Amex 50% bonus is a (minor) game changer . Here’s why… [Expired Offer]

Note: American Express is a Frequent Miler advertiser. Please see our Advertiser Disclosure.

UPDATE: terms for the Business Platinum card’s pay with points rebate have changed since this post was written.

Starting today, October 6th 2016, Cardholders of The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN have access to two new benefits:

  1. Earn 50% points back when paying with points through American Express Travel for a flight with their selected airline. Cardholders will also receive this benefit when booking a first or business class ticket with any airline.
  2. Earn 1.5 points per dollar on any purchase of $5,000 or more.

The first new benefit is intriguing. The second is only mildly interesting.  Amex Everyday Preferred cardholders can already earn 1.5 points per dollar on all spend by making sure to use their card 30 times each billing cycle.  And, they’ll earn even more points with purchases at gas stations and grocery stores.  And, of course, Chase Freedom Unlimited cardholders can earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points everywhere without any restrictions.

The 50% points back benefit is the interesting one.  It effectively means that you can get 2 cents per point value when redeeming points to purchase airfare either on your selected airline or for business or first class on any airline.  That’s huge.

Amex Biz Platinum 50% bonus: A game changer

This benefit is bigger than you may have thought…

Economy Flights on Your Selected Airline

Suppose you’re looking into booking a flight that costs about $400.  You find that you can book the same flight with 25,000 airline miles.  If you don’t already have the miles, you can transfer 25,000 Membership Rewards points to an airline program and book the award.  You just got $400 / 25,000 = 1.6 cents per point value.  Yay!

Amex Biz Platinum 50% bonus

But, what if you have the Business Platinum card and the $400 flight is on your selected airline?  Your new option now is to use 40,000 Membership Rewards points to book the flight through Amex Travel and you’ll get 20,000 points back.  Your final cost would be 20,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 25,000 miles.  Plus, by paying for the flight through Amex Travel, you’ll earn redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles on the flight as long as you link your frequent flyer number to the trip.

Economy Flights on a Non-Selected Airline — Possible Free or Cheap Upgrade

Take the same example as above: let’s say that you can buy a $400 economy flight, or book it with 25,000 airline miles.  If the $400 economy flight is with an airline other than the one you selected as your preferred airline with your Business Platinum card, then you won’t get a rebate if you pay with points.  In this example, it seems clear that you should book the flight with airline miles (unless you have FlexPerks points, but that’s another story).

That said, maybe you can buy a business or first class seat on the same flight for not much more money…  Let’s say that the same flight offers first class seats for $500.  In that case, you can pay with points and you will get the 50% rebate.  For this $500 first class flight, you’ll pay 50,000 points and get 25,000 points back.  In other words, you’ll have paid just 25,000 points for a first class flight. That’s clearly better than spending 25,000 miles for an economy award ticket!

When pricing flights, it is always worth checking one-way fares as well.  In some cases, a round-trip first class fare may be far more expensive than an economy fare, but the difference may be much greater in one direction or the other.  In those cases, it can make sense to use Membership Rewards to pay with points for the lower priced one-way business or first class fare.d

Low Cost International Business Fares

While airlines have repeatedly increased award prices for international business and first class flights, ticket prices haven’t followed the same trend.  Whereas award prices have slowly and steadily increased, paid prices continue to fluctuate up and down as airlines strive to fill their flights with paying customers.  Let’s look at how that affects award choices…

In the past few years, AA, Delta, and United have increased their saver level business class award prices between North America and Europe.  Where all three used to charge 100,000 miles round-trip, AA now charges 115,000 miles, United charges 115,000 for United flights or 140,000 for partner flights, and Delta recently increased their lowest level round trip award from 125,000 miles to 140,000 miles for flights beginning in 2017.

Meanwhile, $2,000 round-trip business class sales are not uncommon.  With the Amex Business Platinum card, you could buy a $2,000 ticket for 200,000 points and get 100,000 points back.  Net cost: 100,000 points.  And, again, you can earn redeemable and elite qualifying miles for that flight.

Another advantage to paying with points is that airport fees and fuel surcharges are included in the total point price.  You would pay nothing out of pocket.  With international mileage awards, on the other hand, fees and fuel surcharges can be steep.  Sometimes, they can be ridiculously steep, like this $1,140 fee when booking a British Airways flight with AA miles:

aa-100k-award-plus-lots-o-money

Of course, British Airways is a known culprit in this regards.  But, even airlines that don’t impose fuel surcharges can charge quite a bit in fees due to airport fees and government taxes that they pass along.  For example, Delta wants $264 in addition to miles for a round trip award to London:

delta-award-biz-to-europe

And United — an airline than never passes along fuel surcharges for award tickets — wants $304 for a flight to London on United in one direction and Lufthansa in the other:

united-biz-award

Some airlines charge far less in miles for flights to Europe, but they often charge even higher fees.  The point is that when booking awards with miles, the mile price is rarely the only price.  Often there is a significant cash component as well.

These examples are meant to show some of the side benefits to paying for airfare with points rather than booking awards with miles.

No need to search for award space

A huge advantage to paying with points, of course, is that there’s no reason to search for award space.  If a flight is available for sale, it should be available to purchase with points. And when airlines have sales, you can buy those flights for fewer points.  This will make travel planning much easier!

Of course, as I showed yesterday with regards to paying for flights with Chase points, it is possible that not all flights are available through Amex Travel, or they may price differently than other flight search engines.  I don’t know.  But, like with Chase, I expect that most flights price the same through Amex Travel as elsewhere.

The 2 cent per mile award break-even point

Even if you ignore the fact that you can earn miles on flight bought with points, the new Amex Biz Platinum 50% rebate means that those who are flush with Membership Rewards points should only consider transferring points to miles when they’ll get more than 2 cents per mile value after accounting for taxes and fees.  You can use the following formula to calculate the value of miles for an award:

mile value (cents per mile) = 100 x [(best flight price) – (total of award taxes and fees)] / (miles required for award)

Let’s say you want to fly to London in business class and you find that you can book a Delta award for 140,000 miles plus $264 in fees.  And, let’s suppose that the best alternative paid price (on any airline that you’re willing to fly) is $3,000.  In that case, we can calculate the value of the miles:

mile value = 100 x ($3,000 – $264) / 140,000 miles = 1.95 cents per mile

In this example, you’re better off paying with points.  Pay 300,000 points, and get back 150,000 points for a final cost of 150,000 points.  Yes, the number of points is higher this way, 150,000 vs. 140,000 with the Delta award, but when we combine the cash component of the award into the equation it becomes clear that paying with Membership Rewards points is the way to go.

If the miles per dollar calculation had resulted in a slightly higher result, such as 2.05 cents per mile, then you might have a tough decision.  Paying with points is still arguably better (since you’ll earn miles on the flight), but in some cases award tickets offer more flexibility in terms of changes and cancellations.  These factors vary both by airline and within airline based on your level of elite status.  In other words… it’s complicated.

The new benefit more than makes up for the Citi Prestige

I used to be excited by the Citi Prestige card’s benefit that allows you to buy AA flights with points for 1.6 cents per point value.  That benefit is going away next July.  Now, instead, you can get even better value in paying with points with the Business Platinum card, and you can choose your favorite airline!

Meanwhile, compared to the Sapphire Reserve which offers 1.5 cents per point value on all travel, this benefit is much more limited, but it is also more valuable for qualifying flights.  Where a qualifying $3,000 flight may cost a Business Platinum cardholder 150,000 points, it would cost a Sapphire Reserve cardholder 200,000 points.  That’s a significant difference.

Why I listed this as a “minor” game changer

To get the Business Platinum card, of course, you need to actually have some sort of business.  And, the card is expensive: $450 per year.  It does offer $200 in airline fee credits annually, but only for fees incurred on your selected airline.  It is far from the nearly effortless $300 in travel credits offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

For those who have the card despite the high annual fee, this new benefit could mean a huge shift in how they book awards.  It used to be a no-brainer: except in rare cases, airline miles were the only economical way to book international business class flights.  But, now the math has changed.  Now, in many cases, paying for these flights with points rather than with airline miles will be the way to go.

That said, in order to make this work for high-end flights, you need to have a huge stash of Membership Rewards points.  Suppose, for example, that you want to take four people on that hypothetical $3,000 business class trip that I described above.  In that case, if you wanted to book everyone together on one itinerary, you would need 1.2 million Membership Rewards points in your account.  Sure you would get back half of them, but still — that’s a lot.  Of course, you could instead book each ticket separately, wait for the points rebate and then book the next one.  If you did it that way you would “only” need 750,000 points in your account.

So, I do think this new benefit will be huge for some, but it will have limited reach for many.  For me, I know that it will change the way I search for and book flights.  After all, I recently took advantage of an offer to earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points for upgrading to the Business Platinum card.  It looks like that was a good move.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Pingbacks

  1. […] The Business Platinum card now offers a fantastic new perk: Earn 50% points back when paying with points through American Express Travel for a flight with their selected airline. Cardholders will also receive this benefit when booking a first or business class ticket with any airline.  This new perk makes your Membership Rewards points worth 2 cents per point towards paid flights.  That’s pretty awesome.  That means that with the 100,000 point signup bonus, it is possible to get up to $2,000 worth of flights!  For details and caveats, please see: Amex 50% bonus is a (minor) game changer . Here’s why… […]

  2. […] Maximizing value from Membership Rewards points is a bit more complicated than with Chase. Some of the best value transfer partners (ANA and Aeroplan, for example) require knowing how to avoid potentially huge fuel surcharges.  Unlike Chase though, Amex Membership Rewards points do transfer directly to Delta, and Delta sometimes offers very good value for your miles (see: Delta SkyMiles sheds SkyPeso moniker).  The other approach to maximizing value is to get the $450 Amex Business Platinum card which offers 2 cents per point value when you pay with points for select airfare. Specifically, Get a 50% Pay with Points rebate for your selected airline, and for business or first class with any airline (see: Amex 50% bonus is a (minor) game changer . Here’s why…) […]

  3. […] The past few months have been full of surprises and changes in the points & miles world.  Many of these changes centered around high-end $450 per year credit cards… Citibank announced a huge devaluation to their Prestige card.  Soon after, Chase released their new blockbuster Sapphire Reserve Card, with its 100K signup bonus, 3X earnings for travel & dining, 1.5 cents per point value towards travel, and $300 travel reimbursements.  At around the same time, Chase increased the annual fee for their Ritz Carlton credit card, increased its signup bonus, and changed it to a Visa Infinite card.  Amex responded to the Sapphire Reserve by adding 5X earnings on flights to their personal Platinum cards.  Amex then surprised us further with interesting changes to their Enhanced Business Platinum card: They introduced both a new public 100K signup offer; and enhanced benefits: a 50% rebate on flights purchased with points; and a 50% bonus on points earned for purchases of $5,…. […]

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post. With United tickets need to be booked on a 016 code and not as a bulk fare to gain status miles and premier qualifying dollars. Do we know if this condition will be met buying this way? Thanks.

    • I don’t know for sure, but it is reasonable to assume that, like with Chase, flights purchased through Amex Travel will sometimes be booked as a bulk fare. If you book over the phone I’d assume that the agent could tell you the fare code. Either way, you can cancel for free before midnight of the next business day.

  2. I don’t get it.

    I spend 100k with this card and use for airfare, I effectively get 200k points worth $2k.

    If I use a 2% cash back card I spend 100k, I get 200k points worth $2k to buy tickets anywhere – also earning miles from the flight.

    How is this a game changer?

    • The thing is this: you shouldn’t use this card for spend. Earn points from signup bonuses and/or use other Amex cards that offer good category bonuses for spend. The EveryDay Preferred is a good example. With that card, all spend will earn at least 1.5 points per dollar as long as you use the card 30 times per billing cycle. Then if you redeem those points for flights, with the Biz Platinum card you’ll get 3 cents per dollar value — and more when you earn category bonuses.

    • If this were the only MR card you had, you would be correct, as you would only be earning one MR point per dollar of spend (except on purchases over $5K). But if you have any of the cards with bonus categories (ED, EDP, BRG, PRG, Personal Plat), you will be earning much more than 1 point per dollar, so much more than 2 cents worth of airfare. Does that work out better than Citi DoubleCash after taking all the annual fees into account? Obviously that depends on how much you spend, on what, and where you want to go. Myself I would rather transfer to Krisflyer for international first class (giving up some flexibility) than spend MR points on some domestic flight, but for big spenders who don’t want to mess around with finding award availability, it’s great.

  3. I live near an AA hub. As you know, AA domestic award availability is poor, and most trips wouldn’t be worth redeeming miles for anyway. So to “pay” for such trips (without having cash leave my pocket), I currently use my Citi Prestige Thank You points to “buy” cheap fares and get a 1.6 cent redemption. But I understand that redemption is being eliminated. If I understand this new AMEX Platinum benefit correctly, if there was a $100 AA airfare, I could redeem 10,000 Membership Rewards points for it and then get 5,000 points back. I just need to select AA as my preferred airline, so I couldn’t (for example) buy a UA ticket the next time and get the 50% refund.

    Is this understanding correct? Seems like a good replacement of the Prestige benefit for me. Thanks.

      • Thanks. Seems worthwhile for my purposes. With a couple weeks advance planning and modest flexibility, rare is a US domestic ticket more than $200 one way. So that would still only cost 10,000 points — with a heck of a lot more availability than trying to find AA “saver” award availability. So while these type of redemptions won’t be exciting, they seem quite practical.

    • Yes, but the caveat is that the Prestige is a very good card for *earning* points as well, which the Business Platinum is not. So you would want to get the PRG or EDP card, both of which have annual fees that you would want to take into account.

  4. Can an AmEx Platinum cardholder select Norwegian Air as the preferred airline? (Hear me out.) With cheap one-way Dreamliner flights available in Coach and Premium Economy, you would not need a huge stash of Membership Reward points to book a ticket and receive a 50% rebate of your points to purchase the ticket. Also, if AmEx allows you to select Norwegian Air, you could use the annual credit for incidental airfare expenses to pay for seat selection and meals. With Norwegian Air aggressively adding new non-stop destinations connecting US cities with European cities, this could prove to be a convenient benefit.

  5. Thanks for the update. I believe you can use Amex points for hotels and cruises. Does the 50% back qualify? Does it pencil to use points for those types of travel or is airline the best value.

    • If your personal and business MR accounts are separate, you can call and ask that they be combined. That way, yes, you can earn 5X for purchased airfare with your personal platinum and then redeem for 2X value. I don’t know if they’ll let you move points across if they’re not combined. My guess is that they would allow it, but I have no data points regarding that.

  6. Greg…..Wow….great job explaining this mess of a benefit. I have both the Platinum and Platinum Business. It would seem to make sense for me to choose AA, and as an EP status member, book all economy travel on AA through my Platinum Biz card using points? I have a nice chunk of Amex points sitting around, and could use them up, while still getting my upgrades on AA?

  7. Maybe I’m not thinking about this right, but this combo could be huge, at least in a position like the one I describe below.

    I currently have 100,000 MR points. I don’t do much if any award flying (scheduling issues), so right now I think of this as $1,000 in cash toward flights.

    If I get the Amex Business Platinum with the 100,000 sign-up bonus, and the need to spend $15,000, I will then have 215,000 MR points. I do buy J and F from time to time, and I’m in an AA hub, so suddenly I will have points worth $4,300 in airline tickets.

    What will the $3,300 cost me? Well, there’s the $450 annual fee, but back out $200 for the annual reimbursement, once in 2016, a second time in 2017, and that’s $50. I do have to spend $15,000, but here is where the 1.5x on >$5,000 purchases comes into effect. I have to pay college tuition for someone, and the fee is 2.45%. Usually that is too rich for my blood (the fee — the tuition is what it is!), so I just send a check. Which means that there is no real opportunity cost; I wouldn’t put this on another card. But with the 1.5x on >$5,000, I’ll really have 222,500 points, or an extra $3,450 (not $3,300). So now I pay 2.45% of $15,000, or $367.50. That plus the $50 is $417.50. Long story short, in my situation, where I know I will be buying plane tickets, getting this card gets me $3,032.50.

    Good money for no real work. Please feel free to correct me if I am hallucinating.

      • Thanks. To summarize briefly, if you don’t have to MS to make the $15,000 spend, and can do the spend in >$5,000 increments, … and you buy a lot of airline tickets, then the Amex Business Plat is worth:

        ~$2,000 + $0.01*(your existing MR points)

        In re-reading, re-thinking, it seems that the key “if” is having a heavy spend on airline tickets.

        But to go back to your “minor” game-changer comment, coupled with the 5x MR points using the personal Amex Plat card, I can actually see this as a full game-changer for me that helps with forthcoming withdrawal symptoms as I pull away from AA+Citi Prestige+Barclays Silver Aviator. (What’s missing is better trip cancellation insurance.)

  8. Greg – my personal and business (Gold Amex) are combined for points as data point. I never did anything, just pooled together.

    I have a feeling that a lot of people have United as their airline with the MPX trick. We know OneWorld code shares work with Prestige for AA flights fine. What about Amex working with United code shares? Do you think these will work if you pick your one airline as United and fly economy on United code shares for Asianna, ANA, Aeroplan, etc. ???

    Great post overall. I have been picking up 2 x $500 VGCs for 2X on Gold Amex at Grocery past few months, but was a bit down on the value of Amex points in general in my situation. But getting a Business Amex down the road will be no problem and then basically a 4% rebate on cash tickets….will be nice when Prestige perk goes away next July.

    Have fun in Necker!

    • Yep, same for me: points pooled together automatically. I do think that some people have separate accounts for some reason, but I heard from a reader who was able to call and have them pooled.

      I’d assume that UA code shares would work. As long as a flight is sold by UA, Amex should see it as a UA purchase — I hope.

      • Does anyone know if I want to fly to India on United economy with its code share flight that has UA flight no it but operated by Lufthansa will work for 50% rewards points back with selected airline. So far, I am getting mixed responses from amex travel phone support. They go ask the supervisor who first says no but then comes back saying that we can make it as UNITED purchase and then it will be United purchase. I am seeing lower fares if I go from Detroit to Delhi via Newark on United but return it is Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt. This is very confusing as risking lots of points if a rep gives me wrong information.
        Also if I take a flight from Delhi to some destination in India, one representative told me since your ticket is United and major portion is on United, you should be fine with 50% points back but how do I confirm it with some written documents by Amex.

        • I don’t know either. If you risk it and it doesn’t work out, you may have luck getting Amex customer support to issue you a point refund after the fact (but of course I can’t guarantee that either)

        • Curious if you confirmed if codeshare flights work for the points rebate. I am also looking to book an AA codeshare flight operated by JAL. AA is my selected airline and I would like to know that someone has successfully booked a codeshare flight and received their rebate.

  9. Tried to book biz class on United today which is not my designated airline and there was no 50% reflected in the booking. Does the 50% come on the statement after booking? Don’t want to click “buy” and then find out the rebate isn’t working. Does anyone know? Has anyone used this new benefit yet?

    • It’s a leap of faith. I’ve done this with the previous 30% rebate and you’re right. There’s absolutely no indication that you’ll get a rebate. In my case, if I recall correctly, the rebate took maybe 5 days or so to appear in my account.

  10. If Southwest Airlines is your preferred airline (I live in a hub and have the companion pass) how does that work? You can’t actually book SW through the AMEX portal; instead, they tell you to just buy the ticket and then go through the ‘use points for charges’ path. Would this still be reimbursed at 50%?

  11. I hate that the 50% rebate is only with your selected airline. It becomes worthless when there’s always another airline cheaper than your selected airline.

    • And since I have Hawaiian as my airline and most of my flights are inter-island flights, Amex consistently price their $20 more expensive than booking directly from Hawaiian, so I’m actually losing money.

    • Actually, I think for flights leaving Hawaii, Amex is consistently more expensive compared to booking directly from the airline

  12. Hello:

    I only have American Express Blue Credit Card now. I went to the American Express travel site and randomly found an international flight costing around $720 or 144000 points. Is it normal to cost double the points (vs $720 or 72,000 points)? If that is the case, there is no advantage of getting the Enhanced Business Platinum card which gives you 50% points back. Am I missing something? Want to make sure before I apply for the Enhanced Business Platinum card.

    Thank you for all your inputs.

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