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The Price of Prestige: JPMorgan Chase Palladium vs. the AmEx Platinum

by on November 16, 2011

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If the American Express Centurion isn’t enough to satisfy your tastes, if the Black Card just doesn’t quite do it, if the 1% is feeling a little crowded these days, Chase wants you. Not one to let AmEx steal all the glory, Chase’s Palladium card itself takes luxury to an extreme: it is of course made of palladium, and the cardholder’s signature is laser-engraved onto the card with gold. But is this air of exclusivity justified? Or just an elaborate marketing ploy to get customers to pay a sky-high annual fee?

Psst…don’t tell anyone, but we’ve snagged a copy of the Palladium rewards brochure. Click the image below to check it out in all its glory (warning – big download), or read on:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Palladium is a bit excessive, especially with its $595 annual fee. But keep in mind that the card is marketed primarily to plum JPMorgan Private Banking customers, for whom $600 is a rounding error’s rounding error. Like the other cards of its caliber – the Centurion, the Black Card and to an extent the American Express Platinum – you’re paying for the cachet of the card.

But the dirty little secret here is that the Palladium, despite the special metal construction and aura of exclusivity, is more like the Amex Platinum than it’s illustrious Black Card. Like the Platinum, pretty much anyone can apply, whereas the Black Card is invitation-only.

And objectively, the Platinum is even a better deal, offering more attractive benefits with a lower fee. The AmEx Platinum is actually a reasonable card, if you’re a frequent traveler who enjoys airport lounges. You might consider getting the card solely because you’d earn back the annual fee in perks. That case is harder to make with the Palladium: you can’t easily recoup the annual fee in benefits, so you’re paying for the prestige.

Platinum vs. Palladium at a glance

The American Express Platinum and Chase Palladium have nominally similar fringe benefits. Both give you concierge service, Priority Pass lounge access, no foreign transaction fee (though the Palladium did away with F/X fees only recently) and rewards points useful for travelers. But.

AmEx Platinum  Chase Palladium
 Travel benefits
  •  $100 Global Entry credit
  • $200 airline incidentals credit
  • EMV-compatible
 Partner benefits
  • Companion ticket with business or first-class ticket on 23 partner airlines
  • Amenities at partner hotels
  • Perks on 3 partner private jet services
  • Special benefits at Starwood hotels
  • Companion ticket with business or first class on British Airways
  • Upgrade to first-class on British Airways flight to London
  • Perks on Marquis Jet
 Protections
  • Warranty, purchase, return protection
  • Secondary auto rental coverage
  • The usual travel protections
  • Warranty, purchase, return protection
  • Price protection
  • Primary auto rental coverage
  • The usual travel protections
 Rewards
  • Earns Membership Rewards Points
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on travel booked through AmEx
  • Earns Ultimate Rewards Points
  • 35k points for spending $100,000 a year
  • 2 points per $1 spent on travel

Money for nothing and your chips for free

The one edge that the Palladium could possibly have over the AmEx Platinum is that it is embedded with an EMV chip, meaning you can use it over in Europe where they actually have good fraud protection systems. Try to whip out your Platinum, and you might hear a few heavily accented sniggers at those rustic Americans who still use magnetic stripes. This is no small perk, as many European merchants won’t process stripe-only cards. American Express has no plans to upgrade its US-issued cards: a spokeswoman told the New York Times that they “have not had a large number of our cardmembers in the US requesting cards with chips,” and so aren’t issuing them anytime soon.

It can conceivably beat out the Platinum in terms of rewards earnings: you get 35,000 Ultimate Rewards Points (worth $350) for spending $100,000 a year. The Platinum has no such benefit, but comes a signup bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Finally, the Palladium gives you 2x rewards on travel, while the Platinum gives you 2x rewards only when you book travel through AmEx.

But, on the other hand, the Platinum offers much better travel-related benefits. You receive a credit to the Global Entry program, which allows you to skip customs lines (kind of nice for international travelers, whom the cards are aimed at), valued at $100. Every year, you receive a $200 airline incidentals credit to offset baggage or change fees, inflight meals and so on. Stacking up these benefits against the Palladium’s 35k-point rewards bump, you’re up only $50 with the Palladium after spending a tenth of a million dollars.

Platinum’s the belle of the ball, but Palladium sits alone by the pretzels

One of the main selling points of both the Palladium and the Platinum is that they offer you perks on their airline and hotel partners. This can be anything from a free newspaper to private jet time. But while the Palladium devotes a paragraph of lavish detail to how it will make your next British Airways flight better, American Express offers too many partners to count. Let’s take a look:

Platinum:

  • Partner hotels offer amenities worth over $550 (AmEx’s estimate) from breakfast for two to late checkout and room upgrades
  • Receive complimentary companion ticket when you book business or first class on one of AmEx’s 23 partner airlines, which include British Airways
  • Receive amenities valued at $600 on AmEx’s three partner private jet companies
  • And the kicker: you get complimentary Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Elite status, just for having the card. That’s better than even the Starwood AmEx will get you.

Palladium:

  • Complimentary companion ticket when you book business or first class on British Airways
  • Upgrade to first class with full-fare ticket purchase to London on British Airways
  • Perks when flying on their one and only private jet partner, Marquis
  • Not only does the Platinum offer more partnerships, it has better benefits to boot. It doesn’t give you an upgrade to first class, but the Palladium gets you that benefit only if you book a full-fare round trip from the US to London on British Airways…and that’s a lot of caveats.

The math

Let’s assume you’ve spent $100,000 and thus earned the 35k Ultimate Rewards Points bonus. The math looks something like this:

Platinum Palladium
$100 Global Entry credit +
+ $200 airline incidentals credit
+ Better companion tickets, let’s say $250
– $450 annual fee
= +$100
$350 bonus+ Decent companion tickets, let’s say $100
– $595 annual fee
= -$145

So, there you go: when we look at the differences between the AmEx Platinum’s benefits and the Palladium’s, the Platinum comes out ahead. And that’s not even considering the benefit of earning Membership Rewards Points rather than Ultimate Rewards Points.

Membership vs. Ultimate: Guess which one has a full dance card

The Palladium’s benefit guide touts the ability to convert Ultimate Rewards Points into miles in loyalty programs.

But you’re limited to Chase’s partners: British Airways, Continental Airlines, InterContinental Hotels Group (which includes Priority Club) and Marriott. Oh, and Amtrak. You probably don’t take Amtrak if you’ve got the Platinum or Palladium. You’re probably taking advantage of their private jet deals. Anyway, my point is that while you can transfer Ultimate Rewards Points to miles, you can’t do it with very many programs.

Membership Rewards Points, on the other hand, are valid with a lot more partners, including Air France, All Nippon Airways, British Airways, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, KLM, Singapore Airlines, both Virgin airlines, Hilton, Starwood, Priority Club, and quite a few more.

Membership Rewards > Ultimate Rewards. QED.

So why would you choose the Palladium over the Platinum, especially pre-2011, when the Palladium came with a 2% foreign transaction fee?

It all comes down to cachet

You go with the Palladium because it’s not a sensible choice. I mean, if you’re going to spring for a rare metal, gold-engraved, wallet-sized declaration of your high net worth, you don’t want to be accused of doing so because it makes financial sense.

The JPMorgan Chase Palladium could well pay for itself: the Priority Pass membership is valued at around $400 a year, so if you make the $100k spending threshold, you’ve nixed the $595 annual fee with room to spare. But it’s hard to argue that the Palladium will deliver a better value than the Platinum, because you get more benefits and in particular benefits that are easier to quantify. Plus, Membership Rewards are better than Ultimate Rewards, as we’ve noted.

So when you get the Palladium, you don’t do it because you’re a traveler looking to maximize your rewards. You do it because you’re willing to shell out a bit in order to gain a lot of prestige.

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  • Deborah

    This is a very Bias article. I am always about seeing what is best for my clients as a banker at Chase, but alot of what you said is not completely true. For example, if you take the 35,000 points and transfer them to Continental, you can get a ticket well worth over $350. That is where the value lies. And if you are in a city where Southwest flies (yes you can transfer the points to Southwest as well as multiple hotel partners in addtion to who you stated above), you can start redeeming for tickets with Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program at 8,000 points/miles. So your whole family could go to Disney (4 people) on the 35,000 miles, which is well wroth more than $350. This is what sets the CHase cards apart from the rest of the cards in the industry. And yes the chip is worth the extra money as well. WE actually do it on a total of 5 cards right now.