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TPG reader Eric sent me a message on Facebook to ask about Amex Platinum benefits:
“I’m curious about the first/business class companion fare on Amex Platinum. I haven’t heard much about it; can you expound on whether this is worthwhile?”
There have been a lot of questions in the past few weeks about the Platinum Card from American Express, thanks in part to all the readers who were able to get in on the recent 100,000-point bonus offer. This card comes with a wide variety of benefits, and the most valuable ones (like lounge access and the Fine Hotels & Resorts program) receive plenty of attention. However, some perks remain relatively unknown, and in this case it’s for good reason.
The Amex Platinum companion fare (also knows as the International Airline Program) allows a companion to join you with the purchase of a qualifying international first or business-class fare. That sounds great at first, but there are some crucial restrictions that make this benefit somewhat impractical. The most damaging one is that you have to buy a full-fare (refundable) ticket, which typically costs two to three times as much as a discounted ticket, but can be even more.
For example, I looked at some nonstop New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA) flights in September: A discounted Lufthansa business-class ticket was going for about $2,500 round-trip, while a refundable fare was going for more than $10,000. In that case, you’d pay much less to simply buy two discounted fares than to pay for a qualifying fare and tack on a companion ticket. Furthermore, the companion discount only applies to the base fare, so you’re still on the hook for taxes, fees and airline-imposed surcharges. That could make using the benefit more expensive even when the refundable fare isn’t quite so inflated.
You also have to pay an American Express fee of $39 per ticket, which applies to each purchase or itinerary change for Platium Card members. That’s a pittance compared to the cost of the airfare itself, but it removes some of the incentive to book refundable tickets in the first place.
Beyond the fare restrictions, you’re limited to flying on certain airlines — United and American are notably absent from the list — and between select destinations. All the major North American gateways are available, but plenty of sizable cities like Albuquerque, Oklahoma City and Ottawa are excluded. If you typically fly out of a regional airport, you probably can’t use this benefit without first connecting elsewhere.
Some airlines (like Emirates and Etihad) don’t offer many discounted seats in first class, and in those cases, booking with Amex Travel can be much less expensive than booking directly with the airline. However, those fares often cost more than $20,000 to begin with, so it’s not really a bargain unless you need refundable tickets or you’re willing to spend a huge amount on airfare. Given how many options there are for booking first-class seats with points and miles, it’s difficult to get too excited about the Platinum companion benefit.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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