Recently, American Express had emailed me a targeted offer for the Business Platinum charge card whereby I would receive 100,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points after spending $10,000 in 3 months.
I applied on December 15, the last day I was eligible for the offer, and I woke up the next morning with both a sliiiight post-work holiday party headache and an email from AmEx saying they had approved my application. 100,000 MR points don’t sashay down Broadway every day, so I was pleased as Punch that Amex had decided to approve me. Coincidentally, or not, probably, my headache also seemed to lighten.
(I know that $10,000 sounds like a veritable mountain of money, but, thanks to Redbird and Target, I’ll be able to meet the spending requirement with no problem at all. Such is the wonder of manufactured spend.)
Although there are 38 listed benefits from having the card, I’m only going to list what matters to me:
- 110,000 MR Points – 100,000 points from the signup bonus, plus the 10,000 points from the $10,000 I have to spend in the first 3 months. 110,000 MR points is equivalent to a massive amount of vacation. For instance, I will have enough to redeem for 12 roundtrip NYC-Montreal flights or 7 roundtrip NYC-Miami or NYC-Chicago flights by transferring MR points to British Airways’ Executive Club program. I could also redeem for 1 roundtrip business-class ticket and 1 roundtrip coach ticket to Europe from the East Coast by transferring MR points to ANA’s Mileage Club. For my West Coast fans, try flying to Hawaii from Los Angeles or San Francisco 4 weekends in a row – that month would only cost 100,000 MR points when transferred to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan or BA’s Executive Club
- $200 In Airline Credits Per Calendar Year – This is the double-secret probation super benefit since it’s per calendar, not card, year. While AmEx intends for this credit to go towards upgrade, change or checked bag fees, this thread on Flyertalk showed me how to get $200 in e-gift cards from American Airlines. In other words, I now have $200 towards any American Airlines flight. Come January 2015, I can run this right back and get another $200 from AA, giving me $400 in total towards any flight! Great, right, but how about a triple play? Since my statement for December 2015 will run into January 2016 due to acquiring the card in late December 2014, I will be able to apply for a third $200 reimbursement in January 2016 before cancelling the card. Yes, that’s $600 for airline tickets.
- 24/7 Concierge Access – I can text or call American Express to set up restaurant, club or activity reservations and ask general questions anytime I want, like a more helpful and detailed Siri, since the AmEx Concierge will email back recommendations. My two favorite Concierge fulfillments – one serious, one silly – came Halloween weekend last year in Austin, Texas. AmEx was able to put my friend and me on a preferred guest-list for a Friday night dinner at this oishii sushi restaurant Uchi. Instead of a 3-hour wait, we sipped sake for 30 minutes and then were sat at the bar in front of the chef. It was amazing. The second fulfillment came the next day, when we had had forgotten to get a mini-fridge from the Hilton front desk for our beers. Instead, we had stuck them in a trash can (I know) and were going to pour ice in the trash can to keep the beers cold, but forgot to get the ice in our excitement to get to the UT-Kansas football game. I texted AmEx our predicament and they graciously helped. The AmEx rep then was simultaneously texting me while on the phone with someone from Hilton’s housekeeping staff, who generously put our drinks away in the new fridge. I mean, Texas folks know Lone Star is bad enough, cold, and we didn’t want to see what it was like warm.
- Centurion Lounge Access – AmEx, to make up for the loss of access to American AIrlines AAdmirals lounges, has created their own network of “Centurion Lounges.” As of today, only LaGuardia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas and San Francisco airports have Centurion Lounges, although new ones are opening next year in Miami and Sydney. I don’t travel for work, so this is more of an ancillary card benefit, but the bar is comparable to a decent downtown cocktail joint and the menu was created by Cedric Vongerichten, the chef at Perry Street in Manhattan and also Jean-George’s son. The lounges also hand out free four-week online subscriptions to the New York Times each visit.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees – A good backup overseas in case Visa or Mastercard isn’t accepted, which frankly is rarely the case. I won’t be spending much on this card after the initial $10,000, as I can get more points on other cards for the same amount of spending. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2x Ultimate Rewards points on dining and travel.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status – Instead of having to make 10 stays or 25 nights at Starwood hotels (think W, Westin, Sheraton), the Platinum card gifts free midtier status which grants me a room upgrade and some other freebies. For instance, I got a triple room upgrade and free drinks at Le Méridien Koh Samui Resort & Spa in Thailand!
- Free ShopRunner Membership – ShopRunner is a $79 per year Amazon-lite which gives me free 2-day shipping. Not all merchants have relationships with ShopRunner, but for the ones that do, it’s great to save that little extra along with getting a quicker delivery time.
- Complimentary Boingo Membership – With over 1,000,000 million locations worldwide, this is a great way to save on data wherever you are.
Now, here’s what AmEx gets from me:
- An annual fee of $450, which even at second blush seems gratuitous. Here me out though, please. Remember the $600 in flight credit reimbursements I’m getting? $600 is $150 more than $450. So, all I have to do is buy $450 worth of airline travel to come out even monetarily and it’s not hard to picture that happening. Add one $250 flight to see friends in Colorado along to a $200 flight to see my sister in South Carolina and I’m right back at $450. If these are flights I’m going to take anyway, I’d rather get a 33% monetary bonus while doing so and have nifty benefits to aid in my travels.
As you can see, even without the points, I’d be in the black $150. Adding the points just makes my value proposition ridiculous – I felt forced by common decency to apply for the card. Heck, even I couldn’t get the additional $200 flight credit in January 2016, the cost of 110,000 MR points would only be $50 ($450 – 2($200)). That kind of deal isn’t hot, it’s incandescent.
So, try not to reflexively say no to credit cards with annual fees. Research the valuations thoroughly, for you never know when banks are foolish enough, as in this case, to hand out money and points for free!