Amex Business Platinum for flights: When to transfer vs. when to pay with points
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It can sometimes be a challenge to determine how to use your hard-earned points to pay for a flight. Should you transfer points to an airline? Alternatively, should you use a travel portal — like Amex Travel — and book that way?
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express comes with a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) and is one of three Amex cards to offer a Pay with Points rebate when you book flights through Amex Travel and pay with your Membership Rewards points.
Currently, the card has a welcome offer of 120,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
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At 35%, the Business Platinum offers the highest airline rebate of any of Amex’s publicly available cards (beaten only by the invite-only Amex Business Centurion card, which offers a 50% rebate). This is capped at 1 million bonus points per calendar year for the Business Platinum, which is up from its previous 500,000-point cap.
The information for the Amex Business Centurion card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
This can be a great option to add to your booking arsenal, especially when you need “last-seat availability” (i.e., you need to be on a specific flight even if it doesn’t have award space). Still, it might not always represent the best value, and not all flights will be eligible for it.
Let’s take a look at a few cases when you should transfer your Membership Rewards points to partner airlines to book award tickets and when you should pay with points instead.
The Business Platinum 35% rebate
While other cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer a 50% pay-with-points bonus on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, it’s important to note that Amex structures this benefit as a rebate, not a bonus.
This means that you’ll need to have the full amount of points in your account at the time of booking, and the rebate will post within six to 10 weeks. For instance, I redeemed 121,850 Amex points to cover the cost of a $1,218.50 Cathay Pacific business-class ticket from Male, Maldives (MLE), to Shanghai (PVG).
I initially redeemed the points at a rate of 1 cent each, but once I received my 35% rebate of 42,647 points, my effective redemption value jumped from 1 cent per point to 1.54, beating out the Chase Sapphire Reserve and its 1.5-cent rate for direct redemptions like this.
The math is a little confusing, but if you divide 1 by 0.65 (the percent I pay after the rebate), you get 1.54.
What flights are eligible?
As I mentioned above, not every flight will be eligible for this rebate. And for the Business Platinum, it’s capped at 1 million points per calendar year.
Business Platinum cardholders can receive the 35% rebate on flights booked with:
- A selected airline (the same airline you select for the up-to-$200 annual airline fee statement credit; enrollment is required).
- Frontier, Spirit or Southwest if it’s your selected airline, but you’ll need to call Amex at 800-553-9497 to book in order to receive your rebate.
- Any airline for first- and business-class flights.
How it works in practice
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: “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 earn points with the purchase and erase the purchase by paying with points.
On the other hand, purchases made directly with the airline, through other online travel agencies or as part of travel packages booked with Amex will not qualify for the rebate.
If you book economy flights with airlines other than your selected carrier, you won’t receive a rebate, and flights under $50 are not eligible, since you must redeem at least 5,000 Membership Rewards points to use the Pay with Points option in the first place.
One last important point to make before we start diving into the examples: Just like with the Chase Sapphire cards, when you pay with points, Amex takes your Membership Rewards points and buys a cash ticket for you. This means that flights booked this way will earn both redeemable and elite qualifying miles, bringing your net return to above 1.54 cents.
When to transfer vs. when to pay with points
Now, let’s consider some example flights and whether it would be better to pay with points or transfer points to a Membership Rewards airline transfer partner to book award flights. Note that in all these cases, I’m assuming that the flight you want actually has award space because if it doesn’t, you have a much stronger incentive to pay with points instead.
Economy flights on your selected airline
If you’re booking far enough ahead, there are nonstop fares on this route on United for just $247 round-trip in regular economy (i.e., not basic economy).
If you book through Amex Travel, you can use the Pay with Points option to buy this flight for 24,700 Membership Rewards points. Since this purchase is on the airline you’d selected and is booked through Amex Travel, you’ll get 8,645 of these points back as a rebate. This means your net cost is just 16,055 Membership Rewards points for this round-trip. In addition to a great deal, you’ll also earn Premier qualifying points and Premier qualifying flights toward requalifying for elite status, plus standard United MileagePlus accrual rates (5-11 miles per dollar depending on your status). A Premier 1K member would earn 2,101 MileagePlus miles.
United isn’t an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner. However, Membership Rewards points do transfer to several different Star Alliance loyalty programs if you wanted to book this specific flight. Whether you chose to transfer to Avianca LifeMiles or Singapore KrisFlyer, for instance, you’d need to cough up 25,000 Membership Rewards points for this same round-trip ticket, and you wouldn’t earn any redeemable or Premier qualifying miles on the flight. That’s a 50% price increase for a lower return.
Verdict: (Definitely) pay with points.
Of course, the caveat here is that cash prices vary wildly. If you end up traveling on a more expensive day or at the last minute (when tickets on this route cost closer to $500), the scale tips in favor of transferring to an airline partner. In that case, your out-of-pocket cost after the rebate would be 32,500 Membership Rewards points, and you’d come out ahead booking an award ticket for 25,000 miles instead.
Last-minute flights with award availability
A TPG staffer put this scenario to the test when he found himself in a last-minute bind, needing to fly from Austin, Texas (AUS), to Tampa (TPA) at the last minute. Paid fares were nearing $900 for the dates and the time he needed.
He could have used the 35% rebate with his selected airline, American Airlines, and paid 90,000 points for the round-trip economy ticket. After the 35% rebate, he still would have ended up shelling out 58,500 Membership Rewards points for a two-hour flight, which can be enough points to get to Europe and back!
However, for the same dates and times, Delta had award tickets available for 25,000 SkyMiles round-trip. If this staffer didn’t have enough SkyMiles, he could have instantly transferred Membership Rewards to Delta and booked these award flights. For the sake of saving 33,500 Membership Rewards points, giving up the extra elite qualifying miles and elite perks on such a short trip is a no-brainer.
Verdict: Transfer points.
Domestic first-class flights
Say you’re loyal to Delta but have selected United as your Amex airline due to a one-off vacation or some work travel. You can still leverage the Membership Rewards points on your Business Platinum Card to earn Medallion® Qualification Miles and Medallion® Qualification Dollars. Even though you didn’t select Delta, American Express will still give you the 35% rebate for first- and business-class flights on any airline when you utilize Pay with Points.
For example: Need to fly from Atlanta (ATL) to Chicago (ORD) for the holidays? Let’s say flights are around $500 for round-trip, first-class tickets. While you couldn’t use your Pay with Points rebate on tickets that are around $300 for round-trip economy flights, you could use it on these first-class tickets to drop your out-of-pocket cost to only 32,500 Membership Rewards points.
Compare this to booking the flights directly with Delta, which requires at least 22,500 SkyMiles each way, or 45,000 SkyMiles round-trip, depending on your travel dates. This means you’re looking at roughly a 30% discount if you pay with your Membership Rewards points instead of transferring to Delta, and you’ll also earn Medallion Qualification Miles and Medallion Qualification Dollars.
Verdict: Pay with points.
International business- and first-class flights
International business- and first-class flights are inordinately expensive to pay for with cash.
ANA first-class flights from JFK to both Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo Haneda (HND) price out at about $15,000 each way or $24,000 for the round-trip. You could absolutely use your Pay with Points rebate here, but your out-of-pocket cost for this round-trip ticket would be a whopping 1,560,000 Membership Rewards points. Even if you’re swimming in points, that’s a crazy redemption to make, especially when you could transfer only 120,000 Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic to book a round-trip ANA first-class award. Or, to put it another way, paying with points is 13 times more expensive than transferring to the right partner!
Verdict: (Definitely) transfer points.
Although its annual fee is one of the highest at $695, the Amex Business Platinum Card’s 35% rebate on eligible flights purchased with points is an excellent option for booking flights and a great way to diversify your travel booking strategy to help you get the lowest cost and the highest return.
You’re guaranteed an effective value of 1.54 cents per point for most flights while still earning elite qualifying and award miles and getting elite perks.
This redemption is lower than 2 cents, TPG’s published valuation of Membership Rewards points, reflecting the fact that you can often get a higher value by transferring your points to the right airline partner, especially when cash prices are high.
It can be easy to fall into a habit when booking award travel, whether that’s always using the Amex portal or always transferring to a select few partners. If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder that you can leave a good amount of value on the table if you don’t take the time to comparison shop your booking options, even once you’ve decided on a flight itinerary.
Application link: The Business Platinum Card from American Express available with a 120,000-point welcome offer.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong, Stella Shon and Kyle Olsen.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, please click here.
Featured photo by The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Aside from the 120,000-point welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to a cap amount), earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive an up to $200 annual airline fee credit each calendar year (enrollment required).
- Welcome Offer: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
- Plus, 0% Intro APR for 12 months from the date of the account opening on purchases eligible for Pay Over Time. After that, your APR will be 15.74% to 23.74% based on your credit worthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.
- Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
- Earn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
- Unlock over $1,000 in value per year for statement credits on select purchases with your Card, including up to $400 with Dell Technologies, up to $360 with Indeed, up to $150 with Adobe and up to $120 on wireless telephone purchases. Enrollment required.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year toward baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
- The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
- $695 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.