Credit Card Review: American Express Platinum

AMEXPlatinum

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

global entry      tsaprecheck

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.

 

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.

Unlocking Value with Chase Ultimate Rewards: Part II

Chase Ultimate Rewards

In an earlier post (you can read it here ), I went over the benefits of having the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) or the higher end Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) when paired with the Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited. You are getting the same rewards currency (Ultimate Rewards Points) and you can combine the points into a single pot. When you combine them into the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account, you now have the ability to transfer to airline and hotel partners. You can also use the points to book straight from Chase. In this post, I’ll demonstrate when you’re better off using the points to book straight from Chase and when you are better off using a transfer partner.

Ultimate-Rewards-Transfer-Partners

A list of all the transfer partners for Chase Ultimate Rewards

For this example, we’ll do a round trip from Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL) from October 2nd-October 9th.  United is the only airline that flies this route non-stop from Chicago. If you’re sitting on 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points and assuming you have the CSR or CSP, these are your options:

  1. Book the trip with cash and avoid points altogether. This will cost you $913.40 per person

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 2. Book the trip straight from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this will cost 60,893 points per person. (Your redemption is 1.5 cents of value per 1 point). If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this will cost you ~73,000 points per person (Your redemption is 1.2 cents of value per 1 point).

3.Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United’s MileagePlus frequent flier program on a 1:1 basis.

This redemption is only 45,000 United Miles per person. This is obviously the clear winner. By avoiding Chase and booking this trip via United MileagePlus, you saved yourself 15.9k -28k Ultimate Rewards points. The savings can now be used towards a future trip.

Here is an example when it is more advantageous to book from Chase’s portal rather than transferring the points into MileagePlus.

For this example, we’ll use a round trip itinerary from NYC (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) from October 17th-24th. Assuming we have sufficient Chase points, here are our options.

1.Book the trip with cash.  This would cost $99 on American Airlines (that’s actually a really good deal paying with cash).

AALGA2ORD

2. Use the Chase portal to book with Ultimate Rewards Points. Since we’re using Chase’s portal, we can use the points on any airline that’s listed. For this trip, American Airlines happens to be the cheapest redemption since they happen to have the cheapest airfare for this itinerary. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (pictured below), 6,560 Ultimate Rewards points is all it takes for a round trip ticket. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you would still get an amazing round trip redemption of 7,872 points per person. Also keep in mind, when you use Ultimate Rewards points to make a redemption, these flights are eligible to earn miles. Just add in your American Advantage frequent flier number and you would earn miles for this trip. It’s free to sign up so you have nothing to lose.

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3. Transfer the points into a Chase transfer partner such as United

For this itinerary, It would require us to transfer 25,000 points from Chase to United to book this trip via MileagePlus miles. Among the three options, this would be the worst. Booking with Chase we’re getting 1.5 cents of value per 1 point. With this redemption, you are only getting 0.4 cents per point. Unless you have elite status with United and you’re confident you’re going to get upgraded to first class, this is a redemption you should avoid. It will end up saving you ~18k+ UR points that you can use for something of greater value.

So, the take home message when redeeming UR points is check the redemption rates on Chase’s transfer partners as well as Chase’s portal itself. By doing so, you might save yourself hundreds of dollars in points.

Unlocking Value With Chase: Part 1

In this post, I’ll be focusing on how to unlock value with Chase credit cards. Let’s start with scenario 1: You just recently got the Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited and you’ve hit the 15,000 point bonus after spending $500 over the course of the first 3 months. You’ve been accumulating points over several months and now you’re at 30,000 points. What do you do?  Without having the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, these are the options you have when you log on:

 

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  • Redeem for cashback. In this scenario, 1 point = 1 cent,  so 30,000 points = $300.

 

  • Redeem for a gift card. Just as the scenario above, 1 point = 1 cent, so 30,000 points$300 gift card.  You can mix and match the quantity and variety. 

 

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3. Redeem for travel: If you have 30,000 UR points, you can redeem that for $300 worth of travel. Just as the previous two scenarios, you will be getting 1 cent per point. Now, let’s say you would rather use those points towards a vacation and want to book a trip to Maui, Hawaii (Kahului Airport) from New York City (JFK). When you search for the trip on Chase, this is what you would get:

 

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Since you have 30,000 points, you can apply those points towards this flight and receive $300 in credit. However, you would still be on the hook for $463.60 in cash. It is better than nothing, but if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, those points will go a lot further. Scroll down to see what I mean….

 

Booking with Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve

Here is the alternate scenario. Suppose in this case you have the Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited just like above. Unlike the scenario above, now you have it paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  You got your Chase Sapphire Preferred and you received your 50,000 point bonus after spending $4,000 over 3 months. You already have 10,000 points on your Chase Freedom from previous spending. What do you do next?

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Go to the Chase Freedom Ultimate Rewards home page and direct the cursor of the mouse over your point total (10,000 points in this case) without clicking. When the drop tab opens, scroll down where you see “Combine Points”and click. This will bring you to the following page……

 

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Since we want to move from Freedom to Sapphire Preferred, we click on those two and click submit. Now we have a total of 60,000 points in the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Next,  go to the Chase Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards home page. ….

 

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Move the mouse cursor over “Use Points” and the drop down tab will give multiple options on how you want to use them. We now see an option that we did not see for the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited: the ability to transfer to travel partners. Go ahead and click on this option. This is the step which allows you to unlock a ton of value. When you click, you will see multiple airline and hotel programs, which you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points into on a 1:1 ratio. 

 

 

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Before you transfer your points into one of these programs, you will have to make an account with them. It is free and it is something you should probably do immediately after getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve. Just keep in mind, transfers are 1 way only! Once you transfer into a program, they CANNOT be transferred back into Chase.    Always check to make sure that there are award flights available in your desired seating class (economy, first class, business class) on your travel dates BEFORE transferring your points from Chase to any airline or hotel program. Sometimes certain dates will show business class availability (usually double or triple the amount of miles needed for economy) but not economy class or vice versa. Now, let’s say you still want to book this trip to Maui from NYC as from the example above. We will pick Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) as our transfer partner ( I’m going to use my wife’s account as an example since she has Flying Blue Points in her account)

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When you arrive at the home page and log in, the page above is what you will see. Click on spend miles and this will lead to you to the page below….

 

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Click on book your award ticket. This will take you to the page below ….

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I inquired for 2 passengers from New York City (JFK) to Maui (Kahului).  I entered May 2nd-May 9th, 2017. If you check the box that says “you are looking for a flight around these dates” it will open up a calendar to show availability on different dates of the month…

 

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As you can see, there is plenty of flight availability from New York City (JFK) to Maui (Kahului) for only 15,000 miles  a person one way.  While KLM and Air France do not fly to Hawaii from JFK in New York City, Delta does. Delta is part of the Sky Team Alliance with KLM , Air France, and Korean Airlines, among others. When you search up award tickets on FlyingBlue.com, Delta flights will appear for this particular itinerary. As we look at the calendar, our desired date, May 2nd happens to be available. When you click on any of the dates, it will then take you to a calendar that shows availability for your flight back…….

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And luckily for us, there is award availability not only on the 9th, but also on the 10th and 11th of May for our trip back. Again, only 15,000 miles a person. So we’ll click on May 9th as we decided earlier….

 

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60,000 miles and about $12 on Delta is the total cost in miles for you and one other person  to go from NYC to Maui and back (30,000 miles round trip per person). The next step is to pick your flight. As with most people, I choose the one with the shortest total flight time, even it means waking up early. You’re going to Hawaii! Don’t waste extra time in an airport somewhere because you don’t want to wake up at 5 am to take the earlier flight…..

 

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This would be the shortest itinerary going to Maui with the flight departing at 9:30 am and having a 2h 35 min layover in Los Angeles. This isn’t a terrible length for a layover and maybe you’ll see a celebrity or two. LAX does have some great dining options if you’re hungry. You depart LA at 3:35 pm local time and you still end up in Maui by 6:40 pm local time , jet lagged but in time for dinner.

 

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And here is your flight back to New York City. Shorter layover, and shorter flight time.  Now if you’ve been keeping along, 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points only got you  $300 worth of value when you did not have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve.  For this scenario, 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points is getting you one round trip ticket to a magical place like Hawaii.  Just for the sake of comparison, let’s go to Kayak.com and see what this same trip would cost if we were to pay in cash…

 

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If paid in cash, this trip would cost you $700 a ticket (cheapest ticket). This itinerary is not only longer, it requires you to have 2 connections, both going to Maui and coming back to NYC.  This is what I mean when I say unlocking value. By having the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, you are able to turn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points and get $1,400 worth of value. Without them, all you can do is get $600 worth of value. This is a great example of why I tell people it is worth paying the $95  annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and the more expensive $450 annual fee on the Reserve if you take advantage of its benefits.) In this instance, the annual fee just paid for itself 8 times over by booking a trip which cost you only 60,000 miles vs $1,400 had you paid in cash. Now you have money left over that could be put to use for better accommodations, more activities, rental car upgrade, visiting another island (Kauai or Oahu?) and using it on things you might actually enjoy, rather than paying $1,400 cash for you and someone else to sit on an economy seat for 12 hours. Remember, the annual fee is waived the first year on the Chase Sapphire Preferred as it is. If you find yourself not taking advantage of the benefits, you can always downgrade the card or cancel it after 11 months.  I hope this helps everyone. Thanks for taking the time to read.

 – Shiraz