Want an Amex Platinum without the $550 annual fee?

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What if I told you that it’s possible to get The Platinum Card® from American Express without paying the $550 annual fee? This iconic card is beloved for its extensive airport lounge access, nearly two dozen airline and hotel transfer partners, hundreds of dollars in annual credits (for example, up to $200 in airline fee credits for incidentals with a select airline), up to $200 in Uber Cash for U.S. rides and delivery ($15 per month, plus an extra $20 in December) and up to $100 at Saks Fifth Avenue ($50 for January through June and $50 for July through December; enrollment required) and much more. If you use this card right, you can get some serious swag.

You can get the annual fee waived on The Platinum Card® from American Express exclusively for Morgan Stanley* if you have an eligible Morgan Stanley investment account and one of Morgan Stanley’s Platinum CashPlus accounts (those also come with unlimited ATM fee rebates and they’re FDIC-insured). Here’s the fine print:

  • The cheapest eligible investment account is a Morgan Stanley Access Investing account. It requires a minimum investment of $5,000. The annual fee for that account is 0.3 percent of your assets under management (though that’s just $15 out of $5,000).
  • The CashPlus account is free if you receive at least $5,000 in monthly deposits (or any Social Security benefits) and maintain an average daily balance of at least $25,000. If not, the monthly account fee is $45.
  • You also need to spend at least $1,000 on your Morgan Stanley Amex Platinum each year in order to avoid taxes on the $550 annual fee rebate.

Jumping through those hoops can be well worth it

The qualification requirements aren’t chump change, but they’re not just for the super-rich, either. Many middle-class households can make this work.

Morgan Stanley Amex Platinum card members also get one authorized user at no additional charge (a $175 annual value) and their American Express Membership Rewards points are worth 1 cent apiece when they’re redeemed into an eligible Morgan Stanley account. On the traditional version of this card, points are only worth 0.6 cents apiece when exchanged for statement credits (they can be worth considerably more, up to 2 cents apiece, when redeemed for travel, especially if you transfer your points to Amex’s airline and hotel transfer partners).

Charles Schwab and Goldman Sachs also offer co-branded Amex Platinum cards. The Schwab version has historically offered an even better redemption value (1.25 cents per point) when you deposit your Membership Rewards points into an eligible brokerage account, but that may be on the chopping block. In fact, there are rumors of a major Amex Platinum refresh, so it remains to be seen what (if anything) might change and when.

Access to Goldman’s version is highly restricted and therefore not worth discussing here (unless you work at the firm or have an eight-figure account balance).

More mainstream brokerage credit cards

If this all sounds interesting but isn’t quite your cup of tea, here are a few alternatives that fit squarely on Main Street. I’m a big fan of the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card*. Cardholders earn 2 percent cash back on every purchase (without an annual fee) as long as they deposit their rewards into an eligible Fidelity account. Options include individual retirement accounts, health savings accounts, 529 college savings accounts, brokerage accounts, cash management accounts and more.

I love the idea of earning additional upside from your rewards. If you invest in stocks, bonds and other appreciable assets, you could watch your free money multiply. The SoFi Credit Card has a similar structure, and that one even makes it easy to invest in cryptocurrency if you wish.

Another idea is the Preferred Rewards program offered by Bank of America, which includes its wealth management division, Merrill. If you have $20,000 in eligible balances (for instance, bank accounts or investments), your Bank of America credit card rewards are worth 25 percent more. You get a 50 percent bonus if you maintain $50,000 in eligible balances and a 75 percent bonus if you have $100,000 or more socked away. Especially once you hit that highest tier, Bank of America’s credit cards are tough to top.

The bottom line

Loyalty pays, so consider your entire financial picture. It might make sense to consolidate your banking, credit card and investment activity with a single provider in order to earn premium perks such as enhanced rewards and lower fees.

*The information about The Platinum Card® from American Express exclusively for Morgan Stanley and the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Have a question about credit cards? Email me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.