Via One Mile at a Time, American Express is targeting some of its Business Platinum Card customers for a very unusual promotion that attempts to fill a gap in its Membership Rewards program. Although you can transfer Membership Rewards points and book awards with Delta, you can’t do that with the other two largest U.S. carriers, American Airlines and United Airlines.
So, Amex will let you search for award space, redeem the number of Membership Rewards points if you could transfer, and they’ll just buy the ticket for you.
Points will be deducted from your Membership Rewards® balance in an amount equal to the number of miles required by the airline for an award ticket. The total price of the ticket inclusive of taxes and fees will be charged to your Card account, but you will receive a statement credit, less the award ticket taxes and fees.
Ordinarily I think Amex’s “Pay with Points” options are a bad deal. They tend to give you a value of 1 cent or less per point. If you transfer them to a participating program you can get much more value. But this offer is different.
- You may be “paying” with points, but you’re only paying the award rate, which confers a much higher value per point.
- Because Amex is actually buying the tickets with cash, they are revenue fares that will earn more miles and can even be upgraded.
Premium fares that may only cost 100-130K miles each as an award can earn up to 75,000 miles under new revenue-based program rules announced by United and Delta. And both United and American are running separate promotions that offer up to 12,000 bonus miles if you have elite status and fly long distances in business or first class.
Some details have surfaced in the comments since Ben originally posted. This appears to be randomly targeted to 30,000 customers. You could try to request access, but my guess is non-targeted people are left out. But if you’re one of the lucky few, Amex is not doing much in the way of confirming award space, instead relying on an honor system and verbal guarantee from customers in situations where you may claim to find additional award space (as a benefit of elite status) than they can see.
Unfortunately Amex does have some annoying rules for redeeming the tickets:
- You have to search for award space on your own (though you should learn how to do this if you haven’t already).
- Travel can only be on American- or United-operated flights, so no partner awards.
- You must book at least three days before departure.
- There is a limit of 15 booked itineraries (for up to 7 passengers each) during the offer period, through June 30.
- Call between 5 AM and 4 PM Pacific Time.
I was not targeted, nor was Ben. I actually just cancelled my business card and added myself to my wife’s consumer version. It would certainly be a nice feature since I have a lot of Membership Rewards points I’m looking to use soon.
While I don’t think this particular offer will be rolled out to the entire Membership Rewards program due to the tremendous opportunity to lose money on high-value premium fares, I think some version of the experiment may eventually make it to the rest of us. Amex realizes that it has to shake up its program to maintain its customer base. No one buys travelers checks anymore, and they’ve lost some airline lounge partners, so they’ve focused on things like building their own Centurion Lounge network as an evolution of their business model. Even that concept began small and had limited access (Platinum Card members once had to pay).
I would probably still be interested in this offer if I had to pay double points to book a premium fare if it meant I would also earn miles on it toward my elite status. My problem is I don’t have enough time to pursue both status and redeem my miles. On the other hand, be aware that paid fares have much more restrictive rules on changes and cancellations. One benefit of award tickets is that they can be incredibly flexible, especially for elite members.