If you have the Amex Platinum or Business Platinum, you're eligible for premium-airfare discounts with more than 20 airlines

David Slotnick/Business InsiderThe International Airline Program offers discounts in premium cabins on airlines including Virgin Atlantic.

If you carry the American Express Platinum or Business Platinum card, you may not know about the Amex International Airline Program benefit available through your account. The program offers both special points redemption rates and discounted fares when you book premium-cabin seats on specific airlines. The devil, of course, is in the details, so let’s dive in.

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

What is the Amex International Airline Program?

The Amex International Airline Program gets you access to lower airfare with more than 20 participating airlines when you book in first, business, or premium economy class.

You need to book directly through the Amex International Airline Program landing page – which is separate from Amex Travel – to get these discounts.

Fares that qualify for discounts

Amex International Airline Program special rates only apply to premium-cabin fares, including premium economy, first, and business class. Be sure to select the correct class of service in order to see qualifying fares for this program – for instance, you won’t see these discounts if you select economy class.

You can purchase Amex International Airline Program fares for yourself and up to 7 people travelling with you on the same itinerary. However, you cannot purchase these fares for other people when you aren’t travelling with them. The discounts apply to both refundable and nonrefundable tickets.

As mentioned above, you need to be an Amex Platinum or Business Platinum cardholder to access the Amex International Airline Program and its benefits.

Bonus Amex points

Beyond discounts on eligible flights, you’ll also get 5 Amex points per dollar when you book through the program when you pay with your Amex Platinum or Business Platinum card.

Paying with points

You can spend your Membership Rewards points at a rate of 1 cent per point toward travel purchases with Amex Travel, and this includes special fares purchased through the Amex International Airline Program.

Business Platinum card members will also get a 35% points rebate when using points on first and business class fares, as well as premium economy fares on the airline they selected for the annual airline incidental fee credit.

This rebate makes using points for flights a reasonable option to consider; for personal Platinum cardmembers, however, you’ll generally get much better value by transferring your points to an airline loyalty program and booking premium-cabin award seats.

Restrictions

Note that Amex International Airline Program fares may carry restrictions and offer different benefits than regular fares sold directly by the airline. So be sure to read the fine print!

For example, not all special fares are refundable, even in a business-class cabin. Special fares may also be ineligible for ground services such as limousine service or lounge access (as is the case with certain fares on Emirates).

Finally, note that Amex charges a $US39 fee to make bookings over the phone, so it’s best to book online whenever possible.

Airline options

Although flights from most airlines are available through Amex Travel, special Amex International Airline Program rates are only available from these participating airlines:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air China
  • Air France
  • Air New Zealand
  • Alitalia
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Brussels Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • China Airlines
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM
  • LATAM
  • Lufthansa
  • Qatar Airways
  • Qantas
  • South African Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • Virgin Atlantic

If you’re travelling to a destination that isn’t served by one of the above airlines, you won’t be able to find a special rate with the Amex International Airline Program. However, because Amex Travel is a full-service travel agency, other fare options will be shown.

How to book through the International Airline Program

By default, when you search for flights through Amex, you’ll just get normal rates. To use the Amex International Airline Program,you need to go to the specific program link. Make sure to log in to your American Express account before you search.

If you search for premium-cabin flights, itineraries that are eligible for the International Airline Program discount will be highlighted in the search results. You’ll see the original price crossed out and the discounted price shown in its place.

Screenshot 2019 10 30 14.58.30Amex International Airline Program

The “original price” for this itinerary shown on the Amex Travel website matches what Virgin Atlantic is charging on its own website – in this case, the International Airline Program fare is more than a $US300 discount compared to what Virgin Atlantic is charging for direct bookings.

However, just because it’s discounted doesn’t mean it’s the best fare – for these dates, British Airways flights without the International Airline Program discount are still $US150 cheaper than the discounted Virgin Atlantic flights.

Screenshot 2019 10 30 15.01.17Amex International Airline Program

When to use the Amex International Airline Program

If you need to book a cash ticket in premium economy, business, or first class and you have an Amex Platinum or Business Platinum, checking IAP for discounts is a no-brainer.

But the International Airline Program can also be a great way to use points to book discounted premium fares for less than you’d pay for an award ticket. Let’s look at a business-class flight from Los Angeles to Beijing for an example.

One way to book this ticket is to transfer your Membership Rewards points to Avianca Lifemiles and book an award ticket, which would cost 150,000 Membership Rewards points plus about $US36 in taxes and fees.

Screenshot 2019 10 30 15.35.32Avianca LifeMiles

A cash ticket on the same dates costs $US1,705 – already a pretty good price for business class from Los Angeles to China – and with the International Airline Program, you’ll save another $US180, making it just $US1,525 round-trip.

Screenshot 2019 10 30 15.14.04Amex International Airline Program

If you have a Business Platinum card, you can pay 152,485 Membership Rewards points, and you’ll get a 35% rebate of 53,370 points, making your net cost just over 99,000 points.

On top of that, you can earn miles for the ticket with the frequent flyer program of your choice. For example, if you gave Air China your United MileagePlus number, you would earn 15,592 United Airlines miles and 2,500 Premier Qualifying Points – that’s halfway to United Silver status with just one round-trip flight.

Bottom line

The Amex International Airline Program sometimes offers highly attractive fares for premium-cabin travel compared to the rates that are available to the general public. On top of that, you’ll earn 5x Membership Rewards points for your flight purchases. And if you have a Business Platinum card, you can use Membership Rewards points to pay for the flight and get a 35% points rebate for business and first class (or premium economy on your selected airline).

Will you want to regularly use this program? That depends on your travel patterns, but probably not. That being said, if you’re stuck buying a ticket, the International Airline Program, is always an option worth checking, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the savings.

Click here to learn more about the Business Platinum Card from American Express.

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