Monday, January 6, 2014

Amex Platinum

Yesterday, my parents cancelled each of their American Express Platinum charge cards. You may recall that they applied for the card last January 8, 2013 when there was a limited offer for an incredible 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards sign up bonus.

While 100k MR points is a major haul from 1 credit card application, the Platinum card came with an equally incredible $450 annual fee, not waived the first year! So for two cards (one for each of my parents), that ran $900 in fees alone!

However, through the many benefits offered by this Booty Call Card (a card you get for the benefits, but don't really use for actual spending), we were able to recoup more value than the annual fees cost us. In fact, here's a link to see/enroll in all the benefits for being a Platinum cardholder. In case you're not a link type of person, I will highlight a few for your LCD readers below.

1. $200 in Airline Fee Reimbursement (per calendar year)
If you're good with calendars, which at age 2 I'm still learning, you can actually recoup $400 of value in this single perk alone. This benefit is intended to offset any ancillary airline fees such as checked bags, in-flight drinks, lounge day passes, etc. Of course, my parents having Platinum & Gold elite status with United get many of these benefits for free anyway. While you're not supposed to use this $200 reimbursement for purchasing tickets, there are loopholes (my father LOVES loopholes). Here's how:

My parents received their cards in mid-January 2013. They immediately went online here and selected United Airlines as their preferred airline for this credit. This first step is very important because you will not be reimbursed if your airline is not selected first. Every January 1, you have an opportunity to choose another airline if you want. But otherwise, the default setting will be to retain the same airline as the year before, so no need to re-select if you want to keep your airline constant.

A few weeks later, they each went to and purchased a $200 e-gift certificate to use within the next 5 years for purchases, including flights! (IMPORTANT NOTE: As of December 2013, United Gift Certificate purchases no longer seem to be reimbursed by Amex, per this FlyerTalk thread. Continue reading below to see the next loophole.)


About 2 days later (Jan 17), the $200 charges posted on their American Express accounts. Then 2-3 days after that (Jan 20), their $200 Airline Fee reimbursements posted as well, cancelling out the purchase charges. A free $200 to use on future United flights!

Fast forward 12 months to January 1, 2014. A new year means a new $200 credit becomes available if you still hold the card.

Per the FlyerTalk thread (my father always does his research before), it appeared that GC's were no longer being recognized by Amex as reimbursable. However, the same FlyerTalk thread had reports of users successfully being reimbursed for purchases of Gift Registry credits (kind of like a wedding registry where you can contribute to an account allowing the beneficiary to use as they want), which appears right below Gift Certificate in the drop down menu.

The main difference between a GC and a GR is that the GC lasts for 5 years and can only be used to redeem for flights on United. Additionally, if you have multiple GCs, you can only use a single one per transaction. So since my parents had 2 GC's from 2013, they needed to book at least 2 separate bookings with United to use them. Clearly, it wasn't a problem for us in 2013.

However, multiple Gift Registry contributions can be combined into a single "Travel Bank" account and then used to purchase anything on, including flights on other partner airlines. These features make Gift Registry purchases so much more flexible and easier to use. However, they only last for 2 years (after the most recent transaction), so you may have a shorter time frame to use the $200 in GR value if you let them sit idle.

So on January 1, 2014, my parents used their Amex Platinum cards to each purchase $200 in Gift Registry contributions and put my father as the beneficiary. So between the two Platinum cards, my father now had $400 in total Gift Registry contributions to use by January 1, 2016.

On January 3, the $200 charges posted to my parents Amex accounts as well as the second year's $450 annual fees. Total balance due of $650 for each Platinum card.

On January 5, the $200 fee reimbursement credit posted to their Amex accounts. Balance due was now $450 each. My father then called that afternoon to American Express customer service and asked to cancel the cards, because he didn't want to pay the next annual fee. The representative made a few counter offers to persuade my father to keeping the card (statement credits, free MR points, etc), but my father didn't find them compelling enough for a second year of $450 in annual fees, so the cards were closed.

On January 6, the $450 in annual fees (2nd year) were removed from the Amex accounts. $0 balance due!

So for timing the purchases of travel credit (in the form of Gift Certificate and Gift Registry contributions), we recouped $400 of value from the first year's $450 annual fee on each card and avoided the second year's $450 annual fee.

2. $100 Global Entry Reimbursement (one-time)
Another benefit of having the American Express Platinum card is having your Global Entry enrollment fee reimbursed. As you may recall, Global Entry is a U.S. program that allows cleared individual travelers to fast track through Airport Immigration when arriving from a foreign country. My father likes to think of it like a VIP line. Here's an account of my personal experience applying/being interviewed for Global Entry as a 1.5 year old child.

The cost to apply is $100, even if you somehow get rejected. However, if accepted, the Global Entry benefit lasts 5 years before having to renew and also makes you eligible for TSA Pre-Check which allows passengers to go through the super fast TSA security line (without having to open your carry-on bags or take off your shoes).

And thanks to American Express, if you use your Platinum card to pay for the enrollment fee, it too will be reimbursed! Another $100 benefit per card!

So now we've received $400 in travel credit for future flights and $100 of Global Entry benefits for $500 of value for each of our Platinum cards.

3. Airport Lounge Access
While this benefit is being reduced starting March 22, 2014, we did benefit from accessing some American Airlines and US Airways lounges during our travels last year. In particular, we used our Platinum cards to get access to the American Airlines Admirals lounges (both JFK and SJU airports) on our recent trip to Puerto Rico. While we would never actually pay $50 / person in cash for the benefit of comfortable seating, better bathroom and complimentary snacks, we still received some amount of value for having our Platinum cards with us.

While American Airlines (and thus US Airways) lounges will no longer participate in this American Express program, Amex is adding new high end Centurion Lounges in select airports across the country. Reports so far are that these Centurion Lounges are amazing (think luxury hotel lobbies), especially compared to the basic spartan offerings of the domestic airlines (think nice waiting rooms at doctor offices).

UPDATE (1/7/14):  There have been reports that current Platinum cardholders have been contacted about this future loss of airport lounge benefit and received the following NEW ADDITIONAL benefit starting March 22:
As of March 22, 2014, Platinum Card Members will no longer receive complimentary access to American Airlines® Admirals Club lounges and US Airways® Club locations.
We recognize the inconvenience this may cause you as someone who travels frequently, so we have included you in a special offer. You will receive up to $200 in statement credits toward American Airlines and US Airways incidental fees charged to your Card from March 22, 2014 to December 31, 2014.
You can use these credits toward:
  • Membership fees in the Admirals Club program and US Airways Club
  • One-day passes to Admirals Club lounges and US Airways Clubs
  • Other American Airlines and US Airways incidental fees like baggage fees or flight change fees
There’s no enrollment required, and purchases made by both the Basic and Additional Card Members on the Card account are eligible for the promotion. These statement credits are in addition to the $200 Airline Fee Credit benefit already included in your Membership.
Had we kept our Platinum cards for another year, perhaps we could have earned another $200 each in AA gift certificates from their "other" category. However, I can't vouch for this tactic, though, so keep in mind that your individual results may vary.

4. Hotel Status Upgrades
Another travel benefit from having the Platinum card is that you can call Amex and upgrade your hotel status with both Starwood (Gold) and Hilton (Gold) for free. While Starwood Gold only gets you upgrades to enhanced rooms (better views), free wifi and late checkout, Hilton Gold also gets you free breakfasts each morning on top of occasional room upgrades, free wifi and late checkout.

While we didn't benefit from these hotel perks ourselves in 2013 (my father already has Starwood top tier Platinum status and Hilton Gold), we were able to gift the Starwood Gold status to friends of ours who didn't have status yet.

5. Regular Amex Benefits
And finally, for having two American Express cards (Platinum or other), we were able to enroll each of them in special Amex promotions including Small Business Saturday ($10 spending credit per card) and the $25 Credit from Amazon ($25 statement credit for spending $75 on Amazon). So another $35 of benefits for each Platinum card, on top of the $500+ from the above items


2013 Annual Fee Charged = ($450) x 2 = ($900)
2014 Annual Fee Charged = $0 due to card cancellation

2013 United Airline Gift Certificates = $200 x 2 = $400
2014 United Airline Gift Registry = $200 x 2 = $400
2013 Global Entry Reimbursement = $100 x 2 = $200
AA Airport Lounge Access
Hilton & Starwood Gold Status
2013 Small Business Saturday = $10 x 2 = $20
2013 Amazon Discount = $25 x 2 = $50
Total Benefits = $535+ x 2 = $1,070+

Then, we can't forget the 100,000 Membership Reward points we received as a sign on bonus for each card. After hitting the $3,000 of minimum spend on each card, we earned over 206,000 in total Amex MR points, which we ultimately used to help my Aunt and her boyfriend get to Hawaii (by transferring some MR to Hawaiian Airline miles) in July as well as pay for 4 flights to Puerto Rico (by transferring MR to British Airways Avios) this past December - which was clearly over $2,000 of total value.

And we still had a lot of Amex MR points leftover, so we transferred the remaining MR over to British Airways Avios in December before closing our Platinum cards (because we'd lose our the rest of our Amex MR balances when closing the cards out).

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