If you’re an American Express cardholder with Membership Rewards who enjoys earning points for redemptions on travel, then this month’s big news could be beneficial to you. As of May 1, American Express has released a brand new partnership with 21 airlines that allows cardholders to bid on upgrades using their Membership Rewards points.
This could be a convenient option for you if you have been accruing points with your Amex and you have a few partner flights coming up, but before we talk about that, let’s discuss how the new program works.
To get started, simply visit the new upgrade webpage and select your airline. There are 21 participating airline partners including:
- Aerolíneas Argentinas
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air Mauritius
- Caribbean Airlines
- Fiji Airways
- Gulf Air
- Kenya Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Silk Air
- Singapore Airlines
Once you’ve selected your airline, you will be prompted to log into your Amex account. Provided you are eligible for Membership Rewards with your card and itinerary, you will be able to proceed to enter your itinerary information. Note that you are not required to have paid for your trip with your American Express card in order to take advantage of the Upgrade with Points perk.
Next, you’ll be taken to the page where you can make an offer in points or points plus cash. There isn’t a cash-only option for this which I suppose makes sense, as this program is geared towards points redemption.
As per the norm with upgrades, you’ll be able to see the minimum acceptable bid and slide up to see what amount would increase your chances of your bid getting accepted. If you’re not trying to drain your account on an upgrade, you can add a desired amount of cash to the bid to strengthen it a bit.
After submitting your bid, all that’s left to do is wait. Generally, you’ll be informed of the airline’s decision within 5 days of your flight and American Express will let you know directly whether or not you’ll be classing up.
The process is simple enough, but what’s the fine print?
First of all, it’s important to reiterate that this perk is only available to American Express cardholders who hold a card that is eligible for Membership Rewards, and not all cards are created equal. In the majority of cases, the Upgrade with Points redemption value comes out to $10USD for 1,000 points but this isn’t ubiquitously true. For example, cards including Blue for Students, Blue for Business, Gold Optima, Optima, Optima Platinum, and ZYNC are only eligible for a $5USD value for 1,000 points through Upgrade with Points.
If you’re a cardholder who is eligible for the $10USD for 1,000 points conversion, the value isn’t unreasonable but it also probably isn’t the best you can do with your points. So far, members have reported minimum bids anywhere from 45K points to 80K points, which Amex currently values between $450-$800 for the upgrade. Depending on your itinerary, this could be totally reasonable; just keep in mind that these are minimum bids that may have a poor chance of being accepted. But if the points redemption would be worth it on the off-chance that your bid is accepted, it’s worth a try.
It’s also worth a try to explore bid upgrades directly through the airline because there are certainly cases where the cost of the minimum bid made with cash through the airline may be lower than the cash value of a points bid through Upgrade with Points. If so, you could easily save all of your points for a better redemption in the future by taking advantage of that more advantageous cash value.
Alternatively, if you’re set on using points in favor of saving your cash and haven’t yet booked your flight, it would be worth it to explore points transfers to American Express airline partners and book directly through the airline that way. This is because while Upgrade with Points is an option that shouldn’t immediately be discarded, it isn’t the only option and it may not be the best option when compared to a direct booking. This is a nice alternative because with a points transfer, you have a different set of participating airlines that might align better with your travel plans.
All in all, the introduction of the Upgrade with Points program is perhaps more convenient than it is beneficial. The redemption values are, at first couple glances, not the most incentivizing thing in the industry. However, if you have a stack of Membership Rewards points that you’re willing to burn on upgrades, there’s no harm in giving it a try. You could make out with a nice class-up, with a little bit of luck.
Have you found a great upgrade deal through Upgrade with Points?
Tell us about it in the comments.
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