Joe Brancatelli offers a useful column on the basics of US domestic airline lounge programs and why you should be a member if you travel frequently.
Buried in the bottom section called ‘the fine print’ is the best piece of advice in the article.
If you’re an American Express Platinum cardmember, use the Airport Club Access Program. If you pay for your ticket with the card, you receive access at some clubs run by American, Continental, Delta or Northwest airlines.
Actually, you do not need to pay for your ticket with the card to use the benefit. And it isn’t just some clubs, it’s all the standard lounges that a membership would get you into (ok, it doesn’t get you into American’s flagship lounge, but then neither does an AAdmiral’s Club membership). The only real caveat is that you have to access an airline’s lounge you must be flying that airline same day. You can’t use the Delta lounge in Atlanta with a Continental ticket, for example.
While situations may vary, I personally consider the American Express Platinum to be one of a handful of ‘killer apps’ for travel. Lounge access is the biggest benefit.
Generally travelers will be able to buy membership with a single airline for less. But this gets you both the network of Delta/Continental/Northwest lounges and American’s lounges. It really just leaves United/USAirways and Alaska out of the domestic US carrier mix. That’s a pretty big benefit if you’d otherwise buy a membership with any of the four carriers that American Express covers.
Amex also provides:
- a domestic companion airfare benefit that’s fairly rich (i.e. relatively usable and you don’t have to buy a full fare ticket to be eligible)
- Starwood Gold status (not worth a ton…)
- Virgin Atlantic Silver status (not worth a ton…)
- the Fine Hotels and Resorts program (if you stay at one of their properties and make the booking through them you may get a discount but will generally get some add-on amenities like free breakfast and a single category room upgrade)
- their Concierge service, provided by Circles which is a step above VIPdesk (which provides service for several less expensive cards)
- the fine dining program, only occasionally useful but they do appear to get a single table at a handful of difficult to reserve restaurants so you might luck out.
- a smattering of less useful benefits (not to mention roadside assistance, extended warrantys, etc).
Now, the card is expensive. On very rare occasion I’ve seen a fee waived offer. I once posted such an offer and boom Amex pulled it in a few hours. But I’ve also seen targeted offers of as many as 100,000 Membership Rewards points at signup. That sort of bonus is huge.
Even carrying this card I’m not a big fan of the Membership Rewards program. It’s fine, but I still prefer to put spending on my Starwood American Express card, as Starpoints are more valuable.
But ithe Amex Platinum is a frequently underappreciated asset in my view. In fact, the only real benefit of great use to me that the Centurion (black) card offers that the Platinum does not is airline status (Continental, Delta, and Virgin Gold and USAirways Platinum). Ok, I’d take the Mandarin Oriental buy one night, get one free deal too I suppose. But with a $5000 upfront fee and $2500 annual fee, I’ll keep my Platinum card thank you.