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As more and more families are facing a financial crunch due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, cutting discretionary spending might seem inevitable. Today, the old adage that a penny saved is a penny earned holds true like never before.
But what about those of us who have some of American Express’ high-annual-fee travel cards? Most elite cards in AmEx’s portfolio are built around high-value travel and entertainment benefits, like tickets to sold-out shows, complimentary access to high-class airport lounges or credits for staying at world-class resorts. Despite the high annual fees, cardholders usually appreciate the perks these provide and tend to hold on to their cards year after year.
Now, enter COVID-19. No leisure travel, no sold-out shows or ball games — so why keep the card?
Of course, closing a card can negatively affect your credit standing by increasing the metric called utilization rate. The higher your utilization rate, the more chances that credit scoring companies like FICO or Vantage Score might downgrade your credit, which is obviously not a good thing.
Still, few people would pay an annual fee of several hundred dollars only to keep their utilization rate low. Fortunately, AmEx has just come out with some significant, and most importantly, relevant improvements that might make these cards worth keeping even in our current difficult times.
Here, we’ll give an overview of what credits and benefits have been added, and how they may be able to help you.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Statement credits for select wireless services from U.S. service providers, up to $160 (up to $20 per month, between May-December 2020).
Statement credits for select streaming services from U.S. service providers, up to $160 (up to $20 per month, from May-December 2020).
These are existing AmEx Platinum benefits:
Up to $200 in U.S. Uber credits ($15 monthly and an additional December credit of $20; can be used on Uber Eats).
Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit ($50 from January-June 2020 and another $50 from July-December).
Many of us use wireless and streaming services, so it’s relatively easy to save $320 by the end of 2020. And the same holds true for Uber Eats — if anything, Americans are ordering more takeout and delivery food than ever, so we can safely add another $200 to the tally.
Calculating the tangible value of the Saks Fifth Avenue rebate is more complicated (you may not shop there, for example) — but if you value the $100 statement credit at least at $30, then all these benefits would effectively pay for the card’s $695 annual fee.
And hopefully as the country and the world begin opening up, we might be able to use the card’s travel and entertainment benefits — although the timing remains pure speculation at this point.
Of course, this same math may not apply to your situation. For example, if you use prepaid wireless services or don’t have Uber Eats where you live, that will lower the total value of card’s new and existing credits. In that case, you may need to decide if this card is one you cancel for now.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card ($450 annual fee) is adding the following stay-at-home “dining and essentials benefits”:
From June through August 2020, eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants (including takeout and delivery) will qualify toward the $250 Hilton resort credit benefit.
From May through July 2020, cardmembers will earn 12 Hilton Honors Bonus Points per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets. These points will count toward elite qualification.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has also made other important improvements:
A cardmember can use their currently unexpired weekend night rewards (as well as those issued later in 2020) on any night of the week — not just on weekends.
New weekend night rewards issued in 2020 will be valid for 24 months (not 12 months) from the date they are issued.
Consider the above changes as well as other travel benefits of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card to decide whether you should keep this card or let it go.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card ($450 annual fee) has added the following benefits:
Eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery, will qualify toward the $300 statement credit (June-August 2020).
You will earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $7,500 in eligible purchases between May-July 2020).
This card’s restaurant credit is probably a tangible benefit for most families. It’s likely not difficult to spend $100 a month for the next three months on dining, even in the areas where restaurants will still be closed for dining in.
The bottom line
Overall, if you were on the fence about canceling one of these high-annual-fee travel cards, these new credits and earning benefits may just be persuasive enough to change your mind. As always, make sure to take into account whether any extra spending you’re doing to take advantage of them is workable in your current financial situation.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card