With travel having largely rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic, people are starting to plan trips to make up for lost time. And thanks to the more lenient ticket change and cancellation policies introduced by many airlines and hotels in 2020, it’s easy to book knowing that trips can be rescheduled or canceled free of charge if necessary.
While most people book travel online, either directly from a travel provider’s website or from third-party portals like Expedia or Orbitz, people who hold certain credit cards have another option. They can use the card issuer’s travel portal, where they can book travel using the points they have earned with the card rather than paying out of pocket.
One of these portals is Amex Travel, available free of charge to holders of an American Express card with travel rewards, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
How Amex Travel Works
Amex Travel looks and functions like a simple travel portal, but it offers an additional option to these: you can redeem your American Express Membership Rewards points for flights and hotels, instead of paying for them with a card. It’s easier (but not always as valuable) than transferring those points to travel partners, like airlines and hotel chains, to redeem for flights and stays.
If you book travel with a premium card, you may be eligible for perks, including a $ 100 resort credit onsite.
If you hold a credit card that also earns bonus points on airline tickets, you will earn additional bonus points when booking flights through the portal. For example, if your card earns 5 times more points on airline tickets – as American Express Platinum does for flights booked through the portal or directly with airlines (5 times more points up to 500 $ 000 on these purchases per calendar year) – and you purchase a $ 300 flight through the portal, you will earn 1,500 Membership Rewards points.
Only credit cards that earn Membership Rewards points are eligible. Cash back credit cards, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® card from American Express or the American Express Cash Magnet® * card, are not.
Amex Travel can be a useful tool in helping you book your next vacation, and if you’re looking to pay as little money as possible out of pocket, it’s definitely worth a look.
How to access the Amex travel portal
Log into your American Express account. If you have more than one point-generating credit card, Amex will aggregate your points across all cards. This differs from a major competing travel rewards card issuer, Chase, which displays point balances for each individual card.
At the top of the page, click on “Rewards”, then click on “Book or Upgrade a Trip”. This will direct you to the Amex Travel portal.
How to book flights with Amex Travel
Booking a flight is simple: indicate the places from which you plan to travel, as well as the desired dates. You can also filter by class, time of day, and stops. Once done, the portal will show you the flight options in cash and points.
In accordance with Ministry of Transport guidelines, you always have 24 hours to cancel a flight for free. In the wake of the pandemic, major US airlines have also adjusted their change fee policies to allow customers to change their flights at no charge, although there are differences between carriers.
If you want to upgrade your flight, you can also do so using the portal. However, it’s not as easy as paying for your flight directly. Instead, you’ll need to bid to get an upgrade through the PlusGrade program, as shown in the bottom widget of the screenshot below.
The program is available on over 20 different international airlines, many of which serve the United States, including Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines, and TAP Air Portugal. Major US airlines, except Hawaii, do not participate in the program. So this one is more focused on international flights, but you can still get an upgrade on many international flights to and from the United States.
You can pay for an upgrade in cash, Membership Rewards points, or a combination of the two.
To see if your itinerary is available for an upgrade, click on ‘Explore Upgrades’, select the airline of your choice and enter your booking information (name and reference number). Once registered, you will be able to make your offers and Amex will send you an email prior to departure with the result of your upgrade. You do not need to have originally booked your flight through the Amex Travel portal to use the upgrade feature, although you do need to book it with cash, not with points.
How to book hotels with Amex Travel
Likewise, you can enter your desired location and dates in the “Hotels” tab. The portal will show you all the available options.
If you have the Amex Platinum card, you will have portal access to the collection of Fine Hotels & Resorts, which includes a guaranteed 4 p.m. check-out, free daily breakfast for two, up to a credit of 100 $ and a room upgrade, if available. You will also receive $ 200 as an annual statement credit for prepaid bookings through Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection made through American Express Travel.
If you are a Gold card holder, you will have access to the Hotel Collection program. With that, you can get up to $ 100 in onsite credit (which you can use at qualifying spa or restaurants) and a room upgrade if available. The Platinum card comes with an annual fee of $ 695 (see Pricing and Fees), while the Gold card costs $ 250 per year. (See Prices & Fees)
Cancellation policies vary by hotel, per Amex policy. While most rooms are fully refundable if you book before the hotel’s cancellation deadline, some are non-refundable, so we recommend that you read the fine print before booking. Amex may take up to seven days to process your refund and up to two billing cycles to show the credit on your statement.
Do I have to use cash or points to book?
Deciding when to use money or points for travel can be a tricky decision, largely dependent on your financial situation and goals.
You will usually get more for your money by transferring your points to airlines or hotels, but this adds a step to the travel booking process; using the portal allows you to do everything in one place.
Since your Membership Rewards points have a value – which you can calculate on the American Express site – we recommend that you calculate the point value before booking a flight or hotel. All other things being equal, choose the lower dollar value, either points or cash.
For example, in the screenshot above of the Waldorf Astoria, you can pay $ 164 or 16,445 points per night. Those 16,445 points would be worth around $ 329, so it’s definitely best to pay for the room in cash. In other cases, you will find that the required Membership Rewards points are equal to or less than the cash price.
Of course, if you are just looking to save on your trip and pay as little money as possible, you might still want to book using Membership Rewards points.
Using the Amex Travel portal can be an easy way to use a pool of points you sit on to help offset the cost of your future trips. It’s also easier than transferring points to airlines or hotels, and the portal can even be used to bid for upgrades on major international airlines.
* All information on the American Express Cash Magnet card has been independently collected by NextAdvisor and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
For pricing and fees for the American Express Platinum Card®, please click here
For pricing and fees for the American Express® Gold card, please click here