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Should I Downgrade American Express Platinum to Gold?

01/23/2012

Update: Amex is in the midst of updating the features on the Platinum Card today. Some information on this page might be a little outdated. We will update the information once we have received the new information.

A couple of years ago, I upgraded from my American Express Gold Card to the Platinum Card. And I’ve been using it ever since. But I know many folks who have had the Platinum Card and are wondering if it is worth the annual fee that they are paying. I’ve often been asked about this because friends know I run this website. So, this post is my opinion of when you should consider downgrading your Amex Plat to the Gold version. This issue has gained even more prominence since the introduction of the Premier Rewards Gold Card, which allows you to earn triple points when you book airline tickets with the card. Here are the most common things to consider.

1. You no longer need airport access lounge to Delta, American Airlines, US Airways or Priority Club Lounges – One of the great benefits of the Amex Plat is that you can get access to Delta, American Airlines, US Airways and Priority Club lounges (as long you show your Platinum Card). This is a valuable perk because it cost a few hundred dollars to get annual lounge memberships. Below is a brief recap of which elite members get complimentary lounge access among these lounges.

In Delta Skymiles’ case, only Diamond members get complimentary annual SkyClub memberships. The rest (ie Silver, Gold and Platinum) only get discounted rates if they choose to purchase them. Diamond members also get 6 one-day Sky Pass entry a year while platinum members get four.

For US Airways Dividend Miles members, there are no complimentary annual memberships to their lounges regardless of your status. Hence, US Airways fliers will find this very useful.

American Airlines AAdvantage also does not give any complimentary lounge access memberships with any elite status (though you can get them at a discount).

Another important fact to know is that Platinum holders also get Priority Pass Select membership (worth $399 a year), which gives you access to Priority Pass member lounges. But from 1st October 2011, Select memberships that are issued by a Financial institution (like this card) will no longer be able to access United Lounges (the new brand for the old Continental and United Red Carpet lounges).

For many frequent fliers, the lounge access perks alone more than pays for the annual fee of the Plat card. One reason why you may want to downgrade to gold is that you no longer really use these airline lounges. For example, perhaps United and Continental lounge benefits are all you use. In this case, there could be a case to be made that you should downgrade to a Premier Rewards Gold if you do not use their lounges. Another example would be that you have attained Diamond elite status for Delta Skymiles and will remain one for the foreseeable future. That being the case, you will get complimentary Delta Sky Club membership. And if Delta is the only airline you fly and you only use their lounges, then perhaps you do not need the Sky Club access perk anymore. Another reason could be that you decide that you will get a Delta Reserve Card instead. Since that card gives lounge access and even offers a concierge service, you might decide just pay for a Delta Reserve and downgrade the Plat to a Gold version.

2. You no longer stay at Fine Hotel and Resorts – One of the most under rated feature of the Platinum Card is the Fine Hotel and Resorts partnerships and benefits. I use this feature a couple of times and that itself pays for the annual fee. This is how the program works. Amex has partnered with hotels and if you use your Platinum Card to book with their partners, you will get complimentary room upgrades, free breakfast and even $100 credit (which I always use for the spa!). Use a Fine Hotels and Resorts a couple of years and the benefits will more than make up for your annual fee.

Another misconception of the FHR program is that the hotels listed there tend to be very expensive. That is not true at all. They do only choose nice hotels. But the prices are not outrageous and typically reflects that rates charged by these hotels in a particular area. So if you go to a place where hotels cost about $200 a night, FHR might have partnered with a really good one that charges $250 to $300 a night. But you get room upgrades, free breakfast and credits. You also save time by not having to look at priceline, then check out reviews from trip advisor.

If you are suddenly into getting the absolutely cheapest hotel wherever you go and do not intend to use FHR, then perhaps it may be time to say goodbye to your Plat (assuming you do not use any other perks).

3. You stop taking cruises – This is another often under rated feature. You do not hear frequent flier blogs talking about using the Amex cards for cruises. But since they give $300 shipboard credit or a 2 level stateroom upgrade. For those who take a couple of cruises a year (yes, there folks who do that), this is a valuable perk. But if you decide to stop taking cruises and you do not use any of the other Platinum features, then perhaps it is time to consider downgrading to the Gold card.

4. You are not going to use your $200 Annual Airline Credit – Every year, Plat card members can get up to a $200 statement credit when they purchase airline amenities like food on airlines, baggage fees etc. You do however have to choose which airline you wish to apply these credits to (you can only choose one). If you know you are not going to use this feature, that means you won’t really be flying. And that means you should consider getting a no annual fee card rather than just downgrading from Platinum to Gold.

5. You upgraded to Platinum without knowing why? – I know quite a few folks who upgraded from the Gold to Platinum because Amex sent them a letter or a customer rep persuaded them to do so (this is true). Then after a few years, they wonder why they did it in the first place and was wondering if they had made a mistake. More often than not, they are not even aware of the full perks of Platinum. Half of the folks I speak to in circumstances like that ended up downgrading to the Premier Rewards Gold and half of them kept their Platinum Card when they understood the full benefits.

Parting Words: Consider Combining Premier Rewards Gold Card with Platinum – While we are at the subject of discussing the reasons to downgrade from a Amex Plat to Gold, another alternative for those on the fence is getting both the Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum together. Why does this makes sense? Because the firstly, the annual fee for an additional Platinum is $175. The annual fee for the Premier Rewards Gold is $175 and there is no additional fee for up to five additional cards. Secondly, you can earn triple points on airline tickets and double points on gasoline and supermarket spending (which you cannot with the Plat).

If you have a spouse or partner, this is what you can do. You have the Plat for yourself. You also get a Premier Rewards Gold and give your spouse an additional gold card. The cost will be the same ($450 + $175 for Plat alone = $450 + $175 for Plat and Gold). The benefits from this arrangement is that you can use the Gold to earn triple points when you fly and also for everyday spending. You have the Plat for other benefits it offers. You can combine the two Membership Rewards account into one.

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