Wheels Up/Amex: Should you buy Wheels Up through American Express?

By Doug Gollan, July 2, 2021

Are the American Express-Wheels Up benefits worth getting a Platinum card for $695?

American Express is adding Wheels Up as its Premium Private Jet Program partner, replacing Delta Private Jets. Wheels Up purchased Delta Private Jets in January 2020, and the existing American Express – DPJ partnership was set to expire on Aug. 31. Delta Private Jets had been the exclusive partner of the AX Premium Private Jet Program since 2016. But should you get the Amex Platinum card just to buy Wheels UP?

Qualifying American Express Cards

The American Express Premium Private Jet Program is available to holders of U.S. Consumer and Business Basic Platinum Cards and additional Platinum Cards, and U.S. Consumer, Business, and Corporate Centurion Cards and Additional Centurion Cards only. Eligibility for the program requires proof of a U.S. American Express Platinum or Centurion Card issued in the card member’s name.

The new private jet perks for Platinum members come as American Express raises the annual fee to $695 from $550. In 2017, American Express boosted the annual fee from $450. There are plenty of new and existing perks with the card. However, we’ll base our analysis on whether or not the new Wheels Up offer is of value to you.

There are several questions you might have, based on your situation:

  • For non-cardholders who are considering Wheels Up, is the Wheels Up Core offer strong enough that you should shell out the $695 to get the Platinum card?
  • If you are already a Wheels Up Core member but don’t have an eligible AX card, should you spend $695 to get one?
  • What does this mean if you are already a Core Wheels Up member and hold an eligible Platinum card?

The previous Delta Private Jets/American Express offer

First of all, let’s look back for all of you legacy Delta Private Jets members. Amex’s private jet program users only needed to deposit $50,000 instead of $150,000 to join DPJ’s jet card program. They also received a 3% flight credit bonus based on the deposit amount. Joiners additionally were granted SkyMiles Diamond status based on depositing at least $100,000. Typically you would need to spend $150,000 or more to get Diamond status.

Below is the former DPJ jet card offer for American Express Platinum card members:

  • Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion status for all jet card purchases of $100,000 valid as long as your card remained active and carried a balance.
  • Reduced entry purchase of $50,000 versus the standard $150,000
  • 3% bonus added to each jet card

American Express – Wheels Up Core Membership offer

The Wheels Up offer is necessarily different. The DPJ jet card program is gone. Wheels Up’s comparable option is its Core membership. Unlike DPJ, there is a joining fee ($17,500, including the first-year membership fee) and an annual membership fee renewal ($8,500).

While you can deposit funds like a traditional jet card, you can also pay for flights as you go. In the latter case, you only pay the joining and renewal fees. In both cases, you get capped hourly pricing across five cabin categories. Wheels Up offers a turboprop program, unlike DPJ.

Qualifying Platinum American Express cardmembers receive a 40% savings and pay $10,500 for their first year instead of $17,500. Renewal for Wheels Up Core Membership is standard $8,500.

American Express Platinum vs. Wheels Up Buy-in Analysis

First of all, American Express Platinum Card Members who purchase a membership are not required to make purchases with a qualifying card to receive the associated initiation discount or fund program flight credit, according to the information Amex sent us.

Initiation flight credits will be available only in the first year of membership, and fund program flight credits will be available annually in subsequent years of membership. Flight credits are not refundable or exchangeable for cash or statement credits.

  • The initiation fee and first year’s dues reduced to $10,500 from $17,500
  • There’s a $2,000 flight credit towards your first flight that must be used within 12 months of joining
  • You get a $1,000 (2%) flight credit if you deposit $50,000
  • You get a $2,000 (2%) flight credit if you deposit $100,000
  • If you deposit at least $200,000, you get a $4,500 (2.25%) flight credit

Wheels Up has been offering a discount on joining if you deposit at least $100,000. In that case, your joining cost reduces from $17,500 to $9,500.

Wheels Up Net Joining Cost options

Pay-as-you-goAX Pay-as-you-goAX $50k fund$100k fund +AX $100k fundAX $200k fund
Annual Platinum Card fee$695$695$695$695
First year$17,500$10,500$10,500$9,995$10,500$10,500
First flight credit($2,000)($2,000)($2,000)($2,000)
Annual renewal flight credit($1,000)($2,000)($4,500)
Net Joining Cost$17,500$9,195$8,195$9,995$7,195$4,695
Source: Private Jet Card Comparisons analysis

From what we can see, based on the Amex discounts and credits for Wheels Up’s Connect membership, it makes sense to get an Amex card if you are going to join.

  • If you were going to join on a pay-as-you-go basis, you net joining cost is reduced from $17,500 to $9,195 ($10,500 + $659 – $2,000)
  • If you were going to deposit $50,000, your net joining cost goes from $17,500 to $8,195 ($10,500 + $695 – $2,000 – $1,000)
  • At the $100,000 level, net joining cost falls from $9,500 to $7,195 ($10,500 + $695 – $2,000 – $2,000) with the Amex offer
  • For the $200,000 level, the net joining cost goes from $9,500 to $4,596 ($10,500 + $695 – $2,000 – $4,500) with the Amex offer

For new Wheels Up Core members, applicable initiation fee discounts and initiation flight credits will be automatically applied when a cardholder purchases such a membership. After renewing a membership, if you purchased a fund program, applicable fund program flight credits will be added to your account immediately.

What about current Core members with a qualifying card?

If an American Express cardholder with a qualifying card has an existing Wheels Up Membership before July 1, 2021, the cardholder is not eligible for any initiation-related portions of the program. That means discounted initiation fees or initial flight credits. However, you will be eligible for other available benefits of the American Express Premium Private Jet Program. That means when you renew or deposit more funds, you get the fund credits based on deposits.

What about current Core members without a qualifying card?

If you are a Core member and then get a qualifying AX card, you would be eligible to get the Fund credits based on how much you deposit, the next time you make a deposit or renew.

What if you are a Connect member and want to upgrade?

If the eligible Amex cardmember would like to upgrade or downgrade their membership level and apply the program benefits to their new membership level, they will be prompted to call Wheels Up customer service to do so. The amount due in initiation fees at the upgraded or downgraded membership level will be subject to Wheels Up’s membership agreement and terms and conditions.

Combining perks

The TOCs we reviewed say available discounts and credits may not be combined with other offers of the same type. It reads, “For example, initiation discounts cannot be combined with other initiation discounts and are non-transferable.”

Does that mean you can’t negotiate additional flight credits or waivers of other types? That’s hard to tell. As you may have experienced first-hand, there is generally some level of negotiations when buying a jet card. Does the fact that the industry is seeing record demand impact that? It’s hard to say.

More fine print

Initiation flight credits must be used within 12 months of enrollment and will be automatically applied to the first flight purchased. Applicable fund program flight credits will be automatically added to the cardholder’s Wheels Up account and must be used within 12 months of the date the credit is added to your Wheels Up account.

If an eligible American Express cardholder’s qualifying card is canceled after purchasing a Wheels Up membership, the Wheels Up Membership will not be canceled and will continue for the remainder of the membership term. Wheels Up will allow you to use any remaining unexpired initiation flight credits or fund program flight credits for the remainder of their current membership term.

If a cardholder changes qualifying card types, Wheels Up will change its fulfillment of the program to reflect benefits available to the new qualifying Card type within one month after the change. The American Express cardholder will remain enrolled in the Wheels Up program on the new Amex qualifying card.

Wheels Up declined to comment on our analysis, and in fact, as holders of the Platinum card, we only saw the details sent to us by American Express. If you have a Centurion card, tell us about your offer!

You can use our JET CARD DECIDER form if you would like a custom analysis to find out if Wheels Up is a good fit for your flying needs. If it is, it makes sense to shell out the $695 for Amex Platinum in conjunction with a Core membership.

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