How to maximize the International Airline Program

Jul 16, 2020

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The American Express International Airline Program (IAP) is one of the lesser-known benefits for those who hold The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express or the Centurion Card from American Express.

The IAP went through several positive changes in recent years. It used to be an inaccessible and virtually useless tool for many cardholders. Luckily for those seeking cheaper deals, it was updated in 2017 to offer discounts on first, business and premium economy tickets. 

Last summer, I spotted several cheap business class fares to Europe from New York on airlines like Delta and KLM. A search on Delta turned up flights to Italy, starting around $1500 on KLM for Christmas dates. I was pleasantly surprised, as premium cabin flights to Europe can easily top $2000 or more. 

I was prepared to book through Delta, but something told me to check the IAP first. I’m glad I did because I was able to shave almost $300 more off, dropping the total to $1,252 round-trip. I flew from New York (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS) on KLM’s Dreamliner, before continuing on to Rome (FCO). Since that trip, the IAP quickly became one of my favorite ways to search for, and book paid premium cabin flights at a (sometimes) steep discount. 

Here’s how you can maximize the International Airline Program to save money on your next premium cabin flight.

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Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy
Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

What is the International Airline Program?

The International Airline Program (IAP) allows eligible cardholders to purchase up to eight tickets at discounted fares from participating airlines as long as the cardholder is traveling on the same reservation. 

Officially, there are over two dozen participating airlines, though, in practice, not all will return a discount every time. I’ve found that Delta and other SkyTeam partners are most likely to offer a discount. The savings can be limited, though, depending on the fare and route. Here are the participating IAP airlines: 

  • Aeromexico
  • Air China
  • Air France
  • Air New Zealand
  • Alitalia 
  • ANA
  • Asiana
  • Austrian
  • British Airways
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • China Airlines
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM
  • LATAM
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss
  • Virgin Atlantic

Related: The ultimate guide to Amex Membership Rewards 

What tickets are eligible for the International Airline Program?

Eligible International Airline Program fares include first class, business and premium economy tickets with participating carriers. These fares can be refundable and non-refundable.

Remember, Amex Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders earn 5X Membership Rewards points when booking revenue fares through this program. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Business Platinum cardholders will receive a 35% rebate in points for booking first and business class flights, up to 500,000 points per calendar year.

How to book flights with the International Airline Program

One of the first steps I take after finding a cheap business class fare through Google Flights is to see if I can recreate it through the International Airline Program. This method doesn’t work all the time, however, as you’ll need to make sure the airline is an IAP partner. For instance, you won’t find discounted American Airlines premium cabin fares through IAP because the airline isn’t a partner of the program.

Booking premium flights through IAP is relatively easy. You’ll need to be logged in to your American Express Platinum or Business Platinum Card account. If you have another card like the American Express Gold Card, you won’t be able to see the discounts. You can filter IAP fares on the left side of the page.

(Photo by American Express)
(Photo by American Express)

After you log into your Amex account, you’ll need to use the booking tool to search for first, business or premium economy and then select qualifying flights highlighted by the International Airline Program banner.

The IAP can be hit or miss, with some airlines offering cheaper fares than others. While the discount is available starting with premium economy, you’ll see the savings jump as the cabin (and fare) goes up. You can expect to see the most significant savings on first class flights, like this one from New York (JFK) to Zurich (ZRH) on Swiss first class.

In some instances, the price you see on IAP may be higher than what you see on Google Flights. Sometimes you’ll see the same price on IAP as Google Flights or online travel agencies (OTA). For example, this flight from New York (JFK) to Madrid (MAD) on Iberia’s business class prices out the same on Google Flights. 

More often, you’ll come across a deal that isn’t spectacular but still shaves off a hundred dollars or so, like this flight to Amsterdam on Delta One.

Finally, your preferred fare might not show up as an IAP fare, even if it is an IAP airline. If you do not see IAP flights in your search results, like the British Airways flight below, Amex says that flight or seat may not be available.

(Screenshot by British Airways)

So make sure you’re booking an IAP fare and avoid the non-IAP airlines and fares.

Paying with points

Amex members can use Membership Rewards “Pay with Points to pay for the cost of the ticket while still earning miles from participating airlines. You can select the Pay With Points option during checkout at a minimum redemption of 5,000 points. Note that if the points redeemed don’t cover the entire amount, the balance of purchase price will remain on your American Express Card account. 

Remember that Business Platinum cardholders earn 35% Membership Rewards points back after using points for all or part of an eligible flight. For instance, a Delta flight from Boston to Amsterdam in late December will cost you 203,435 Amex points. If you book with your Business Platinum card, you’ll get over 71,000 Amex points back.

Related: Should you save your miles for future travel or cash them out now?

Bottom line

The International Airline Program can seem clunky and confusing. When it doesn’t work, it can seem overwhelming (and easier just to book your flight through the airline). But when it does work, you can score incredible paid premium cabin seats at a considerable discount.

Featured image by Zach Griff / The Points Guy

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