Everything you need to know about Amex Travel
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The American Express Travel Portal allows you to book travel and redeem American Express Membership Rewards points directly for travel reservations and activities, rather than transfer your rewards to airline or hotel partners like Delta SkyMiles or Marriott Bonvoy.
In 2019, Amex rolled out some new features on the portal, including the ability to book discounted premium tickets online instead of over the phone or via Amex’s chat tool. We’ll examine the pros and cons of booking travel through the portal and highlight tricks to maximize your next trip.
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Amex Travel Portal guide
Where you book your travel is just as important as where you’re traveling. Should you book directly with the airline or hotel to earn rewards, or an OTA like Expedia or Orbitz because it’s easy? If you hold an American Express Membership Rewards card, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express or American Express® Gold Card, you’ll probably utilize the Amex Travel portal at some point.
It offers some perks you may be familiar with, but there might be some hidden gems you haven’t heard. Let’s dive in.
How to book flights with the Amex Travel Portal
Points versus cash
There are several ways to book flights using the Amex Travel Portal. You can choose to pay for travel with your credit card or redeem points.
The Amex Travel flight portal is structured similarly to other online booking sites. You’ll see a box where you can enter departure and destination cities. If you’re not picky about your departure airport, you can select an entire city (such as New York, which includes several airports, including nearby Newark).
During the booking process, you’ll see the dollar amount and the option to use Amex Membership Rewards points on the right-hand side. On the left side of the screen, you can filter the number of stops, departure and arrival times, preferred airlines, and even flight numbers.
Note that Delta Air Lines is a featured airline in the Amex Travel Portal, so you’ll often see Delta flights highlighted first.
Screengrab from American ExpressIf you’re flying from an airport with an American Express Centurion Lounge, such as San Francisco (SFO) or Dallas (DFW), you’ll also see an indicator that you can use your eligible card for entry.
If you’re an Amex Business Platinum cardholder, you’ll earn 5x points for booking flights through the Amex Travel Portal only. That means you won’t earn bonus points if you book directly with the airline or another travel portal. On the other hand, the Amex Platinum card offers 5x points on flights booked through the Amex Travel portal or directly with the airline (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, starting Jan. 1, 2021).
Related: The best travel credit cards
Upgrading flights using points
You can also upgrade your flights in the Amex Travel portal using points or dollars. I was given the option to upgrade my economy class ticket. The screenshot below includes the upgrade options for an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle (SEA) to Baltimore (BWI). However, it only values your points at 1 cent each, which is less than TPG’s valuation of two cents. So I’d avoid this option if possible.
You can book using your Amex card, use points, or a combination of the two (more on that below). Remember, you have 24 hours to change or cancel your trip, so if your plans change, you’re not locked into the itinerary.
Booking with points + cash
Much of the booking process to pay with Amex points is similar to how you’d book using cash, except that there’s a box where you can apply some or all of your points.
If you have the Business Platinum Card and use points to pay for economy airfare with your selected airline, you’ll receive 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points per calendar year. Additionally, any business or first-class airfare booked through amextravel.com will also receive the rebate.
Similarly, if you hold the American Express® Business Gold Card, you’ll get a 25% points rebate (up to 250,000 points back per calendar year).
This may not be the best use of your points, because you’ll often get better value transferring your Membership Rewards to airline partners. TPG currently values Amex Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each. However, these tickets are almost always treated as revenue fares by the airlines, meaning you’ll earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles.
International Airline Program
There is yet another benefit that allows Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum cardholders to book discounted premium tickets using the Amex Travel Portal. The International Airline Program (IAP) offers discounts on first, business and premium economy tickets. Right now, 26 airlines are included in the program. If you want to book your next premium ticket using IAP, here’s how to do it.
You can book these tickets directly on the Amex Travel Portal, earning 5 points per dollar for the purchase or you can pay with points. Business Platinum customers who book IAP tickets with points are eligible for the 35% airline rebate. Note that only flights originating in the U.S. or certain Canadian cities are eligible.
I ran a search from Miami (MIA) to Guayaquil (GYE) on LATAM’s business class for dates in May 2021 and was able to knock off $350 from the Google Flights price by using the IAP.
You can occasionally score bigger deals. Last year, a few staffers at the TPG office (including yours truly) scored discounted business-class tickets to Europe on KLM. For instance, the price on the KLM site at the time of booking quoted me roughly $1,950 for the round-trip ticket. I was able to knock down the price to $1,252 using the IAP.
How to book hotels with the Amex Travel Portal
Similar to booking flights, you can book hotels using the Amex Travel portal. You’ll earn 5x points for prepaid hotel bookings made directly at Amex Travel if you’re an Amex Platinum or Biz Platinum cardholder.
After selecting your hotel, you’ll choose your preferred room and then either pay with points or cash. If you pay with points, you’ll only get a value of 0.7 cents per point (compared to 1 cent per point when you book flights).
Keep in mind that these are considered third-party bookings, so you won’t usually earn hotel points or elite credits for your stay. Note that some amenities may be restricted due to COVID-19, but you’ll see those restrictions at the top of the page when you choose your room.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
The Fine Hotels & Resorts program is an underdog perk included with Amex’s premium cards program, and you might not have heard about it. It can add some great benefits to your hotel stays — and may not cost much more than booking direct.
Here are the perks you’ll receive with every FHR booking, regardless of the length of your stay:
- Room upgrade upon arrival, when available at check-in
- Some room types may be excluded, and some hotels may simply give you a room with a better view
- Daily breakfast for two people
- The provided breakfast must be, at a minimum, a continental breakfast
- Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout
- Noon check-in, when available at check-in
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- When a property includes Wi-Fi in a mandatory resort fee, you’ll receive a daily credit from the property in the standard amount that the property charges for Wi-Fi
- Unique property amenity
- The amenity should be valued at $100 or more and usually consists of a property credit, dining credit, spa credit, private airport transfer or similar amenity
Even better, each hotel offers a unique amenity to guests, such as a spa or food and beverage credit. The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, for example, offers a $100 property credit to be used during your stay.
In 2017, TPG’s Zach Honig booked a stay at Amenjena in Marrakech, Morocco, through Amex FHR, and received a ton of benefits. He was upgraded to a suite and received a complimentary 50-minute massage.
Note that the Fine Hotels & Resorts program is entirely different from the Amex Travel Portal, and there’s no guarantee you’ll earn hotel points, elite credits or have your elite status recognized with these bookings.
The Hotel Collection
A lesser-known American Express benefit is The Hotel Collection, which you can book in cash or with points. Its benefits are offered to holders of the following American Express cards:
- American Express Gold Card
- American Express Business Gold Card
- The Platinum Card from American Express
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express
- The Centurion Card (invite-only)
Cardholders with access to The Hotel Collection receive the following benefits:
- A room upgrade at check-in if available if you stay two nights or longer
- Up to $100 hotel credit. You can use this credit to spend on eligible dining, spa and resort activities if you stay two nights or longer
- Lower rates, depending on what Amex has negotiated with the property
- 2x Membership Rewards points for Gold cardholders on prepaid bookings
- 5x Membership Rewards points for Platinum cardholders on prepaid reservations
- The ability to use Pay With Points on prepaid reservations
How to rent cars and book cruises with the Amex Travel Portal
Reserving a car in the Amex Portal is relatively simple. You’ll select your pick-up and drop-off points and then choose your preferred car and rental company. Note that you can’t use Membership Rewards points to reserve cars.
If you hold an eligible American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points, you can use those toward the cost of your cruise booking by utilizing Pay with Points.
Since Amex sets the redemption value at 0.7 cents per point, paying with Amex Membership Rewards points usually results in poor redemption value for wiping charges off your statement. TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, so you’re losing out on more than half the potential value. That being said, it may make personal sense to avoid spending cash out of pocket. In exceptional cases, redeeming your points for whatever value they hold could be the right call.
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The American Express Travel booking portal has excellent search functionality for cruises, allowing you to filter by date, destination, cruise line and trip duration even before you log in. If you book through the portal, you’ll earn 2x points per dollar spent. If you’re a Platinum or Business Platinum Amex cardholder, you can get exclusive perks through the Cruise Privileges Program like $100-$300 in shipboard credits, which you can put toward dining or spas, or amenities like premium wine.
You can redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for all or part of your cruise booking.
booking through Amex Travel during COVID
The novel coronavirus has affected how many travelers book trips online, so Amex Travel has a dedicated page to answer questions.
If your reservation is affected by the pandemic and you need to change or cancel, you can log in and visit My Trips. There will be options to cancel your flight or hotel within the reservation details.
Amex will honor its airline, hotel, cruise and car partners’ travel policies and waive the American Express Travel fee on flight modifications or new bookings made through Sept. 30, 2020.
If you cancel a flight directly with your airline that was booked with points, your cancellation will be handled by the airline. Note that if your flight is not refunded or you receive a credit, you will not receive the points back or receive a statement credit.
While you can use your points to book hotels and flights in the Amex Travel Portal, you’ll typically get more value from your American Express Membership Rewards points by transferring them to airline and hotel partners instead.
However, the Amex Travel Portal has several amazing perks, including discounted fares on premium flights, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, and a friendly user interface.
Several TPG staffers use it extensively to book travel, and have saved money. But if the Amex Travel Portal doesn’t offer the lowest price, you’ll probably want to book directly with the airline or hotel.
Featured photo by DuKai photographer/Getty Images.
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