The battle for credit card users is heating up again.
On Thursday, American Express announced that it will start offering Platinum cardholders up to $200 a year in Uber credits, expanded access to airport lounges and other perks. It is the second time since October that the company has sweetened its reward system in what credit card experts say is a clear effort to compete against the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which generated a ton of buzz last summer when it launched with a lucrative 100,000-point sign-up bonus.
“More than anything Amex wants to hold on to the customers they currently have,” says Zach Honig, editor in chief of ThePointsGuy.com, a site that tracks and compares credit card rewards.
As part of the changes, Amex Platinum members can receive $15 in Uber credits each month, with an extra $20 in December. Cardholders can also
earn up to five times the rewards points on hotel stays if they book through Amex’s website. That follows a similar change the company made in October for flights booked directly through airlines or through Amex.
JPMorgan Chase disrupted the premier credit card market last year when it introduced the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card with a new customer bonus worth up to $1,500 in rewards for cardholders, credit card experts say.
Demand was so high the bank temporarily ran out of the metal being used to make the flashy cards. The eye-popping offer yielded a lot of attention from millennials and so-called credit card churners who have a habit of opening new credit cards just to cash in on the signup bonuses. The bold move was not cheap, reducing the bank’s profit by up to $300 million in the fourth quarter, chief executive Jamie Dimon said during an investor conference in December.
Competitors mostly sat on the sidelines at first, waiting to see how sustainable the move would be, analysts say. But after Chase slashed the sign-up bonus in half to 50,000 points in January, Amex is stepping up its game and other card companies may follow, says Sean McQuay, a credit card expert for the personal finance website NerdWallet.
“The Chase Sapphire Reserve demonstrated that there is a much larger premium credit card market than anyone thought,” McQuay says. “The other premium credit card players have wanted to fight back.”
Although these kinds of cards can be attractive, experts say there’s one major factor to consider before making the leap: their hefty annual fee.
As a part of the latest change, Amex upped the annual fee for the Platinum card to $550 from $450. That makes it more expensive than the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and the Citi Prestige, which each charge $450 a year. (This is the first time it has increased the annual fee in more than a decade, an Amex spokeswoman said, noting that the higher fee comes with more generous rewards.)
Cardholders can earn some of those fees back in the form of statement credits offered for travel purchases and other perks, the company said. For example, Amex offers a $200 credit for airline fees, in addition to the new Uber credits. The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a $300 annual credit for travel purchases, such as flights and hotels.
Consumers should also make sure the card they choose offers perks that match their spending habits, credit card experts say.
For example, people who don’t use Uber regularly throughout the year may not be able to take full advantage of the new rewards from Amex, which will expire unused credits at the end of each month.
Basically, the decision should come down to whether consumers think they will be able to take advantage of credits and how savvy they will be about redeeming their points, McQuay says.