Newspaper article International New York Times

Hardball in the Airline Perks Game

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hardball in the Airline Perks Game

Article excerpt

The card benefits are a high-stakes game for keeping customers.

Keeping track of travel credit card perks is a chore similar to managing the N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament office pool, except you can't depend on that guy in the office who understands all those complex brackets. You have to do it yourself.

So I was both frustrated and annoyed last week when American Express said that effective in March, my American Express Platinum Card, which has a fee of $450 a year, will no longer get me free access to the airport lounges of American Airlines and US Airways, which have now merged into one giant airline.

"We are disappointed to report that American Airlines and US Airways elected not to renew this benefit," American Express announced in a tone of regret that you normally don't see in a news release.

Call me disappointed, too. The American Express Platinum Card (as well as its $2,500 a year, invitation-only Centurion card) has an array of benefits -- but so do other, cheaper fee-based credit cards issued by airlines themselves in partnerships with banks. And herein lies a tale of hardball financial competition.

"This is about shifting the share of wallets," said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at the consulting firm Hudson Crossing. "It's truly high finance."

How hardball is it? On the same day American Express said that American Airlines had "elected not to renew this benefit," Citigroup announced that effective in March, the grandly named Citi Executive/ AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard that it issues in a partnership with American Airlines would become the only card in the United States offering "full membership benefits" at American Admirals Club lounges. The annual fee for that card is $450.

As American Express knows very well, I as a customer am warily calculating whether it still makes sense to pay $450 a year for the Platinum card -- not to mention $95 a year for a Chase-issued United MileagePlus Explorer card that I also use. Each card has specific perks, including free checked bags, mileage bonuses, priority boarding access and the like. Depending on one's travel and spending habits, each card can provide value that exceeds the annual costs. …

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