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Home >Industry >Banking >Is the $695 AmEx Platinum card really worth it?

American Express revamped its Platinum card earlier this month, increasing the annual fee to $695 from $550 and adding various new perks. For those accustomed to spending $550 a year for a credit card, an increase of $145 doesn't seem like much.

Still, Platinum cardholders who continue to be wary of frequent travel or big trips due to Covid-19 and its variants should definitely think twice about spending nearly $700 a year. The card is really for travel rewards and doesn’t offer any great advantages when making non-travel purchases.

Even those who are more sanguine about travel may want to reconsider, too. AmEx Platinum's edge against competitors, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, has always been the premium lounge access it provides to holders. They're able to use Delta Sky Club lounges as well as AmEx Centurion ones, considered to be among the most comfortable and well-stocked of the lot.

But the lounges have had problems with overcrowding, and are going to start requiring additional fees to bring guests or family members. That may help with packed rooms, but could be a turn-off for those facing yet another upcharge.

Aside from the lounge access, most of AmEx Platinum's existing benefits are pretty much in line with other cards of its ilk, despite its higher fee. And Platinum's new bonuses — like credits for an Equinox gym membership, a digital subscription to the New York Times or a stay at a Fine Hotels and Resorts property — are niche, catering to a specific consumer. American Express surely knows that a lot of people fit that bill. But many won't, and forcing yourself to use those things just to get the credit isn't really saving money.

So what to do if you've had enough of the AmEx Platinum? First, don't rush to close the account since the new fee won't be assessed until the month of your renewal date next year. You might as well enjoy some of the new benefits, which are already in effect, before canceling. This time lag is good for American Express since some cardholders will get used to these extras or simply become inured to the higher annual fee.

Meanwhile, it's worth calling American Express to see if they'll offer a deal to keep your business. Nick Ewen at The Points Guy, a travel website, says a representative may provide a one-time credit of $250 or 10,000 rewards points — but such negotiation will only work once every two or three years.

Rather than giving up on AmEx entirely (especially since you don't want to jeopardize any points you've racked up), consider downgrading to the AmEx Gold card, which has an annual fee of $250 and much better rewards points for spending in general. With the gold card, consumers get 4 points for every dollar spent at restaurants or grocery stores (up to a certain amount), among other benefits.

Those for whom a travel rewards card is still important may want to think about the less expensive Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Chase is also planning to raise the annual fee for that card next month, but to $550 from $450. The increase may be easier for more existing cardholders to stomach, given that consumers earn 3 points for every dollar spent on travel as well as dining.

In addition, Chase has extended some pandemic-era relief. An annual travel credit of $300 can be applied through the end of this year to non-travel purchases, such as gas and groceries, and through September customers' points are worth more than usual when they're redeemed for groceries, home improvement or dining expenses.

Finally, for consumers experiencing sticker shock at annual fees north of $500, don't discount cash-back credit cards. Instead of points, spenders simply earn cash for transactions, often via statement credits or outright checks.

Take Bank of America's unlimited cash rewards credit card, which doesn’t have an annual fee. And if you have $100,000 in deposits or investments at BofA, you'll get 2.625% cash back on all purchases. That's tough to beat, not just for cash-back cards, but for high-end travel rewards cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve and AmEx Platinum, according to Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at comparison site Bankrate.com.

Cash-back cards won't give you seat upgrades or complimentary hotel breakfasts, let alone a break on a New York Times subscription, but there's been such stockpiling of points and miles over the past year that high-end cardholders may find airlines and hotels are making it more difficult to use them. Getting guaranteed money back now to put toward travel, whenever it happens, may actually be the best offer around.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Alexis Leondis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering personal finance. Previously, she oversaw tax coverage for Bloomberg News.

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