Travels with American Express

by Karen Cummings on July 15, 2012


Thanks to American Express, I find it less costly to indulge in my fantasy of being an Auntie-Mame-type grandmother. The same Auntie Mame who said, “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Please understand, I am not a wealthy person and, if left completely to my own bankroll, the ending of that statement might be, “…and this poor sucker can’t afford to enjoy it.”

But my American Express card – a Platinum Delta Sky Miles American Express card to be exact – has come to the rescue with Sky Miles points/miles, companion tickets and first bag checked free, just to name the benefits I’ve used on trips with my daughter and grandson to New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C., over the past couple of years.

Yes, I do have to spend money to accumulate all of those benefits, but I buy things regularly (don’t we all?) and most often use my American Express to do so, sometimes even just getting my groceries. Over a year, the miles add up. I also fly at least six to eight times a year, mostly for business, and most often on Delta (although I also fly JetBlue because the two airlines are the ones that go nonstop to my chosen destinations) and while my tickets are paid for by my company (with my company’s American Express card), I do still get credited for the actual miles flown through my Delta frequent flyer number.

I am charged $150 per year for the privilege of getting these benefits through my American Express card. That seems like a lot until I consider that I’ve saved that much on baggage fees alone and, while I fly coach, I get to board earlier than most – Zone 2 – thanks to using an American Express card. And then there are those miles I get to “spend” for Delta tickets, hotels, merchandise and more.

But, in my best Auntie-Mame mode, I use mine to travel with the goal of opening up new vistas and expanding the mind of my now nine-year-old grandson, Phinneus. Over the last two years, his mother and I have taken him twice to New York City – the Museum of Natural History is a must, the Central Park Zoo was fun, Rockefeller Center, top of the Empire State Building, FAO Schwartz, Times Square, even Toys R Us, and, on our last trip, the Museum of Modern Art to show him you don’t have to color in the lines.

On our most recent visit, our hotel, the Manhattan Doubletree, easily a $500-plus cost for two nights, was completely covered by miles. The bill: 48,062 Delta Sky Miles and $0. The hotel was clean, comfy, and conveniently right in the middle of Manhattan with a view out our window of the Chrysler Building, which Phinneus, who seems to have developed an interest in architecture, can spot in any overview of New York City.

On our five-day trip to San Diego last summer – I had flown there on business so there was no cost to me for my flight – my daughter used her annual Delta companion ticket to fly with her son. It “cost” a whopping 94,575 miles and $0 for our hotel, the Best Western Plus Hacienda Hotel Old Town, which was located right in the middle of San Diego’s Old Town with breakfasts included. An older property, the hotel had a pool area with a hot tub and was very well kept with plenty of charm as it’s authentically decorated in Spanish-style tiles, artwork, and enough plants to make you feel you’re in a garden rather than a city.

We loved walking down through the adjacent Old Town San Diego State Historic Park to catch the train to our varied destinations and were surprised to learn that the park was California’s most visited state park, as it never seemed crowded. Its mix of stores, restaurants and museums kept us entertained and fed in between our forays out to the wonderful attractions of San Diego. Our day trips took us to the Midway aircraft carrier museum, Hotel del Coronado (where “Some Like it Hot” was filmed), the incomparable San Diego Zoo, and SeaWorld – all of which I could afford without wincing because I wasn’t paying approximately $1000 for our lodging.

For our three-day fall trip to Washington, D.C., we used 52,000+ of my daughter’s miles – she uses the American Express Delta Sky Miles card for many of her business expenses so accumulates miles, too – and I used my companion ticket to fly my grandson down with us. Once again, the cost of all of our meals and activities didn’t add up to what it would have cost us if we had had to pay for our lodging.

I have not researched other cards’ rewards or airlines’ affinity programs so can’t speak to those. However, I have friends who regularly use their own credit cards for business expenses and then get reimbursed, yet are not taking advantage of the many miles or points they could accrue by being enrolled in such a program.

This past spring we all went to Ireland and, no, we didn’t use miles to fly or stay there (as we didn’t have a lot left), but we certainly used our American Express cards to pay for things, thereby accumulating miles once again that we’ll be able to use for our next adventure. Phinneus wants to go back to New York, San Diego and Washington, but we’re thinking London or Paris. “Oh, what times we’re going to have.”

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LFBLSYLEETJFIOUZAR2T4LTBFQ Jeffrey L

    I completely agree with the value of an affiliate card as long as you do not  maintain a balance over say $200.  At that point the interest charges eat the benefits quickly.   But the Amex Sky Miles card may not always be the best choice.  One, as you noted it has a high annual fee.  Second, its really only of value if you fly a lot of Delta. 

    In general, I recommend a more open card that accumulates generic points you can move where you need.  My personal recommendations are the Chase Sapphire ($75 annual fee – 2x points on dining and some other categories) and Amex Gold Premiere Rewards ($85 annual fee 2x on some travel and 3x on some airfare).  One good thing about Amex is that if you have multiple cards (not the affiliate ones) all the points are combined.  Note that Amex is a charge card not a credit card – the balance must be paid off monthly (which actually helps with point #1)

    If you travel for business a lot the Amex platinum adds some really nice perks but the annual fee is STEEP ($450)

  • Carrie Charney

    I stopped using American Express some years ago, ever since they accused me of not paying my credit card bill. I told them I had paid it in full and that they had to wait while my bank sent me a copy of my check payment to them. It took a couple of weeks for the bank to send me what I needed and for me to forward the proof to them. In the meantime, I was harassed  obnoxiously and non-stop by Amex, by phone and by mail. 

    A few months later, I had the misfortune of misplacing their bill. It had fallen behind a dresser and I didn’t even think about it until receiving the next bill with late charges and interest. I called them and asked them if they could waive the extra charges, even though it was my error. They told me no. I asked how about they waive them as a reciprocal gesture for the mistake they had made a few months before. They asked me what mistake. They had no record of their mistake nor their treatment of me as a result. 

    In the end, they took off the charges. Since then I have only used the Amex card at Costco, where no other card is accepted. 

  • DCTA

    Just want to clear up a couple of things – really just one thing.  Your DL Skymiles Amex is not a “true” American Express card (neither is the Costco co-branded card).  These two cards are “credit cards” and are affiliated with another business and you do not receive any American Express benefits from those cars – you receive benefits from Delta and Costco.

    An actual American Express card is a “charge card” – you do not maintain a balance, but rather pay it off every month.  The travel benefits from an actual Amex card are much deeper and richer than the two cards above and depending upon which type of card (Green, Gold, Platinum, Centurion) differ in value – things like entry to most domestic airline clubs, free entry to hundreds of airline clubs across Europe an Asia, Membership Rewards Points (to be used an any airline or hotel), room upgrades and other perks with such programs as Fine Hotels and Resorts, air ticket insurance, free Global Entry, etc. etc.  The true Amex card(s) have a higher annual fee than cited above, but if you do travel relatively frequently, it will pay for itself quickly.

    There’s nothing wrong with those other two cards, but you should know what you’ve got and a much better title for this piece would have been:  “Travels with Delta Skymiles”.

  • Anonymous

    I was an early adopter of the American Express Optima charge card and I was thrilled when the SkyMiles Optima card was offered, so I called and made the switch and then discovered what a switch it was, my interest rate jumped 6%. I called and asked what that was about and was informed that it was to cover the cost of the miles being awarded.  I had them switch me back to my original card and agreement.  The lesson is simple, you pay for those miles, one way or another.

  • DCTA

     Optima is also not a “true” American Express.

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