I get emails all the time from readers asking whether they should sign up for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card or American Express Platinum card. That’s always a tough question to answer, because despite the fact that they’re issued by the same company, they have virtually zero overlap in terms of what they offer. I find both cards to be among the most valuable out there (despite their annual fees of $175 and $450, respectively), but for exactly the opposite reasons.
At the end of the day the Premier Rewards Gold card is all about the rewards, and that’s in the form of points. I don’t remember the last time I “got” anything from the card other than points. Conversely, the Platinum card is all about the benefits. While the annual fee is steep at $450, I have no problem paying it thanks to the benefits that come with the card. But here’s the kicker: I don’t remember the last time I charged even a dollar to the card. The Platinum card offers a flat point per dollar, regardless of the category, so it’s not at all rewarding in terms of points. So yeah, I pay a $450 annual fee for a credit card I don’t even use for purchases… but it makes perfect sense!
So why do I gladly renew each card year after year?
The Premier Rewards Gold card comes with a $175 annual fee (waived the first year), and for that I get the most rewarding card out there for the categories in which they have bonuses — triple points on airfare, double points on gas and groceries, and 15,000 bonus points for any year in which you spend $30,000 on the card. Admittedly I spend a ton on airfare every year (mostly reimbursable), so for $30,000 worth of airfare spend I’m earning 105,000 Membership Rewards points (three points per dollar plus 15,000 bonus points for spending $30,000 on the card annually). The next best card for that spend amount would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which would earn me two points per dollar plus a 7% annual points dividend, for a total of 64,200 Ultimate Rewards points. Anyway, for gas, groceries, and airfare, this is my go to card. If you don’t spend as much on credit cards as I do (like I said, I have a lot of reimbursable expenses) the card might not justify the annual fee, but in my case it does.
While the value of Membership Rewards points has depreciated over the past year or so, I actually have a new appreciation for the value of them now that they can be efficiently redeemed on Singapore Airlines, especially after my flight on them a couple of days ago.
The Platinum card has a $450 annual fee (which is not waived the first year), and for that I get:
- A $200 annual airline fee credit, which anecdotal evidence suggests can be used to purchase gift cards with most airlines. I value a $200 American Airlines gift card at close to face value, so that basically lowers the annual fee to $250. Even better if you’re considering the card is that the credit is based on calendar years, so with your first year’s annual fee you can really pick up the fee credit twice, essentially bringing down the annual fee for the first year to $50.
- Lounge access with American, Delta, US Airways, and Priority Pass. When it comes to lounges I really have the best of both worlds. If it weren’t for the Platinum card I’d be stuck buying an Admirals Club membership every year for $350, and that wouldn’t give me nearly as many lounge benefits as the Platinum card. In Tampa the one airline in American’s concourse with a lounge is US Airways, and thanks to my Platinum card I get access to US Airways Clubs as well, even when not flying with them.
- Global Entry fee credit. While this only applies once every five years, the Platinum card will reimburse you for your Global Entry enrollment fee, which is usually $100. I don’t know how I lived without Global Entry, because it literally revolutionizes international travel, in my opinion.
- Fine Hotels & Resorts. American Express has an exclusive hotel program for their Platinum and Centurion card members which gets them room upgrades, guaranteed 4PM late check-out, free breakfast, and an added amenity (usually a $100 food and beverage credit) when staying at select luxury hotels. I never thought it would be a benefit since Virtuoso is a similar program that doesn’t require membership (you just need to find a Virtuoso travel agent), though I’ve made over a handful of bookings this year through Fine Hotels & Resorts. Why? Some hotels belong to Fine Hotels & Resorts but not to Virtuoso, like the Westin Frankfurt, Le Meridien San Francisco, and St. Regis Bangkok, just to name a few. Furthermore, American Express has the exclusive rights to guaranteed 4PM late check-out at the hotels that belong to their program, so you don’t get that through Virtuoso. So in many cases it does work out better, and for me it’s a benefit I’d actually pay money for.
- Add up to three additional card members for $175. I think this is the only card where paying $175 to add three additional card members is considered a good deal. But for that price each person gets all of the above, with the exception of the airline fee credit. So for $625 per year you’re looking at one of the best lounge access programs for four people. You really can’t beat that.
I have a lot clients that have the American Express Platinum card thinking it’s the best card out there for earning points, given the annual fee. If it’s points they’re after I always advise them to downgrade to the Premier Rewards Gold card, while if they enjoy the benefits of the Platinum card I always advise them to get the Premier Rewards Gold card in addition. Many get angry that American Express doesn’t offer the “best of both worlds” with such an expensive annual fee on the Platinum card, though I see where American Express is coming from. They’re segmenting the market into those most interested in rewards and those most interested in benefits, and if someone likes both they can always have both cards. But while the annual fee is high on the Platinum card, I still consider it to be a great value, and I certainly see why American Express doesn’t want to add more points earning opportunities to the card without raising the annual fee. Then again, maybe it’s time for a Premier Platinum Rewards card from American Express, that offers everything?
Lastly, keep in mind that both the Premier Rewards Gold card and Platinum card are charge cards as opposed to credit cards, meaning you have to pay your balance in full every month. As a result, I’ve always found both cards to be easy to be approved for, especially the Premier Rewards Gold card. I even had an 18 year old reader with no credit history email me last week to let me know he got approved for the Premier Rewards Gold card. Yikes, Scooby!
The best available offer on the Premier Rewards Gold card is currently 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 on the card in three months. The best available offer on the Platinum card is 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 within three months. I’ve seen better offers on the Platinum card in the past, though it has been a long time since I’ve seen a better offer on the Premier Rewards Gold card. If either of the above links doesn’t work (AmEx links can be screwy at times), try a different browser and make sure you’re logged out of your American Express account and it should work,
Full disclosure: I earn a referral bonus for anyone that signs up through the above links. It’s the best available offer, and of course I’m very appreciative of your support, regardless of whether or not you use my links.