If you’re interested in award travel — or points and miles in general — you’ve likely heard of American Express Membership Rewards. These points, earned by using your Amex card for qualifying purchases, can be used for a variety of purposes — from business-class travel to gift cards.
One unique feature Amex offers is the ability to use Pay With Points on certain flights and receive a rebate of up to 50% on your redeemed points. This option is available to those who hold 1 of 3 cards: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Business Gold Card, or the Business Centurion® Card from American Express.
While, generally speaking, reward points are most valuable when transferred to a travel partner, there are certain circumstances when taking advantage of the Pay With Points rebate makes sense. In this guide, we’re going to break down the Pay With Points feature, when you should use it, and how to do so.
What Is Pay With Points?
First things first: what is Pay With Points? Although plenty of credit cards offer some variation of this feature — such as redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards via the Chase travel portal — Amex’s travel program is the most generous.
It is more restrictive than others but can allow you to redeem your Membership Rewards at a value of up to 2 cents per point. More commonly, you’ll likely be redeeming your Membership Rewards for a value of 1.54 cents per point, which still outstrips the 1.5 cents available to those with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card and the 1 cent per point offered via the Citi Premier℠ Card and the Citi Prestige® Card.
In order to take advantage of this program, you’ll need to book your flight on Amex Travel. When booking, you can choose to redeem points to pay for all or some of your flight. Although you can use points to pay for any flight, the Pay With Points rebate only applies to flights that meet certain criteria:
- Any Flight Booked With Your Chosen Airline — Certain Amex cardholders have the ability to select a preferred airline each year. These match the airline you select for your airline fee credit. Any class of service booked on your chosen airline will qualify for the rebate. This includes economy, premium economy, business, first, and even basic economy.
- A Business or First Class Flight on Any Airline — Regardless of which airline you have selected for your airline fee credit, you can Pay With Points and receive a rebate if you’re flying business or first class.
Once booked, Amex will then refund up to 50% of your points to your account, depending on which card you hold. It’s important to remember that this is a rebate — not a discount — so you’ll first need to have enough points in your account for the amount you’d like to redeem. Then, your rebated points will post back to your account within 6 to 10 weeks.
Bottom Line: Pay With Points is an American Express program that allows you to redeem your Amex points for increased value on flights booked with Amex Travel.
Which Cards Offer Pay With Points?
3 of American Express’ business charge cards offer a Pay With Points rebate:
Amex Business Platinum Card — One of Amex’s most popular cards, the Amex Business Platinum card offers a 35% rebate.
American Express® Business Gold Card — A mid-tier card, Amex Business Gold cardholders enjoy a 25% rebate.
Business Centurion® Card from American Express — An invitation-only card, the Amex Business Centurion card offers a 50% rebate on redeemed points. Unlike other cards, this rebate can be used on any flight, regardless of chosen airline or fare class.
Each card also has a maximum amount of points you receive as a rebate each year. Here’s a look at each card and its differences when redeeming rewards via Pay With Points:
|Amex Business Platinum Card||Amex Business Gold Card||Amex Business Centurion Card|
|Value Per Point||1.54 cents||1.33 cents||2 cents|
|Eligible Flights||All flights on your chosen airline, first and business class flights with any airline||All flights booked with your card|
|Maximum Rebate per Year||1,000,000 points||250,000 points||Unlimited|
Bottom Line: There are 3 American Express cards that will give you a rebate, but the most commonly used one is the Amex Business Platinum card.
Which Airlines Qualify for the Pay With Points Rebate?
Since you’ll need to book your flight with Amex Travel, it’s possible that you won’t be able to see all flights to a given destination. Of the ones you can see, only certain flights and airlines qualify for the rebate.
If you’re booking an economy flight, your rebate is limited by the airline you’ve chosen for your airline fee credit. Here are the airlines American Express will allow you to choose:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Spirit Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
Keep note that you’re able to change this selection once per year, in January — otherwise, you’ll be stuck with your previous year’s airline. If you’ve never chosen an airline you can select 1 at any time. Also, anecdotally, some cardholders have had success changing their airline beyond January if they haven’t used any of their credit yet and call in to ask.
You can use your Amex Business Platinum card to fly business or first class on any airline and receive the Pay With Points rebate.
Bottom Line: There are 9 domestic airlines that can qualify for a Pay With Points rebate in economy class. Business and first class flights are eligible for the rebate regardless of airline.
How Do You Use Pay With Points?
Using the Pay With Points feature is fairly easy. If you’ve ever booked travel via the American Express website, this will be familiar to you.
First, you’ll need to log in to your American Express account. Then, you’ll navigate to the top left and click on the Menu button.
From here you’ll highlight Travel, and then select either Book a trip or Book International Airline Program. Both will allow you to navigate to a page where you can search for flights.
Once you’ve input your information, Amex will display your results.
Be aware that American Express automatically sorts its results by Recommended Flights, which is not necessarily the lowest cost flight. Once you’ve decided which flight you want, Amex will take you through a booking process, asking for information such as your name and seat preference.
Hot Tip: Amex sometimes offers lower prices on first, business, and premium economy class tickets as part of its International Airline Program, which means you’ll end up using fewer points to pay.
When it comes time to check out, you’ll be prompted to use cash, points, or a combination of the 2:
Even if you only choose to pay for part of your flight with points, you’ll still receive the rebate on the points you’ve redeemed as long as the flight is eligible.
That’s it! In this example, you’d redeem 9,400 points upfront (or some combination thereof) and receive anywhere from 25% to 50% back in 6 to 10 weeks.
Bottom Line: Using Pay With Points is a simple process, but you need to have all the required points upfront.
When Should You Use Pay With Points?
There are a lot of arguments people can make about why or why not you should use the Pay With Points program, and they’re pretty much all correct.
In a lot of cases, transferring your points to one of Amex’s airline partners can cost you less than booking a flight via the Amex Travel site. This is especially true when you’re using points for a business class flight.
For example, if you’re looking to fly to Europe in business class, you can choose to transfer 88,000 Amex points to ANA and fly roundtrip on its Star Alliance partners.
In contrast, cash prices for business class flights to Europe regularly run upwards of $3,000 roundtrip. If you were to book that directly via Amex’s website, it would cost you 300,000 points upfront. If you’re using the Amex Business Platinum card, then once your 35% rebate posted, you’d still be out 195,000 points. That’s more than double what you’d spend if you had transferred your points instead!
This sounds like a compelling argument to never use the Pay With Points rebate, but there are absolutely situations where it still makes sense.
When To Use Pay With Points: Cheap Cash Flights
Amex has many different airline partners to which you can transfer your Membership Rewards. Each of the 3 major airline alliances, Skyteam, Star Alliance, and Oneworld, are all well-represented here. Most of these will transfer at a 1:1 ratio, meaning 1 Amex point will become 1 airline mile.
Each airline then has its own program for redeeming miles; some will use distance-based award charts, some will have off-peak and peak pricing depending on demand, and some will fluctuate wildly according to the cash price of the ticket. Here are the Amex airline transfer partners:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada
- Air France/KLM
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Let’s take a look at Avianca, whose Lifemiles program offers some excellent redemptions on its Star Alliance partners. Your Amex points will transfer to this airline at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers are instant.
Avianca usually uses a standardized award chart based on region, though its prices for travel within the U.S. tends to vary. Notably, it generally charges fewer miles for domestic United flights than United’s own MileagePlus program.
Here’s a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG) in May 2021 via Lifemiles. Even in economy and one-way, 15,000 miles doesn’t seem like it’s too costly:
That same flight, however, can be found for only 9,400 points on the American Express website:
If you have an Amex Business Platinum card and United is your selected airline, you can redeem 9,400 Amex points and receive a rebate of 3,290 points, making your total out of pocket cost just 6,110 points instead of 15,000 points. It’s the same flight with the same seats but less than half the cost.
Even if you’re not going to use the 35% rebate, you can still see that the 9,400 points are less than 15,000, so it’s always worth checking out the price for transfer partners versus the actual Amex website before you book.
Don’t forget that you can use your Amex Business Platinum card for business or first class flights booked via the Amex Travel website and still qualify for the rebate, no matter which airline you fly with.
This especially helpful when booking tickets on an airline that Amex doesn’t allow you to select for the airline fee credit.
Hot Tip: The only airlines that qualify for the Amex airline fee credit are domestic. By booking a business class ticket instead of economy with a foreign carrier, you’ll still be able to receive the Pay With Points rebate.
Let’s take a look at how this would work on a business class flight. Delta is a transfer partner of American Express at a 1:1 ratio and transfers are typically instant.
For a one-way trip from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) in June 2021, Delta will charge you 290,000 miles to fly in its premium Delta One cabin:
Of course, Delta is known for its exorbitant award rate costs, but if you’re intent on flying Delta and using points, you can instead opt to use the Amex Travel portal, where the same flight will cost you 302,420 Amex points upfront.
However, once you’ve received a 35% rebate, you’ll be out of pocket just 196,573 points, saving you nearly 100,000 miles on this booking.
Is this a great use of your Amex points? Not necessarily, but there are situations where paying that much for your ticket can make sense, especially if you’re looking to fly with a specific airline.
Bottom Line: If the ticket is cheap or award prices are high, it can cost less to use Pay With Points than to transfer your points and book an award ticket.
When To Use Pay With Points: Earning Elite Status
There are 2 types of flyers: those who care about elite status, and those who don’t.
Generally speaking, people looking to achieve elite status tend to fly a single airline for work rather than fun, while those who fly less often — and usually for pleasure — will seek better prices rather than specific airlines. However, there is no doubt that airline elite status comes with some serious perks. From international business class upgrades to free checked bags, there is a strong case to be made for pursuing elite status with an airline.
But if you’re still pretty price-sensitive, it can make sense to use your Amex points to book your flight because it allows you to redeem points while still earning elite status. Why? Because booking a flight via Amex Travel counts as a paid ticket rather than an award ticket, even when you use Pay With Points. So while you’re still spending your Amex points, you’re also accruing elite-qualifying miles in addition to any award miles you earn.
It’s easy enough to book a business class flight and add your frequent flyer number in order to get credit for your flight. As an added bonus, business and first class flights often have class-of-service bonuses that allow you to rack up miles more quickly. But you can also take this 1 step further.
Let’s consider United Airlines, whose MileagePlus loyalty program changed drastically in 2019 in order to focus on cash spent with the airline rather than miles flown. If you book a ticket directly with United, you’ll only earn elite-qualifying points based on the fare of your ticket, rather than the actual distance you flew. This is true of all 3 big U.S. airlines: United, American Airlines, and Delta.
However, when you book a ticket with and fly on a partner airline, but still credit it to your United, Delta, or American Airlines account, the amount you’ll earn is usually calculated according to the distance you flew divided by a set amount, rather than the price you paid.
Each airline has a separate earning chart for each partner, but let’s look at United’s Air Canada chart*:
|Class of Service||Purchased Fare Class||Award Mile Earnings (Including Fare Class Bonus)|
|Business||J, C, D, Z, P||200%|
|Premium Economy||O, E||150%|
|Discount Premium Economy||N||125%|
|Full-Fare Economy||Y, B||150%|
|Economy||M, U, H||100%|
|Discount Economy||Q, V, W, G||75%|
|International Deep Discount Economy||S, T, L, A, K||50%|
|Domestic Deep Discount Economy||S, T, L, A, K||25%|
|No Mileage Credit||F, I, R, X||0%|
* Ticket number does not start with “016” and for flights flown on and after March 30, 2019
Air Canada is a preferred partner of United, which means that in order to calculate how many Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) you’ll get, you’ll divide the number of award miles you earn by 5 (non-preferred partners are divided by 6).
So you can book an Air Canada flight on Amex Travel using Amex points and credit it to your United account. If you’re flying business class, you’ll be given 200% of the miles you flew in the form of award miles. You’ll then divide those miles by 5 to see how many elite-qualifying miles you get.
Let’s look at a sample flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Cairo (CAI) in December 2021:
This flight will cost you 219,320 Amex points after a 35% rebate. The same flight is also available via United on Amex Travel and will cost you the same amount, but by leveraging the Air Canada partnership to earn elite status with United instead of booking directly with United, you’ll come out far ahead.
How far ahead?
If you book with Air Canada and credit to United, you’ll earn 31,778 MileagePlus miles redeemable for flights and 6,355 PQPs.
For 2022, you only need 7,000 PQPs to hit Gold elite status, the second of United’s 5 tiers. This 1 flight will put you most of the way there.
Bookings on United only give you earnings based on the price of your ticket and don’t include taxes and fees. In this case, the base fare for the flight is $1,900. So if you booked this flight directly with United, you’d only earn 1,900 PQPs and 9,500 award miles (if you have no elite status; the amount of award miles you earn changes based on your status).
Bottom Line: All business and first class flights booked via Amex Travel will earn you elite-qualifying points and a rebate when using Pay With Points, but if you’re looking to earn elite status quickly, it’s a good idea to know which airline partnerships will maximize your earnings.
When To Use Pay With Points: When You Can’t Find Award Availability
One limitation of award flights is that most airlines only release seats sparingly, if at all. This is especially true for highly coveted business and first class seats. And if you’re traveling with a partner or family, finding enough seats for everyone can be a nightmarish experience.
Because tickets booked with Amex Travel are considered paid tickets, they don’t face the same limitations that award flights do. If the flight has availability and Amex has it on its website, you can use your Pay With Points to book it. It’s as easy as that.
Bottom Line: Booking with Amex Travel and using Pay With Points allows you to bypass award availability restrictions, which can get you and your family on a flight sooner.
When To Use Pay With Points: When You Don’t Want To Bother With Transfer Partners
Similar to the above point, using Pay With Points can be a smart option for those who simply don’t want to fuss with transferring points to airlines. Most of us know at least 1 — and probably half a dozen — family members who’ve dipped their toes into the water of award travel but don’t have the patience to research award charts, transfer partners, award availability, transfer times, points ratios, and the dozen other must-know pieces of information it takes to successfully transfer and book award flights.
So rather than allowing them to use those hard-earned Amex points on, say, magazine subscriptions, point them to the Amex Travel portal and allow them to book their flights with no fuss, using Pay With Points to redeem Amex points for up to 2 cents of value.
Bottom Line: Most people don’t have enough time or the know-how to deal with the intricacies of airline travel partners. Pay With Points still allows you to redeem your points for a decent value without wasting any time.
Most card issuers have some form of a travel portal that allows you to redeem your points towards flights. Amex’s program, while more restrictive than others, offers the best value for these redemptions. It doesn’t always make sense to use the Pay With Points program and its rebates, but there are plenty of situations in which it can be the better choice. Best of all, it’s simple and easy to use.
The information regarding the Business Centurion® Card from American Express, Citi Premier℠ Card and the Citi Prestige® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.