Many American Express cards include ‘travel credits’ every year – essentially a travel voucher that you can spend on bookings made through American Express – and while you can typically cash these in these on flights, hotels or car hire, some of these bookings can prove more rewarding than others.
Here’s how you can make the most of your travel credits, and even how you can earn points and status credits on these ’free’ bookings.
Which American Express cards include travel credits?
To get started, you’ll need to have one of the following cards, which include varying types and values of travel credits:
- AMEX Platinum Edge credit card: $200 travel credit
- AMEX Platinum Charge Card: $300 travel credit
- AMEX Explorer credit card: $400 travel credit
- AMEX Platinum Reserve credit card (free with the Platinum Charge): a further $400 travel credit
- Qantas AMEX Ultimate Card: $450 Qantas Travel Credit
On many of these cards, the included travel credit negates the cost of the annual fee, particularly if you’d have otherwise spent the same amount (or more) on travel each year.
For example, the AMEX Explorer Card includes a $400 travel credit every year against a $395 annual fee, which more than pays for itself.
On other cards, such as the AMEX Platinum Charge Card, the travel credit is part of a broader web of perks – returning $300 of value straight back from the card’s $1,200 annual fee, or a more impressive $700 of value if you contact AMEX and ask for a complimentary companion Platinum Reserve credit card, which includes its own $400 travel credit on top.
Strategies for spending your travel credit
In most cases, it makes sense to use your travel credit to book a flight, rather than a hotel stay or car hire.
That’s because you use that travel credit to ‘purchase’ a paid fare at face value with the airline: and if that fare would normally earn points and status credits in your chosen frequent flyer program, you’ll also earn points on these bookings.
However, if you were to use your travel credit towards a hotel stay, many hotel loyalty programs (such as Hilton Honors) consider these to be ‘third party’ bookings, on which hotel loyalty points cannot be earned: ditto eligible ‘nights’ or ‘stays’ towards any hotel status.
You might also miss out on the usual hotel perks you’ve become accustomed to – such as complimentary room upgrades, breakfast or WiFi as normally provided by your status – and you may not have access to exclusive ‘members only’ rates, so you’re potentially ‘paying’ more and getting less.
Many car hire companies also allow free cancellations as standard on bookings made directly with that company: but if you book a car using your travel credit, that credit isn’t refundable if your plans change, and can’t be used again.
The same is true of hotel bookings and also flights, so you’d not use a travel credit for bookings that are subject to change, but as you can still earn points and status credits on these tickets, it makes the most sense to book flights with your credit if your schedule and plans allow.
(With the Qantas AMEX Ultimate Card, the only option for spending your travel credit is direct with Qantas on Qantas flights – although the travel credits included with other cards are a bit more flexible.)
Other ways to be savvy with travel credit flight bookings
One advantage of booking through American Express Travel – the system you’ll use to spend your travel credit – is that your bookings will be charged in Australian dollars.
Even if your itinerary begins overseas, you’ll still pay in AUD, and won’t be charged AMEX’s usual 3% international transaction fee.
That’s particularly useful if you’ll be travelling overseas on a business trip paid for by your company, where you choose to add some personal time into the mix while abroad.
For example, if you’re heading to Los Angeles for work and want to zip up to San Francisco for the weekend, you can search and book a simple return trip from Los Angeles to SFO through American Express Travel: using your travel credit towards the booking, and paying any additional amount in Aussie dollars.
It also pays to check for flights and fares in all travel classes, not only the one you plan to book, because sometimes, flights in a higher cabin can oddly prove less expensive.
I discovered that recently when pricing a multi-city trip on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), where the itinerary I was searching for within Europe came out at over $2,000 just for economy – yet booking the same flights in premium economy (SAS Plus) cost only $750, and included extras like airport lounge access, priority security screening, priority boarding and double the normal baggage allowance.
However you spend your travel credit, just keep in mind that you need to spend the full value in one transaction: you can’t split your credit across multiple bookings.
That means if you have a $400 travel credit to burn, and the cost of your flight booking is only $350, you can certainly use your travel credit to make that journey ‘free’, but will forfeit the remaining $50 of value.
As such, consider using your travel credit towards bookings which cost more than the travel credit’s value – that way, you’ll enjoy the biggest possible savings, and can simply pay anything extra using your points-earning American Express card.
Air New Zealand's Airpoints frequent flyers will enjoy have access to Qantas Clubs around Australia under the newly-forged alliance between the two airlines.
As of October 28, 2018, Airpoints Elite and Gold members booked on a codeshare flight with Qantas will find the doors swing open for them at the two dozen Qantas Club lounges in Australia's capital cities and regional centres. They'll also be permitted to bring in one guest.
But it won't be as easy as flashing your shiny Airpoints card, as the following conditions apply:
- you have to be travelling on a domestic Qantas flight
- it has to be booked under the Air New Zealand codeshare (those flight numbers will be in the NZ7xxx range)
- and this must be booked as part of a trans-Tasman booking
This arrangement replaces Airpoints access to Virgin Australia lounges following the dramatic bust-up between the two former allies.
However, there appears to be no Qantas Club lounge access for Koru Club members, nor can AirNZ frequent flyers cool their heels in the more upmarket Qantas Business lounges.
The Qantas / Air New Zealand alliance covers selected flights on the domestic network of each airline, however trans-Tasman and other international flights are excluded from the arrangement.
Cathay Pacific will roll out its new 'business class dining concept' this month, with the meal service taking a step closer to a first class experience.
Meals will be individually plated and delivered to passengers by hand rather than by trolley, as the airline adopts more personalised and upmarket approach.
Cathay also expects this will result in a "quieter and calmer cabin environment", especially on late night flights.
Passengers will have a choice between three appetisers and "up to six main course choices" on flights over ten hours in the initial launch of the service to the likes of Chicago (on July 30), London/Gatwick (in August) followed by Frankfurt, Manchester and Washington DC (September); Amsterdam, Paris and Johannesburg (October), Madrid, Brussels and Barcelona (November) and London/Heathrow (December).
And, being very much on trend, light and healthy 'wellbeing options' feature in every main course.
On flights from Hong Kong the menu will be changed every month, with a quarterly menu refresh for flights to Hong Kong.
Fights from Hong Kong (but not, for now, the return leg) will also see a new range of Hong Kong Favourites inspired by local dishes, such as
- Hong Kong char siu pork with egg noodles, seasoned soy sauce, spring onion and ginger (shown below)
- Wok fried seafood in lobster soup with ginger, spring onion, crispy and steamed rice
- Beef brisket with flat rice noodle soup
- Mango with pomelo and sago
But before all that eatings starts, business class passengers will notice the new-look menus.
Printed as eight pages on quality paper, they not only detail the meals and drinks available on that flight but include foodie-friendly articles such as 'Anatomy of a Laksa' and feature a local chef revealing their favourite eateries both in Hong Kong and around thr world.
There will also be a breakfast menu card which passengers will complete before hitting the hay, so that they can wake to what the airline described as a "hotel room-service" experience.
However, these are set menus rather than allowing travellers to pick-and-mix from a wide selection of items.
In addition to what's described as 'traditional' Chinese and Western breakfasts, there's also a lighter Continental breakfast plus a minimalist Express breakfast of a piece of pastry and a drink, which can be served 60 minutes before landing for passengers who wish to maximise their sleep.
Refreshments will be revamped as a selection of 'most loved dishes' available throughout the flight as a snack between meals on services to North America and Europe, including the airline's signature burger and popular soup noodles. These will also appear on the main meal menu.
Next year will see Cathay's 'new business class dining concept' extend to medium-distance routes, with plans to include Sydney and Auckland in February 2019 and Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Perth in May 2019.
Very few watches can claim true originality, and the Cartier Santos is among those few.
The Santos made its debut way back in 1904 as a personal timepiece for aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, making it both the first pilot’s watch and one of the earliest known men’s wristwatches.
As we've previously detailed, the Santos was borne from a request by Brazilian flyer Santos-Dumont, who told his friend Louis Cartier – then a Parisian watchmaker – of the challenge of timing flights using the then-conventional pocket watch, as pilots needed to keep both hands on the aircraft controls.
In response, Cartier designed a large square-faced watch and fitted it to a strap so it could be worn on the wrist – quite a revolutionary concept at the time.
The first commercial Cartier Santos watches went on sale to the public in 1911 with solid gold cases and ultra-thin mechanical movements designed by French clockmaker Edmond Jaeger.
(In order to produce this movement for Cartier, Jaeger worked with Swiss movement manufacturer Jacques-David LeCoultre, a partnership that would lead to the birth of storied brand Jaeger-LeCoultre.)
The enduring design of the Cartier Santos was reimagined in the late 1970s as a luxury steel sports watch, later adding two-tone steel and gold and the now-iconic screwed bezel with exposed gold screws along the bracelet for a modern, industrial aesthetic.
For 2018, Cartier has once again re-invented the Santos.
The distinctive screw-set bezel now tapers at both ends towards the bracelet to create an organic, integrated look.
The satin-brushed case features a wide mirror-polished bevel along its length, extending all the way to the gracefully curved crown guards at 3 o’clock. A square watch the Santos may be, but there’s hardly a sharp edge or straight line to be found.
The case has been slimmed dramatically from previous incarnations of the Santos, allowing this watch to disappear easily under a shirt cuff when needed.
The bracelet is fitted with a new 'QuickSwitch' system allowing for easy swapping with the included tan calfskin strap or Cartier’s alternative crocodile straps, providing some style versatility.
Adding or removing bracelet links has also been made easier with a new 'SmartLink' design which allows the wearer to expand the bracelet during a hot summer’s day without requiring a tool.
While the bezel, case and bracelet have all been modernised, the dial remains classic Cartier. With Roman numerals, a railroad minute-track and heat-blued hands, it’s hard to imagine a more traditional look.
The 2018 Cartier Santos can serve dress-watch and sports-watch duties equally well, and boasts a history that few timepieces can match.
• In-house mechanical movement with automatic winding
• Seven-sided crown set with a faceted synthetic spinel
• Silvered opaline dial, blued-steel sword-shaped hands, sapphire crystal
• Water-resistant to 10 bar (approximately 100 metres)
• Medium version case width: 35.1 mm, thickness: 8.83 mm
• Large version case width: 39.8 mm, thickness: 9.08 mm
• Pricing from A$8,750 for the Cartier Santos Medium in steel, to A$52,500 for the Cartier Santos Large in solid pink gold with matching pink gold bracelet. For stockists, visit www.au.cartier.com.
Finnair will launch inflight Internet on its European flights this week, with travellers able to enjoy the high-speed satellite service free of charge during a two-month trial period running through to the end of September.
The Oneworld airline has already outfitted six of its single-aisle Airbus jets with technology provided through partner Viasat, which also provided the backbone for Qantas' Australia-wide WiFi system.
By the end of northern summer some 20 aircraft will be upgraded, with Finnair's entire single-aisle Airbus fleet slated for WiFi by mid-2019.
The system will be available on a gate-to-gate basis, so passengers won't even need to wait for their jet to reach level flight – which will maximise time online for many of Finnair's relatively short European hops.
However, parts of some European routes will present black spots to the satellite network, including above the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea, while some restrictions also apply over Latvia, Lithuania, parts of Belarus and Russia.
Over the two-month testing period Finnair intends to "gather information on system functionality and feedback on the overall customer experience."
"In entering the passenger testing phase, we’ll be gaining the critical insights needed to further optimise our service to ensure Finnair customers get a unique experience built around their needs, interests and usage behaviours," explains Viasat vice-president Don Buchman.
The airline has yet to reveal what pricing it will charge for its sky-high WiFi once the trial period ends, although frequent flyers will no doubt hope that some sort of monthly pass is available as an alternative to paying on a per-flight basis.
Finnair already offers WiFi on its long-range 'intercontinental' jets, with the first hour free for business class and Finnair Plus Gold members, then €3 (A$4.70) for three hours or €20 (A$31) for the entire flight. Finnair Plus Platinum frequent flyers are provided with free Internet access for the whole flight.