American Express Platinum Card® Review
By Sandra MacGregor
I’ll be honest. In general, I have a bias against credit cards with annual fees. There just seems to be something fundamentally wrong with paying a credit card company for the “privilege” of using their services. This is especially true knowing that if I don’t pay off my card in full every month, companies could very well make a significant amount of money from my purchasing patronage.
Add to that the fact that, overall, Canadians get a lot fewer credit/charge card bonuses and benefits when compared to their American neighbors, and you can understand why I’m very picky about which annual fee cards I apply for. The American Express Platinum card, however, is making me reevaluate my reluctance. Despite its $699 annual price tag (one of the heftiest among Canadian cards), the charge card has an outstanding bonus offer and some enticing travel reward perks and partnerships that make it worth serious consideration if you’re a frequent flyer like me.
Basic Rewards Structure of the Platinum Card®
I’ll start by noting that the card offers one of the best bonuses available in Canada. New cardholders will earn 50000 Membership Rewards points (conditions apply). You’ll rarely see a sign-up offer over 35000 among Canadian credit or charge cards, so a 50000 bonus is worthy of attention. Thanks to Amex’s Fixed Point Travel Program, that 50000 is enough to get you a return flight to the USA (including Hawaii), the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. And those points could be worth significantly more if you transfer them to an Airline loyalty program (more on that below).
Additionally, you’ll get 1.25 Membership Rewards points for every dollar charged to the card. You can quickly increase your point count by referring a friend and earning a referral bonus of 15000 points when they’re approved.
It’s worth noting that while earning 1.25 points per dollar may appear generous, the reward structure for the less expensive American Express Gold Rewards charge card is actually better. With that card you have the chance to earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on gas, groceries, pharmaceuticals and travel expenses. This accelerated earn rate is notably absent from the Platinum card.
No matter what you buy with the American Express Platinum Card, it’s vital to remember that it’s technically classified as a ‘charge card’ not a ‘credit card’, so you have to pay off the balance in total each month or you’ll be hit with a massive interest rate of 30%.
About Amex Platinum Rewards
In general, the Amex Platinum card’s Membership Rewards points have a single point dollar value of $0.01. They can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, retail gift cards and more on the rewards website. Plus you can use them for exclusive member-only experiences and events offered through Amex’s Platinum Concierge. You also have the option of redeeming points as a statement credit, but beware: if you do those points have less value than they do when used for travel. While 1000 points = $10 when redeemed for travel, the same 1000 points = only $7 when used as a statement credit.
Arguably, the best way to maximize your rewards is to transfer them to one of Amex’s partner loyalty programs. For example, if you move your welcome bonus of 50000 Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan (they transfer 1:1), you’ll have enough for two return long-haul flights to the Continental USA rather than the one you would get via Amex’s own loyalty program.
Other participating partners include Hilton Honors, Delta SkyMiles, and more. The Starwood Preferred Guest program is also included and, as of August 18, will be even more attractive when the program merges with Marriott Rewards. You can read more about AMEX Rewards and their different transfer values here.
Other Standout Card Features
The Amex platinum is perhaps the most feature-rich travel card in Canada, with an array of goodies that we’ll cover in detail, including:
- Entry into Amex’s International Airline Program, offers discounted companion tickets, complimentary airline upgrades and some special discounted airfares.
- Airport Benefits at Toronto Pearson International Airport, which include complimentary valet service, parking discounts and access to the Pearson Priority Security Lane
- Standard and premium Amex Entertainment Benefits, including Front of the Line, as well as special dining programs
- Hotel perks. Cardholders get automatic gold status in several hotel programs, as well as hotel discounts.
Aside from those, the card has two additional perks that are particularly attractive to frequent travellers, and which could push the American Express Platinum Card into the must-have category, despite its high annual fee.
$ Annual Travel Credit
This is obviously one of the card’s most significant perks because it essentially reduces the annual fee from $699 to $499. If you travel even once a year, it’s not difficult to imagine using this credit on a hotel room or a flight upgrade. It’s essential, however, to pay attention to the fine print. You must use the credit on travel purchases booked via American Express Travel Services and can only use the credit ONE time per year on the SAME transaction. That means you can’t split it for one trip to pay for a checked bag and use what’s left over on another trip that same year to pay for seat selection. It must be used all at once on one travel expense.
Unlimited Airport Lounge Access
Despite my deep love of travel, I don’t enjoy airports. That’s why the Airport Lounge Access perk is so important to me. It really can make what would be a hellish 8-hour layover into a thing of beauty thanks to excellent food, quality wines, free Wi-Fi, plush seating and sometimes even shower and nap areas. With Amex Platinum you can take advantage of free airport lounges at hundreds of airports across the world, including Priority Pass and Centurion lounges, which are among the most high-end airport lounges available. Best of all, you can bring one companion with you for free and add others for just US$27 per person, per visit.
For your reference, buying an unlimited Priority Pass membership without the card would set you back $399 USD (about $525 CAD), and unlike the Amex Platinum that doesn’t include the complimentary entrance of one guest. Getting your travel companion into the lounge with a regular Priority Pass costs $27 each time. And did I mention that access is unlimited? Most travel cards that offer airport lounge access limit your yearly visits. This perk is truly a standout.
Amex Platinum Travel Insurance
While they may be the least glamourous perks of a credit card, insurance benefits can be by far the most vital, especially if you end up needing medical attention while in a foreign country. As you would expect for the steep annual fee, the American Express Platinum Card offers a comprehensive lineup of 10 different kinds of insurance, including:
- Emergency Medical (out of province/country)
- Trip Cancellation
- Trip Interruption
- Car Rental Theft/Damage
- Flight Delay
- Baggage Delay
- Lost or Stolen Baggage
- Hotel/Motel Burglary
- $500,000 Travel Accident
- Travel Emergency Assistance
While many of the insurance offerings are relatively standard, one is worth exploring in more detail.
Emergency Medical Insurance (out of province/country)
This is possibly one of the most critical insurance features for people who travel frequently. Two of the most significant details to note are how many days you’re covered for and how much you’re covered in terms of dollar amounts. With the Amex Platinum you are protected up to a maximum of $5,000,000 per insured person (one of the highest dollar amounts for Canadian credit/charge cards) for 15 consecutive days of each trip. While 15 days is fairly standard, the coverage is only available if you’re under 65 years of age. Once you hit that age threshold, you’re out of luck.
Other travel cards, like the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite, have a much lower annual fee and longer coverage—25 consecutive days in the case of the Scotia card. It also offers 10 days of coverage to those over age 65.
Personally, when a card comes with a $699 annual fee, I expect the emergency medical protection to be among the best possible available for all age categories. For me, this is one of the Amex Platinum’s major drawbacks. It’s also discouraging that, while the Baggage Delay Insurance reimburses you up to $1000, it only kicks in after six hours, whereas other less costly cards (like the Scotia Gold Amex) kick in after only four hours. You can compare travel insurance offerings for different Canadian credit cards via our detailed page on the issue.
Who is the Platinum Card® For?
Though it comes with a $699 annual price tag, the American Express Platinum Card is an excellent value for those who fly often, especially if they travel internationally and can make use of the complimentary airport lounge pass during long layovers. While the 50000-point bonus is certainly attractive, don’t let it blind you. Those 50000 points don’t renew every year whereas, sadly, the $699 fee does.
If you’re a passionate globetrotter, then this card is worth serious consideration, despite its high annual fee and some weaknesses in its insurance offerings. If, however, you can’t take full advantage of the travel perks, then you’re better off with a card that has a lower annual fee and may even have more comprehensive insurance packages. While the Amex Gold Rewards card has a bonus offer of ‘only’ 25000, the annual fee is likewise substantially lower at $150 per year. It’s certainly a card worth considering if the Platinum card’s fee is too costly and doesn’t meet your needs.