Thursday, June 05, 2008

American Express Wants Me to Pay for a Credit Card. Why Would I Do That?

In the past two weeks, I've received 6 mail solicitations from credit card companies, with 3 of those being American Express trying to get me to sign up for a card I have to pay for. Let's see what they're offering that's so great I'd pay for it, and we'll look at the other offers, too.

First off is the Platinum Card from American Express, which they say I'm being offered for being such a great cardmember for so long. (And I have been good, I'll give them that.)

This card costs $450 per year. What could possibly move me to pay $450 for this card? Let's see.

I'd get enrollment in the Membership Rewards First program, which is supposedly a step up from the Membership Rewards program you peons have. the selling point of "First" seems to be better travel rewards, luxury rewards from their First Collection portfolio, and "one-of-a-kind experiences." No word yet on what is so great here.

OK, I can get a complimentary companion airfare when I use the card to buy an airline ticket. That could cover the $450 right there. This of course assumes I'll be traveling somewhere that would make me fork over real money for an airline ticket. As the airlines know all too well, we're all trying to get by on frequent flier miles these days. Anyway, that could make this card worth it.

Another feature is access to airport clubs from American Airlines, Continental, Delta and Northwest. Nice for the frequent traveler, not so much for me.

From here the benefits are only so-so as far as I'm concerned. Upgrades at certain hotels, upgrades on certain cruises, membership in "premier" car rental programs, etc. No big deal. I'm not spending my time cruising around the world.

OK, back to the Membership Rewards program. It's still one point per dollar, just like the others, and supposedly it offers something more, but it's unclear what it is.

They're also telling me the card has a personal concierge service to help me no matter what I might need, from "a conference room in Boston" to "a gift delivered in Paris" to "help locating a rare edition of a classic novel." Who am I? Nelson Rockefeller?

There's also the By Invitation Only feature that gets you into experiences that "are simply not available to the general public at any price." Sports, fashion, fine dining, and performances are mentioned. It would be nice to include a few examples, like maybe if I get to be in the locker room at the Super Bowl, which would seem worth it to pony up some cash.

If you are a frequent world traveler and international (wo)man of mystery, I could see paying $450 per year, but otherwise I don't understand the attraction. Other than the free companion ticket, the rest is nice but not vital.

I also got a solicitation for the American Express Business Platinum Card. The marketing says "Be among the few who know what it feels like". That sounds almost sexual; I'm excited.

This one costs $450, too, and offers pretty much the same benefits as the card above. It markets the By Invitation Only events as good for client entertainment, which is interesting. It also offers a couple of event examples --- the US Open Tennis Championships and an unforgettable wine tasting tour through California's Napa Valley. (I once had a forgettable tour through Napa Valley. I have a hard time remembering it after getting drunk on so many tastings.)

So, same deal with this card I think. If you travel a lot, could be worthwhile, but unless you're going to use the companion ticket feature, it probably doesn't pay for itself.

Not done yet. I could also get the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card.

This one's cheaper. Only $125 per year, with the first year's fee waived.

Unfortunately, it's even more hazy as to why I'd pay for this card. I do get the Membership Rewards program, including the opportunity to earn some decent bonuses --- $5,000 points when I use the card the first time and $20,000 points if I put $1000 on it in the next 4 months or so. That 25,000-point bonus is an airline ticket right there. Not bad.

There's some other features they tout, but I'm not buying. Other than the initial point bonuses, I fail to see why I'd want to pay $125 for this.

Here's what I got these last two weeks...

I could get the Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card (also from American Express). Costs $95 per year, but first year is waived. If I was already a heavy user of Delta, this would obviously be attractive.

I'm pre-qualified for the Banco Popular Platinum MasterCard. Nothing so great there.

Bank of America has a Platinum Plus Visa with my name on it. Offers a 0% rate on purchases for about a year. If I needed to stash some debt at 0% I might go for this, but I don't see anything too special otherwise.


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