Amex Travel guide: Everything you need to know

The Amex Travel Portal allows you to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points directly for travel reservations and activities rather than transfer your rewards to airline or hotel partners like Delta Skymiles or Marriott Bonvoy.

This year, Amex rolled out some new features on the portal, including the ability to book discounted premium tickets online, instead of over the phone or via Amex’s chat tool. We’ll examine the pros and cons of booking travel through the portal and highlight tricks to maximize your next trip.

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Amex Travel Portal guide

Where you booked your travel is just as important as where you’re traveling. Should you book directly with the airline or hotel to earn rewards, or an OTA like Expedia or Orbitz because it’s easy? If you hold an American Express Membership Rewards card, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express or American Express® Gold Card, you’ll probably utilize the Amex Travel portal at some point.

Related: Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

It offers some perks you may be familiar with, such as booking luxury properties and receiving hotel credit, and business-class seats at a discount. But there might be some hidden gems you haven’t heard of. Let’s dive in.

How to book flights with the Amex Travel Portal

Points vs. cash

There are several ways to book flights using the Amex Travel Portal. The first is by using cold, hard cash. You can navigate to it by clicking the “Menu” button on the left-hand side of the homepage, then clicking “Travel” and finally “Book A Trip.”

The Amex Travel flight portal is structured similarly to other online booking sites. You’ll see a box where you can enter departure and destination cities, and drop-down menus where you can toggle between round-trip, one-way, and multi-city fares, the number of travelers on your itinerary and your preferred fare class. If you’re not picky about the airport you’re flying into or out of, you can select an entire city (such as New York, which includes several airports, including nearby Newark).

If you’re booking using cash, you’ll see the dollar amount (and the option to use Amex Membership Rewards points) on the right-hand side. On the left side of the screen, you can filter the number of stops, departure and arrival times, preferred airlines, and even flight number.

Note that Delta is a featured airline in the Amex Travel Portal, so you’ll see Delta flights highlighted first whenever possible.

If you’re flying from an airport with an American Express Centurion Lounge, such as Miami, you’ll also see an indicator that you can use your eligible card for entry.

Keep in mind that American Express introduced negative changes for the Centurion Lounges earlier this year for Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum cardholders. These cardholders will no longer have access to Centurion lounges at their final destination. If you’re a Centurion Card from American Express cardholder, you will continue to have unrestricted access.

After selecting your flights, you’ll enter your name and known traveler number, choose your seats, and view options for travel insurance. Finally, you can book using your Amex card, use points, or a combination of the two (more on that below). Remember you have 24 hours to change or cancel your trip, so if your plans change, you’re not locked into the itinerary.

After you book, you’ll probably want to know the bonus points you’ll get for your flight purchase.

If you’re an Amex Business Platinum cardholder, you’ll receive 5x points for booking flights in the Amex Travel Portal only. That means you won’t earn bonus points if you book directly with the airline or another travel portal. The Amex Platinum card offers 5x points for flights booked through the airline and on the Amex Travel portal.

Related: Know when you’ll get 5x points for airfare on Amex Platinum cards

The Amex Travel portal is also where you can use points to book flights if you choose not to transfer them to a transfer partner. We’ve written before about how you can pay for travel with points. This option gives you a value of 1 cent per point toward airfare, and 0.7 cents per point for cars, hotels, vacations or cruises.

Much of the booking process to pay with Amex points is similar to how you’d book using cash, except that there’s a box where you can apply some or all of your points.

If you have the Business Platinum Card and use points to pay for economy airfare with your selected airline, or any business or first-class airfare, you’ll receive 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year. That means a $1,000 ticket will cost 65,000 points, giving you a redemption value of 1.54 cents apiece. Similarly, if you hold the American Express® Business Gold Card, you’ll get a 25% points rebate with similar terms to the above (up to a maximum of 250,000 points back per calendar year).

Related: Should you use Amex Business Platinum to book flights with a 35% rebate?

This may not be the best use of your points, because you’ll often get better value transferring your Membership Rewards to airline partners. TPG currently values Amex Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each. However, these tickets are almost always treated as revenue fares by the airlines, meaning you’ll earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles.

International Airline Program

There’s another benefit that allows Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum cardholders to book premium tickets using the Amex Travel Portal.

That feature, which itself isn’t new, is known as the International Airline Program. It offers discounts on first, business and premium economy tickets. What is new, however, is the ability to book premium tickets online instead of over the phone or through Amex’s chat feature. The previous way to book was quite cumbersome and time-consuming. It also tacked on a hefty service fee.

Right now, over 20 airlines are included in the program. If you want to book your next premium ticket using IAP, here’s how to do it.

You can book these tickets via cash directly on the Amex Travel Portal, earning 5 points per dollar for the purchase (equivalent to a 10% return, based on our valuations), or you can pay with points if you prefer. Business Platinum customers who book IAP tickets with points will be eligible for the 35% airline rebate, in the form of an account credit, up to 500,000 bonus points per year. Note that only flights originating in the U.S. or certain Canadian gateways are eligible.

I ran a cursory search from New York (JFK) to Rome (FCO) in Air France business class for dates in December, and I was able to knock off nearly $100 by using the IAP.

While a $100 in savings isn’t exactly anything to write home about, you can occasionally score bigger deals. Just recently, a few staffers at the TPG office (including yours truly) scored discounted business-class tickets to Europe on KLM. For instance, the price on the KLM site at the time of booking quoted me roughly $1,950 for the round-trip ticket.

By utilizing the IAP, I was able to knock down the price to a cool $1,252.

How to book hotels with the Amex Travel Portal

Similar to booking flights, you can book hotels using the Amex Travel portal. Even better, you’ll earn 5x points for prepaid hotel bookings made directly at Amex Travel if you’re an Amex Platinum or Business Platinum cardholder.

After selecting your hotel, you’ll choose your preferred room and then either pay with points or cash. If you pay with points, you’ll only get a value of 0.7 cents per point (compared to 1 cent per point when you book flights).

Keep in mind, however, that these are considered third-party bookings so you won’t usually earn hotel points or elite credits for your stay. And lastly, remember to pay at the time of booking to get your bonus points instead of paying at the hotel.

Note you can also book flight and hotel packages through the portal, but if you redeem points they’re only worth 0.7 cents each.

Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts

The Fine Hotels & Resorts program is an underdog perk included with Amex’s premium cards program, and you might not have heard about it. It can add some great benefits to your hotel stays — and may not cost much more than booking direct.

Here are the perks you’ll receive with every FHR booking, regardless of the length of your stay:

  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available at check-in
    • Some room types may be excluded, and some hotels may simply give you a room with a better view
  • Daily breakfast for two people
    • The provided breakfast must be, at a minimum, a continental breakfast
  • Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout
  • Noon check-in, when available at check-in
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • When a property includes Wi-Fi in a mandatory resort fee, you’ll receive a daily credit from the property in the standard amount that the property charges for Wi-Fi
  • Unique property amenity
    • The amenity should be valued at $100 or more and usually consists of a property credit, dining credit, spa credit, private airport transfer or similar amenity

Even better, each hotel offers a unique amenity to guests, such as a spa or food and beverage credit.

Related: Your ultimate guide to the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program

The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo offers a $100 property credit to be used during your stay.

The Four Seasons Resort in Seychelles offers FHR guests a complimentary dinner for two.

In 2017, TPG’s Zach Honig booked a stay at Amenjena in Marrakech, Morocco, through Amex FHR and received a ton of benefits. He was upgraded to a suite and received a complimentary 50-minute massage.

FHR hotels occasionally have excellent offers, though these change periodically. One of the best promotions appears to be a complimentary fourth night after staying three nights.

Note that the Fine Hotels & Resorts program is entirely different from the Amex Travel Portal, and there’s no guarantee you’ll earn hotel points, elite credits or have your elite status recognized with these bookings.

The Hotel Collection

A lesser-known American Express benefit is The Hotel Collection. Its benefits are offered to holders of the following American Express cards:

Cardholders with access to The Hotel Collection receive the following benefits:

  • A room upgrade at check-in if available
  • Up to $100 hotel credit. You can use this credit to spend on eligible dining, spa and resort activities
  • Lower rates, depending on what Amex has negotiated with the property
  • 2x Membership Rewards points for Gold cardholders on prepaid bookings
  • 5x Membership Rewards points for Platinum cardholders on prepaid reservations
  • The ability to use Pay With Points on prepaid reservations

This program offers room upgrades and hotel credits for dining, spa and resort activities. This program can save you money and improve your experience during your next hotel stay. Properties in The Hotel Collection can also be booked using points or cash.

How to rent cars and book cruises with the Amex Travel Portal

Reserving a car in the Amex Portal is relatively simple. You’ll select your pick-up and drop-off points and then choose your preferred car and rental company. Note that you can’t use Membership Rewards points to reserve cars.

Platinum cardholders get exclusive benefits on some cruises in the travel portal. For instance, a Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico will net you the following benefits:

  • $100-$300 per stateroom shipboard credit (depending on category booked)
  • Bottle of premium champagne or wine

You can redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for all or part of your cruise booking.

Bottom line

While you can use your points to book hotels and flights in the Amex Travel Portal, you’ll typically get more value from your American Express Membership Rewards points by transferring them to airline and hotel partners instead.

However, the Amex Travel Portal has several amazing perks, including discounted fares on premium flights, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, and a friendly user interface.

Several TPG staffers use it extensively to book travel, and have saved money. But if the Amex Travel Portal doesn’t offer the lowest price, you’ll probably want to book directly with the airline or hotel.

Featured photo by DuKai photographer/Getty Images