Today is July 16th, which means that its the day that the changes to the American Express Platinum Card benefits come into force.
To say that Amex’s changes to the Platinum card this year have been unpopular is putting it mildly. What used to be a fantastic package for the frequent traveller has been severely downgraded, due to two key changes.
Firstly, the travel insurance, which used to be fully comprehensive in almost every respect, has been downgraded sharply. Travellers over 70 are no longer covered, which is a blow for people who used to give their parents supplementary cards for the free cover. (Amex Plat’s insurance benefits also apply to the 5 people to whom you give supplementary cards – one Platinum supplementary card and 4 Gold cards – plus their immediate families.)
More importantly, perhaps, is that to receive many of the insurance benefits Amex now require you to have paid for your flights and hotel with a qualifying American Express card (a ‘qualifying card’ is basically an Amex-issued Amex), unless the establishment does not accept Amex. Whilst this is not always a problem, it is an unwelcome restriction. It is especially annoying for people who have a ‘no FX fees’ credit card, like the Post Office card, since using an Amex effectively adds 2.99% to the cost of their travel.
Secondly, Amex has increased the fee from £300 to £450, an aggressive move in any circumstances and almost laughable given the downgrading of the insurance.
In an attempt to deflect some of the criticism, Amex has brought in some new benefits. The main one, which was actually introduced quietly late in 2011, is one-year of free Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Gold membership. This is very, very useful if you do not have British Airways status, since Cathay Pacific is a OneWorld alliance member like BA. Cathay Gold is equivalent to BA Silver, and gets you many of the same benefits when flying BA – most importantly, access to British Airways lounges whatever your class of travel.
You also get free seating on BA, use of business class check-in, extra baggage allowance and priority waitlisting. Just about the only benefit of BA Silver that you don’t get with a Cathay Gold is access to fast-track security lanes at Heathrow Terminal 5. Note that this is only available for the main cardholder and not any supplementary ones.
However, at the end of the day, this appears (according to the Amex website) to be a one-off benefit. In a years time, you’ll still be paying £450 and you won’t have the Cathay card.
The other changes to the Amex Platinum benefits start today. These are:
- 1 free guest when using your Priority Pass to enter an airline lounge. At present, the main cardholder and their Platinum supplementary cardholder get a free Priority Pass but must pay £15 for any guests. The first guest per cardholder is now free.
- The Plat supplementary cardholder can also now apply for the hotel and car rental status benefits. These are Hilton HHonors Gold (a one-year benefit only), Starwood Preferred Guest Gold (on-going), Club Carlson Gold (on-going), Hertz No 1 Club Gold (on-going) and Avis Preferred (on-going)
- From today, both the main and Platinum supplementary cardholder can join Le Club Accorhotels at Platinum level. This is an on-going benefit. Sign up at www.americanexpress.co.uk/platinum for this, or indeed any of the other hotel, car rental or Cathay cards.
The other benefits (access to American Airlines, Delta and US Airways lounges, plus Eurostar lounges) continue to be available to both the main and Platinum supplementary cardholder when travelling with the respective airline or train company.
If you have an Amex Platinum card you will need to decide whether or not these improved benefits from today outweigh the reduction in insurance benefits and the increased fee. I will be keeping my card for now, but my position is not the same as most – I get my British Airways Premium Plus American Express card for free (saving me £150 per year) as a Platinum cardholder. (Sadly this benefit is not available to new Amex Platinum cardholders.)
The net cost for me of the Platinum card is therefore only £300. I have also been quite impressed with the treatment of the two insurance claims I have submitted – see here for the story behind the last one I put in. But be clear, Amex Platinum is on notice as far as I can concerned. My first renewal at £450 is not due until early next year.