Loving Amex Business Platinum’s Pay with Points Rebate

Amex Business Platinum 50pct point rebate

I’m increasingly loving the Amex Business Platinum’s 50% pay with points rebate.  I originally called this benefit a minor game changer, but in practice, for me, it is major.

For review, on October 6 2016, Amex added an awesome feature to their Business Platinum Card:  Cardholders 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.

As long as you have enough Membership Rewards points, this makes your points worth 2 cents each towards airfare.  For example, if you want to buy a $1000 flight with this feature, you’ll pay 100,000 points, but you’ll get back 50,000.  So, your final cost for that $1,000 ticket will be only 50,000 points.

Not long ago, I wrote about how Amex offers cardholders a 1 time exception to the rule that you must pay with points through Amex Travel to get this benefit.  In order to use a Delta companion certificate I had to buy the flight I wanted through Delta.com.  I then called Amex and was able to apply points to offset the charge.  So I ended up with both a free companion ticket (thanks to my Delta Reserve card) and half of my Membership Rewards points refunded.  That was an awesome deal.  And, being the way I am, next time I book a Delta companion ticket, you can bet that I’ll call to see if they’ll apply that one time exception again ;).  UPDATE 3/15/2017: I tried calling for a one time exception again and it worked again!

Everyday excellent value

When booking long distance premium cabin international flights, airline miles usually offer the best value.  There are exceptions, such as when airlines offer compelling business class sales, but I’ll usually end up using miles for flights like these.  Of course, it is much more common for me to book domestic or short-range international flights.  In those cases, airline miles aren’t always the best option…

Yesterday I searched for a flight from Detroit to LA.  Prices for the dates and times I wanted were much higher than usual for this route.  The specific flight that worked best for me cost $630 in coach.  I could have picked far worse times and included a layover in each direction in order to save about $150.  Not worth it to me.

I also could have spent 50,000 Delta Skymiles for the flight I wanted, or 32,500 miles for an inconvenient set of flights with layovers.

Instead, I booked the flight I wanted through Amex Travel.  I spent 63,240 Membership Rewards points and got back 31,620.  I spent fewer points through Amex Travel than I would have spent for a Delta mileage award and I got the exact flight I wanted.  Even better, since flights purchased with bank points are seen as paid flights to the airlines, I’ll earn both redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles (or Medallion Qualifying Miles in Delta-speak), and I have a much better chance of an upgrade to first class.

Earn more miles

The base fare for my flight was $561.86.  And, since I have top tier Delta Diamond elite status, I’ll earn 11 redeemable miles per dollar: 561.86 x 11 = 6,180.  If we forget for a moment that Membership Rewards points are more valuable than Delta miles, we can argue that my net total point cost, then, will be 31,620 – 6,180 = 25,440.  Considering that 25K miles is the usual saver level award price for domestic flights with most airline currencies, this is remarkable.  25K saver level awards were not available with any of the airlines* I checked: AA, Alaska, Delta, or United.  But, thanks to this Business Platinum benefit, I was able to get exactly the flight I wanted for roughly that same 25K.

* For the record, Southwest had the best point price at 29,359 points, but the flight times were not great.

Better upgrades

Those with Delta elite status can qualify for free upgrades even on award tickets.  That said, those with the same status level on a paid fare get priority over those traveling on awards.  And when traveling with companions the difference between paid and award tickets is much greater.  When on paid tickets, upgrades are processed based on the highest level of status in the group.  When on award tickets, upgrades are based on the lowest level status.

Additionally, Delta Platinum and Diamond members can select upgrade certificates as Choice Benefits.  These can be applied to paid fares but not awards.  Since I paid with Amex points, I was able to apply regional upgrade certificates to this trip.  In this case the upgrades couldn’t be processed right away, but (as is usual) my upgrades were waitlisted.  If upgrade space opens up before the day of my flight, I’ll move up to first class.  Otherwise, I’ll at least hop to the front of the upgrade queue for at-the-gate upgrades.  While this doesn’t guarantee that I’ll fly in first class, it is very likely.  If I had booked an award ticket instead, I would still have a chance of an upgrade, but I certainly wouldn’t expect it on this competitive route.

Better chance of same day changes

Delta elites with Gold or higher status can make “same day” (24 hours in advance) confirmed flight changes, for free.  However, to do so when booked into economy, your original fare class must be available on the flight you want to change to.  When booking an expensive fare class, like I did, the chance of being able to secure a same day change is better.

No free advanced changes

For me, one disadvantage of booking Delta flights with Membership Rewards points instead of with Delta SkyMiles is that I don’t get free changes in advance.  Delta Platinum and Diamond elites can cancel award tickets 72 hours or more in advance and get all of their miles and paid fees returned, or change to another flight without penalty.  I love that feature.  Whenever I have unsure plans, there’s a big advantage to me to book an award rather than a paid flight. The middle-ground is to book awards while plans are uncertain.  Then, when plans firm up, check flight prices to see if it makes sense to cancel the award and book the flight with points instead.

Wrap Up

I originally described the Amex Business Platinum’s Pay with Points 50% rebate as “a minor game changer”.  It turns out that, for me, it’s major.  Since the feature was introduced, I’ve found that paying with Amex points is usually the best way to go when booking airfare.  The result is that I spend fewer points and miles and I book the flights I want rather than the ones that are available for cheap awards.  To me, that’s a huge win.

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. […] 50% Pay with Points rebate (business card only): This is the killer feature of the Business Platinum card that has not yet made its way to the personal Platinum world.  When you pay with points for flights with your selected airline, or for business or first class with any airline, you get 50% of your points back.  This is a reliable way to get 2 cents per point value from your Membership Rewards points.  See: Loving Amex Business Platinum’s Pay with Points Rebate. […]

  2. […] At the time of this writing, my wife and I have a pretty nice collection of Membership Rewards points (over 600,000).  But, ever since Amex introduced the Amex Business card’s 50% pay with points rebate, we’ve been spending our points quickly.  When comparing different options for paying for flights, Amex Membership Rewards and the 50% Business Platinum point rebate almost always wins (see: Loving Amex Business Platinum’s Pay with Points Rebate). […]

Comments

  1. Huge and getting huger. You document here a great use to compensate for overpriced domestic / lack of reasonable award pricing. The other stuff includes the apparent new parlay, with 5x MR points on this card (no need to keep Personal Plat as well) for paid airfares; plus (see Flyertalk) at the higher end there seems to be some kludge regarding Insider Fares and other stuff that can save some real money, avoid change fees, etc. Couple that with Blue for Business card that can actually generate MR points at a rapid clip….

  2. Greg, thanks for this update on this feature. One concern I have is seat assignment. I usually travel with my family. How does one avoid booking basic economy? And even if you are in main cabin economy, can you always select seats at booking with AMEX travel? If you are stuck in basic economy or generally unable to select seats this booking option is not very desirable.

    Thanks
    Scott

    • I booked with United recently through Amex Travel and got the same fare classes as if I would have booked Economy through united.com. I was able to select my seats on the Amex Travel site. There are two ways you can check to be sure that you’re not getting a Basic Economy Fare: 1. Call the Amex Travel Specialist and book that way. 2. Proceed with the online booking and check the fare class and you can cancel within 24 hours of booking. You could also compare the fares between the airline website and Amex Travel to get a good idea as well (ie. – If the price is the same its likely that they’re the same fare class.) I’m really please with this benefit as we were able to book 2 flights to Maui from Denver for 70k points and will earn segments, miles and be eligible for upgrades!

    • With most carriers, you can select seats on their website once you have the confirmation code.

      To avoid basic economy: when viewing search results, Amex displays the words “basic economy” right next to the departure date. See: http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2017/01/26/how-to-avoid-basic-economy-when-paying-with-points/

      Also if you see that Amex prices are lower than elsewhere, then they might be basic economy.

      If Amex pulls up basic economy, you can still book regular economy by calling Amex Travel

  3. I had a similar situation booking a flight from my son in SFO to come east for my mother’s 98th birthday celebration in June. Nothing was cheap – miles or cash. AA had the best schedule/route for over $600 in coach. I used my MRs and ended up paying ~31K MRs. I’m watching for award seats to open up in First so I can upgrade him with miles.

  4. If you plan to redeem your miles for 2 cents each, wouldn’t it just be better (more flexible) to use 2% cash back card?

    • As Mark says, you can earn better than 1 point per dollar with many cards. For example, with an Every Day Preferred, you’d be earning 1.5x on non-bonused spend if you used it 30 times per month and 4.5x at the grocery store — effectively 3%-9% towards flights.

      Of course, the flexibility of any transferable currency is rooted in the ability to transfer to many different partners. Traditionally, we’d have said that the flexibility of Membership Rewards points is that they can be transferred to airlines in OneWorld, Star Alliance, Sky Team, and also non-alliance members so that you would have a wide range of award bookings possible. Many of those bookings can far exceed 2 cents per point in value.

      Having the 50% back in points is further increasing the flexibility of Membership Rewards by ensuring that even when those high-value awards aren’t available, you can still get at least 2 cents per point in value. As Greg illustrates, you can now additionally use your points for cash redemptions that may be even more attractive for a variety of reasons.

      If you were only ever going to redeem Membership Rewards as a pay-with-points currency and you only had a card that earned 1x, you’re right that it might make more sense to get a 2% cash back card. But the ability to earn more than 1x combined with the flexibility of paying with points or transferring to partners makes Membership Rewards a much better option than a 2% cash back card if you plan to use your points/cash for travel.

      Of course, if you just want cash in the bank or want to earn cash back to use towards your holiday gift fund or some other cash-goal/need, a 2% card would make more sense for you. Different strokes for different folks for sure — so I’m not saying that Membership Rewards is better. But I would say it’s more flexible than a straight 2% cash back.

      • Technically there is no reward program with points that are “more flexible” than cash. I think you mean that you find Membership Rewards more valuable than straight 2% cash back.

        • I’m going to disagree with you there.

          You’re right that value is different from flexibility. So let’s remove value to purely examine flexibility.

          Cash can buy “stuff”. That “stuff” could be a seat on an airplane or a cup of coffee or a number of other things – for simplicity, let’s call it “stuff”.

          My Membership Rewards points can be used to buy “stuff” (use card, trade points for statement credit) OR my Membership Rewards points can be transferred to loyalty programs to book award flights (something cash can’t do).

          Both cash and Membership Rewards points can buy stuff. Cash can’t book award tickets. It can buy a seat on the plane – but so can paying with Membership Rewards points. Membership Rewards points have the additional flexibility of being transferred to book an award seat. Cash can’t do that.

          Seems Membership Rewards points are more flexible than cash.

          😀 — Totally kidding. You’re right, I meant more valuable than 2% cash back.

      • I would venture to guess you wouldn’t have a very hard time obtaining any point currency (other than perhaps SPG) for 1.5 cpp. While the market is not liquid per se, don’t fool yourself into thinking MR is more “flexible” than cash.

  5. Kicking myself for transferring 280K+ of MR To ANA for a trip we changed our mind to anyway.

    I could have used this for a $2490 flight and used points and got half back. Now I can’t do it anymore – I only have 5k MR left. Ugh.

  6. Do you have to have the total miles in your account or just what is actually needed? It kind of lessons the feature if you need double the miles to purchase something….seems like a way to make you earn more miles for awards….amex is always a little shady though so not that surprising.

    • Yes, you need the total miles at a rate of 1 cent per point. In other words, you need double the final net amount — first, you pay with your points at the rate of 1 cent per point and then you get 50% back as a rebate.

      What actually happens is that Amex charges your card for the full cost of the ticket and then “redeems” your points for a statement credit equal to the cost of the flights. About a day later, you get half the points back.

  7. The only drawback is that this works only for the specific airline you selected as the Airline you want the Airline Rebate for the year. The 50% points rebate is also for the same airline.

    The drawback is that if there are other airlines with better fares – you cannot get the 50% rebate if you book them because you selected this one.

    Kindly correct me if I am wrong

    • You are correct that for economy class, you are limited to the airline you selected for the annual airline rebate.

      However, you get the 50% rebate on business and first class tickets booked with any airline. For example, I recently redeemed for business class on Vietnam Airlines for flights in Asia.

  8. Living in Atlanta, the 50% back is a major benefit to us. We have booked multiple flights already on Delta that were way overpriced in terms of skymiles. It has also been a great way to keep our Skybonus with “paying” for everyone to fly by purchasing through Amex. Missed the article on the one time exception. Will definitely try that on the next companion pass purchase. Thanks!

  9. As I understand this feature, you can book with points and get 50% back or with dollars, then call in, pay with points and get 50% back. If you do the latter, any chance you’ll also get the 5x points starting soon?

    • You’re not supposed to be able to call in after the fact like that, but they will sometimes make exceptions. Yes, you should get 5X points in that case (starting March 30th). Really 4X though since they won’t give you 1X for the portion that is rebated.

      • i called amex again, and they told me for the 3rd time that you can charge airfare to your card and call in later and apply points to pay the charge (and get 50% back). they said this was absolutely clear and no exception required. I’ve also done this twice.

        • Thanks Martin. Which number did you call? Also, which airline did you book? For some airlines that can’t be booked online through Amex Travel, the process you described is the documented process.

        • i called the regular business platinum number. i’ve done this for american airlines

  10. AMEX doesn’t require that you have all the points to redeem for a ticket. You will get your 50% rebate whether you use all points or partial points to pay for your ticket. Confirmed with several agents. However, I have not tested it out myself.

  11. Besides the signup bonus and 5x points, majority of all other spend to earn points will be at 1x. If all you are after is getting half back, why not use the Barclay Arrival and Earn 2% cashback redeemable on travel with a 5% rebate. Wouldn’t the Barclay technically be a better way, offers full flexibility, with no restrictions?

    • You are doing it wrong if most of your spend only earn 1x. As nick explained above, with the right cards most spend would earn 1.5x, 2x, 3x, 4.5x…

  12. So, I’d love to use this to book seats on a Norwegian flight in their premium class. I’ve got three problems. First Norwegian isn’t bookable online. Second, even it were, the fare is better on the Norway site. Third, I have no idea if this benefit is available for Norway premium — whether it counts as business. I guess I could book, call for an exception, and then try to pay with points during the 24 hour period but I’m not sure if that’s the best strategy.

      • So, Amex confirmed to me that I can book on Norwegian by paying myself with my card and then calling in to apply points. But nobody can tell me how Amex decides what constitutes “business” or “first” class. I noted that every airline calls its premium product something different — ET calls it “Cloud 9,” AF has “La Premier,” etc. — but could not get an answer on what determines what is business or first. Best they would say is “call Norwegian.” It seems to me that anything not expressly called “business” or “first” is potentially risky. So, I think I’m stuck unless I can get something more concrete. ITA Matrix seems to call it “Business (I),” but I have no idea whether this will be good enough for Amex.

        • Great info Larry, thanks!
          Personally, if I were you I’d risk it. If Amex doesn’t automatically give you the rebate you are in a great position to call after the fact to request it. May require asking for a supervisor if first line person doesn’t help.

  13. I’m interested in booking some business/first class flights to Europe using Pay with Points, but am not finding decent prices. Can you guide me to a good resource for finding these? I’m only finding “sales” on coach fares. Thanks.

  14. Great, thanks for all the work you do. We need to do something about this….I recommend to my boss to make C and F fares restricted to she same airline of choice and whenever you call us up and bother our most valued team members in the Travel dept. we charge you a fee of $25 to be tacked on to the ticket.

    I smell a bonus and a promotion, thanks FM!

  15. Added data point — I have a business platinum and wanted to book a flight on Singapore in business and get the 50% back — I specifically called Amex MR to check that they would make this exception, and they said yes — so I went forward, made the charge, waited for it to clear, called back and they acted like they’d never heard of it. I referenced my earlier call and they said there were no notes to that effect. I asked for a supervisor and she said it was not an exception they can make, and offered me 7500 points for my trouble. She offered to file a “formal compliant” on my behalf and said I would hear in 10 days. Pretty crappy outcome if I don’t get the 50% back.

    • That’s awful. What number did you call? In my case (when I was granted a one time exception), only the Membership Rewards department seemed able to help. If you weren’t talking to them, I’d highly recommend calling them to ask for the rebate.

      • Called number on back of card (ending in 8468). The very first time I called, I spoke with MR travel (to confirm they couldn’t find the flight I was searching for online — they found it, but at 2x the price). I recalled you’d said on the MR department knew about it, so I called back a second time and asked specifically for MR, and said, as between the two next options, travel or other, “other.” I explained the situation and asked if I could pay with points after the fact and still get the 50% rebate – the rep went away, checked with someone, and said yes, one time exception. Made the charge, waited for it to settle, called back exact same number, MR, “other,” and ran into this situation.

        The first rep seemed genuinely sorry but had no idea what I was talking about — and the supervisor was quite curt and rude. I have already been annoyed with their customer service for a couple other reasons and after the points are used up (which’ll be much quicker if they don’t credit the 50% back as I just blew through 180,000!) then I’m cancelling the cards.

        • Thanks for the detailed followup. It sounds like you got lucky (or maybe unlucky) to get someone who knew what they were talking about on your first call, then sadly didn’t get anyone useful after making the purchase.

          I know its painful, but my recommendation is to keep calling until you get someone who understands the one time exception.

          If all else fails, my guess is that our guest blogger, lawyer, Alex, would be happy to take on your case…

  16. UPDATE: The call afterwards “one time exception” worked again!
    Here’s what I did:
    1. I booked a Delta companion ticket through Delta.com and paid with my Biz Plat card
    2. I waited for the charge to appear on my account (no longer pending)
    3. I called and asked about applying points retroactively
    4. I was told no, not at the same value.
    5. I asked to speak to Membership Rewards, and was connected to them
    6. Without hesitation they applied the points (1 cent per point) and the 50% rebate!

  17. Advice needed. First I am United Platinum and have the business Amex Plat card. Used the new 50% back benefit to purchase 3 round trip economy to Europe on united (my preferred airline) just last week.
    Of course I now found out one of the 3 needs to change the return (not me). So I called Amex to see what my options are – they said they charge 39. for the change but that united charges 300. per ticket.
    Does the change have to be initiated with Amex since they ticketed the flight or can I go direct to united and possibly get a lesser charge due to my plat status? Or does my plat status even matter if I am making the change to someone else’s return??

      • I believe you can go through United. I was inquiring about upgrading to First Class on a booking I just made with United through Amex Travel and they the United Premier rep provided me options to do so both with cash or points. I would assume you could do the same as I could also change my flight via United.com if I wanted to.

  18. Quick question, since Delta sees this as a cash ticket and I earn points, will I also get my Crossover reward points? Goodness knows I love me some SPG points just for flying Delta. Plus that’s basically another 2.5 cents per dollar spent.

    • Unfortunately, I don’t think you do earn SPG points. The terms for Crossover rewards state: “Tickets booked with Online Travel Agencies including but not limited to Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Hotwire, or their subsidiaries will not be eligible for Starpoints.” I’m pretty sure the Amex Travel books Delta flights the same way as other OTAs.

  19. My understanding is that if you book with Amex travel and apply 5,000 MR points (worth $50) at the time of ticketing that you have 11 months to request that they apply the pay with points and rebate to the balance of your fare. That gives you plenty of time to earn more points or decide if you want to use the pay with points option. I already did this once and paid the balance of the points about 1 1/2 months later with no problem.

    Moreover, I booked a res with Amex travel on Alaska Air to use the pay with points. When I called Alaska regarding the class of service and seat assignment, they told me that I could pay $7 more to change from a regular coach fare to an upgradable coach fare and got a first class seat instantly (because of MVP status). So seat selection and changing class of service isn’t a problem at all on Alaska Air.

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