Travel Tuesday: AmEx Adds Practical Perks to Appease Travel Cardholders
Just a few months ago, I decided to apply for the American Express Platinum Card after determining that its travel benefits were worth the hefty $550 annual fee. That opinion was further justified as I got to sample a number of perks on a few trips late last year and early this year. Well, the world has changed in a big, bad way since then, leading me to already cancel a couple of planned travels. And, since I’m certainly not alone in this, I suspect there were some premium credit cardholders — especially those with impending annual fee charges — starting to wonder if it was time to cancel.
Given this new reality, American Express announced last week that it would be adding some limited-time benefits to a few of their more travel-centric cards. This not only includes a handful of AmEx’s own cards but also those co-branded with Delta, Hilton, and Marriott. To see exactly what benefits and changes are coming to your card, you can check out American Express’s full post here. That said, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that stuck out to me as a Platinum cardholder as well as some other perks that caught my eye.
Streaming credit and wireless service credit
After AmEx’s recent earnings call, there was a lot of speculation about what the company meant when they said that they’d be looking to introduce benefits based around streaming and wireless phone service. Most had assumed that perhaps cards would introduce a temporary multiplier for streaming (e.g. 3x Membership Rewards points) while the telecom portion might take the form of an Amex Offer. Instead, the company has announced special credits for both categories that will apply to Platinum cards.
First, those with individual or business Platinum cards will be able to receive a $20 per month credit when they charge their wireless phone bill to their card. This benefit is currently set to last from May through December, giving users a potential eight months of credits. Note that eligible transactions must be made directly from the telecom themselves. On their site, they do mention that the big four U.S. carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) all qualify, although they also note that that isn’t a complete list. Also worth mentioning is that AmEx Green cardholders can also receive this credit, although their limit will be $10 per month instead of $20.
Similar to this telecom perk, AmEx individual Platinum cardholders can also earn a $20 credit on streaming service purchases made from May through December. Here, the list of eligible services is much longer and features more of the mainstays — such as Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Now, etc. Meanwhile, business Platinum cardholders will earn $20 per month credits on shipping in place of this streaming offer.
If you are able to use both of these credits to their full potential, that’s a savings of $320 — not too bad for a $550 card. However, some are starting to assume that their $200 airline fee credit that the Platinum offers will go to waste this year. Even if that’s true, this is still a better value and much easier to use than that airline credit, so this seems like a pretty fair move on AmEx’s part.
FYI, because I was curious, I looked up what the situation was with authorized users. It seems that any wireless phone service or streaming service purchases made by any additional cardholders on your accounts may be eligible for credit, although the $20 per month cap for each applies to your account as a whole. In other words, AUs won’t get their own credits but may be able to use yours.
Grocery store multipliers
Something that AmEx fans noticed right away was that, while the Platinum and Green card saw added credits, the Gold card that sits in between those two fee-wise did not. That’s almost certainly because the Gold card already offers 4X MR points at U.S. supermarkets and at restaurants. In other words, it already has a lot to offer even if users aren’t traveling at the moment. However, with AmEx offering cards with several travel brands, it’s clear that they needed to do something to entice these customers as well.
Starting off with Delta, all of their AmEx co-branded consumer cards (Reserve, Platinum, Gold and Blue) will add a 4x miles on U.S. grocery store purchases category valid May through December. During that same timeframe, those carrying the Marriott Bonvoy or Brilliant consumer card will be able to get 6x Marriott Bonvoy points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $7,500 in eligible purchases) while Hilton Surpass and Aspire consumer cardholders will earn 12x Hilton Honors Bonus Points at — you guessed it — U.S. supermarkets. If those varying numbers have you scratching your head, it’s important to remember that not all of these currencies are the same.
One bummer here is that superstores such as Target and Walmart will not count as supermarkets even though they do sell groceries. Similarly, warehouse clubs are also ineligible. Nevertheless, these temporary multipliers could certainly be helpful for travelers who can build up their points balance while they wait for their next trip.
Hotel credit conversion
In the section about wireless service and streaming credits, I noted that many users will likely end up foregoing the airline incidentals credit that comes on some AmEx cards. Luckily, some hotel co-branded card customers probably won’t run into such a predicament when trying to use up their Hilton or Marriott benefits this year. That’s because, from June through December, purchases made at U.S. restaurants will qualify towards the Hilton Aspire’s $250 Hilton resort credit or the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s $300 Marriott statement credit.
Even though I don’t hold either of those cards, I wanted to mention the perks as I find them to be uniquely intriguing. It also makes me wonder if AmEx might be willing to do something similar for airline credits — or at least open those up to apply to actual airfare — should this crisis continue for much longer. There are arguments to be made about whether or not they should do that but, regardless, it’s worth thinking about. (UPDATE: After I wrote this, Doctor of Credit confirmed that American Express will be issuing a $200 travel credit to Platinum cardholders who renew between April 1st, 2020 and December 31st, 2020. The credit can be used on the Amex Travel site and will be in addition to the airline credit. This isn’t exactly the same thing I had in mind, but definitely sounds like another win.)
Given the current circumstances, it seems that American Express has found itself in a tight spot. With travel being such a large part of their branding — not to mention their sizable annual fees — the company clearly felt the need to inject some extra value into their cards to prevent a mass exodus. In my opinion, the changes they’ve made so far seem pretty smart and make me feel better about keeping my card. Will more adjustments follow if travel doesn’t resume soon? We’ll have to wait and see.