Tag Archives: citi prestige

Treat Yo’self: Reviewing the Amex Platinum Card

As I’ve stated before, if you want to have a successful travel blog, you need to stuff it full of reviews. When people travel, they don’t want any aspect of the travel to be something they haven’t already read a review of on a travel blog. My wildly popular “Lounge Life” posts are a testament to that – this blog had almost no traffic at all before those posts went up, and now… Well let’s just say it still has almost no traffic, but that I expect a major uptick any moment now.

So here’s my review of the Amex Platinum card. By making it especially specific to me, my hope is that this review holds no relevance whatsoever to your own situation.

Bonus: Usually a 40,000 point sign up bonus after $3000 spent in the first three months. Recently, a 100,000 point bonus was available, and I took advantage of that, which finally righted the wrong I inflicted upon myself when I threw a targeted offer for 100,000 points in the garbage last summer. I don’t think 40,000 points is a terrible bonus in any case… it isn’t huge, but it’s still competitive. Citi offers 50,000 for the Prestige card, and I think Membership Rewards points are better.

Screen grab from travelcodex.com

Earning: 1 point per dollar. In other words, this card is a terrible earner, which is bizarre to me. I think Amex’s target customer is the person of considerable means who gets the Platinum because it has a bunch of fancy benefits, and who doesn’t really consider the overall earning potential of the card. I doubt most of the customers for this card have a big portfolio of other cards, especially since the fee is really high. So if you spend a lot of money and don’t really care about points except as an afterthought, then a card that earns 1 point per dollar is fine for you. Still, for their most premium publicly available card, I wish Amex provided some incentive to actually use the card once you get it. Since I get at least 1.5 points on everything from my Everyday Preferred card plus travel/restaurant bonuses from various other cards, the only time I’d ever use this card would be for international transactions (since the Everyday Preferred has foreign transaction fees). And even then, if it were foreign travel or restaurants, I’d use the Citi Prestige or the Chase Sapphire Preferred and get category bonuses there too. Bottom line, you get this card to buy your way into the benefits it offers, not to build up a rewards balance.

Mitigations: When I evaluate cards, I always look at mitigations first – these are any benefits that help pay back the annual fee. A true mitigation should be an amount I would have spent anyway – for instance, the Citi Prestige card offers a $250 airline reimbursement good on tickets, plus a fourth night free benefit for any hotel stay. If you would normally spend $250 on airfare and stay in a hotel for four nights in a row in any given year, the Citi Prestige mitigates its entire annual fee. The Amex Platinum reimburses $200 toward airline “incidental” fees, like baggage charges, in-flight purchases, or lounge access, but not ticket sales. Until recently, it also reimbursed gift cards, despite the fact that the terms of the benefit are written to exclude them. This may or may not be the case going forward, though, and I’m going to assume for review purposes that gift cards are no longer covered. Now, I almost never check bags, and I rarely make in-flight purchases, so the fee credit ceases to be much of a mitigation at all. I think I’m just going to buy a bunch of day passes for airline lounges and sell them on eBay – maybe I’ll get $50 or so, but the annual fee is still pretty hefty even with that mitigation.

Misc benefits: This card has tons of miscellaneous benefits that are nice to have but not worth it to me. I could take or leave concierge service, the free magazine, the Fine Hotels and Resorts collection of hotel perks (most of which are way too expensive for me anyway), the private jet discounts, and so on. Some of the benefits are definitely useful, like rental car elite status, but the Citi Prestige offers these as well. In fact, there are very few things that the Amex Platinum offers that the Citi Prestige doesn’t offer. Plus, the Citi Prestige has a better lounge access policy, since it includes free guests where the Amex doesn’t. Free Starwood Gold status via the Amex platinum is probably pretty sweet for some, but I’ve already signed my life over to Hyatt and IHG, so I won’t get much use out of this benefit either. (Plus, if you’re loyal to Starwood, you probably already have Gold status anyway.)

bread

This image is from an article about fancy bread in Departures magazine, a free magazine for Amex Platinum cardholders. Bread!

Okay, so at this point, it should be pretty clear that I’m not a huge fan of this card. If you’re comparing premium cards, the Citi Prestige is objectively better in just about every way. It earns points more quickly, has a higher sign-up bonus (most of the time), great mitigations, and an awesome suite of benefits that offers the same or better than Amex. There’s one problem.

The goddamn motherfucking Centurion lounges. I LOVE THEM. The Citi Prestige card can gussy itself up all it wants, but it isn’t going to get you into these lounges. It may not matter to most people not based near a Centurion lounge, but I fly out of SFO and thus have tons of occasion to use the lounge there. And every single other lounge in the US is a piece of shit compared to this lounge (probably)… except the other Centurion lounges, which I can’t wait to visit. (I should point out that Centurion lounges cost $50 with any other Amex, so theoretically I should count how many times I actually visit them over the next year. If I don’t go at least 8 times, then I should cancel the card and just pay to get in instead.)

The bottom line is that the Amex Platinum is a not-great product with one huge megaperk that no other card offers. By all rights, I should just get rid of it after the first year, but I think I’m gonna keep it, basically paying $450 a year for Centurion lounge access. Although I tend to focus fairly obsessively on value, the simple fact is that I like to travel, and I like things that make travel more fun for me. Even if it’s not a great deal, my plan is to close my eyes and plug my ears and pretend the fee doesn’t exist so that I can sit on lime green chairs eating fancy canapés and drinking expensive alcohol “for free.”

Well there you have it… I guess this has been less of a review and more of me justifying to myself why I should keep the card even though it’s a waste of money. Check back in a year to see if I was successful. Final rating on this card: 98 Centurion Lounges out of 100.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What reason could there possibly be for YOU not to cancel your Amex Platinum card?

Lounge Life (Part 1)

Aside from a trip to the Admirals Club when I was in high school, I had never been to an airline lounge before this year. What a year of firsts! My current lounge credentials are obtained through credit cards: Priority pass lounges and American Admirals Club access through the Citi Prestige and Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access (plus a redundant and guestless Priority Pass membership) through the Amex platinum. I also get two United Club visits per year via the annual free passes that are included with the Mileage Plus Explorer card. You want reviews? I know you do. Every travel blog reviews stuff – I even found a review for a fucking bag of snack mix the other day. Conclusion: if you want readers, you gotta review. So here you go.

Overall, I think lounges are funny, in that (at least in the US, and I haven’t visited any of the fancy international lounges yet), their only value is determined relative to the rest of the airport. Most lounges would make shitty hotel lobbies, for instance. Pretty much any mid-level hotel will have nicer seating and furnishings in its lobby than you’ll find in the average airport lounge, but given that waiting out a 2-hour delay in a crowded terminal is a soul-suckingly awful experience, even a shitty hotel lobby is preferable. Therefore, I’m not reviewing a random Admirals club as it compares to the Emirates first class lounge in Dubai. Instead, my ratings are based on the following criteria, each worth ten points: furnishings, cookies, other non-cookie snacks, alcohol, views, bathrooms, outlets, and other amenities.

Alaska Airlines Board Room, SEA
Furnishing
s: worn down and could use a refresh, but overall comfortable for waiting out a layover. 6/10
Cookies: cinnamon animal crackers. Will do in a pinch, but disappointing. 2/10
Snacks: pancake printer is nice for the novelty, but it prints fairly rubbery pancakes. Maybe it needs new toner (AKA dough). Salads always look gross. Haven’t tried the soup, because I’m not generally a soup fan, AND WHY DO LOUNGES ALWAYS SERVE SOUP? 4/10
Alcohol: actually I haven’t had any alcohol here, but you get good beer and cocktails for free, so I’ll give this one a high score. 9/10
Views: great tarmac views, although you only see Alaska’s planes, so it gets a little repetitive after a while. 7/10
Bathrooms: clean, fairly private. Didn’t smell like piss the few times I’ve used it. 8/10
Outlets: most seats have outlets available. Why every lounge isn’t just a sea of power strips is beyond me, but whatever. 10/10
Other amenities: nothing really jumps out at me here. I’ll give it a few points for having a good division between the quiet area downstairs and the party atmosphere upstairs. 3/10
Final score: 49/80

I couldn’t find any pictures of the United Club at SFO, so you get this graphic instead. The United Club SFO is not this nice, so don’t get excited.

United Club, SFO (International Gates)
Furnishings:
worn down and could use a refresh, but overall comfortable for waiting out a layover. (Yes, I copied and pasted this from the last one. It’s a pretty universal description of most lounges.) 6/10
Cookies: some weird brownie crunch stuff. Not bad, but still lower-tier. 4/10
Snacks: Good hummus, and I like that there are Skittles. Don’t Skittles seem like the kind of food that kids eat? It’s fun watching all these distinguished looking business people chomp down on some Skittles, reminding them of the childhood they lost and will never get back. This gets a high score for that alone. 7/10
Alcohol: Piss beer for free, everything else you pay for. Don’t insult me with your Coors Light, United. $600 per year for a membership and you can’t even give me Sam Adams? Fuck you. 1/10
Views: some good angles, but heavily obscured by its position in the terminal. 5/10
Bathrooms: Didn’t use, but this lounge gets really crowded, so I’m skeptical. 6/10
Outlets: One section has good access, the other doesn’t. 6/10
Other amenities: The lobby of this lounge is really nice. In fact, the first time I went to this lounge, I was really excited for what I’d find simply due to how nice the lobby is. The resulting disappointment could either be viewed as a positive or a negative. 4/10
Final score: 39/80

Unlike the United Club banner, this actually is the Admirals Club at SFO.

Admirals Club, SFO (International Gates)
Furnishings:
 Newer than the other two, but surprisingly worn given that it was refreshed recently. Looks like it gets a lot of use, even though it was pretty empty while I was there.  7/10
Cookies: Excellent chocolate chip cookies. Not “artisanal” or anything fancy, but a good, utilitarian cookie can really hit the spot. 9/10
Snacks: Not great once you’re done with the cookie. Yogurt pretzels and dry fruit mix abound, and the food for purchase is way worse than what’s out in the concourse. Also, the dried fruit has a really high banana chips to everything else ratio – personally, I hate banana chips and adjusted the score accordingly, but you may want to take this into account. 7/10
Alcohol: Same deal as United. 1/10
Views: Very nice, and a good amount of window seating, too. Although you mostly look out at United planes (ironically), you can still catch the big boys taxiing by. I saw an Emirates A380, which was pretty impressive next to a bunch of 737s and the like. 8/10
Bathrooms: Pretty decent, but Terminal 2 at SFO has strangely clean bathrooms, so it isn’t a huge benefit. 6/10
Outlets: Good overall access. 8/10
Other amenities: From an ambience perspective, I like this lounge. They tried to do something different with the fake trees and the circular layout in the middle, so it doesn’t feel as generic as some of the other lounges. Especially given some reviews I’ve read of other Admirals Clubs, I have a feeling this is one of the nicer ones around. 7/10
Final score: 53/80

Stay tuned for more lounge reviews in part two of this gripping post!

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s YOUR least favorite lounge in the US?

Dutch Crunch

I’ve been pretty excited to fly SFO to Amsterdam on KLM’s new business class, which looks fantastic. The seats actually look pretty similar to United’s trans-con BusinessFirst, but the whole aesthetic is taken up a notch, and they’re in a dedicated mini-cabin on the upper floor of the 747 (or in the nose, if you prefer that). They’re not as good as reverse-herringbone seats if you’re traveling alone (since you’ll need to climb over your seatmate to use the bathroom), although since Justine and I will be traveling together, it’s not as much of a concern.

The plan was to use FlyingBlue miles, since I easily earned 100,000 Citi Thank You points from sign-up bonuses earlier this year, and those transfer 1:1 to FlyingBlue. Then I learned that you can often book the same seats using Delta SkyCents, and since partner awards haven’t been sent through the wood-chipper yet, you can get a whole lot of value out of them. Plus, with Delta you avoid fuel surcharges on the outbound route, which saves around $500 for two tickets.

Nothing’s ever permanent, though, which makes planning for trips over a year away pretty difficult. To wit: I just noticed that while AMS-SFO has traditionally been served by the 747, KLM also uses an A330 around half the time. While that normally wouldn’t matter, it turns out that the floor of the A330 can’t support the weight of the new business class seats, which means that they still sport the old seats (affectionately dubbed “slip n’ slide” seats on FlyerTalk because they don’t recline all the way, and you end up sliding down toward the foot rest).

Now, nothing is inherently wrong with these seats… and to be honest, flying in this cabin would still be the nicest trans-atlantic flight I ever took. The problem is that it costs the same 62,500 miles to fly the A330 as the 747, meaning I’d be paying the same amount for an inferior product. Looking out into the future, it looks like the A330 is mostly used in the winter when (I’d guess) demand to go to cold and rainy cities in Europe isn’t at its peak. Still, given the frequency of aircraft swaps, it now gives me pause to build my strategy around KLM now that I know that I could pay for a flat bed seat on a 747 and get downgraded to a slip n’ slide on an A330.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How did YOU handle the rage the last time an airline swapped planes and downgraded your seat?

American Horror Story

For years, I refused to fly American Airlines, because they are terrible. They’re terrible in a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it way, but every flight I’ve ever had on American was always just a little more unpleasant than any other flight I’ve ever had. I even hated American when I was a kid (and my brother and I thought we were clever when we called the Super-80 the “Super-Sucky”). Those MD-80s are still in American’s fleet, by the way.

Life begins at 40?

I was motivated to start flying American again by two things: first, I can access the Admiral’s Club when flying American via my Citi Prestige card, so I thought that, all other things being equal, I might as well fly the shitty skies and get some free yogurt-covered pretzels. And, despite my overall disgust with how terrible American Airlines is, the Admirals Club at SFO is pretty nice – it even has some fake trees in it. Plus, it’s quiet, and Terminal 2 at SFO — which has been remodeled to feature upscale shopping and dining — does that “put all the gates in one place with an enormous waiting area that serves all of them at once” thing, making the at-gate experience a test of one’s nerves.

Pretty sweet lounge selfie.

Pretty sweet lounge selfie.

Second, American advertises on its website that it’s building “a younger, more modern fleet” and that they take delivery of an average of one plane per week. So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to give up my prejudice against American and take advantages of the things they do offer, including a loyalty program that actually awards miles at a rate that earns you a free ticket more than once a decade.

So, full of anticipation, I set out for Chicago flying American from SFO to ORD. Then, unfortunately, I stepped onto one of their planes, and that all went out the window. What. A. Shitbox. It’s almost appalling that American charges the same amount for their flights as other airlines, given their in-flight product. In first class, they’re proud to offer you “the worn-out chair your grandfather farted in 100,000 times before he died in it,” and in economy, you can enjoy American’s signature “Imagine the worst airplane seat you’ve ever sat on, only 10% worse, and you’ll still be ahead of these pieces of shit” class. I paid (!) for extra legroom, which on American is called, “give us $60 and we’ll spare you permanent knee injury.” And thank fuck I checked Seatguru beforehand, since 1/3 of the premium seats are in rows WITHOUT WINDOWS. Presumably this is so you don’t see the Scotch tape and staples holding the wings on.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Okay, that was a cheap shot. American Airlines is clearly safe, both of my flights arrived early, and the pilots were very friendly both over the intercom and saying good-bye to passengers after the flight. Little things like that go a long way, especially when your butt cheeks are numb from sitting on seats whose padding gave out during Reagan’s second term. Oh, and if you tell me that I’m exaggerating and that these interiors aren’t that old, consider for a second what you’re really saying: that American Airlines recently chose these interiors on purpose. I think that might even be worse.

Also, here’s a weird thing that I’ve never really noticed before. The fuselage walls on American’s 737s are scalloped in such a way that the windows are deeply recessed from the rest of the wall. For most seats, this doesn’t really matter, since most of the wall next to the seat is comprised of one of these recessed areas. Here’s a good photo, which also happens to show the ultra-luxury of American Airlines first class. Look at how far the ribs in between the window panels stick out:

However, should you be lucky enough to sit in one of the rows without windows (which I was treated to on my return flight due to a happy switcheroo between different versions of the 737), you don’t get the recessed window panel, just the wall jutting out very uncomfortably so that you end up leaning on the person in the middle seat the whole flight. I’ve flown economy class all over the world, including configurations that people always rag on for being overly tight (like 10 hours seated in a 9-across 787), and I have NEVER been so cramped on a plane. And this was in a seat I paid extra money for, which was both insulting and infuriating.

Never again. I’m done with American, and I’m going to dump my Citi Prestige card while I’m at it, since the Admiral’s Club access benefit (one of the main reasons I got the card) is totally worthless to me. (Yeah yeah, I know the Prestige has tons of other benefits, but I’d rather get the Amex Platinum and hang at the SFO Centurion Lounge before comparatively living it up on a United.) Maybe I’ll come back in five years when the fleet renovation is done, but until then, I’ll fly literally any other airline and enjoy it more.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How sore on a scale of 1-10 has YOUR butt become after flying on American?

The Citi Prestige Card – Unintelligent Design

The premium credit card market seems to understand that people love shiny objects, even if the shiny object has no intrinsic value. If you’re a bank who’s charging your customer a few hundred bucks for the privilege of collecting transaction fees and (you hope) interest payments, you have to give them a cool hunk of plastic, right? I’ll admit that I love me a nicely-designed credit card. A blank piece of plastic with a magnetic strip will work just as well, and whatever benefits I get as a cardmember have nothing to do with the physical object in my wallet, but it’s the same with any functional object, be it a watch or a pair of sunglasses. It may not be as important as a nice suit, but a fancy credit card definitely sits somewhere on the “looking good – feeling good” spectrum.

Look how happy this guy is to be carrying a gold Amex card.

As the upstart in the $400+ annual fee club, Citi Prestige has to come up with a wow design in order to justify its place at the table. It doesn’t have the classic high-end cachet of the Amex Platinum design, the “I must be rich because my credit card is black” aura of the Visa Black card, and certainly not the “I am definitely rich because my credit card is black AND says American Express on it” kill shot you get with the Centurion. By and large, I think Citi succeeds. Their card looks really nice, it has a subtle hologram effect, and the translucent blue window is neat.

You know what isn’t neat, though? THE STRIPE ON THE FRONT. What benefit could there possibly be to putting the stripe on the front? I’ve had the card for months now, and I’m still trying to figure this out. The best I can figure is that Citi wants its most Prestigious cardholders to have a hitherto unknown kind of cachet: the “I’m so Prestigious that I have a credit card that a pleb like you can’t even figure out how to use!” kind. Unfortunately, that’s probably the most unpleasant cachet that anyone could ever carry… and the people waiting behind you in line while you explain to the cashier how to swipe your card certainly won’t hold you in any high regard either.

So, in conclusion: Citi’s graphic design department gets an A, but someone signed off on the design for this card without ever considering that people may want to use it for transactions out in the world. Citi, if you’re listening, please issue a card with a stripe on the back where it’s supposed to go. And make it out of metal like the Chase Sapphire while you’re at it: nothing says “I’m more important than you” than a credit card that weighs as much as a garage door opener.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: Do YOU go out of your way to appear suave and sophisticated by seeking out fancy credit cards?