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American Express Launches ‘Upgrade With Points’ Letting You Bid for Upgrades on 21 Airlines

May 01, 2019
5 min read
American Express Launches ‘Upgrade With Points’ Letting You Bid for Upgrades on 21 Airlines
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Starting today, May 1, American Express is letting cardmembers with Membership Rewards-earning cards use their points to bid on flight upgrades. The new "Upgrade With Points" program is launching with 21 airline partners, allowing cardholders the option to "use Membership Rewards points, or a combination of points and dollars" to bid on airline seat upgrades.

Here's how Amex is introducing the new option:

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The program is launching with the following 21 airlines:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air Mauritius
  • Avianca
  • Caribbean Airlines
  • Ethiopian
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Icelandair
  • Kenya Airways
  • LATAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Norwegian
  • Qantas
  • SAS
  • Silk Air
  • Singapore Airlines
  • TAP Portugal

I just so happened to have a cash reservation on one of these airlines, as I took advantage of the incredible $395 round-trip deal from Los Angeles to Fiji that popped up in March. So, we have an opportunity to show how this works. After logging into my account, I went to the "Rewards" tab and scrolled down to "Book Travel." At the bottom of this widget, there's the new option: "Upgrade your flight with points." I clicked "Explore Upgrades" to see my options:

That opens a dedicated page explaining how to place a bid and a list of the eligible airlines:

Clicking on Fiji Airways brings up a flashy page for me to enter my last name and booking reference number to check my options:

On the next page, I'm given the option of entering a separate bid for the outbound and inbound. And — drum roll please — the options aren't great. The minimum bid that I can enter for a one-way upgrade is 76,805 Membership Rewards points. Amex shows that this is equivalent to $768.05, but we at TPG disagree. TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, making this bid equivalent to more like $1,536.

And that's just the minimum bid. For me to get a "fair" chance of a one-way upgrade, the system recommends I bid at least 95,095 points ($1,902 at TPG valuations). For a "good" chance, I'm supposed to bid at least 115,295 points ($2,306 at TPG valuations).

Again, this is just for one-way. Interestingly, the return prices out at a little less:

  • Minimum bid: 69,823 points
  • Fair bid: 88,253 points
  • Good bid: 108,608 points

To place the minimum bid for both ways, I'd need to bid at least 146,628 Membership Rewards points— in addition to my economy paid ticket. For reference, if you're able to find Fiji award availability, the round-trip award would cost just 110,000 Alaska miles.

Or, nonstop business class paid fares on this route start at $4,718 round-trip — which I can use 306,670 Membership Rewards points to book thanks to my Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the 35% rebate it offers on business class flights (up to 1 million points per calendar year).

But how about the option to "use ... a combination of points and dollars"? Unfortunately, this isn't a way to just bid cash for an upgrade. You can only use cash to sweeten the points offer. You'll still need to bid the minimum number of points required in the points offer:

If you end up submitting a bid, Amex says that you'll be told about the decision "usually within 5 days of your flight":

Your offer will be accepted or declined by the airline, usually within 5 days of your flight. Whatever the airline’s decision, American Express will communicate the result to you via email prior to your departure.

Also, not all cards even get one cent per point of value. American Express provides an exception list in its FAQ about the program. While it mostly includes a number of cards many of us haven't heard of, there are two that jump out: "American Express® Platinum Credit Card" and the "Platinum Business Credit Card®". The good news here is that these are different than — albeit with similar names to — The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

Bottom Line

There's not too much to be excited about here. The Upgrade With Points program only values your points at 1 cent each, and TPG values Membership Rewards points at double that. Based on my example, the minimum bid for an upgrade seems to be pricey. However, the minimum bid amount seems to vary on the flight and very likely varies by the participating airline.

Especially as the program is new, it's probably worth a cursory check if you have an upcoming flight on a participating airline. If you do, feel free to share the airline, route and minimum bid in the comment section below to help out your fellow travelers.

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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  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
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Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees