Is Amex Pay With Points For Flights Worth It?

Is Amex Pay With Points For Flights Worth It?

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Link: Maximize Amex Pay With Points flight bookings with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

There are several excellent cards earning Amex Membership Rewards points. In general I think the best way to redeem these points is to transfer them to Amex’s airline partners, so you can get outsized value for premium redemptions.

That’s not the only option, though. Amex also has the Pay With Points program, which is another popular way to redeem points, which may prove practical for a lot more people. In this post I wanted to take a closer look at how that works.

What is Amex Pay With Points?

The Amex Pay With Points program essentially lets you directly redeem your points toward purchases. The value is fixed depending on what you’re looking to redeem for, and the value ranges from very bad to potentially pretty decent, if you know what you’re doing.

Just to give some examples of redemption rates you can expect through Amex Pay With Points:

  • Amex points can generally be redeemed for 0.6 cents each toward credit card charges
  • Amex points can generally be redeemed for 0.5-0.7 cents each toward gift card purchases
  • Amex points can generally be redeemed for 0.7-0.85 cents each toward rental car and hotel purchases through Amex Travel
  • Amex points can generally be redeemed for 1.0 cents each toward airfare purchases through Amex Travel

As you can see, the value there varies significantly. For context, I value Amex Membership Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, and that’s thanks to the ability to transfer Amex points to partner airlines, where you can book very expensive first & business class tickets at a reasonable cost with points.

I do think there are circumstances where it can make sense to use Amex Pay With Points, but please don’t use points to wipe out charges or for gift cards, because you shouldn’t settle for just 0.7 cents of value per point. Rather the potential value comes from using Amex points toward airfare purchases, as you can do much better than I’ve outlined above.

The best Amex Pay With Points option is for airfare purchases

Using Amex Pay With Points for flights

If you are going to use Amex points as cash toward a purchase, you’ll get the most value using your points toward the cost of flights, since each point can be redeemed for one cent (or more, as I’ll discuss below).

If you’re going to use this option, there are a few general things to be aware of:

  • You must book your airline ticket through Amex Travel (even International Airline Program bookings qualify)
  • When you book your flight, the full dollar amount of the flight will be charged to your Amex card, and then a corresponding credit will be applied to your account within 48 hours, reflecting that you redeemed points for the purchase
  • You can use Amex Pay With Points to partially pay for an airline ticket, though you need to redeem a minimum of 5,000 Amex points
  • If you cancel a flight, you’ll receive a statement credit — if you want Amex points returned to your account, you can contact Membership Rewards to have that done
  • For all practical purposes Amex Pay With Points bookings are “paid” tickets as far as airlines are concerned, so flights should be eligible for mileage accrual, and should count toward elite status
Amex Pay With Points allows you to book any seat

Get up to 1.54 cents with Amex Pay With Points

If you’re looking to maximize points, getting 1.0 cents of value per Membership Rewards points probably doesn’t sound exciting. But that’s where one of Amex’s premium business cards come in handy.

Specifically, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (review) offers a 35% rebate on Pay With Points airline bookings. This can get you up to 1.54 cents of value per point toward airfare. Now, there are some things to be aware of:

  • This rebate only applies when booking first or business class travel, or economy travel on your designated U.S. airline (you can designate an airline in your Amex account — this is the same as the carrier you designate for your airline fee credit)
  • You can pool your Amex points across all cards and redeem at these rates, assuming you have one of the above cards
  • With this redemption option, the Amex Business Platinum offers up to one million points in rebates per year
  • You need to have the full Amex points for the redemption upfront (based on the rate of one cent per point), and then the 35% points rebate will post to your account within 6-10 weeks
Amex Pay With Points works for first class on all airlines

Just to break down the math here, say you want to use Pay With Points for a $575 JetBlue Mint (business class) flight from Boston to Seattle:

  • Regardless of which Amex Membership Rewards points card you have, you’d need to pay 57,510 Amex points for that flight
  • If you had the Amex Business Platinum you’d receive a rebate of 20,129 points after the fact, meaning you’d pay 37,381 points in the end
A JetBlue Mint flight through Amex Travel

Tip: Stack Amex Pay With Points & Insider Fares

There’s another trick that can get you even more value. Amex has Insider Fares, which are essentially discounted fares on a variety of airlines. The discounts vary, and in some cases they’re substantial, while in other cases there are no savings.

This is available to anyone with an Amex card earning Membership Rewards points, and the Insider Fares will show up as long as you have enough points to cover the entire cost of your ticket. What’s awesome here is that you can stack these opportunities.

In other words, you could get a discounted ticket through the Insider Fares program, and then you could use the 35% Pay With Points rebate on top of that.

As an example, take an Insider Fare from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle in Alaska Airlines first class. The standard fare would be $708 (which would require 70,810 Amex points), while the Insider Fare lowers the cost to 66,652 points (the equivalent of $666 worth of airfare).

In addition to the already discounted pricing, if you had the Amex Business Platinum you’d receive a rebate of 23,328 points after the fact, meaning you’d pay 43,324 points in the end.

An Alaska Airlines Insider Fare through Amex Travel

Redeeming 43,424 points for a flight that would cost $708 is quite a good value, as that’s the equivalent of getting around 1.63 cents of value per mile.

Is Amex Pay With Points for flights worth it?

There’s often a tough balance between maximizing your rewards points for the best value, and just using them for what’s practical. So while there’s no “one size fits all” answer as to whether or not Pay With Points is worth it, here are some general thoughts:

  • Please don’t redeem your Amex points for less than a penny each toward statement credits, gift cards, etc., because that’s a terrible use of points
  • Personally I’d try to avoid redeeming Amex points for one cent each toward airfare, since that’s still on the very low end of Amex points redemptions
  • Amex Pay With Points can be a very good deal with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, as you can get 1.54 cents of value per point
  • If you’re going to make a Pay With Points redemption, it could be worth picking up the Amex Business Platinum just for that, since all your points will suddenly get that higher value
  • Pay With Points can become a better value if you can book an Insider Fare, or if you’re going for elite status, and value the elite miles you’re getting by booking a “paid” ticket compared to an award ticket
  • Pay With Points can be a great option in situations where award availability is tough to come by, but paid fares are good; for example, business class flights to Hawaii are often expensive when redeeming points, but reasonable in cash, making Pay With Points a great option

I can’t emphasize enough that this is an especially popular redemption option with those chasing status, since these Amex Pay With Points flights are considered the same as any other paid fare when it comes to elite status qualification.

Amex Pay With Points has some good uses for flights

Bottom line

Amex Pay With Points allows you to redeem points at a fixed rate toward a variety of purchases. The best value comes with using Pay With Points for flights, since you’ll get a minimum of one cent of value per point.

Amex Pay With Points for flights starts to really become valuable if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, in which case you can get a 35% rebate on these bookings, getting you up to 1.54 cents of value per point.

Personally I still typically prefer to transfer my Amex points to travel partners for first & business class award redemptions, but for some people this could be worthwhile, and I’ve certainly used this option before.

To those with Amex points, how do you feel about the Pay With Points program? Have you ever used it for flights?

Conversations (13)
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  1. David Guest

    If you cancel a flight, you’ll receive a statement credit — if you want Amex points returned to your account, you can contact Membership Rewards to have that done

    This is no longer true for Biz Platinum as they refunded the points and then charged my card. I calledf Amex to complain but this is waht the rep said

  2. iamhere Guest

    Your focus is on paying for airfare with points. Amex also from time to time has promotions for paying for specific merchants with at least one point for a discount, such as Amazon.

  3. Origami Guest

    Just used this for intra-Asian BC yesterday. It's possible to "buy" AMEX points for ~1 cent each, so it knocked 1/3 off the fare, making it ~$200 more than economy. Definitely will be on the lookout for opportunities in the future.

  4. Jessica Guest

    Is the 35% off for only registered airline? For example, I registered Southwest as the airline for my platinum card to get the best out of $200 credit. Since there is no SW business class, I would never get a 35% discount?

    1. GregR Guest

      Jessica, you would get 35% points rebate for any SW flight booked with point thru Amex Travel portal, plus you would get 35% points rebate for any other airlines' business or first class flights. You would not, for example, get the rebate if you booked economy class on United since that is not your registered airline.

    2. Scott Guest

      Any airline if you book First or Business, and have the Platinum. Use this option a lot, put all of restaurant and grocery on a Gold at 4x so really getting a 6% return

  5. Cindi Guest

    I am using this more because it's become almost impossible to find decent point redemptions anywhere I want to go. I earn AmEx points at 2x, redeem them at 1.54x. It's difficult to match that these days through airline points.
    The only time I am using airline miles is when I'm flying to and from different destinations, because purchasing one way tickets to/from Europe is ridiculously expensive to buy, or for the flexibility in...

    I am using this more because it's become almost impossible to find decent point redemptions anywhere I want to go. I earn AmEx points at 2x, redeem them at 1.54x. It's difficult to match that these days through airline points.
    The only time I am using airline miles is when I'm flying to and from different destinations, because purchasing one way tickets to/from Europe is ridiculously expensive to buy, or for the flexibility in cancellations when purchasing with airline miles.

  6. Bossman Guest

    @International Traveler no, unfortunately, because there is a corresponding credit when the points are redeemed that offsets the purchase.

  7. W Diamond

    @Ben - Can you write a post about the credit cards you think are most valuable for people just starting out with credit cards and also for younger people. I have a family member (a college student) who loves to travel and who is also an airline and product geek. He wants to maximize his spending right now (he spends a lot on groceries as well as travel, particularly on airfare). What cards would you recommend for him. He has an excellent credit score above 750.

  8. InternationalTraveler Gold

    With the “Amex Pay With Points” feature, do you still earn the 5x points for the flights with the Amex Platinum Business, as the flights show up as paid on your statement first followed by a separate points credit ?

    1. Bossman Guest

      @International Traveler no, unfortunately, because there is a corresponding credit when the points are redeemed that offsets the purchase.

      (Sorry I accidentally posted without replying the first time).

  9. Ivan X Guest

    I use the 35% Business Platinum rebate all the time. Some notes:

    In practice, you receive ithe rebate right around a month after booking. If you refund your ticket, it is taken back from you.

    Also, if you refund an Amex Travel ticket, you retain the cash value of the points; if you want them redeposited as points, you have to separately call the Membership Reward department with the booking date and the amount, and...

    I use the 35% Business Platinum rebate all the time. Some notes:

    In practice, you receive ithe rebate right around a month after booking. If you refund your ticket, it is taken back from you.

    Also, if you refund an Amex Travel ticket, you retain the cash value of the points; if you want them redeposited as points, you have to separately call the Membership Reward department with the booking date and the amount, and request a “reversal.” For this reason I always keep a list of Amex Travel refunded tickets and then when a few pile up I call them.

    For a canceled ticket that is not refundable, you have to rebook through Amex Travel. This is easy with some airlines (Delta) and a pain with others (United). Also, with some airlines (United), the ticket rules dictate that if you use a canceled ticket value and the fare difference is in your favor, you forfeit the residual value, which really blows. For this reason, I buy refundable if it’s not unreasonable. Also, with some airlines (United), you have to pay the difference in the airline’s favor in cash; you can’t use points.

    Unlike the personal Platinum, the Business Platinim does not earn 5x on airlines unless booking through Amex Travel.

    The prices on the Amex Travel website can be grossly inflated for some flights. They may be able to manually re-price it if you call in.

  10. JJ Guest

    I read somewhere once that you get double to redemption rate for centurion cards ar $0.02 per point, is that true?

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Bossman Guest

@International Traveler no, unfortunately, because there is a corresponding credit when the points are redeemed that offsets the purchase. (Sorry I accidentally posted without replying the first time).

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David Guest

If you cancel a flight, you’ll receive a statement credit — if you want Amex points returned to your account, you can contact Membership Rewards to have that done This is no longer true for Biz Platinum as they refunded the points and then charged my card. I calledf Amex to complain but this is waht the rep said

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iamhere Guest

Your focus is on paying for airfare with points. Amex also from time to time has promotions for paying for specific merchants with at least one point for a discount, such as Amazon.

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