Was star economist Ha-Joon Chang right to ditch his Amex Platinum?

Each week in the ‘Money’ section of The Sunday Times is a Q&A (same questions each week) with a high profile figure about their personal finances.

Last Sunday it was with economist Ha-Joon Chang, who has sold 1.3m books to date and teaches at Cambridge.

Here is an extract from the Q&A:

“What credit cards do you use?

I collect air miles with the American Express British Airways card. I also have a Barclaycard, as not all shops accept American Express.

I used to have the American Express Platinum card which came with things such as travel insurance, but over time the value of the extras reduced, so I felt the annual fee [now £450] was no longer justified.”

Is he right or not?  For most people, even the idea of paying £450 a year for a card is crazy.

I am intrigued by his position as an economist as he should be able to weigh up the pros and cons effectively!  He seems to have kept up to date with the changes to the Amex travel insurance which is a plus point.  On the other hand, I would like to know which Barclaycard he carries around and what rewards he gets from it – he may have made a duff choice with that ….

My full review of American Express Platinum from last month can be found hereThe Amex Platinum home page is here.

Given that we share a similar economics background (I got a ‘B’ in A-level Economics back in 1989, Ha-Joon completed a PhD at Cambridge in 1992), it is worth seeing if I come to the same conclusion ….

Special hotel offers

I am starting here as I spent the Bank Holiday weekend at Four Seasons Hampshire, booked via American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.  I did this because we got a GUARANTEED 4pm check-out, along with free breakfast.  Over a short Bank Holiday break, the 4pm check-out was a valuable benefit.

The FHR benefits on this stay were probably worth £150 (free breakfast plus the value of the late check-out).

Travel insurance

This used to be gold-plated. Since July 2012, it is far from it.  An age limit of 70 meant that I have just cancelled my Mum’s supplementary card  – she used to get free travel insurance as part of my account.

You are now also obliged to  pay for your flights and hotel on an American Express card to benefit from some of the second-tier insurance features, such as flight delay cover. If you would otherwise use a card with no foreign exchange fee like the Post Office or Halifax Clarity, you are effectively paying an extra 3% depending on the billing currency.

You are covered for ‘big things’ like medical cover however you pay.  The insurance saves £100+ annually for us and we do not purchase any additional cover.

(Ironically, the downgrading of the insurance came with a 50% hike in the Platinum annual fee from £300 to £450!)

It is also worth mentioning the ‘no questions asked, you’re covered’ car hire cover.  Platinum provides additional car hire insurance however you pay for the car, so you can decline any attempts to upsell.  This is worth at least £100 a year to us.  The 3-day Hertz rental I had last weekend for £87 was £100 cheaper than the original quote.

You also get a ‘four hour bonus’ if you use the Amex Platinum rate code at Hertz.  Used cleverly, this can save you a full days rental fee.  Picking up at noon and returning the next day at 4pm is only charged as one day instead of two.

Starwood Gold / Club Carlson Gold / Accor Platinum / Hertz and Avis status

These are not hugely valuable to me because I do not do much business with any of these chains.  My wife, as my Platinum supplementary cardholder, does get some benefit from them.

She will be at the Pullman in Sochi for five nights this month and the Le Club Accorhotels Platinum status will get her lounge access.   Accor Platinum will also give her a 8% rebate on the cost of her stay (as a base member she would only get 2%) in Accor vouchers.  There will be £50 of additional value here at least.

The Avis benefit now appears to have ZERO value as Avis Preferred is now free for anyone to join!  Hertz is better as Amex Platinum lets you enrol at ‘Five Stars’ level which comes with additional benefits.

Amex Platinum also comes with a de facto Sixt car rental gold cardvia this link, any Starwood Preferred Guest Gold member can join the Sixt scheme at Gold level.

You should also be able to ‘status match’ the Amex hotel status cards for similar cards with other hotel chains.  statusmatcher.com is a good website where people report successful status matches from one airline or hotel scheme to another.

Fine Dining, Taste of Platinum, Amex events, Platinum gifts

Amex has been making an effort with its events programme over the last 18 months.  I had a good night at the MontBlanc event in Bond Street in November and there are some other bits and pieces coming up.

The £70 Matches gift voucher last year was used for an Orlebar Brown t-shirt!  I still have my £50 BestSecret voucher to use as well!

There is £100 of annual value in this even after discounting the t-shirt to what I would have been willing to pay for it.

Amex Platinum

Access to Delta lounges / Priority Pass lounge access / Eurostar lounge access

I never use the Delta Air Lines benefit and it is a while since I last used my Priority Pass.  (It was in Manchester last year when I used it to enter the Aspire lounge, as the BA one is too depressing!). My wife has had the odd Priority Pass usage via her job.

I used the Eurostar lounge on my way to Paris recently.

There is probably £50 of value here over a year, mainly via lounge access for my wife.

Free British Airways Premium Plus Amex

I am grandfathered this deal, which means I don’t pay the £150 fee on my British Airways Premium Plus Amex.  This is a £150 saving since I would definitely pay for the card if I had to.

Free Cathay Pacific Gold card

My wife and I both still have these.  Mine will never get used as I have BA status – I only got it as there may be a status match opportunity from it at some point!  My wife did use hers for a few months after maternity leave whilst she built up her BA status again but has not used it in the past year.

So ….

Overall, Amex Platinum does, for us, cover its cost.  £150 of that, of course, is the free British Airways Premium Plus Amex which is a not an offer that new cardholders can access.  Other people would probably make more use of the Priority Pass and hotel status benefits than we do.

For us, then, American Express Platinum still seems to make sense.  For you – like Ha-Joon Chang – the answer may be different.

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