The Amex Platinum Card’s Fantastic New International Airline Program

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For years, one of the benefits of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN has been access to the “International Airline Program,” which got you 2-for-1 first & business class tickets.

This is a benefit a lot of people got excited about, but then ended up being disappointed over. That’s because the 2-for-1 deal only applied when booking a full fare first or business class ticket, which was almost always more than twice the cost of two discounted tickets.

In other words, being able to buy a business class class ticket between the US and Europe for $10K, and then getting the second ticket for “free” wasn’t much of a deal. I suppose there was value in this for the very small subset of the population that could buy full fare tickets for work directly, and be reimbursed for them, but most people in such a situation have to book through some sort of a travel department, which would prevent taking advantage of this.

Well, as of June 1, 2017, American Express has revamped the International Airline Program. It no longer offers a 2-for-1 deal, but instead gets you discounts on first class, business class, and premium economy tickets.

The program is now valid for travel on the following airlines:

The basic terms of the new program are as follows:

  • Valid for first class, business class, and premium economy tickets booked through Amex Travel, including both refundable and non-refundable tickets
  • Valid for the purchase of 1-8 tickets
  • A $39 service fee applies, which is waived for Centurion Card members
  • Only valid for travel originating in the US and “select Canadian gateways”
  • You can use the “Amex Pay With Points” benefit to book tickets through this program
  • To get quotes using this deal, you need to call 1-800-525-3355 if you have the Amex Personal Platinum Card, or 1-800-553-9497 if you have the Amex Business Platinum Card

Previously the program had zero value to me, given that it was only valid on full fare tickets. So I was curious to see how the new program compared. I phoned up Amex Travel and priced out a couple of itineraries — I’m really impressed.

I picked two reasonably priced, discounted tickets as examples (there are much better fares to be had, but I just wanted to have something off of which I could test this out).

For example, I found Delta business class tickets from New York to Dublin for $2,091 roundtrip. Amex Travel could book these for $1,880 through the International Airline Program. Those aren’t huge savings, but I’ll certainly take the discount off what’s already a good fare.

I’ve been wanting to try Air France first class again, and found a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Barcelona for $6,097. That’s a lot of money, but for Air France first class it’s a solid deal, in my opinion. Amex Travel could book this ticket for $5,347 through the International Airline Program. Wow, that’s $750 off!

Air-France-First-Business-Class-43

Bottom line

This new International Airline Program from Amex is a real improvement. Being able to score a discount on an already discounted first or business class ticket is awesome, especially since you can use this in conjunction with the “Pay With Points” feature. It sure seems like this will work on just about any discounted premium cabin ticket, so you can bet I’ll use this the next time I see a fare sale I want to take advantage of.

Presumably Amex has access to discounted fares and/or gets a commission on most of these bookings, and is just passing most of that on to customers.

The next time you’re booking a premium cabin ticket on one of the above airlines, be sure you give the new program a try. If you do, please report back with your findings!

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

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Comments

  1. Thanks!

    Especially for the ex-LAX info. So many deals to Europe aren’t worth the connecting flight without through checking bags.

    Did you check the cost of Business Class for LAX-CDG?
    Would it be good on a one way – ex US?
    Is it good on AA metal with a BA codeshare (I think AA has the best option to Europe from LAX to LHR) and could I credit that to AA for EQDs?

  2. Any idea if they plan to bring it online? Having to deal with a “real person” can be an epic PITA – particularly if they are less than fully versed on the details

  3. @ Garrett — They absolutely should, though they may only earn as consolidator fares, which in some cases will be better, and in other cases worse.

  4. @ beachfan — I didn’t, but I imagine it will be some discount off whatever the best available fare is, probably around 10% or so. It seems a one-way would work, though one-way fares out of the US are almost never a good deal. A codeshare should be fine as well, it probably all depends on the agent you get.

  5. @ BC — Unfortunately I don’t think so. Agree in general pain, though for what it’s worth, my phone call to inquire about the above two fares took a total of six minutes, including the time I spent on hold, the time she took to verify my info, etc. So at least my experience was about as good as it could be.

  6. @ Pat — I haven’t seen any data points regarding that yet, but I imagine some of these may be considered bulk fares. With AA that’s not an issue, but I realize with UA it could be.

  7. I read about this update last week. Priced out an premium economy flight on China Airlines. Called up Amex, waited on hold for 12 minutes, got a quote that was 30 dollars less. Which basically is nothing with the forced booking fee for platinum customers. It seems this may not be the best deal for premium economy (based on the few other fares I tried as well).

  8. Lucky,

    Not sure if you directly answered this, but I am guessing this won’t accumulate the 5x points on airfare?

  9. @lucky any idea if this would work for fares originating outside the US? Not a platinum card holder (yet) so can’t test it myself…

  10. I think I paid slightly over $6,000 last June SFO/BCN and MAD/SFO on Air France first. Definitely will look into this. But if I remember correctly, Amex travel was around $500 cheaper than travelocity when I bought the ticket around feb last year.

    @jack I can see why the discount is so low for china airlines’ premium economy. Their fares are really low to begin with.

  11. Probably sooner or later they will offer this program to the rest of the world. Great news!

  12. Grrrr. Another US-only deal. We already pay our Amex Plat through the nose for less benefits (and less miles on spend), and now you get even more…

  13. For a second there I was tempted to investigate the Canadian Platinum AMEX but from the above I can see that, once again, cards issued by AMEX in Canada are totally inferior and almost worthless.

    Too bad that AMEX cannot recognize opportunity – or perhaps there are so many uneducated card users in Canada who blithely carry on with their head in the sand not recognizing the lack of value in relative terms that they do not see the need to improve.

  14. I just checked prices on Virgin Atlantic from IAD to LHR, roundtrip 22 Dec returning 7 Jan, in Upper Class.

    Booking direct with Virgin, this would cost $3166.02.

    Amex just quoted $2802.66, savings $350+, not bad!

  15. @ Rowyourboat — No? I’m a bit obsessed with trying to find good fares on AF, and checked the usual candidates for cheap fares (ZRH, LHR, MAD, and BCN), and that was the cheapest this time around.

  16. @ Trex — Unfortunately only seems to work for “select” Canadian cities, and not other international origins.

  17. Such complete crap that these Platinum deals don’t apply to the Corporate Platinum customers. Amex is such a disappointment all around.

  18. Quoted Cathay Pacific LAX-HKG-TPE-HKG-LAX in premium economy ~ $220 cheaper than offered directly through CX’s web site. Business class was ~$250 cheaper for flights in early September.

  19. It still has minimal value for me, because, though I am American, I live outside the US, therefore the vast majority of my flights are booked originating outside the US – and Canada too.

  20. Lucky, what’s an even better deal if u have the points is to use Thank you points with the citi prestige card on AA metal or code share. It’s a 40% discount if u pay with points. Much better than what Amex offers. Same with Chase Sapphire approximately 35% off

  21. @Lucky, if you want to pay with cash, you can fly La Premiere from select cities in the US to Scandinavia. For example, LAS-LAX-CDG-CPH gets you 10+ hrs on 777 from LAX-CDG for ~$4,700. However, It’s a bit of a trek as it doesn’t seem to be available directly from LAX (so you need to position yourself), but at this price you can get it even lower with the AMEX IAP.

  22. To get access to these discounts one still has to pay the annual $550 fee for the American Express Platinum Card.

    I don’t fly often enough anymore to make this pencil out. If Amex got me in some decent travel lounges, like AA, UA or Lufthansa or ANA then it might make sense.

    I use my Amex Reward Miles to fly business. That still makes better financial sense to me.

  23. I agree that this is an excellent development, though as someone who likes to play around endlessly with available airlines and routings before making an international leisure booking, I see its main use for me to lie in providing a “price check” once I’ve narrowed down the options I’m considering. If I can save a few hundred dollars that’s another benefit to offset the annual fee.

    Also, a shout-out to the old program which in some contexts provided an incredible deal. I wanted to take my mother to Paris for her 90th birthday a few years back but needed to buy refundable tickets both because of the nature of my job and because with an elderly traveler, last-minute flexibility is a must. The IAP basically got me two refundable business class tickets for the price of two refundable coach tickets and while the AF business class product at the time was nothing special, the extra space and privacy were welcome, and very special to my mother who does not travel a lot and thus was not jaded about even the smaller perks of business class.

  24. @Lucky i’m not sure that the new La Premiere is available on 380s… i think that it’s only available on 777s… Better make sure about that before you travel as there’s a huge difference between the 2 hard products

  25. Many are making reference (and it seems plans) re: American Airlines for this program. However, the graphic at the top of the post and the Amex IAP site itself pretty clearly shows that AA doesn’t appear to be a participating airline in this program.

  26. I don’t see how this is a good change, unless you’re buying first-class. As someone else pointed out, it isn’t a value for premium-economy. To clarify, does the discount apply if buying one ticket or do you need to buy multiple tickets to receive the discount? Do all tickets receive mileage? I did the buy one-get one this spring. I paid $7,000 for two business-class tickets on Delta for DTW-NRT-GUM-NRT-DTW. It was actually a deal because generally it’s at least $4,000-ish per ticket. Unfortunately, only one of the tickets received mileage from Delta despite both tickets having the same fare coding. The “free” ticket did not state “award” or “no credit” on it, as it would if it were an award ticket.

  27. In addition to this, the amex-AA partnership is alive and well. I managed to snag a business class roundtrip from Phoenix to London for $2,200. I fly the direct route on BA relatively often (6 times a year) and I wanted to try AA’s 77W business class so my outbound flight was on AA with a stop in Dallas, where the Centurion lounge (easily my favorite lounge in the US) was pretty much right across from my gate. My inbound flight is the nonstop BA leaving tomorrow afternoon (booked as an AA codeshare). I was initially booked on the morning direct flight that BA launched around a month ago, but yesterday I realized that I’d rather have a nice lunch in London. I called the Centurion travel concierge to switch flights, but she told me that there weren’t any special amex fares available in club world on the later flight. However, amex did have two special first class fares on the afternoon flight. I braced myself, since I’d just checked the BA website and knew that first class tickets were selling for around $13,000. The price to upgrade through amex: $350! I repeat: I ended up paying ~$2500 for a round-trip that’s should’ve been at least $10k. The amex-AA partnership alone makes the Centurion Card worth the membership dues.

  28. What Roger said is correct, if the 380 is flying out of LAX (which it is as of now) you’d be better served by getting to a departure airport that has the re-configured 777s.

  29. @Kabir: Let’s be honest. BA’s international first-class product is basically a really, really good international business-class product.

  30. I think this has a lot to do with their increased competition mainly from the JPMorgan Reserve card, which offers better deals when redeeming points for travel, as well as better pricing for a combination of points and money option, and so Amex has to do more to ‘catch up.’ You can even move a pin so that you can decide how much of your points you want to redeem which would raise or lower the difference in cash that you have to pay if you do not have enough and Amex has not recently had good deals for redemption, let alone these kinds of tools.

  31. Since Pay with Points is also an eligible payment option, does that mean this can be combined with Business Platinum 35% points back?

    I see a new excellent deal on the way…

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