Amex Business Platinum for Flights: When to Transfer vs. When to Pay With Points

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In case you haven’t heard, American Express recently updated the Amex Business Platinum card. The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN is currently offering up to 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonusIn order to cash in on this lucrative offer, you’ll need to meet the hefty $15,000 minimum spending requirement within the first three months after opening the card. If you can do so, you’ll end up with at least 115,000 points.

In his latest valuation, TPG values Amex Membership Rewards at 1.9 cents each. However, the Business Platinum Card has a new unique feature that makes Membership Rewards points even more valuable: 50% points back on qualifying airfare purchases. Note the “qualifying” part of this promotion; not all flights are eligible for this rebate.

Purchases that qualify for the 50% rebate:

  • First and business-class flights on any airline purchased through American Express Travel‘s Pay with Points option.
  • Economy flights purchased through American Express Travel’s Pay with Points option for flights on the airline you’ve selected for the $200 airline fee credit [except Spirit or Southwest].
  • Per the terms and conditions: “If you select Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, or AirTran Airways, to receive your 50% Airline Bonus you must call Business Platinum Travel Service at 1-800-553-9497.” Side note: It’s a mystery why Amex continues to include AirTran — an airline that was bought by Southwest in 2011 and took its final flight in 2014.

Purchases that don’t qualify for 50% rebate:

  • Flights purchased directly with the airline. You must use the American Express Travel portal to book your flights.
  • Economy flights purchased on an airline that you didn’t choose for the airline fee credit.
  • Per the terms and conditions: “A flight booked as part of a travel package or booked with the American Express U.S. Representative Travel Network is not eligible for the 50% Airline Bonus.”
  • Flights that cost less than $50 — as you must redeem at least 5,000 Membership Rewards points to use the Pay with Points option.

When paying with points, the original airfare purchase will show up on your statement. Amex will then add a statement credit for the portion of the flight that you paid for with points. However, the terms and conditions note that “Any portion of a charge that you elect to cover through redemption of Membership Rewards points is not eligible to receive points.” So, unfortunately you won’t be able to get 2x points on the purchase and erase the purchase by paying with points.

Deciding Between Paying with and Transferring Points

Now, let’s consider some example flights and whether it would be better to pay with points or transfer points to an Membership Rewards airline transfer partner to book award flights.

Economy Flights on Your Selected Airline

Our United 737 on a (much) better day.
Should you pay with points — or transfer them — for a domestic economy trip?

Let’s stay that you need to travel from Phoenix (PHX) to New York City for a business meeting. In this example, say that you’ve selected United as your Amex Platinum airline as you currently have elite status with United. If you’re booking far enough ahead, there are nonstop fares on this route on United for just $237 round-trip.

If you book through Amex Travel, you can use the Pay with Points option to buy this flight for 23,700 Membership Rewards points. Since this purchase is on the airline you’d selected and is booked through Amex Travel, you’ll get 11,850 of these points back as a rebate. This means your net cost is just 11,850 Membership Rewards points for this round-trip. In addition to a great deal, you’ll also earn Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs), Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS) and Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) toward re-qualifying for status.

United isn’t an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner. So, you’d need to transfer (at least) 25,000 Membership Rewards points to Delta or British Airways to redeem for award flights on this route. That means you’d be paying more than double the number of points while flying on an airline that you don’t have status on. Nope.

Verdict: (Definitely) pay with points

Last-Minute Flights with Award Availability

Delta award availability can come in handy.

Here’s a situation I found myself in recently: I needed to fly from Austin (AUS) to Tampa (TPA) at the last minute. Paid fares were nearing $900 for the dates and the time I needed.

If I had the Business Platinum Card and had selected American Airlines as my airline fee airline, I’d have to spend 90,000 Membership Rewards points to purchase AA economy flights for this trip. The 50% rebate would return 45,000 of these points a few weeks later for an eventual net cost of 45,000 MR points.

However, for the same dates and times, Delta had Saver award availability for 25,000 SkyMiles round-trip. If I didn’t have enough SkyMiles, I could’ve instantly transferred Membership Rewards to Delta and booked these award flights. For the sake of saving 20,000 Membership Rewards points, I’d give up a few thousand Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and some elite perks for the short trip.

Verdict: Transfer points

Domestic First-Class Flights

Try a status challenge if you have elite status with another airline and plan to fly Delta soon.
Get 2 cents of value per MR point and earn bonus miles on any airline by flying in first/business class. Image courtesy of Delta.

Say you’re Delta-loyal but have already selected United as your Amex airline to get Amazon gift card purchases reimbursed. You can still earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualification Miles (MQDs) through your Business Platinum Card Membership Rewards points. Even though you didn’t select Delta, American Express will still give you the 50% rebate for first/business-class flights on any airline when you utilize Pay with Points.

Need to fly from Atlanta (ATL) to Chicago (ORD) for Thanksgiving? For Wednesday-Monday travel, flights are running $157 round-trip in economy or $365 round-trip in first class. Without the 50% bonus for economy flights, you’d have to pay 15,700 Membership Rewards points for the economy flights. Or, you could book the first/business-class flights for a net cost of 18,250 points while earning extra MQMs and MQDs and flying in comfort.

Either way, you’ll get a much better value paying with points than transferring points to Delta for an award flight. Economy award flights start at 25,000 SkyMiles and first-class awards start at 50,000 SkyMiles  but award availability isn’t nearly as cheap for holiday travel. Not only would it cost many more Membership Rewards points, but you’d also miss out on earning miles from the flights if you opt to transfer points to book award flights.

Verdict: Pay with points

International Business/First Class

TPG loved his trip in Singapore First Class from Frankfurt-JFK.
Even with the 50% rebate, it’ll be best to transfer Amex MR points for most international first/business-class flights.

International business and first-class flights are inordinately expensive to pay for with cash. These flights are only really “affordable” to most of us by using points and miles. While these flights would be eligible for the Business Platinum Card‘s 50% Pay with Points rebate, you’d be capped at an effective 2 cents-per-point redemption.

If you’re interested in taking Singapore Suites from New York’s JFK to Singapore (SIN), paid fares are running at least $7,492 one-way. After the 50% points rebate, this flight would cost you 374,600 Membership Rewards points via the Pay with Points option. Alternatively, you can transfer 93,500 Membership Rewards points to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program to book the same seat with award miles. While award seats are scarce, hunting down availability is worth the hassle to save 281,000 Membership Rewards points.

Verdict: (Definitely) transfer points

Bottom Line

The Business Platinum Card‘s 50% rebate on flights purchased with points is an excellent new option for booking flights. For most flights, you’re guaranteed an effective value of 2 cents per point, while still earning elite-qualifying and award miles and getting elite perks.

Just beware of options where you won’t be able to get this rebate, such as economy flights on any airline except the one you selected for the airline fee credit. But, for most flights, it’ll only make sense to transfer points to airline partners when you’ll get more than 2 cents per point in value — after factoring in the value of elite and award miles — and there’s award availability.

How would you use 100,000 Membership Rewards points?

Know before you go.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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