA pre-check. If you are in a major metro area, Global Entry is the way to go since it automatically gives you TSA pre-check. I’ve had TSA pre-check for about a year now and saves you from the inconvenience of taking off your shoes, removing your laptop/electronics from your carry, and going through X-ray machines.  Plain and simple, it saves a lot of time. Both of them are good for 5 years.

 

3.  $200 in annual airline fee credits

For this benefit, you have to select a particular airline and you would get reimbursed for incidental fees such as checked bag fees, in-flight internet, and in-flight food purchases. It’s not nearly as valuable as Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 travel credit, which covers everything from airfare, hotels, tolls, parking fees, etc. However, there is a way to get around this if you desire credit towards airfare instead. If you use this card to purchase $200 worth of American Airlines gift cards from AA.com, AMEX will treat it as an incidental purchase and credit you back the $200. Here is a screen shot below:

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It only took two days for them to reimburse me and I was able to put the gift cards to use a month later. I don’t think this trick works for any other airline. This was far more beneficial in my opinion since I don’t end up checking-in $200 worth of bags in any given year.

 

4. $200 Uber credit annually

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This is a really nice perk that can really help offset the annual fee for those who find themselves using Uber on a regular basis. AMEX gives you $15 Uber credit for each month and in December, they give you an extra $20. Just link the AMEX card with your Uber account and use that as the method of payment.

 

5. Complimentary Boingo Hotspot

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We still live in a world where many airports still don’t offer complimentary wifi access for more than a half hour.  If you don’t find yourself transiting through one of these airports often, this perk may not be a huge deal. However, if you’re frequently traveling or connecting through airports such as Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, NYC’s LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark, or LAX in Los Angeles, this might be of great value. These airports offer complimentary low speed wifi for 30-45 minutes. By the time your website is done loading, you have half the time left. This perk allows you to have complimentary access to Boingo’s higher speed internet, which would usually costs $7.95 per use.

 

6. Complimentary Access to AMEX Centurion Lounge

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If you are a traveler that routinely transits through New York’s LaGuardia, Seattle-Tacoma, Miami, Dallas (DFW), Houston (Bush Intercontinental), San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Philadelphia, having Centurion lounge access is an awesome perk to have. You get complimentary drinks, snacks, meals, massages (DFW), really high speed wifi, and a place where you can unwind between flights or just get some work done. You can also bring two guests free of charge. To get an idea of what the Centurion Lounge is like, you can read my review of the lounges at LaGuardia and Dallas-Fort Worth right here and here.

 

7. Complimentary Access to Priority Pass Lounges

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Here is another valuable perk to have if you find yourself at airports that have lounges that are part of Priority Pass.  Priority Pass has over 1,000 lounges at airports all over the world. There are even restaurants such as Timberline’s Steak and Grille (Denver International Airport) that are a part of Priority Pass. At Timberline’s, each guest gets $28 worth of credit towards food. So you and two guests can actually get $84 off an entire check.

 

8. Complimentary Access to Delta Sky Club (When Flying on Delta)

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If you fly on Delta frequently,  add this to the list of perks that comes with the Platinum Card. You would have access to Delta Sky Club lounges from coast to coast. Just show them your boarding pass and AMEX Platinum card and you’re in.

 

        9. Gold Status for Hilton and Starwood Hotels

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If you play your hand right, this benefit can cover the entire cost of an annual fee and then some. Having Hilton Gold status makes you eligible for free upgrades at any Hilton Hotel. You also get complimentary breakfast and high speed WiFi.  A couple of months back, my wife and I took a trip to Maldives and stayed at the Conrad in Rangali Island. Hilton gave us a complimentary upgrade from a water villa to a retreat water villa during our 4 nights there. The value of our upgrade was over $500. This doesn’t even include the complimentary breakfast, lunch, and mocktails we enjoyed as Hilton Gold members.  Add that to the value of the upgrade and we derived well over $700 worth of value simply by having Hilton Gold status.  I haven’t put the status to use at any Starwood hotels just yet, but I’ll keep you posted if I do.

 

10. Earn 5X Membership Rewards Points on Flights Booked Directly with Airlines or via AMEX Travel

This is the highest earning credit card for booking flights. You also earn 5X the points for booking a hotel through AMEX Travel. For the flights, you can’t book it via Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, or any other third party site. For the hotels, it has to be booked via AMEX travel.  I’m really hoping in the future they just give you the 5X for all travel related purchases. Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you 3X Ultimate Reward points on anything travel related. It doesn’t matter if you booked on Expedia or directly from the hotel/airline.

 

 

 

If you are going to apply for the the card, do it during a time when you know you’ll be spending $5k over 3 months. Due to its exorbitant annual fee, this card isn’t a long term keeper for a leisure traveler who only travels once or twice a year or an individual who doesn’t travel for work. If you find yourself in a scenario where you can derive the benefits and perks routinely, this card can be extremely rewarding.

 

Chase Freedom 5% Quarterly Categories Include Walmart and Department Stores

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Chase just released their 4th quarter 5% cashback categories for the Chase Freedom and this includes Walmart and department stores. For the months of October, November, and December, you will get 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $1,500 you spend on these categories. The inclusion of Walmart is a pretty big deal since many people shop there on a weekly basis for groceries, household goods, supplies, clothing, etc. It’s an added bonus that the inclusion of Walmart and department stores during the 4th quarter coincides with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas holiday season.  If you already hold the Chase Freedom card, remember to log in to Chase and activate the 5% cashback bonus. If you also own the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this would have added value since you aren’t limited to redeeming the Ultimate Rewards Points for cashback or gift cards. You are able to unlock more value by transferring the points on a 1:1 basis to one of the many airline or hotel partners. I wrote a couple of detailed posts about that and you can read that here and here.

Review: Centurion Lounge at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport

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Entrance to Centurion Lounge at DFW

As far as U.S. airport lounges go, I have yet to visit one that offers the amenities, space, comfort, and service as the Centurion Lounge at DFW.  This is one of the seven Centurion Lounge locations in the U.S. (soon to be eight when Philadelphia opens theirs in the coming weeks).  You can gain complimentary access for yourself and two guests to any Centurion Lounge with the American Express Platinum Card. I was able to bring my brother along with me for no extra charge. Without the card, access costs $50 per person for each visit.

 

The Centurion Lounge at DFW is located in terminal D on the second floor post-security. If you have never flown from DFW, all the terminals are interconnected via skylink light rail. Once you clear security, you can take the train to any terminal without worrying about clearing security a second time. This gave me a peace of mind knowing I didn’t have to worry about security lines once I was at the lounge, and a quick 6 minute skylink ride would get me from terminal D to terminal A.

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The member services desk at the Centurion Lounge DFW

Once I entered the lounge,  the friendly staff at the member services desk went through the usual protocol of askingfor my AMEX Platinum Card, boarding pass, and ID.  This particular Centurion Lounge had a spa and they asked me if I was interested in getting a massage. It sounded tempting but it was 7 am so I politely declined. Breakfast was being served and I purposely skipped out on the hotel breakfast to see the offerings here. And it certainly did not disappoint.

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Entrance to the lounge

 

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FOOD! French Toast, baked beans, and something that looked like jello(?)

 

 

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Breads and muffins

 

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Breakfast Pizza. What a fantastic concept. It was delicious and I helped myself to seconds.

 

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Texas style egg frittata with goat cheese. Another item unique to Centurion DFW.

 

Since I was there early and the lounge was relatively empty, I was able to take many pictures without having to be so covert.

 

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Dining area if you choose to sit near the food. Of course, you are free to take your plate and eat anywhere you are situated.

 

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Another part of the dining area. I loved the ambiance of this place.

 

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A relatively quiet bar area at around 7 am.

 

 

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Plenty of empty tables and seats. This corridor leads you from the main entrance to the dining area. This lounge has really good wifi speed and I was able to browse the internet and get work done comfortably.

 

 

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Business area was completely empty. Complimentary use of desktops and printers available.

 

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A lounge area that was mostly being utilized. Behind the wall is another area that had 4 leather recliners/beds. Predictably, all 4 of them were being used by people who were in deep sleep. I didn’t want to look like a creep and run into any misunderstandings so I didn’t take pics of that area but just an FYI that it is there.

 

Perhaps the next time I visit this lounge, I’ll take advantage of the massage service they offer. This was a fantastic lounge with excellent amenities,  really nice ambiance, modern design, great food, and very friendly service. And a huge plus since it is located after security. If you are an AMEX Platinum card holder and you have a layover or some time to kill at DFW, this a lounge I’d highly recommend visiting.  If you didn’t get a chance to read my review of the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport in NYC,  you can read it here.  It might be a while until I review a Centurion Lounge which I have not visited yet. If I had to guess the Centurion Lounge I’m visiting next, Philadelphia seems like a logical option since Philadelphia International Airport is a place I transit through occasionally.

 

 

Limited Time Offer: 60k Points After First Purchase with American Airlines Barclays Aviator Card

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One of the biggest impediments for a lot of folks after applying for a credit card is spending up to the threshold to gain the boat load of bonus points. These days, many  valuable credit cards require anywhere between $3k and $7.5k of spending over 3 months to get the bonus. Many people simply don’t have expenses that add up to that amount over a 3 month period. This makes obtaining a bonus difficult. This is where the American Airlines Barclays Aviator card comes into play. They have a limited time offer in which you would earn 60,000 American AAdvantage miles after your first purchase.  That purchase can be as small as a cup of coffee and that would be sufficient to trigger the bonus. The first year annual fee of $95 is not waived but that is a trade off you should make any day of the week. 60,000 miles for $95? That’s a STEAL.  Let’s take a look below where 60k American AAdvantage miles would take you.

 

Chicago to Barcelona Round Trip (March 7th-14th)

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Plenty of award availability on this route throughout the year. This round trip during non-peak season (until March 10th) would require 45k miles round trip, giving you 15k miles to spare. If you decided to take this trip during peak season, it would cost 60k miles round trip. Chicago to Barcelona non-stop service is seasonal so you would get a non-stop flight if you booked between early spring and early autumn.

 

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Chicago to Tokyo Round Trip (March 2nd-12th)

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Chicago to Tokyo round trip would cost 65k miles during non-peak season. The 60k bonus would put you right at the door step for this award flight if you don’t have any miles to work with.  This itinerary would have non-stop service for the flight there and the return back to Chicago.

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Albany, NY to Paris

Even though most of my examples are from larger airports and cities, these award flights would also work if your flight originated in a smaller airport such as Albany International Airport. I haven’t forgotten about you, Albany people =)

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For 45k points, you would be able to fly round trip to Paris with a relatively short layover in Philadelphia. If you chose this route during the peak season  in late spring into early autumn, the bonus would still cover the 60k points required for this award ticket.  The return flight would also have a reasonable layover in Philadelphia.

 

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If you have a spouse or travel partner that also takes advantage of this offer, now you’d get two free round trip tickets to Europe or be on the cusp of getting to destinations as far out as Asia. All this for a combined annual fee of $190 between the two cards.  This card also allows you to bring a free checked bag and gives you back 10% of the points you redeem.

Review: Centurion Lounge LaGuardia Airport

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Front desk of the Centurion Lounge at LGA

 

If you are an AMEX Platinum card holder, one of the best perks that comes with the card is complimentary Centurion Lounge access to any of the locations across the US. Platinum card holders are also allowed to bring two guests free of charge. If you were to pay for access, one day passes cost $50 per person.

The Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia airport is located on the 3rd floor in terminal B.  The lounge is located pre-security and the staff will recommend you depart the lounge and arrive at security 45 minutes prior to departure, particularly if you don’t have TSA pre-check.

It might be a bit confusing at first but you will see many signs that point you towards to the elevators that take you up to the 3rd floor.

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When you enter the lounge, the friendly staff at the member services desk will ask you for your AMEX Platinum card, a form of ID, and your boarding pass.  Once you’re in, your free to move about. The first thing I checked out was the food options……

 

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The salad bar had your basic run of the mill options. Nothing that really stood out.

 

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The ginger rice with sauteed vegetables and roasted carrots were delicious

 

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I had an almond coconut cookie on the right. Perfect combo of moist and soft. I can tell they weren’t sitting there the whole day. The brownies looked good too but I need to relax on the sugar.

 

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The bar and dining area. I was there at 5:30 pm on a Friday. Generally one of the busier times due to the influx of business travelers.

 

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Full scale bar

 

If you arrive at the lounge between 10 am and 6 pm, personal space might be difficult to find. I was fortunate to find an empty sofa my second time visiting this lounge. No such luck during the first visit.

 

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The personal space is very comfy if you can find a spot. Plenty of outlets, and more than enough space to lay out your food, drinks, and laptop.

 

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If you’re able to get one of the few private booths, consider yourself lucky.  Everyone is eyeing them and waiting to make a dash once a booth becomes available. Both times I have visited this lounge, I was unable to find a private booth.

 

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Larger conference table at the Centurion Lounge

 

If you have the AMEX Platinum card and you have a layover or some time to kill, the Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia is worth checking out. This is especially true if you are laying over or departing from terminal B. This lounge has a decent food and drink selection, comfortable personal space (if available), free WiFi, and staff that will do everything they can to make your stay comfortable. It’s also a great spot to get work done. One drawback for this lounge is that it is located pre-security. I would highly recommend taking a glance at the security lines prior to going to the lounge so you have a better idea on when to depart the lounge and arrive at security.

Although I have not been to the United or American Airlines Admirals lounge at LGA,  I have heard anecdotally from people who have that the Centurion Lounge beats them in food and comfort. Perhaps in the not too distant future, I will have a chance to visit one or both and give a detailed review.  In the next day or two, I’ll post a review of my recent experience at the Centurion Lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Chicago to Iceland for $199 Round Trip

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The Blue Lagoon 

 

WOW Airlines is currently offering round trip flights from Chicago to Reykjavik, Iceland for $199 round trip. A few days ago they had excellent deals from various U.S. cities to Iceland for under $275. This deal is the best I’ve ever seen from Chicago to Iceland.  If you do a quick search on Google Flights, you will see multiple departure and arrival dates for October and November for $199. You can see an example below:

 

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This deal probably won’t last long so if you’re interested in visiting Iceland and have some flexibility over the next month or two, this would be a great time to jump on this offer.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image via Guide to Iceland