One of the lesser-known benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express is access to the International Airline Program. In short, this program gives you access to preferred pricing on international premium economy, business class, and first class tickets operated by a handful of airlines that American Express has partnerships with.
It’s a shame that the program gets swept under the rug as often as it does because it can save you some serious money.
In fact, anyone who books paid premium travel needs to use the International Airline Program before booking their next ticket. We’ve seen tickets discounted over 40% in the past, bringing the price of some premium economy tickets down to the cost of a standard economy ticket for Amex Platinum cardholders.
But how do you use the program? And further, what kind of discount can you expect? This article will show you of the quirks and features of American Express’ International Airline Program.
What is the International Airline Program?
As discussed earlier, the International Airline Program lets cardholders of the Amex Platinum Card and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express save on premium international airfare when booking through American Express.
However, not all tickets are eligible for a discount — instead, you can only receive the discount when booking airfare on a handful of airlines.
Thankfully, though, this list is pretty extensive.
As discussed, discounts on these airlines are only available when booking international tickets in premium economy, business, or first class. Standard economy tickets are not eligible for the discount and neither are domestic tickets, whether it’s for travel within the U.S. or another country.
All flights must depart from a U.S. airport or from one of several Canadian gateways. Strangely, these gateways aren’t listed on American Express’ website.
American Express notes that select one-way itineraries are eligible for the International Airline Program discount, but not all. Again, this is a strange case where American Express does not elaborate on which routes and airlines offer discounts on a one-way ticket, so you’ll have to search one-way routes on your own to see which do and do not offer discounts.
Further, you must pay for your ticket in-full with an Amex Platinum card or Amex Business Platinum card. Thankfully, you’ll earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar when paying for an International Airline Program booking as the program is powered by Amex Travel.
In October 2019, we valued Membership Rewards at 2.2 cents per point, meaning that you’ll earn 11% back on your bookings if you agree with our valuation. To see the most up-to-date valuations, check our monthly valuation for points and miles.
Both the Amex Platinum card and Amex Business Platinum card can redeem points for flights at 1 cent per point, with the Amex Business Platinum getting a 35% rebate after the flight is booked. However, you’re still better off transferring to airline partners to book premium award tickets in most cases.
You can book tickets for yourself and up to 7 travel companions through the International Airline Program. Just note that the primary cardholder must be traveling in order to receive International Airline Program fares.
Additionally, refundable, restricted, and nonrefundable tickets are eligible for the discount, so you’re not stuck booking high fare classes for a discount.
How Much Can You Save?
How much you can save with the International Airline Program depends greatly on what ticket you’re booking. There’s no set discount in place for airlines, routes, or destinations, meaning that discounts fluctuate ticket-per-ticket.
American Express notes that the International Airline Program saves customers an average of $150 on premium economy tickets, $300 on business class tickets, and $600 on first class tickets. However, in our research, we’ve found that you can save much more than this — especially on last-minute premium economy tickets to Europe.
We’ve searched for discounts for 3 different regions (Asia, Europe, and the Middle East) in each booking class and have averaged the 3 numbers for an expected discount.
Premium Economy Discounts
To illustrate how much you can save, we recently found a round-trip premium economy ticket from John F. Kennedy International (JFK) to Madrid-Barajas International (MAD) on Iberia through the International Airline program for $907 when booking around 2 weeks before departure.
The same flights were a whopping $2,733 when booking via Google Flights, giving you a discount of $1,826 or nearly 67% off the flight’s standard price!
You can also save a bit of money when booking premium economy tickets to Asia.
We searched for premium economy tickets from JFK to Beijing Capital International (PEK) and found one-stop tickets on China Southern for $1,115 through the International Airline Program.
This same ticket costs $1,255 when booked through Google Flights, giving you a discount of $140 or roughly 11%.
Finally, we searched for flights from JFK to Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) and found a round-trip British Airways flight via London for $1,349 on the International Airline Program portal.
This same flight was $1,824 on Google Flights, meaning that Amex Platinum cardholders get a nice $475 discount or 26% by booking through the program.
As you can see, there are some serious discounts to be had when booking through the International Airline Program. While you don’t always save 50% or more like in the European example presented, you can confidently save over 10% on your premium economy bookings.
Based on our sample searches, you can expect to save an average of 34.3% on premium economy class bookings if you include our outlier of saving 66% on a premium economy Europe booking.
Business Class Discounts
Business class bookings also get a nice discount when booked through the International Airline Program.
Our first search was for a flight from JFK to London Heathrow International (LHR), where we found a one-stop, round-trip British Airways ticket for $2,064.
This same ticket can be booked for $2,204 via Google Flights, giving you a discount of $140 (or 6.3%).
For our Asia search, we looked for a flight from JFK to Narita International (NRT).
Here, the cheapest option was a one-stop itinerary on Air China connecting in Beijing (PEK). This flight cost $2,140 without the discount and only $1,870 with the International Airline Program discount, saving you $270 on the trip.
This comes out to a nice savings of 12.6%, which is certainly nothing to scoff at — especially when booking for multiple people.
Finally, for our Middle East search, we looked for a flight from JFK to Dubai International (DXB).
Here, we found a one-stop, round-trip Delta Air Lines ticket connecting in Paris (CDG) on the outbound and Amsterdam (AMS) on the inbound. The flights are operated by Air France/KLM and cost $3,413 through the International Airline Program.
The original cost is $4,050, meaning that you’d score a $637 — or 15.7% — discount by booking through the International Airline Program.
Like premium economy bookings, the amount you’ll save on business class bookings depends on the route you’d like to book. In the end, we found that you’ll save an average of 11.5% when booking business class flights through the International Airline Program. While this isn’t as much as premium economy bookings, it’s still a hefty discount that can’t be found elsewhere.
First Class Discounts
International first class is almost never cheap, with tickets to Europe usually topping $10,000 round-trip. However, if you find yourself in a position to book first class tickets — whether personally or for work — you can find a pretty hefty discount if you book through the International Airline Program.
Here’s a look at how much you can save when booking tickets to Europe, Asia, or the Middle East.
Starting with Europe, we searched for tickets from Dulles International (IAD) to Paris (CDG). We found a nonstop, first class ticket on Air France for $8,742 through the International Airline Program.
This same ticket was $9,941 when booked through Google Flights, giving us a solid discount of $1,199 or 12% through American Express. This savings alone covers your Amex Platinum card’s annual fee.
Further, first class flights to Asia also see a nice discount with the International Airline Program. We looked for flights from San Francisco International (SFO) to Shanghai Pudong International (PVG) and found a one-stop option on Air China for $8,268 through the program.
This same ticket is $11,019 without the discount, meaning that you’d save $2,751 or 25% by booking through the International Airline Program.
Finally, for the Middle East portion of this section, we looked for a first class ticket from JFK to DXB.
We found a nonstop, round-trip flight on Emirates for $18,144 through the International Airline Program. Booking this ticket direct with Emirates would cost $23,049, meaning that you get a massive $4,905 or 21.3% discount with the portal.
In the end, our average savings on international first class is 19.4% when booking through the International Airline Program. Just note that while this number sounds great on paper, you’re still going to pay well over $5,00o for a round-trip international first class ticket to most places around the world.
However, if you’re going to make these purchases anyway, definitely use the portal to save a pretty penny.
How to Use the International Airline Program
Up until recently, all International Airline Program bookings had to be made over the phone. Not only did this take longer than booking through the Amex Travel portal, but it also subjected all bookings to a $39 phone booking fee.
Thankfully, though, this is no longer the case because — as of early 2019 — American Express has integrated the International Airline Program right into Amex Travel.
This makes utilizing the International Airline Program a lot more efficient and cheaper than it once was.
Here’s how to book a flight:
Step 1: International Airline Program Website
Navigate to the International Airline Program website and sign into your American Express account by clicking the Log In button at the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
Step 2: Search for Flights
Look towards the center of the International Airline Program screen and you’ll find a flight search box. In this box, input your origin, destination, dates of travel, number of passengers, and class of service. Then, click the search button to the right of the box.
Step 3: Select Your Flight
Look through the search results and find the flight you’d like to book. All flights with discounted fares are highlighted by a blue box that states that the fare is covered by the International Airline Program. Note that flights without the discount show here, too.
Select your flight of choice by clicking the Select button. Then, you’ll be prompted to select a return ticket if searching for a round-trip ticket.
Step 4: Confirm Booking
Your final itinerary will now be presented — make sure all looks good and click the Continue Booking button. You’ll now be prompted to enter all passenger info. As discussed earlier, the primary cardholder must be traveling in order to get International Airline Program rates on tickets. Enter all info and move onto the next step.
Hot Tip: Make sure to enter each passenger’s frequent flyer number at the bottom of the passenger information screen so you (and your travel companions) earn valuable flight miles for the ticket you’re booking.
Step 5: Select Seats and Insurance
Now, you can select seats by clicking the Select Seats button at the center of the screen. You can also add optional travel insurance using the Traveler Insurance selection box at the center of the page. Once you’ve selected all options, click the Save & Continue button at the bottom of the screen to move to the next step.
Always double-check the travel insurance that comes complimentary with your Amex Platinum or Amex Business Platinum card before electing more coverage.
Step 6: Book!
We’re almost done! From this last screen, you can choose if you’d like to pay for your flight with points, your Amex Platinum card, or a mixture of the 2.
If possible, pay cash as you’ll only get 1 cent per point (or 1.35 with the Amex Business Platinum card) in value when paying with points. Pick how you’d like to pay and click the Book Flight button at the bottom of the screen to book your ticket.
And that’s it — your discounted premium ticket is booked! American Express will email you a confirmation shortly after your booking is completed.
There’s no doubt that the International Airline Program can help you save some serious money on premium air travel. Even if you’re not in the market for premium airfare, searching for a premium economy ticket through the Amex portal is a great idea.
The International Airline Program frequently brings down the cost of premium economy tickets to economy levels, especially when traveling to Europe.
This benefit is especially beneficial for businesses that book premium airfare for its employees and contractors. Saving 10%+ on all airline tickets can have a seriously positive impact on your bottom line, so don’t miss out on the Amex Business Platinum if you think your business can take advantage of the discount.