Travel with luxury perks using the American Express Platinum card

Darren Murph, CNN Underscored
Mon February 17, 2020
The American Express Centurion lounge in Hong Kong.

Story highlights

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express is best for jetsetters who travel enough to justify the high price of admission.
  • The card comes with 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening the account.
  • Perks include airport lounge access, airline & Uber credits, hotel elite status and more.

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective.

Our quick take: The Amex Platinum is the king of luxury rewards travel cards, perfect for demanding travelers who place a high degree of value on perks like lounge access and complimentary elite status.

Pros:

  • Industry-leading 5x earnings on airfare and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Complimentary elite status at Hilton, Marriott and select car rental agencies.
  • More lounge access than you can shake a stick at.
  • Possible to recoup the $550 annual fee with included credits.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Cons:

  • Lofty $550 annual fee.
  • Weak earning potential on non-travel spend.
  • Credits require planning and strategy to maximize.
  • $175 to add up to 3 authorized users.
  • No cell phone protection.

Current welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after making $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening the account.

Best for: Jetsetters who travel enough — or will soon travel enough — to justify the high cost of the card.

Digging into the Amex Platinum

The Amex Platinum is an icon. It's a card that's known by its looks alone. Simple, classic, and loaded with so many features that it nearly requires a PhD in travel rewards to grasp it all. It has been, and remains, the luxury card to beat for demanding travelers.

Related: Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as its "Best credit cards of 2020."

It's also an ideal card for the aspirational traveler, as it provides complimentary elite status in several car rental and hotel programs, as well as access to an array of airline lounges. In other words, those looking to catapult into a life of luxury travel can bypass earning status the hard way, and use this card as a VIP token.

Access lounges like the Plaza Premium Lounge in London Heathrow's Terminal 2 with the Amex Platinum.

But the Amex Platinum is not a card for the occasional traveler. You need to be able to regularly take advantage of all the card has to offer in order to make its sky-high $550 annual fee worth the cost. That means the main trick is figuring out how to utilize all of the perks of the card, so that the lofty annual fee actually seems like a bargain.

Advantages of the Amex Platinum

While the Amex Platinum is loaded with perks, it also earns valuable Membership Rewards points on every purchase you make. Though it has only one bonus category, it's a great one: 5 points for every dollar you spend on purchasing flights directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, as well as on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

Membership Rewards points have a multitude of uses, particularly for those who know how to leverage them for high-value redemptions through Amex's impressive lineup of hotel and airline transfer partners. For example, the welcome bonus alone can net you a week-long stay in many Choice Hotel locations, or a couple of round-trip domestic flights on Delta, since Amex points transfer to both programs (and almost 20 others).

New Amex Platinum cardmembers earn 60,000 bonus points after making $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening the account. Those points are worth at least $600 if you redeem them via Amex Travel (where they're worth 1 cent each for airfare), but can become much more valuable if you can put in the time to research award space and utilize the transfer partners. Also, some people may be targeted for as much as a 100,000-point bonus through CardMatch. It costs nothing to see if you're targeted, so it's worth checking CardMatch before applying. (Targeted offers are subject to change at any time).

Complimentary elite status

The Amex Platinum Card is one of the few cards that allows you to shortcut the tedious process of earning elite status in several meaningful programs. And for those who've yet to travel with elite hotel or car rental status, it can be difficult to appreciate the concept of a Gold stamp by your name at check-in.

By having the Amex Platinum, you receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status and Hilton Honors Gold elite status. On the car rental side, you're automatically eligible for Avis Preferred status, National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards privileges.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards privileges with the Amex Platinum card include discounts and upgrades.

While these are mostly the mid-level elite status levels in these programs and not the top-tiers, they can still make a stark difference. Perks like free upgrades, late check-out, early check-in and complimentary breakfast are common inclusions. A room upgrade for a single stay could easily be worth hundreds of dollars, while elite car rental status can lead to paying a midsize rate and snagging any available car in the elite aisle — vehicles like a minivan or SUV, which can easily cost double if selected outright during booking.

Usually, in order to earn elite status, you're required to stay a certain number of nights (or rent a car for a certain number of days) while spending enough cash to obtain elite status. Worse still, you're not able to enjoy the status you're striving for until you earn it, making the road to elite status one normally defined by a lack of frills.

So if you've taken a new job that requires a lot of traveling, or if you're retiring soon and looking to travel more, or if you're eying a sabbatical that will allow you to fit more travel into your schedule, all of that free elite status can potentially make your journeys a lot more comfortable.

Airport lounge access

Then, there's airline lounge access. The Platinum Card features American Express' Global Lounge Collection, unlocking access to more than 1,200 airport lounges across 130 countries (and counting). That includes the highly-popular Centurion Lounges and International American Express lounges, as well as partner networks like Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass Select lounges.

The Amex Platinum is one of only three personal cards — the others being the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and the invite-only American Express Centurion Card — that gets you into Delta's global network of Sky Club lounges. An individual membership to the Sky Club costs $545 annually, so if Sky Club access is paramount to you, you're better off holding this card for an extra $5 per year and leveraging its other perks instead of buying Sky Club access from Delta.

Use your Platinum Card to visit the Delta Sky Club in Atlanta's Terminal B.

Wondering what all the lounge fuss is about? Lounges provide quieter spaces and cleaner restrooms as compared to the general airport terminal, as well as an assortment of free food and drink options (yes, alcoholic ones as well) and fast Wi-Fi. If you travel regularly, being able to duck into a lounge during a connection can be the difference between a manageable travel day and one full of noise and chaos.

Credits galore

For those who lean on ride-sharing at least once or twice a month, you'll find good use for the Amex Platinum's $15 in Uber Cash credits for U.S. rides or Uber Eats orders each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That's up to $200 annually if you're able to take advantage of the credit every month, and you'll also be gifted Uber VIP Status for just having the card.

Also, at the start of each year, you can select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees — such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments — that are charged by that airline to your Amex Platinum when you travel.

You'll also receive up to $100 in statement credits for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, both of which make your travels a lot more efficient. You'll want to apply for the former if possible, however, as Global Entry membership includes TSA PreCheck.

Oh, and did we mention Saks? You'll receive up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue or saks.com on your Platinum Card. That includes up to $50 in statement credits from January through June, and up to $50 in statement credits from July through December.

If you have to ask, it's probably covered

The Amex Platinum hosts a slew of travel and protection coverages. For starters, the card offers one year of extended warranty on products you buy that have their own manufacturer warranties, and 90 days of purchase protection, for purchases that are lost, stolen or damaged after you buy them.

Amex also recently added several travel-related features to the Platinum, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance up to $10,000 per trip and trip delay insurance up to $500 per trip. Car rentals paid for with the card receive car rental loss and damage insurance, and if you're traveling more than 100 miles from home, you may be eligible for 24/7 emergency assistance and coordination services. The card also has no foreign transaction fees, which frankly you'd expect from a premium card.

The American Express Platinum card can cover your expenses when your flight is canceled.

Whether you need assistance making arrangements for a special dinner, tickets to a sought-after event, or finding just the right gift, there's the Platinum Card Concierge. This 24/7 phone line has been known to make the impossible happen for Platinum cardholders.

It's also worth mentioning that many event pre-sales — particularly concerts and sporting events — offer early purchase access to American Express cardholders. If entertainment is your thing, and sitting in the nosebleeds is a pet peeve, this perk can be quite valuable. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny for it — the Amex Platinum provides access to these events, but not complimentary tickets.

Disadvantages of the Amex Platinum

To extract a sufficient amount of value from the Platinum Card — enough to cover the $550 annual fee — you must be a regular traveler. Complimentary hotel status and top-notch airline lounge access won't do you much good if you don't routinely hit the road. So, if your travel schedule slows down, so will the amount of value you get from the card.

You'd also think that for the price, the Amex Platinum would be a great card to have in your wallet all the time, even when you're not traveling. But that's surprisingly not the case. Since the 5x bonus category is reserved for only two things — flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com — that means on all other purchases, you'll earn just 1 point for every dollar you spend. You can do better with other cards, including our benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card.

Speaking of points, while Membership Rewards points are extremely valuable for people who understand how to work the transfer partners, folks less interested in the complexity of transferring points only get only 1 cent per point when you redeem them directly for airfare via Amex Travel, and less than 1 cent per point when redeeming for hotel rooms. While using your points this way — or opting to exchange them to pay down a statement, snap up a gift card, or pay for your tab on Amazon — is simple, it's far from the greatest of deals.

Credits and protections aren't perfect

The credits on the Amex Platinum can also be difficult to use. The airline fee credit only applies to one selected airline each year, and even then only to specific fees on that airline. The Uber credits can't be used all at once — they're spread across all 12 months in a year at $15 a pop — and the Saks credits are $50 biannually. All this Amex sleight-of-hand requires you to set reminders and be strategic about how and when you spend.

You'll need to plan ahead to take advantage of the Amex Platinum's entire $200 in Uber credits each year.

While cell phone protection isn't a common credit card benefit, it's becoming more popular, and it feels like a glaring omission for a top-shelf card like the Platinum Card. For comparison, cell phone protection is available on the no-annual-fee Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, the high-end Citi Prestige® Card ($495 annual fee) and the mid-range IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card ($89 annual fee), just to name a few.

Related: Earn a highest-ever 140,000 bonus points with the IHG Premier credit card.

On the topic of coverages, while the new travel protections are a welcome addition to the Amex Platinum, car rental coverage is secondary, meaning if you have an accident with your rental card, you'll first need to file a claim on your own personal auto rental policy before submitting any excess to Amex.

Lastly, it's expensive to add your partner, spouse, children or significant other to your Amex Platinum account. On top of the $550 annual fee, American Express requires an additional $175 for up to 3 authorized users. This becomes a slightly better deal for those adding more than one person, since the fee is the same whether you add one person or three. Plus, each authorized user gains lounge access, so if you routinely travel as a family of four, the $175 may be worth it for smoother days at the airport.

Stacking up the American Express Platinum against our benchmark

CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash card as our "benchmark" credit card. That doesn't mean it's the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they're worse.

Here's how the Amex Platinum scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. For each criterion, we indicate whether the card is better or worse than our benchmark card, and in what way it differs. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

Other cards similar to the Amex Platinum

When it comes to high-end travel cards, there are really only two others that can rival the Amex Platinum.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a more flexible bonus earning rate, fetching 3 points for every dollar you spend on all travel and dining, with gas stations being the notable exception. Chase's list of transfer partners is stout, and its customer service line is a cut above the rest.

However, the Sapphire Reserve doesn't include nearly as many options for lounge access (no Delta Sky Club and no Centurion Lounge), and it doesn't offer more than 3 points on any category. The Chase Sapphire Reserve also recently increased its annual fee to $550, so it's no longer cheaper than the Amex Platinum. With all that said, the CSR includes a $300 annual travel credit that's easy to use, requiring no hoop-jumping like the Amex Platinum's credits.

Then there's the Citi Prestige. While this card was once easily worth its $495 annual fee, a series of devaluations have made it tough to recommend. Its Fourth Night Free benefit — a signature offering that once made the card worthwhile for those planning luxurious stays throughout the year — has been hamstrung and capped at just two uses per year. The annual travel credit of up to $250 and included cell phone protection are nice, but neither do much to unseat the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Should you get the Amex Platinum?

With a 60,000-point welcome bonus, industry-leading 5x earnings on airfare and prepaid hotels and a long line of luxury perks, the Amex Platinum reigns supreme in the land of premium travel cards.

As we've noted, the Platinum Card only makes sense for regular travelers — if you're on the road once or twice a year, this card probably isn't for you. But road warriors and those looking to commit to more travel will reap significant benefits, as the complimentary Gold status with Hilton and Marriott enable those who have never stepped foot in a hotel to be welcomed as a Gold elite on their very first stay. The same is true for included status with Avis, Hertz and National on the rental car front, as well as Uber VIP status for ridesharing.

Put simply, the American Express Platinum makes you a VIP, and with a little work, you can make it pay for itself. With up to $200 in airline credits each year, up to $200 in Uber Cash credits annually, up to $100 in annual Saks credits and an array of excellent transfer partners, it's an ideal card for those willing to spend time on optimizing its benefits.

Learn more about The Platinum Card from American Express.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our "Best credit cards of 2020."

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.