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Select American Express business cardholders have been targeted for a sweet pilot deal called PointsMatch, which allows you to essentially redeem Membership Rewards points for awards on American Airlines and United. If you have an Amex small-business card like the Business Platinum Card from American Express, Business Rewards Gold, etc., and receive an e-mailed invitation for this offer, I recommend jumping on it before it expires on June 30, 2015.
Accessing the PointsMatch deal is a three-step process. First you’ll have to visit either aa.com or united.com and check for award availability, but note that multi-leg itineraries, open jaws, travel packages, upgrades, codeshares, and partner flights aren’t eligible.
Gather the flight numbers/times, passenger names (up to 7 per booking), and the number of miles (plus taxes and fees) required for your flights, and at least three days before your desired outgoing travel date, call an Amex agent at the dedicated number (877.407.4567, from 8 am – 7 pm ET only) to book your tickets. Amex will then allow you to redeem Membership Rewards equal to the number of miles required for the award flight (for example, if you’re redeeming for a flight that costs 50,000 miles, then you’ll redeem 50,000 Membership Rewards points).
This effectively makes American and United temporary Membership Rewards transfer partners. Normally, in order to book an award on either of those carriers with Membership Rewards, you’d have to transfer first to one of their partners (like British Airways for American). PointsMatch greatly simplifies that process, and it gets even better—since Amex is actually purchasing your ticket (rather than redeeming for a true award), you’ll earn miles and elite credits on your flight!
After sending you email confirmation that your award flight is booked, Amex will deduct the appropriate number of points from your Membership Rewards account. Your account will then be charged for the cost of the flight, but Amex will issue a statement credit equal to that amount, minus any taxes or fees from the award flight. It’s a roundabout way of doing things, but the end result is the same.
Here’s an example of how this process works:
I searched United for award availability on several itineraries in March, and found extremely low saver level availability in premium cabins, but plenty of saver award space in Economy. I found an Economy saver award between JFK and LAX in early March for 12,500 miles + $5.60 each way, or 25,000 miles + $11.20 round-trip:
The cash price of this itinerary would be $268 +$28.20 in taxes and fees, so if you booked through PointsMatch your card would be charged $296.20, but you’d then be credited back $285, so you’d only end up paying the $11.20 in security fees that comes with the award ticket. In total, you’d redeem 25,000 Membership Rewards points and $11.20 for a round-trip JFK-LAX flight in economy that would be eligible to earn miles and elite credits.
That’s a nice deal, but PointsMatch becomes much more lucrative if you can find saver award space in business or first class, since those fares are much more expensive and earn more miles. PointsMatch might seem a costly venture for Amex. However, two key things works in Amex’s favor: the generally low availability of saver-level premium cabin award space on American and United, and the fact that this promotion is targeted to a fairly narrow group. Also, Amex capped the number of bookings to 15 per member in the promotional period, which leaves room to get plenty of value out of the program, but sets at least some limit.
Amex is likely evaluating whether to roll this program out more widely to its members, so it will be interesting to see how much value members can get out of PointsMatch while it lasts.
Know before you go.
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