Membership Rewards Insider Fares: average 1.7 cents per point with the Business Platinum card

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I’ve often written that it’s possible for Amex Business Platinum cardholders to get just over 1.5 cents per point value by taking advantage of the card’s 35% Airline Bonus.  I’ve only learned recently that you can do better.  By combining the 35% Airline Bonus with Membership Rewards Insider Fares, I’ve found opportunities to get as much as 1.87 cents value when purchasing flights!  This combination deal is also good for Business Gold cardholders and Business Centurion cardholders, as discussed below.

Membership Rewards Insider Fares

Insider Fares are a feature of Amex Travel.  If you have a card that offers Membership Rewards points, then Amex Travel will often show you discounted fares when you search for flights.  I’ve found discounts as high as 18%, but discounts around 10% are more common.

Of course, there’s a catch.  You must pay for the entire ticket with Membership Rewards points to get the deal.  That’s a problem because Membership Rewards points are usually worth only 1 cent each when spent on flights.  So, with the discount you would get slightly better than 1 cent per point value.  Usually it’s possible to do much better than that by strategically transferring points to airline miles.

There is one situation where it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of these discounts: If you have an Amex card that offers an Airline Bonus, you can get great value by combining both deals.

Amex Airline Bonus

Three Amex cards offer an Airline Bonus when you pay for airfare with Membership Rewards points:

  • Business Gold: 25% Airline Bonus. Get 25% points back after you use Pay With Points for all or part of a flight booked with American Express Travel if the flight is either on your selected qualifying airline or First or Business class, up to 250,000 points back per calendar year.
  • Business Platinum: 35% Airline Bonus. Get 35% points back after you use Pay With Points for all or part of a flight booked with American Express Travel if the flight is either on your selected qualifying airline or First or Business class, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year.
  • Business Centurion: 50% Airline Bonus. Get 50% points back after you use Pay With Points for all or part of a flight booked with American Express Travel.  I don’t know whether there are any caps when the Business Centurion version of this benefit.

Without any additional discounts, the Airline Bonus results in the following per point values:

  • Business Gold (25% Bonus): 1.33 cents per point
  • Business Platinum (35% Bonus): 1.54 cents per point
  • Business Centurion (50% Bonus): 2 cents per point

By combining these Airline Bonuses with Insider Fares, you can do better

Observed Discounts

I ran quite a few searches through Amex Travel and recorded the Insider Fares when available.  Insider Fares were available on most routes and cabins that I checked, but not with most airlines.  American Airlines Insider Fares were by far the most common for domestic flights.  Alaska was also well represented on routes that it serves.  On international flights American and Delta were equally well represented, and many other airlines showed up as well.  United was completely MIA domestically, but sometimes appeared as a code share with an alliance partner on international flights.

The following chart shows a summary of the data I collected where I found AA, Alaska, or Delta flights.  Other airlines are not shown because I usually had only 1 data point for each.

As you can see above, AA and Delta discounts range from 8% to 16.4% for domestic flights, but Alaska discounts are under 6%.

Across all airlines, I found an average (mean) domestic discount of 9.9% and international discount of 6.64%.  This translates into per point values as follows:

  • Business Gold (25% Bonus): 1.48 domestic, 1.43 international
  • Business Platinum (35% Bonus): 1.71 domestic, 1.65 international
  • Business Centurion (50% Bonus): 2.22 domestic, 2.15 international

My Thoughts

The Business Platinum card used to offer a 50% Airline Bonus.  I loved using that as a way to get 2 cents per point value from my Membership Rewards points.  Since Amex dropped the benefit to 35% for that card, I’ve been less excited about using my points that way.  I believe I get better value by transferring points to airline programs as needed.

Now, though, I’ve learned that I can often get around 1.7 cents per point value by combining the 35% rebate with Insider Fares.  At that value, I’m more likely to pay with points.  There is a catch though.  Only American Airlines showed Insider Fares for all of the routes I checked.  And my experience flying AA in the last few years has been awful.  I’m not kidding when I say that the majority of my AA flights in the past few years have either been significantly delayed or cancelled.  I now think of flying AA as a last resort.

Another issue is with economy flights.  For economy flights, the Airline Bonus only applies to the airline that you picked as your preferred airline with American Express (e.g. the airline where you earn incidental fee reimbursements).  And, sorry AA, but I’m not selecting you.  So, for me, the most likely use of this combination of features will be when Insider Fares are available on Delta.  Fortunately, on a few searches, Delta came back as the best priced option even before Insider Fares were applied.  In those cases I’ll be very happy to spend points at around 1.7 cents per point value.

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