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Richard Kerr, a US Navy-veteran-turned-award-travel-guru, has a lot of advice to help military members make travel more affordable. But his No. 1 tip? Open the AmEx Platinum Card.
That’s because active-duty servicemembers can access a major benefit: They can get the annual fees waived on the best credit cards.
“If you’re in the military, you really need to take advantage of the no-fee [benefit] on the big American Express and Chase cards,” said Kerr, who manages the 56,000 member Facebook group Award Travel 101. “You can get these large bonuses and you can get the huge benefits of the AmEx Platinum Card for no annual fee. That’s gotta be first.”
The AmEx Platinum Card is an obvious first choice when you take away its annual fee. The card comes with an huge list of valuable benefits: airport lounge access, up to a total of $500 in annual travel and shopping credits, elite status with Hilton and Marriott, VIP status with Uber, special perks at hotels around the world, and access to exclusive events, and more.
But even if you’re not in the military and don’t have the $550 annual fee waived, the card is still worthwhile; for example, I got more than $2,000 in value during my first year with it.
Read on to learn more about the AmEx Platinum Card’s benefits, and why it’s worth keeping in your wallet.
Membership Rewards points — and a huge welcome bonus
The Platinum Card earns Membership Rewards points, which are the currency in AmEx’s loyalty program. Points can be exchanged for statement credits or cash back, used to book travel through the AmEx Travel website, or transferred to any of 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners (transferable points are among the most valuable).
The card earns a whopping 5x points on airfare purchased directly through the airline, as well as flights and prepaid hotels reserved through AmEx Travel. It earns one point for every dollar spent elsewhere.
The Platinum Card comes with a welcome offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. The value of the points depends on how you use them, but by transferring them to airline frequent flyer programs, it can be possible to use those welcome points to fly round-trip to Europe, or even one-way in first class. You might also be targeted for a higher bonus.
Up to $200 in airline fee credits — which you might be able to double-dip
While it doesn’t cover tickets, it applies to a wide variety of charges and fees, such as checked bags, change fees if you need to change your flight, in-flight food and drinks, fees for traveling with a pet, airport lounge day passes (if you don’t already have complimentary access), and sometimes even things like seat assignments and extra legroom upgrade fees.
You may also be able to apply the credit to “off-label” applications, like certain airline gift cards. Be sure to search Google if you want to use the credit this way.
Plus, since the credit is renewed each calendar year, when you open the card in the middle of the year, you’ll actually be able to get the credit twice within your first 12 months. If you opened the card in April, for example, you could get the full credit before December 31, and then get the full credit between January 1 and your cardmember anniversary that following April. You can read more about double-dipping the airline credit here.
Up to $200 in Uber credits each card membership year
In March, 2017, American Express added Uber credits as a new perk to the Platinum Card. The credit works within the US, and is worth up to $200 per year, broken into monthly chunks; each month, you’ll get a $15 credit added to your linked Uber account, with an extra $20 for a total of $35 each December.
If you travel on a regular basis or live anywhere near most cities, this is an easy perk to get value from. You can also put the credits toward UberEats orders.
In addition, your account will be upgraded to Uber VIP status. There aren’t a ton of perks with this, and it’s only available in certain cities, but with Uber VIP, you’ll only be connected to drivers rated 4.8 stars or higher. Uber also says that Uber VIP drivers have “high-quality cars.”
Up to $100 annually in shopping credits
This is a brand new benefit that AmEx added to the Platinum Card in July. US cardmembers can enroll to get up to $100 in statement credits each year in store or online at Saks Fifth Avenue. The credit is broken into two parts, with up to $50 available every six months.
Although many things at Saks are quite pricey, there are plenty of items in the $50-100 range — and lower — that you can find by browsing the website. Sneakers that are on sale, things like Converse shoes, t-shirts, sweaters, or more. You can learn more about the benefit here.
Extensive airport lounge access, both in the US and abroad
Airport lounges are exclusive areas where you can enjoy seats, an internet connection, food, drinks, and sometimes other amenities. Although lounges were traditionally reserved for first class and business class passengers, many are accessible to any traveler who holds either a lounge membership or certain credit cards — and the Platinum Card from American Express offers access to three different kinds of lounges.
The first type is AmEx’s own proprietary lounges, located at eight airports in the United States — and in Hong Kong — with three more US locations set to open in 2019. These chic venues offer an oasis in the middle of the main terminal’s chaos, featuring comfortable seating, complimentary cocktails and food created by award-winning mixologists and chefs, respectively, and other amenities. Access to these lounges is limited to holders of the AmEx Platinum or AmEx Centurion cards.
If you’re flying with Delta and carry a Platinum Card, you can also access any Delta Sky Club lounge. With more than 30 locations, Sky Clubs offer snacks, complimentary soft and alcoholic drinks (with more “premium” drinks available for purchase), fast Wi-Fi, and a place to unwind. Some locations also feature showers.
Finally, the Platinum Card comes with a Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass is a network of more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. With the membership provided by your Platinum Card, you and two guests can access any location (as long as there’s room) to enjoy free snacks, drinks, newspapers and magazines, showers, and more, all separate from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal.
If you have an international version of the card, instead of the US version, be sure to double check the guest policy for your card’s Priority Pass benefit. Priority Pass also offers credits at some airport lounges and restaurants.
Elite status at Marriott and Hilton hotels
Elite status at hotels can be incredibly valuable, often including free perks like daily breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in or late check-out, premium internet, lounge access, free nights, points-earning bonuses, and more. Usually, only the top frequent travelers earn status, but with the Platinum Card, you can earn it before you’ve stayed a single night.
The card comes with Gold-level elite status with the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors hotel loyalty programs. If you stay at hotels even a few nights a year, these benefits can be extremely valuable, especially considering how expensive hotel breakfasts can be —Hilton Gold entitles you to free breakfast.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry (which comes with PreCheck) are absolute musts for just about any traveler. Once you enroll, you can use special lanes to breeze through airport security — you won’t have to remove shoes and light coats, and you can leave your laptop in your bag.
With Global Entry, you can use a fast lane when you return to the US from abroad, which makes clearing immigration and customs easy and quick. The programs cost $85-$100, and American Express will provide a credit for that fee every four years (memberships are valid for five years).
Other card benefits
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with a few other benefits that help offset the annual fee.
Platinum cardmembers get access to the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts program. When you book participating hotels through AmEx Travel (there are nearly 1,000 worldwide), you’ll enjoy valuable perks including room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a unique amenity at each hotel, like a credit to use at on-property spas or restaurants.
An exclusive concierge service is available to Platinum card members, too. While the services are complimentary, you’re responsible for paying for any services booked or purchases made on your behalf (don’t worry, the concierge will always ask for approval first). The service can come in handy for things like getting tickets to shows or making reservations at exclusive restaurants.
The Platinum Card from American Express comes with a high annual fee of $550, but the value of the card’s annual benefits more than outweighs the fee. That’s especially true the first year, when you can earn welcome points.
If you’re an active-duty servicemember, you can get the annual fee waived. Simply apply for the card, then, once the card arrives, either call the number on the back to request the waiver, or submit a request online