Let’s face it, there’s a secret pleasure attached to American Express “metal” cards – whether Gold or Platinum. You can imagine the waiter straightening a bit or the shopkeeper lifting her eyebrows when you hand over the centurion-emblazoned card with the metallic sheen. Perhaps the status buzz comes from the cards being “charge” rather than “credit,” which means the bill is paid at the end of the month. The message is always: “I can afford this meal (or purchase) and not go into crazy long-term debt to pay for it.”
When it comes time to choose your metal, though, how do the gold or platinum cards compare? The American Express Gold card costs $160 per year while the Platinum card has an eye-popping $450 per year fee. Over 10 years of use, the Platinum will cost you an additional $3,480. And a side-by-side comparison confirms that the Platinum card is basically a Gold card with some attractive add-ons. As a result, make your decision based on whether you will use the add-ons year in and year out. If so, the Platinum card may well be worth the higher annual fee.
How the Cards Compare on Basics
Here’s a quick breakdown in which the basic similarities in the two cards are apparent:
Gold: $0 first year, $160 each additional year
Platinum: $450 per year
Membership Rewards points
Both cards: 1 point for each dollar spent, 2 points per dollar for bookings on the American Express Travel website
Car rental loss and damage insurance
Gold: covers damage to cars with manufacturer’s retail prices under $50,000
Platinum: covers damage to cars valued under $75,000
Travel accident insurance
Gold: up to $100,000
Platinum: up to $500,000
Gold: replacement cost up to $1,250 for carry-on, $500 for checked baggage
Platinum: replacement cost up to $3,000 for carry-on, $2,000 for checked baggage, for a combined total of $3,000
Purchase Protection covering the loss, theft or damage of items in the first 90 days after purchase
Gold: up to $1,000 per incident, $50,000 per year
Platinum: up to $10,000 per incident, $50,000 per year
Entertainment Access and Preferred Seating programs
Both cards offer equal benefits for these American Express-exclusive programs.
The Big Differences
So far, the cards stack up as similar (with the noted differences and limitations – generally more generous with the Platinum card). And as we said, it’s the add-ons of the Platinum card that add value and can bring down the cost.
Airline Fee Credit. You know those pesky incidental fees that your airline tacks on – checked baggage fees, inflight refreshment fees? The Platinum card will pay those up to $200 per year total. You can only designate the fees on one airline, but this payback certainly helps cut the cost of the card.
Airport Lounge Access. This can save substantial sums for travelers who will be using these lounges. Platinum cardholders and two guests get complimentary access to American Express’s own The Centurion Lounges (6 airports currently with more coming). Other American Express cardholders pay $50 per visit. Platinum cardholders also get free access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta (a value of $50 per visit or $450 per year) and Airspace Lounges (4 airports, and you can bring two guests for free). Finally, the Platinum card allows you to enroll in Priority Pass Select, a program that provides free access for the primary cardholder to an additional 850 airport lounges worldwide (some 100 airline lounges are excluded in the Platinum card version of the program). Ordinarily, that is a privilege that costs several hundred dollars a year.
No foreign transaction fees. Other American Express cards charge a 2.7% transaction fee for foreign currency transactions. Platinum cards have no fee – a savings of $27 for every $1,000 spent overseas.
Free Boingo Wireless. Boingo offers more than 1 million wireless hotspots worldwide for your iPad or laptop and Platinum cardholders get free access, saving from $5 to $59 per month depending on regions travelled.
Global Entry or TSAPre✓. These two U.S. government programs promise expedited screening at border points entering the U.S. and at airport security, respectively. Platinum cardholders can get the 5-year membership fees reimbursed for one of the programs ($100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSAPre✓).
While those benefits can add up to substantial savings and may defray the hefty annual fee, there are other benefits that add value and status for Platinum cardholders.
Starwood Preferred Guest Gold. Starwood Hotels offers its own Preferred Guest Gold status with such perks as late checkout and enhanced rooms. Ordinarily, the chain requires 10 stays annually before granting that status, but Platinum cardholders are automatically enrolled at that level.
By Invitation Only Events. American Express annually throws special events such as tours of the Napa Valley wine region with a famous wine writer or a four-day weekend at the Super Bowl. These big events come with big price tags for the cardholder, but promise entry to what American Express describes as “once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” You decide how much these matter to you.
Finally, for those who can afford to live at a Very VIP level, the Platinum card offers a slew of extras such as discounts on private jet and limousine rentals and a dedicated concierge service to assist in managing travel details. American Express even holds reservations at exclusive restaurants worldwide should you require feeding when you travel.
If You're Looking for Points
There is a downside to both the Gold and Platinum cards, and that is in the area of points. Some people value accumulating points when they purchase and the two metal cards are somewhat lean in that area. While both offer points for purchases and double points for booking through the Amex Travel website, many other cards are more generous.
American Express itself offers an enhanced Gold card that is far more generous with points – the Premier Rewards Gold card costs $30 more than the standard Gold card ($195 per year), but provides triple points on all flights booked directly with the airlines, and double points on purchases at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations. If you live for points, that may be the credit card for you.
The Bottom Line
So which is the best card for you? If you travel by air a lot every year – either domestically or internationally – the American Express Platinum card carries strong advantages, particularly with its airport lounge access, hotel benefits, zero foreign exchange fee and concierge service. If you value the perks, the increased insurance coverage and spend at a high enough level to justify the high fee, go Platinum. But if you only travel occasionally and mostly use your card for local purchases, the Gold card will probably suffice for your metal fix.