I really enjoy flying business class and first class international flights. Unless you really get unlucky, nearly all of the major international flights in business or first class offer amazing food, service, plenty of storage for the best carry on luggage and an all-around enjoyable experience. However, domestic flights for business travel is an entirely different story. Cramped flights, stressed out passengers, and delays are the main things that come to mind when flying domestically.
Unless your able to acquire the very top level elite status on the domestic airlines, your chances of getting upgraded to first class with one of the first two status tiers is limited, particularly if you’re traveling on a heavy business traveler route. One of my strategies to minimize the stresses of regular domestic business travel is to use a premium travel credit card.
The best option available for the last two years has been the Citi Prestige credit card. However, because of the recent benefits downgrade, I recently opened the Amex Platinum credit card while I decide which of the two options I’m going to keep. Using one of the higher end travel credit cards requires a good credit score. See how to improve your credit score for more information about maximizing your credit score.
What Used to Make the Citi Prestige Credit Card Great
When I originally opened the Citi Prestige card, it included the following benefits:
- Stay at any hotel for 4 nights in a row and receive the 4th night free as a reimbursed fee on your credit card statement.
- Access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs when flying American Airlines.
- Access to Priority Pass Select Lounges.
- $250 air travel credit that works on any airline and includes airline ticket costs.
- 75,000 Citi Thank You points when I opened the card.
- Earn 3x Citi Thank You points when using the card for travel expenses.
- In return for those benefits you had to pay a $450 annual fee.
The reason this card was so good was because you could use the 4th night free credit on an unlimited basis throughout the year. Additionally there was no restriction on which hotel you stayed at for the 4 nights. The $250 airline credit also had no restriction on which airline you flew.
So if you did the math, you could subtract the $450 annual fee by the $250 air travel credit, leaving you with a $200 annual fee. If you planned to take two vacations during the year with at least a 4 night stay, you would not only fully cover the annual fee, but you might potentially come out slightly ahead. If you were a business traveler, that regularly stayed at hotels and your employer reimbursed you for the hotel costs, you could really come ahead.
Maximizing the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free Benefit
During the last year, I stayed at the Breathless Resort in Cabo San Lucas. The 4th night of the trip happened to be Christmas Eve (2016) and the nightly room cost nearly tripled to $607. That one single reimbursement covered the $200 annual fee by an extra $407! That wasn’t the only time I used the 4th night credit this year either.
I decided to total the full benefit I received from the card over the last two years. During 2016, I used to 4th night benefit twice and received total credits of $651.50. In 2017, I used the benefit 4 times and received $1,385.88 of reimbursed hotel costs. However, three of those rebates related to hotels that I stayed at in late 2016 (the credit is reimbursed between 1 and 2 billing cycles).
Since I fly out of Philadelphia and American Airlines has a hub in Philadelphia, I also flew American Airlines regularly and used the Admirals Lounges in both Philadelphia and my other destination. I also used the Priority Pass lounges, but not as frequently as I used the Admirals Club lounges. So, if my annual fee was already completely covered by my 4th night hotel rebates, I was basically using the Admirals Club lounges for free.
Clearly, the Prestige credit card offered really valuable benefits, particularly if you lived nearby an airport with an American Airlines hub, like Philadelphia.
So What Changed with the Prestige?
In July 2017, Citi announced new enhancements for the Prestige. Whenever, a credit card, airline, or hotel program announces new enhancements, that’s corporate speak for saying we are cutting back your benefits. Citi’s new “enhancements” included the following changes:
- The 4th night hotel credit was changed to exclude taxes and now rebates based on the average of the 4 nights. So, my $607 hotel rebate from Cabo would have been reduced to around $339 (based on the average of the 4 nights).
- No more access to Admirals Club lounges.
- A few other small changes that really didn’t represent benefits that I actually used.
The 4th night hotel benefit can still be used at any hotel and the $250 air credit can still be used with any airline. So if your still plan to take atleast one vacation a year for at least 4 nights in a row, you can still come out ahead with the card.
However, what really makes this a tricky decision for me is the loss of the Admirals Club access. I regularly used Admirals Club lounges since I mainly fly American. I wouldn’t necessarily pay out of pocket for the lounge access, but if it was included with the Citi Prestige, it made a really compelling deal.
The Prestige still offers some lounge access through the Priority Pass network, but the network isn’t as large as the Admirals Club. Also, Priority Pass doesn’t have any lounges in the Philadelphia Airport (I don’t count the tiny Minutes Lounge as a regular lounge).
Evaluating Other Premium Credit Card Options
So this made me consider trying out a new premium card to see how it compared. If it still doesn’t measure up to the Prestige, I could always cancel the card when the annual fee comes due and not have to pay the fee. The reality is that consumers have more influence over credit card companies than they might think.
The Philadelphia Airport is currently in the process of building an American Express Centurion Lounge. They haven’t announced an opening date yet, but it is generally anticipated to open before year end.
American Express Platinum Benefits
I’ve been curious to visit one of the Centurion Lounges, so it made sense to test out the American Express Platinum. The Platinum includes the following benefits:
- Free access to the American Express Centurion Lounge.
- Free access to Delta Sky Club Lounges when flying Delta.
- Airspace Lounge and Priority Pass Select Access.
- $200 annual Uber credit.
- 5x Membership Rewards points on flight costs.
- $200 airline fee credit that only covers incidental costs (does not include airline ticket costs). However, I received the credit when I used the card to purchase an American Airlines gift certificate which I then used to purchase an airline ticket.
- When I applied a received a signup bonus of 100,000 membership rewards.
- These benefits require a $550 annual fee.
- There are a handful of other benefits that are comparable to what the Prestige offers, but they aren’t something that I would make use of so I’m not including them.
The recently launched Uber benefit represents an interesting offer that makes the Platinum far more competitive with the Prestige. On the surface, there is a $550 annual fee less a $200 airline credit which leaves you at $350. If you regularly use Uber or Uber Eats, then the $200 credit would leave you at a $150 annual fee for using the lounge access.
Making My Credit Card Decision
So in some ways, the question becomes, would you pay $150 per year to use the Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club, and the Priority Pass / Air Space Lounges? If you happened to live near an airport with a Delta Airline hub, this could be a good deal if you regularly fly. However, if you don’t live near a Delta Airline hub, would you fly Delta Airlines and deal with unnecessary layovers just to have access to their lounges?
I’m testing that tradeoff this year. I’ve flown Delta recently from Philadelphia and had to deal with a layover in each direction. After one flight, I can tell you my answer, forget it! Taking unnecessary flights in economy just for lounge access is crazy.
When I stack up the benefits side by side, the Citi Prestige still comes out ahead with the 4th night free benefit. I really don’t like the lack of Admirals Club access, but the more limited Priority Pass Lounge network will have to suffice. There’s just no way I’m going to add extra layovers just to have access to better lounges.
For the time being, I’m going to use the Centurion Lounge whenever it opens in Philly. But when the annual fee comes due on the Platinum, I’ll be staying with the Citi Prestige. But I’ll also be keeping my eyes open for a better deal if one happens to come along.