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How to save hundreds on airfare with Amex's International Airline Program

April 27, 2021
8 min read
Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class
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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. You can now also book these tickets online directly through Amex Travel.

Over the last few years, I've spotted several cheap business class fares, between New York and Europe on 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 shaved 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 to Rome (FCO). Since that trip, the IAP quickly became one of my favorite ways to search and book paid premium cabin flights at a 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)

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
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss
  • Virgin Atlantic

Related: The ultimate guide to Amex Membership Rewards

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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. The only major restriction is that the trip must originate in the U.S. or certain Canadian gateways, including Toronto (YYZ), Vancouver (YVR) and Montreal (YUL).

Remember, Amex Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders earn 5x Membership Rewards points when booking revenue fares through this program (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, then 1x). Business Platinum cardholders receive a 35% rebate in points for booking first and business-class flights, up to 1 million points per calendar year. Also, keep in mind that these cards now come with a number of travel protections.

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. However, this method doesn’t work all the time 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 and head to the Amex Travel portal. If you have another card like the American Express® Gold Card, you won’t see the discounts. You can filter IAP fares on the left side of the page.

(Photo by American Express)

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. Coach fares, unfortunately, aren't eligible for discounts.

Related: The best credit cards for booking flights

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.

(Screenshot by American Express)

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. And since these are paid tickets, you'll earn frequent flyer miles and elite-qualifying credit as per usual.

Paying with points

Amex members can use Membership Rewards “Pay with Points” to pay for 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 the 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 (up to 1 million points per calendar year). For instance, the Delta example from Boston to Amsterdam above would cost you 203,435 Amex points round-trip. If you book with your Business Platinum card, you’ll get over 71,000 Amex points back, which is huge.

Related: Amex Business Platinum for flights: When to transfer vs. when to pay with points

Bottom line

The International Airline Program can seem clunky and confusing at first glance. When it doesn’t work, it can seem overwhelming (and easier to book your flight through the airline). But when it does work, you can score incredible paid premium cabin seats at a considerable discount. You'll also get a number of travel protections when paying with your eligible card. Just remember that the primary cardholder or eligible authorized user must be traveling on the reservation to be eligible.

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski

Featured image by (Photo by Agent Wolf/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023