Many of you will have become proud new owners of the American Express Platinum card following the recent excitement over the 100k sign up offer. However what I found interesting is the response of a lot of people (particularly on Slickdeals) not familiar with the card who thought that because the card has $450 annual fee that the sign up offer was not worthwhile. Clearly there was some bad logic – in the case of the 100k sign up offer, you could at the very least get $1,000 in gift certificates, so the offer was a net $550 free money offer even at the lowest possible redemption end of the spectrum.
However the regular sign up bonus is a more modest 25,000 points, and in this case there is no simple argument to say that those points are worth the annual fee. But I think there is a strategy for the American Express Platinum that makes it easy to “keep” year in year out….
American Express run several different versions of the Platinum card, but the two key personal Platinum cards are the regular Platinum card, and the co-branded Mercedes-Benz Platinum card. The latter has all the benefits of the former, plus some additional Mercedez-Benz related benefits for an additional $25 on the annual fee for $475 all in. This card has a regular sign up of 50,000 points too. Both versions of the card share the key feature of giving up to $200 per calendar year reimbursement of airline “incidentals”. However it seems in many cases, the purchase of small airline gift cards (typically $100 or less) qualifies for reimbursement. And it can be done twice in a card’s year (which will usually straddle two calendar years). So if you are someone who has a need or desire for $400 worth of airline tickets per year, it is possible to fully monetize this benefit. I have done this many times with AA, and there are other reported successes with US Airways, United and Southwest. So if you get one of these cards today, February 2013, then you could monetize $200 of airline travel right away, and then another $200 in early January 2014 (assuming Amex have not tightened up on gift certificates by then). So that is $400 of real money back in your pocket from the $450/$475 fee.
The last part of the puzzle is the wording on who qualifies for a sign up bonus on these cards. The wording on the regular Platinum card reads:
Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any Consumer ZYNC®, Green or Gold Card account within the last 90 days.
So you can get the Platinum sign up bonus if you have not had “this product” (i.e. the regular Platinum) in the last twelve months, and you haven’t had a Zync, Green or Gold new account in the last 90 days. Well nobody should have a Zync or Green card as they are both pretty poor cards, but it’s possible you could have recently got a Premier Rewards Gold card, so be careful with that. But nothing in those terms precludes you from the sign up bonus if you’ve had the Mercedez-Benz Platinum card at any time. Indeed I can confirm from personal experience and reports that Amex considers them two separate products. The wording on the Mercedez-Benz application is even simpler:
Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.
So because Amex does not consider these the same product then you can get one, keep it for a year, cancel it, get the other, and then repeat.
Bringing it Together
Let’s go through that again: you can sign up for one of these cards today, say the regular Platinum. You pay a $450 fee, but get a 25k sign up bonus worth at least $250, and $200 in airline travel now, and another $200 in airline travel in January next year. So you have had $650 of tangible benefits for $450. Net cost negative $200!
Then just before the annual fee comes up, get the Mercedez-Benz version of the card, which will now net you a knew 50k points worth at least $500, and you will hopefully be able to monetize a further $400 in airline travel. So now you are getting $900 of tangible benefits for the $475 fee.
Of course this doesn’t even take into account less tangible benefits such as airline lounge access. This is something we love as a family (my kids LOVE SkyClubs!) but if it wasn’t there, I’m not sure we’d choose to pay for it. But it is one of many additional perks that come with the card.
The American Express Platinum and it’s sister the American Express Mercedez-Benz Platinum may seem on the surface as expensive cards, but with a little strategizing it is possible to more than offset the high annual fee each and every year. It is possible to churn between the two versions of the card, earning the sign up bonus and new set of airline credits each time.