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.