Everything you need to know about Amex Pay with Points

Jan 19, 2022

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest program information.

Generally speaking, you’ll get the most value out of your hard-earned American Express Membership Rewards points by transferring them to a partner airline to book premium-cabin award flights. Some sweet spots, like using Virgin Atlantic’s program to book ANA first-class awards, can even help put you in a $16,000 seat for a reasonable amount of points.

This strategy requires two things: First, you have to study your different transfer options and pick the best one for your trip. Second, and most importantly, you have to actually find award space on the dates you’re looking to fly.

However, another option for redeeming your Membership Rewards points gives you an even greater amount of flexibility. Under the right circumstances and with the right cards in your wallet, it’s possible to get a better value by using the American Express Pay with Points feature than you’d get by transferring your points because certain Amex cards provide a rebate on the number of points you need for eligible Pay with Points flight redemptions. Among them, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express recently improved this perk for its cardmembers by raising the maximum number of bonus points you can receive via its rebate every calendar year from 500,000 to 1 million. But more on that below.

Today, we’ll take a deep dive into this redemption option, including which cards offer it and when to use it.

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In This Post

What is Amex Pay with Points?

If you have any Membership Rewards points-earning cards, you can redeem your points at a fixed rate of 0.6 cents each to wipe charges off your statement. However, TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, so you’d be sacrificing a lot of value if you go this route, and this is generally one of the worst possible ways to redeem your Membership Rewards points.

Booking through Amex Travel gets you a slightly better value, as your points will be worth 1 cent each toward the cost of airfare, or 0.7-0.85 cents each for hotels, car rentals, cruises and more. If your goal is a truly free vacation, using points for car rentals or cruises can help keep your out-of-pocket costs down, but this is still far from an ideal redemption option. Instead, we’re going to focus on flight redemptions.

There are three Amex cards for small businesses that offer attractive rebates of 25% to 50% when using Pay with Points for flights, which means it could be an even better option for some folks. This is a great way to lock in a minimum redemption value of more than 1 cent per point. It’s also useful when you need “last-seat availability” (i.e., you need to be on a specific flight even if it doesn’t have award space via a frequent flyer program).

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

How do I use Pay with Points?

It’s very easy to take advantage of the Pay with Points feature. First, sign in to your Amex account and then search for flights through the Amex Travel portal as you normally would. At checkout, select either “use only points” or “use points + American Express card” to apply some or all of your points.

When paying with points, your card will be charged the full dollar amount. Amex will then add a statement credit for the portion of the flight that you paid for with points.

Bear in mind that the rebate offered by some cards isn’t an outright discount. So, if you have an eligible card, you must still have the full amount of points in your account at the time of booking. The points rebate will post to your account within six to 10 weeks.

Cathay Pacific business class
Cathay Pacific business class. (Photo by Wallace Cotton/The Points Guy)

For instance, I’ve redeemed 121,850 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 thanks to The Business Platinum Card from American Express, once I received my 35% rebate of 42,647 points, my effective redemption value jumped from 1 cent per point to 1.54 cents. 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.

Not every booking offers a rebate — unless you have the elusive Business Centurion Card from American Express. With the other two cards, first- and business-class flights on any airline count, but only economy flights on a specific airline that you select each year are also eligible for the rebate. There are also calendar-year maximums of the number of rebated points you can expect each year, depending on your card.

Related: How to maximize the International Airline Program

Which cards offer a Pay with Points bonus?

As mentioned, there are three Amex cards for small businesses that offer a rebate when you pay with points (terms apply). Here are their current welcome offers and other details:

Details Business Centurion Business Platinum Business Gold
Pay with Points rebate 50% 35% 25%
Value of each redeemed point 2 cents 1.54 cents 1.33 cents
Eligible flights All flights First- and business-class flights, and economy flights on your selected airline First- and business-class flights, and economy flights on your selected airline
Maximum number of bonus points N/A 1 million points per calendar year 250,000 points per calendar year

When should I use Pay with Points?

There are a few different reasons why you might want to use the Pay with Points option. First of all, if you find a cheap fare sale, paying with points might actually be cheaper than transferring your points to a partner airline and booking an award seat.

For example, take a look at a one-way United economy flight between Houston (IAH) and Chicago (ORD) in May. There are plenty of nonstop flights in economy (not basic economy) available on Amex Travel starting at $90 or 8,960 points.

(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

The best available itinerary via a transfer partner would be to convert American Express Membership Rewards points into Avianca LifeMiles and book a 10,000-mile (plus $5.60 in taxes and fees) award from there.

(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

So as you can see, by booking through Amex Pay with Points, I’d be saving over 1,000 points this way … not to mention getting a more convenient nonstop flight. That’s not even taking into account card-based rebates.

Here’s how much you’d pay after the rebate with each of the Amex business cards we’ve discussed:

  • Business Centurion: 4,480 Membership Rewards points.
  • Business Platinum: 5,824 Membership Rewards points.
  • Business Gold: 6,720 Membership Rewards points.

Not only do you end up spending fewer points in this scenario whether you have one of the rebate-eligible cards or not, but you end up saving anywhere from about $20-$110 in value based on our estimation of Amex points’ value by using Pay with Points instead of transferring.

Related: Our favorite ways to use Amex Membership Rewards points

When you use your points through Amex Travel, you’re essentially “paying” Amex for the flight, and Amex then turns around and books a revenue ticket for you. This means that, unlike with a standard award ticket, flights booked with Pay with Points will earn redeemable miles, elite-qualifying miles and elite-qualifying dollars. This can help you lock in your elite status for next year.

Take the example of this round-trip British Airways flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) for $2,196 in business class.

(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

 

That’s not even factoring in any discount that might be available through Amex’s International Airline Program. You’d need to redeem 219,597 Membership Rewards through Pay with Points. But here’s how many you’d need with the following cards.

It would cost the following amount of points after the rebate:

  • Business Centurion: 109,799 Membership Rewards points.
  • Business Platinum: 142,739 Membership Rewards points.
  • Business Gold: 164,698 Membership Rewards points.

If, instead, you wanted to try booking this by transferring your Amex points to British Airways Executive Club, you’d need 120,000 of them … but would also be on the hook for nearly $1,800 in taxes and fees!

(Screenshot courtesy of BritishAirways.com)

Plus, you could earn award miles and elite-qualifying metrics like miles or Loyalty Points with Alaska Airlines or American Airlines, respectively, by booking through Amex Pay with Points, but not if you booked this itinerary using British Airways Avios.

So if elite status is your goal but you still want to use your Amex points to travel, there are many situations where using Pay with Points is a better option than taking advantage of the Membership Rewards program’s transfer partners.

Bottom line

Flexibility is one key to getting a good value when redeeming your points, and Amex’s various Pay with Points bonuses should be another tool in your redemption arsenal. This is not the way to score overpriced first-class seats, but with some of the absurd fare sales we’ve seen, especially to consistently cheap destinations, paying with points can often be cheaper than transferring to a travel partner.

When you add in the miles (both elite and redeemable) that you earn on the flight, this option becomes very compelling in certain circumstances.

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski and Eric Rosen.

Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy.

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