Is the American Express International Airline Program worth your time?
At Award Expert, we are seeing an increasing trend: more and more bookings directly through the American Express or Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portals. While transferring points to airline programs still offers the best value…in theory…sometimes that truly is in theory only. Without airlines releasing saver award space, suddenly booking directly with American Express makes sense when using points.
This especially makes sense for Platinum Business and Centurion cardholders who receive a 35% or 50% rebate (respectively) on points redeemed via the AMEX travel portal. These tickets are no different than revenue tickets, earning mileage and elite status.
In addition to using your points to book travel, American Express also offers an International Airline Program, offering discounts on premium economy, business and first class seats.
The following airlines participate:
Here are three guidelines:
- Available on International First, Business, and Premium Economy Class tickets booked through American Express Travel
- Travel must originate in the USA
- Can be a one-way or round-trip ticket, with some exceptions
- Good for purchases of 1 to 8 tickets per booking on both refundable and non-refundable fares
- Use Membership Rewards Pay with Points for all or part of your fares
This is quite an improvement from the old program which offered complimentary companion tickets, but only if you purchased full fare tickets. View from the Wing notes that you no longer have to call to take advantage of this. Instead, you can chat online:
Chat Now Available
Chat with travel counselors to receive a quote for your flight and book directly through the chat. Agents are available from 6:00am EST to 2:00am EST.
My client had millions of Membership Rewards points and needed four business class tickets to South Africa from the Washington, DC area. She was not interested in making extra stops in order to save miles. In fact, she did not flinch at paying whatever was necessary in order to get there comfortably and quickly.
Traditionally, I would have put clients like this on Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian offers the most direct routing to Cape Town from Washington, with only a short stop in Addis Ababa. With Aeroplan award space, the cost is only 150K r/t or 104K r/t on ANA. But there was no award space on her travel dates and Ethiopian wanted nearly $6K per-person in business class. That’s a lot for a seat that is likely angled lie-flat.
All else considered, British Airways offered a significantly better price at $4583/ticket with lie-flat service (all 747s) to Cape Town via London and back from Johannesburg via London. The layover in London was long on the way out, but the client preferred that over the other options. South African offers nonstop service from New York to J’berg, but would have required a double connection: Washington to New York and then J’Berg to Cape Town. Same with Delta via Atlanta.
$4583 was the regular price for the ticket. What would the American Express International Airline Program offer me? I used the chat function, which worked fairly well, though I had to be transferred from an initial agent to a Platinum travel specialist. I fed her the flights I was looking for and she came back with a price: $4250. That’s about a 7% discount.
While not nearly as much of a savings as I had hoped for, that’s noting to scoff at. That represents a savings of $333/ticket. Factor in the $39/ticket AMEX booking fee and the client still saved nearly 120,000 points (almost 30K per ticket). That more than offsets the $550 annual fee…
The client has a personal Platinum card. Had she had a Business Platinum card, she would have received a further 35% points rebate.
To pay over $4K to fly on British Airways business class still makes me shudder. But getting the precise flights on the precise dates you want and paying for everything with points makes sense.
Well, almost everything…British Airways wants $140/leg to assign seats upstairs…
Have you used the American Express International Airline Program?