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FoundersCard vs Amex Platinum in the UK

Amex Platinum is fairly well known. It’s a charge card with a high fee that gives you a bunch of mostly travel-related perks. In my view, the card and the perks are separate products. You buy in to an Amex charge card at the Green fee (£60 p.a.) and optionally choose to pay a bit extra for added perks. I previously wrote about how I think the UK Amex Platinum card doesn’t offer good value for money in my opinion.

The market for premium credit cards is getting more crowded all the time. I recently noticed something that stood out, though.

FoundersCard

FoundersCard is a bit like the Platinum Amex offer but without the charge card element. In other words, it’s just a collection of perks for an annual fee. The annual fee, if you are referred by an existing member, is $395 USD.

It’s mainly aimed at the US market, where is sits nicely alongside the US Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire and others, with a similar annual fee and similar perks. However, because it’s not a credit product, the exact same product is offered internationally. For folks like me in the UK, who are used to companies changing $ signs to £ signs, it means a more competitive offer. However, this must be balanced with the fact that most of the perks are rather US-centric.

The perks change regularly so if you’re curious, I’d advise registering for the preview, to see the current set, for free. However, here are the headline offers right now:

Category Company Offer UK Amex Plat. Equiv. Comment
Hotel Hilton Gold Tier Status Gold Tier Status Free breakfast!
Hotel Mariott/Starwood Gold Tier Status
(3 months only)
Gold Tier Status
(Ongoing)
Benefits are fairly limited
Hotel Caesars Diamond Tier Status N/A Huge range of benefits.
Must-have if you travel
to Vegas.
Car Hire Avis N/A (US only) Chance of Upgrade
Car Hire Hertz N/A (US only) Five Star Status
Car Hire Sixt Platinum Tier Status N/A
Car Hire GroundLink $30 off first trip then
15% off
N/A Good if you want to rent
a limo in the US
Car Hire Zipcar Free Signup N/A
Flight Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Tier Status N/A Cathay Pacific are a good
choice if you travel with a
company that insists on an
Economy ticket but you
want to upgrade.
Networking FoundersCard Regular networking
events in London
N/A
Software Harvest, Hive, HelpScout,
Namecheap & many others
Percentage discounts.
Better than generally
available coupons.
N/A Most are only for new accounts.

It’s a real shame that some of the best offers are restricted to the US (including Avis, Hertz, BMW, Audi, Dell, Apple & others). However, overall, I think this is a better alternative to Amex Platinum in the UK.

Amex Platinum – a year on

I’ve been with American Express just over 3 years – first for a green charge card, then for a gold charge card, then for a platinum charge card. The two upgrades were driven by the value I was getting from the cards and the trust that I have in their service.

I’ve had the platinum charge card for just over a year now and, regrettably, the last year is the year I’ve got the least value from American Express, even before counting the enormous £450 yearly fee.

The key reasons I was so keen on American Express are:

  • Industry-leading website and mobile app
  • Industry-leading customer service
  • High limits on charge cards (£40,000 vs £6,800 a credit card I have elsewhere)
  • Good cashback/rewards options (1% if used cleverly on my £3500/month average spend)
  • Great additional cashback offers on places I regularly spend money (Post Office, Allsaints, Starbucks…)

However, since upgrading to platinum:

  • The customer service is on a downward trend – they’ve introduced a new “tell me why you’re calling today” robot and hold times are much longer
  • Since the only good redemption options are airline miles, Hilton points and Eurostar points/tickets, and I tended to redeem them for Virgin Atlantic miles, Virgin’s new Mastercard product, with a much better acceptance rate and a much better earnings rate has made Amex redundant
  • The additional cashback offers have been terrible – tiny % discounts are hugely overpriced, unheard of retailers. Visa and Mastercard have also started to negotiate offers with retailers, many of which are more along the lines of what Amex had the year before last

I’ve also learned that:

  • The only platinum hotel/car status that’s worth anything at all to me is Hilton gold status, because it’s the only one with a guaranteed benefit that is worth anything to me (free breakfast)
  • The concierge has been terrible in my opinion, sometimes requiring long hold times and failing to get tickets to the sold out concerts I wanted to attend (the most touted benefit of the service)
  • The Boingo WiFi service is great – but has recently been negotiated by other card providers including the above Virgin card,
  • Many of the lounges offered under the Priority Pass scheme have started to sell one time passes, at low prices (~£15), to anyone who wants one and the lounges are typically far inferior to airline-run business class lounges (some exceptions – the lounges at DXB are really nice for example)
  • The 3% fee to use a UK-issued Amex card abroad is no longer the industry standard, with many cards now offering 0% fee or negating the FX fee with cashback

I still feel that my trust in the American Express brand is well placed, and I think that the Preferred Rewards Gold Card is a fantastic choice for a lot of people. However, I just can’t see how platinum makes sense at the moment.

Time tracking apps – what’s missing

Procrastination is a funny thing. I can spend days trying to solve a problem that might save me a few minutes here and there, or trying to get my working environment just right.

I’ve poured a lot of time into trying to find a suitable time tracking app. I mean a lot of time – and I still haven’t found one. In my view, there is a huge missed opportunity for something that sits between the apps designed more for freelancers – such as Harvest, and the apps designed for enterprise – such as Accelo.

Apps for Freelancers

There are loads of apps like Harvest. They let you store some data about your clients, projects and invoices. They let you track your time. They are hopeless at reporting and bookkeeping – and seem to assume that you don’t file accounts or pay taxes, and don’t track KPIs to grow your business. They’re also designed to integrate with payment gateways like Paypal and Stripe, that are an expensive choice for all but the smallest companies.

If you don’t fit neatly inside their tiny box, and you’re like me, you wonder why you’re paying $12 per user per month. If you do, you probably think the app is the best thing since sliced bread because it’s easy to use.

There are a few good self hosted options in the same category. The best I found were Pancake and Duet. Duet actually looks pretty good to me – and a few additions to Duet would make it suitable for us.

Apps for Enterprise

On the other end of the spectrum, there are enterprisey PSA apps such as Accelo and Bitrix24. We used Accelo for a bit. It’s actually the only app I’ve found that really understands retainers. However, it’s slow to navigate and though it tries to do everything, some features (e.g. CRM and proposals) are way behind its standalone competitors.

Bitrix24 is very cost effective and offers a self hosted option – but after Accelo, I decided PSA software would take up far more time than it would save for a company our size.

The Hollow Middle

The middle ground is something that makes simple tasks as quick as possible – but offers robust reporting and a degree of customisation. I was very excited (too excited) to find out that Xero Projects has just been released – until I found out that there isn’t any support for retainers – nor is there an API to extract data. WorkflowMax has also just had a lick of paint – but it doesn’t have a timer option and doesn’t support retainers as far as I can see.

Toggl looks good but the pricing is very aspirational. Perhaps they’ve just received VC funding and reality will settle in in due course.

Clockify is a Toggl clone from a former Toggl customer who seems to agree with me. It’s completely free! However, it doesn’t support rounding time entries nor does it have an API. Both of these features are on their roadmap and when they are implemented, I think it will be perfect.

The final app I found in the hollow-ish middle is Timestamp. It’s missing retainers and although there is an API, there isn’t any documentation for it whatsoever. That said, overall, currently, it looks like the best option for us.

Next Steps

The best options I’ve found are Timestamp and Clockify. They’d both need us to layer retainers functionality on top using their API as we do now with Harvest. With Timestamp, we’d have to figure out how their API works, which could be quite time consuming. With Clockify, we’ll have to wait for the API and rounding.

I’ve toyed with the idea of creating something in-house. I don’t think it would be a huge endeavour. I do think it would be a distraction from growing our core business, though, especially if we wanted to sell it to recoup our investment.