The American Express Platinum is a great card for international travellers – it charges no foreign transaction fees, and it gives complimentary access to airport lounges around the world. To sweeten the deal for these jet-setters, AmEx recently rolled out the Pay with Points program, which rebates 20% of Platinum cardholders’ points when they book through AmEx’s own travel service and pay for their trip entirely with points. And booking through them rather than a frequent flyer program means you can fly with no blackout dates or seat restrictions.
What’s the catch?
Being cynical and bitter card crunchers, we naturally assumed AmEx would make you pay through the nose if you booked through their service, making the discount almost moot. But we were assured by a representative that they offer the same pricing as sites like Travelocity. Either way, we decided to run the numbers ourselves.
Booking hotels and travel through AmEx Travel
It turns out that any price discrepancy between Kayak or Travelocity and American Express Travel is more than made up for by the 20% points rebate. The savings are particularly pronounced when you book international plane tickets or expensive hotels: 20% off $1,000 is more impressive than 20% off $100. And oddly enough, you’d get a decent value booking with AmEx Travel even without the rebate.
Hotels. We compared the price of booking one hotel night (April 22nd, Earth Day for those who care) with AmEx as opposed to Travelocity and Kayak in a number of different cities, and found that American Express was, at most, more expensive by $10. In some cases, it was actually cheaper to book through AmEx than Kayak. We’ve calculated the American Express Travel Service price, the average of Kayak and Travelocity, and your savings if you use the Pay with Points system. Below is a representative sample:
Kayak/Travelocity Avg. AmEx Travel Savings after 20% rebate Intercontinental
San Francisco $171.88 $171.76 $34.47 Hilton
Boston $165.07 $173.05 $26.63 Traders Hotel
Hong Kong $198.02 $184.04 $50.79 Average $227.47 $220.95 $50.71
Airfare. The price difference between AmEx Travel and Kayak/Travelocity is more pronounced in booking flights, but the comparison websites beat out AmEx by $11 at most. The 20% rewards refund more than cancels out this small hike, which is usually less than the taxes you pay on the flight. We took a look at flights between San Francisco and London on April 22nd, and found that AmEx’s price was competitive.
Kayak/Travelocity Avg. AmEx Travel Savings after 20% rebate SFO to LHR $965.10 $976.00 $184.30 LHR to SFO $862.20 $873.00 $163.80
Surprisingly enough, AmEx’s 20% rebate is actually a good deal. They offer competitive rates on airfare and hotel booking, and allow you to pay entirely or partially with points.
American Express points, when used through the Pay with Points program, are valued at one cent per point, so you could redeem 97,600 points for that $976 flight to Heathrow from San Francisco. After the 20% bonus is credited to your account (it happens after the fact, and takes 10-12 weeks, according to the Pay with Points website), you’ll have spent 78,000 points, or $780. That’s $185 saved over booking with Kayak or Travelocity, enough that only one-third of your England trip will be spent lamenting the weakness of the American dollar.
American Express Platinum is steadily earning our respect
We’re generally happy with American Express as a card for international travellers, especially since the Platinum and Centurion joined the ranks of credit cards with no foreign transaction fee. Now that you can redeem your points through American Express Travel and get 20% of those points back, we’re even happier.
The American Express Platinum is one of the best-known premium credit cards, and offers a number of perks for international (or domestic) travellers. There’s a 50,000-point signing bonus (worth $500), a base rewards rate of 1% and an annual fee of $450. And based on the numbers we ran above, it only takes a couple of international flights to make up for most of that hefty fee.
Skipping customs and sipping champagne: the joys of premium credit cards
Beyond the numbers, however, the true value of the AmEx Platinum (and, really, for all premium credit cards) lies in the lovely perks. The Platinum shells out $200 in refunds for travel-related expenses like baggage fees and in-flight meals, and a free Priority Pass membership that gives access to over 600 airport lounges worldwide. A special boon for international travellers is the $100 credit towards the government Global Entry program, which allows you to skip customs lines coming back to the US (after, of course, an extensive background check). You also receive one companion ticket a year, which allows someone to fly with you, round trip, in the same class, as long as you book a business or first class ticket.
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