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Using American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points to book prepaid flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars and vacation packages through the Amex Travel portal can be a great way to save money on your next vacation. But are you really getting the best value by redeeming your hard-earned points this way?
Whether you use the portal or transfer points to an American Express travel partner is up to you, as are other factors — from travel date flexibility, award availability and the type of credit card you're using to personal preferences for brands, seat class and comfort level. These will all come into play during the booking process.
Below, CNBC Select breaks down the best ways to book prepaid flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars and vacation packages with Amex points through the Amex Travel portal.
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You can access the Amex Travel portal and pay for flights, hotels and other travel needs with cash as long as you have an American Express branded credit card, but you will need one that earns Membership Rewards (MR) points to view the number of MR points required for a booking.
Luckily, American Express has several travel rewards cards that you can earn lucrative welcome offers to help you get started:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $8,000 within the first six months of card membership.
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months of card membership.
- American Express® Green Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn 20% back on eligible travel and transit purchases made during your first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit.
- Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership.
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 in eligible purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership.
- American Express® Business Gold Card: Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 in eligible purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership.
Depending on which credit card you have, there may be opportunities to earn bonus points or receive partial rebates when redeeming MR points for flights. The Platinum Card, for instance, lets cardholders earn 5X points on flights booked through the Amex Travel portal or directly with the airline on up to $500,000 worth of flights per calendar year.
The Business Platinum Card also gives cardholders redeeming MR points for economy flights with their preferred airline or booking premium-class flights through the portal a 35% points rebate (up to 500,000 points per calendar year). Those booking with the American Express Business Gold Credit Card receive a similar rebate of 25% back on up to 250,000 points each year.
Another valuable perk of having The Platinum Card or The Business Platinum Card is the up to $200 annual airline credit you can use to cover checked bag fees, change fees, charges for pet's flights, choosing your seat and inflight amenities with your preferred airline, all of which can quickly add up.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 1X points on all other eligible purchases
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
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Start by logging in to your American Express account. If you're coming from your account's dashboard page, click "Menu" in the top left corner, then select "Travel" to access more options (pictured below) and select "Book a Trip" to head to the main travel portal.
The Amex Travel portal's front page resembles your average travel booking interface, with options to search for flights, hotels, vacation packages, rental cars and cruises.
Below the main search engine, you'll find current information about cancellation policies and other important pandemic travel details. There's also an interactive map showing Covid-19 testing and vaccination requirements around the world.
Hovering over the "Book" button at the top of the page opens a separate menu with shortcuts to various portal perks, like the International Airline Program (IAP), Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts and The Hotel Collection.
Hovering over the "Explore" button in the main menu leads to many of the same shortcuts, plus options for finding a Travel Insider, Special Offers through Fine Hotels + Resorts and information about destinations and premium hotel packages.
Whether you're booking flights, hotels or other travel through the portal, you'll be given an option to "Use Only Points" or "Use Points + Card" so it's up to you if you want to redeem all your points or just some. Either way, your credit card will be charged the full amount and you'll see a credit for the value of the points used posted separately to your account within 48 hours. Be aware that you will have to use an Amex credit card that's enrolled in the Membership Rewards program and redeem at least 5,000 MR points in order to activate the Pay with Points feature.
Should you need to cancel a booking made with MR points, call 1-800-297-3276 to get them returned. You'll receive a statement credit for any bookings made with your American Express Membership Rewards card through the portal.
While you're more likely to get the best redemption value by transferring MR points to one Amex's airline partners and taking advantage of airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam, Star Alliance) to book flights, there are still some considerations to keep in mind when it comes to booking through the portal.
Note that with most Amex Travel Portal bookings your MR points will only be worth 1 cent each towards flights. So if you were booking a $100 flight, you'd need to redeem 10,000 points to cover the cost.
For starters, you'll have more flexibility as far as travel dates and brands, which comes in handy when award availability is limited on certain dates through certain airlines. Flights booked with MR points through the portal are treated as paid bookings, so you won't miss out on earning elite miles or status credits. You'll also be able to see which type of seat you're booking right away, as it's listed on the right side of each search result.
It's always a good idea to shop around before settling on a redemption method, so price out how many points each flight costs through the Amex Travel portal vs. on the airline's website. Taxes and fees may also be tacked on. Unless you have the Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card, be aware that airline ticket fees of $6.99 for domestic flights and $10.99 for international flights apply when you're booking through the Amex Travel portal.
Note that low-cost carriers like Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines aren't part of the Amex Travel portal, though you will be able to find flights with other major American carriers like Delta and United, among other international airline partners.
During the booking process, you'll have a chance to use MR points to upgrade from economy to nonrefundable or refundable seats in premium classes, though it may not provide the best redemption value. If, however, you do have plenty of MR points lying around and crave a fancier flight experience, this is a good option. Again, it all comes down to personal preference and comfort level.
Deals on international flights can also be found by booking through the International Airline Program (IAP), which offers discounts on non-economy tickets when you book flights through one of 26 participating airlines through the Amex Travel portal with a Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card. Flights must begin in the U.S. or select cities in Canada in order to qualify for this perk and you'll have to pay a $39 service fee per ticket.
Filter search results by the number of stops, departure and landing time, airline or flight number, or sort them according to lowest price, flight duration, departure time or Amex recommendation (which usually means Delta flights will appear first, even if they're not necessarily your cheapest option).
Consider the example below, a search for a round-trip nonstop flight from Washington, D.C. to Paris from November 5-12, 2021, booked with the Amex Platinum Card. The results included a Delta flight from $674 or 67,425 MR points.
Alternatively, if you wanted to transfer your Amex MR points directly to Delta (since it's one of American Express' travel partners and you can switch them over at a 1:1 ratio) and redeem them through Delta's website, a round-trip flight would set you back 58,000 Delta SkyMiles plus another $96 in taxes and fees.
In this case, for 9,425 miles less, you'd end up with a better redemption by transferring MR points to Delta instead of going through the Amex Travel portal. But that's not necessarily the case for every flight, so always test it out first to see if using the portal makes the most sense for your travel needs.
To finish booking your flight through the portal, chose your desired route(s), review the details, select your upgrade option and pick how many MR points you'd like to put toward your purchase.
As with flights, it's important to make sure you're getting the best deal on your MR points redemption. Consider transferring them to one of Amex's three hotel partners — Hilton Honors at a 1:2 ratio, Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 ratio, or Choice Privileges (Choice Hotels) at a 1:1 ratio, though there's a special promotion now through October 31, 2021, that bumps up Hilton and Marriott transfers by 30 percent.
Note that with most Amex Travel Portal bookings your MR points will only be worth .7 cent each towards hotel stays. So if you were booking a $100 hotel you'd need to redeem about 14,300 points to cover the cost. However, if you book a stay through Amex's Fine Hotels & Resorts program your points will be worth a little more, at 1 cent apiece.
Unlike MR points redemptions for flights, hotels booked through the portal are viewed as third-party reservations, so you won't be able to earn hotel points or enjoy status-related perks you'd have by booking directly through the hotel.
Begin your search by plugging in your travel dates and destination. Then, filter results by hotel or brand, star rating, price per night, neighborhood, amenities or accessibility, and sort by name, price, star rating or Amex recommendation.
For the following example, we searched for a seven-night stay booked November 5–12, 2021, with the Amex Platinum Card. The Renaissance Paris Arc De Triomphe Hotel, a Marriott Bonvoy property, was one of the best options, with rates from $306 or 43,723 MR points per night.
When booking the same stay through the Marriott website, you'd need 340,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for seven nights (which breaks down to 48,571 points per night), with nightly cash rates starting at 367 euros or $433. In this case, it would make more sense to book it through the portal. You could also earn 5X points for the stay by paying with the Amex Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card.
Make it a habit to compare the number of points required by the portal with the number of points needed to redeem through each hotel's website, as pricing may be affected by location and time of year, among other factors. To complete your booking through the Amex Travel portal, choose your room type, review the details and select how many points you'd like to use.
Premium cardholders also have access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which adds extra benefits per stay at more than 1,200 properties around the world, based on availability:
- 12 p.m. check-in and guaranteed 4 p.m. late check-out
- Complimentary room upgrades and Wi-Fi
- Daily breakfast for two
- A $100 credit to use toward on-property activities, dining or other perks like airport transfers, depending on your hotel
Additionally, those with the Amex Gold Card, Business Gold Card, Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card, and in some cases, the Centurion Card, can book trips through The Hotel Collection. Note that Amex Gold Card members earn 2X points, while Platinum Card members earn 5X points on such bookings, but all receive the following benefits per stay of two or more nights:
- A credit of up to $100 to use toward on-property dining, spa, or activities
- Room upgrades (based on availability)
- Discounted rates, depending on the hotel
The Amex Travel portal also lets you search for and book vacation packages, which, depending on what kinds of sales are happening at the time, can save you a bundle or end up costing about the same as it would be to book your flight and hotel separately. If you do book a package, note that the same airline ticket fees apply as when you book separately (not for Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders, who have them waived). Cards earning MR points will score 2X points on packages, while those with Amex Platinum and Business Platinum cards will earn 5X points.
While cashing in a ton of MR points for a cruise or car rental may not yield the best redemption (your points will be worth just .7 cents each), it may still be a good option depending on your travel needs.
Click on the "Cruises" tab of the Amex Travel portal homepage to search by cruise line, destination, travel dates and sailing duration. Below, for example, are some results for Mediterranean cruises in November 2021.
The prices shown reflect the cost per person, based on double occupancy cabins. Depending on which card you're using and the cruise options available, you should be able to redeem Amex MR points for a portion of or all of your sailing.
Those booking with Membership Rewards credit cards can earn 2X points per dollar spent on cruises booked through the portal, while folks with Platinum Cards or Business Platinum Cards can score stateroom credits of $100–$300 and other onboard perks through the Cruise Privileges program.
As far as car rentals, it's a pretty similar search process — just plug in your destination, whether you want to drop the car off in the same place or in a different location, your dates and the time you want to begin and end your rental.
Once the results appear, you can filter by the type of car (standard, compact, premium, etc), the option to pay now or later, price per day, pick-up location, rental car company and features like unlimited mileage, automatic vs. manual transmission, Hybrid/Electric cars or 4WD. Sort results by distance or total price.
After choosing your car, you'll be asked if you want to pay now, which means you'll be able to use MR points to book part of or all of your prepaid rental, or pay later, which means you'll have to pay cash at rental car counter — doing so can earn you 2X points per dollar, so it's an easy way to rack up some more MR points.
Next, enter information about the driver, pick how you want to pay (how many points or with cash), and review the rental car policies. As always, it doesn't hurt to comparison shop, so run the numbers through the actual rental car companies before you book to make sure you're getting the biggest bang for your buck.
Booking through the Amex Travel portal is a simple way to redeem your MR points, however you'll usually get much more value from Amex points if you transfer them to an airline or hotel partner's loyalty program. If you do book through Amex's Travel Portal remember that your points are worth 1 cent per point towards flights and .7 cents apiece towards other travel (except when booking a Fine Hotels + Resort property).
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