Top tips for spending your American Express credit card travel credit

Top tips for spending your American Express credit card travel credit

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:

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.

Read: Five secret perks of the AMEX Platinum Charge Card

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.)

Read: How to spend your free American Express travel credit

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.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


  • Adam T


    19 Mar, 2018 09:51 am

    Chris thanks. I love my Amex travel credits and have the Plat Chrge + Reserve so a whopping $700 in effect halves my $1200 fee. Just one point on the hotel perks, because Amex book most of these in the GDS the hotels consider them prime bookings and include all benefits. It’s when the hotel is booked via 3rd party online agency or wholesaler that benefits are typically not included. Always pays to ask if your hote is being booked in GDS.
    Member who gave thanks


  • Will Chan


    19 Mar, 2018 02:50 pm

    Hi AT. Nice tip. What is GDS, and how to check if the hotel being booked is in GDS?
    Member who gave thanks


  • 346


    19 Mar, 2018 03:06 pm

    Global Distribution System?

    I've always been curious to know, that if you had more than 1 travel credit, i understand they cannot be combined, but if you were to book a hotel stay, and make 2 separate bookings, how that would sit?
    No member give thanks

  • Adam T


    19 Mar, 2018 06:16 pm

    346 hi. You have to have two separate bookings.
    No member give thanks

  • 346


    20 Mar, 2018 08:12 am

    Yes, I get that part, but how would that be treated from the hotels end?
    Id imagine i could make the bookings, then call an explain i "accidentally" got the checkout date wrong on the first booking.
    No member give thanks

  • Adam T


    19 Mar, 2018 06:14 pm

    Yes. Global Distribution System. It’s what travel agencies use to make bookings.
    No member give thanks

  • andrewyoung8


    23 Mar, 2018 09:59 am

    I thought I read when I signed up for my Amex Explorer card that I had to wait for my 12 month anniversary before being able to access the $400 travel credit - is that true?
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin


    23 Mar, 2018 10:08 am

    No: if you do that, your first travel credit will have expired.

    However, because it's a yearly benefit, you'll get a new travel credit around the time of your card anniversary, so make sure you spend it every year.
    No member give thanks

  • lind26


    14 Apr, 2018 09:46 am

    I have a Platinum Reserve card without a Platinum Charge card.
    No member give thanks


22 Jul, 2019 08:20 pm


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