Image courtesy of flickr.com (modified)
Update: Barclay has since reduced its SCRA benefits to the minimum legal requirements.
Ding! Ding! Over in the blue corner, we have the reigning heavyweight champion of the world: The ultra coveted American Express Platinum card, featuring super premium perks in a timeless, classic, (plastic) body.
Over in the red corner, a force to (maybe) be reckoned with, a heavy hitting, all metal whirlwind, the MasterCard Luxury Card.
MasterCard Luxury Card
As a World Elite MasterCard, this card already comes with some very nice inherent benefits. It is issued by Barclay, which makes it totally free to active duty military personnel, as Barclay is very liberal with its SCRA benefits. The Luxury Card comes in three tiers: Titanium Card, Black Card and Gold Card. I will only discuss the highest of the three, the Gold Card, because it’s the one with the most benefits and, to us, just as free as the other two. Made of actual 24k gold, this card should truly leave an impression on any cashier you hand it to. More importantly, the card comes loaded with a ton of perks and an interesting mix of a cash back and point redemption option.
The card’s highlights:
- $200 annual airline credit
- $100 Global Entry fee credit
- Luxury Card Concierge
- Luxury gifts
- Subscription to Luxury magazine
- 2x point redemption for airfare (when booked through portal)
- 2x value for cash back
- Priority Pass Select membership
- No foreign transaction fee
The $200 airline credit can be applied to flight related purchases, including the ticket itself, which is a real bonus. But the combination of double point redemption and double value for cash back is the truly unique part about this card. Basically, if you, for instance, redeem 50,000 points though the Luxury Card travel portal, you can get a $1,000 airline ticket. Likewise, if you decide to redeem your points for cash back, you get them at a 2:1 ration (1 point equals $2). This certainly provides a level of flexibility, especially given the fact that you only earn 1x points with this card on purchases. Priority Pass membership is also nice, but almost expected of a $450 and over card these days (the Gold Card has an annual fee of $995 without SCRA benefits). There are over 900 Priority Pass lounges worldwide at select airports, and can truly enhance your overall travel experience and comfort. The $100 Global entry credit is also standard among premium cards. Unfortunately, neither of the three Luxury Cards currently offer a sign-up bonus.
Image courtesy of everystockphoto.com
American Express Platinum Card
A true classic among premium cards. Also totally free to us, thanks to Amex’s generous SCRA benefits. This card is a powerhouse when it comes to luxury perks. In addition to the standard and business versions, it also comes in several other variants: Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card, Ameriprise Financial Platinum Card, Charles Schwab Platinum Card, Morgan Stanley Platinum Card and the Goldman Sachs Platinum Card.
Some are invitation only and require a relationship with the affiliate company, others don’t. Some have a $450 annual fee, others a $475 annual fee (all waived by the SCRA). But all carry their own set of unique benefits, so if you have a relationship with any of these organizations, or even if you don’t, you should research every one of these card version to find the one that best suits you. I personally carry the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card, mainly because I find the annual $100 MB voucher very useful, even if I’m not a MB customer, and because it had a 75,000 points sign-up bonus when I applied. Amex currently does not seem to accept new applications for the Mercedes Benz Platinum card, at least not online.
Regardless of which personal version of the American Express Platinum Card you choose, you will enjoy all of these benefits:
- $200 airline fee credit
- $100 Global Entry fee credit
- 1000+ global lounge collection
- Fine Hotels & Resorts
- Boingo complimentary Wifi
- Concierge Service
- Complementary premium car rental memberships
- Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status
- 5x points on airfare
- Membership Rewards
- No foreign transaction fee
- Primary rental car coverage
These are only the highlights of what this card has to offer and it is already obvious that it offers no shortage of benefits. The $200 airline credit, different than with the Luxury Card, cannot be applied to an actual airline ticket, only to actual fees related to air travel (re-booking, cancellation, baggage, etc). I have used the credit towards in-flight purchases (excluding in-flight Wifi, that’s not covered), as well as seat assignment fees. The global lounge collection consists of Priority Pass, Airspace, Centurion, international American Express and Delta Sky Club lounges (with Delta boarding Pass). As an American Express Platinum cardmember, you will rarely find yourself at an airport without complimentary lounge access, especially when combined with our USO lounge access. The 5x points on airfare feature is a relatively new one, and a likely response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, released earlier this year. The feature is limited to airfare purchased directly with the airline, or through the American Express Travel Portal. All other purchases with this card are 1x points. Last, but not least, we have the hotel and rental car premium status upgrades you receive with this card. The rental car status upgrade applies to Hertz, Avis and National. I personally use the National Emerald Club Executive upgrade frequently and it enables me to skip the counter, walk straight to the Emerald Aisle, and pick any car that’s available, regardless of class. All I have to do is book a mid-sized car to take advantage of this. The Hilton and SPG Gold status upgrades offer several perks, including late checkout, gift upon arrival, upgraded room, and a higher points earning potential. As SPG was recently acquired by Marriott, you are now also eligible for Gold Elite status with Marriott Rewards, once you’ve linked your SPG account to your Marriott account. This process is very simple and can be initiated from either account. The standard American Express Platinum card currently offers a 40,000 Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus.
It is difficult to determine a clear winner between these to juggernauts. It all boils down to personal preference, starting with appearance and feel. While the American Express Platinum card definitely has that classic look going for it, it is the only credit card in that echelon still made of plastic, whereas the Luxury Card Gold Card is made of, well, gold. Likewise, not only does the Luxury Card offer more flexibility by offering you a pretty generous cash back option in addition to points redemption, it is also a MasterCard, and accepted at more places, especially internationally. But it’s impossible to deny the list of benefits the Amex Platinum Card brings to the table, not to mention the Membership Rewards points you earn and the transfer partners that come with it. It is also noteworthy that Membership Rewards are valued at 1.9 cents per point, which makes the double point and cash back redemption option of the Luxury Card, when compared, seem a little less valuable.
One thing you should keep in mind when choosing a card is that our SCRA benefits will not last forever. We will all separate from the military at some point, and that benefit will expire with it. So it is important to find cards that offer long term value to us, even with an eventual annual fee. Basically, does the use of the card’s benefits and features offset any future annual fees for you? That should be the deciding factor. Because canceling a credit card does take a toll on our credit score, a much more significant and longer lasting one than opening a credit card account.
Which card do you favor? Do you have one of these cards and want to share your experience with it? Please comment below or message us on social media or e-mail.