Should I Book Hotels Through Amex Travel or Focus on Elite Status?
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"Reader Questions" are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
Thanks to some recent changes to the American Express Platinum cards, it's now possible to earn 5x Membership Rewards points on hotel reservations when you book through Amex Travel. But TPG reader Darcy wonders if you're better off aiming for a different perk...
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Darcy"]Is it better to take the 5X bonus points through Amex or to book directly through a hotel chain if I would like to progress beyond the base elite status from my Amex Platinum?[/pullquote]
Over the past few months, Amex has added the 5x bonus category on hotels booked via Amex Travel to both The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. Based on TPG's most recent point valuations, Membership Rewards points are worth 1.9 cents each, which means you're effectively getting a 9.5-cent return on every dollar spent on hotels at Amex Travel when you pay with your Amex Platinum card.
That's pretty good, but there are a few caveats. First, you have to book prepaid hotels in order to get the 5x bonus, which are almost always non-refundable and not changeable. That locks you into specific travel plans, which is fine for folks who prefer to have firm itineraries set in advance, but not great for those who like to be flexible or who want to have the option to shop for lower hotel prices as they get closer to their departure date.
The other issue, as Darcy alludes to and as we've written about before here at The Points Guy, is that when you book at Amex Travel, you won't get elite credit for your stay. That's because Amex Travel is essentially an online travel agency (OTA) like Orbitz or Expedia, and most hotel chains don't award elite nights or elite stay credit for online third-party bookings.
So which is more valuable — 9.5 cents per dollar in travel rewards or elite credit? Well, it all depends on your travel patterns and needs. Obviously if you only stay in hotels a couple times a year, you're not likely to have enough annual stays to earn elite status at a hotel chain (and probably don't really need it anyway), so the points are more valuable. On the other extreme are the road warriors who have top-tier elite status and/or status at multiple hotel chains. For those folks, it makes sense to forgo the extra points in order to get the elite benefits and comforts they're accustomed to when they're away from home.
But what if you're somewhere in the middle? Keep in mind that as Darcy notes, the Amex Platinum cards already come with complimentary Gold elite status at both Hilton and Starwood (which can be matched to Marriott thanks to the Marriott/SPG merger). Despite the complimentary status, you still have to earn elite credit from zero if you want to get to an elite tier higher than Gold at either of those chains, so you'll need 30 stays or 60 nights at Hilton or 25 stays or 50 nights at Starwood in one year to get beyond the status you already have. That should make the calculation a lot easier — if you're not going to get close to either of those numbers, there's no reason to aim for elite status and you should take the points.
Finally, if you do think you'll be able to make it to either of those metrics but still aren't sure if it's worth it, you can check out our series on elite status valuations for Hilton and elite status valuations for SPG to determine if the amount you'll get in points from spending money on hotels is worth more than the perks you'll receive from elite status. Hope this helps, Darcy, and thanks for the question. If you're a TPG reader who'd like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.