The ins and outs of American Express travel credits

A look at a key benefit of the Explorer, Platinum Charge and Platinum Edge cards

GUIDE: Program Guide
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 6 minutes
POSTED: February 21, 2018
UPDATED: July 18, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: American Express Membership Rewards

One of the key benefits of the American Express Explorer, Platinum Charge and Platinum Edge cards is a travel credit that is usable for booking travel through American Express Travel and helps to offset the cards’ annual fees.

There are a few conditions that come with these travel credits, so you’ll need to consider where and when you maximise their use.

In this guide, we explore the ins and outs of the benefit, what it covers, what it doesn’t, how to use it and, most importantly, how to maximise value from it.

The cards’ travel credits

The Explorer card comes with a $400 travel credit, which helps to offset the $395 annual fee. The Explorer travel credit are here.

The $1,450 annual fee Platinum Charge card has long offered a travel credit, which now totals $450.

Finally, the Platinum Edge has a $195 annual fee, which is offset by a $200 travel credit. Its terms and conditions are here.

What you can use the travel credit for

The travel credit can be used for travel bookings made through Amex Travel, which includes most domestic and international flights, hotels and some car rentals.

What is excluded but otherwise bookable through Amex Travel? This table should help you out:

CategoryExplorerPlatinum ChargePlatinum Edge
Flights (excluding low-cost flights)YesYesYes
Low-cost flightsNoUnclearNo
HotelsYesYesYes
Car rentals (only airport)YesUnclearYes
ExperiencesYesNoYes
CruisesNoNoNo
Annual fee$395$1,200$195
Travel credit$400$300$200

Notes:

  • The Platinum Charge terms and conditions are the vaguest but it is most likely that you cannot book low-cost flights or car rentals outside of airports (just like on the other two cards)
  • Car rentals must be from and to the same airport location only
  • Cruises are not eligible for any card’s travel credit

You can only use your travel credit on car rentals if you are picking up and dropping off at the same airport

The bad: Key restrictions of the travel credit

  • The travel credit has to be used in one booking, not across multiple
  • There’s no refund on the travel credit if you decide to cancel a booking, although you might get a refund of the points or cash portion if the original booking was a refundable fare or hotel rate
  • You won’t earn Membership Rewards points on the portion of the booking covered by the travel credit
  • This benefit is given to primary cardholders only, i.e. not supplementary cardholders, although you can use it for an itinerary booked in anyone else’s name (kind of like a gift)
  • The credit can’t be used when you are paying for a hotel or car rental directly, as is the case with Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings or non-prepaid/flexible car rental bookings
  • Car rentals eligible for the travel credit must be to and from the same airport
  • As alluded to above, you can use the credit for a booking that’s less than the amount of the credit on your account but you’ll forfeit the difference
  • The credit expires each year if it’s unused, meaning you have 12 months from the day it arrives in your account, i.e. it does not roll over to the next year
  • Some readers report that the prices on Amex Travel are higher than through the airline or hotel directly, so do make sure to compare prices to get the best deal (note that Amex Travel does not price match)

Do check that flights through Amex Travel are not more expensive than booking direct

The good: How to maximise the value of the travel credit

The terms above really dictate how to best use your credit because it’s not as flexible as cash.

  • Make sure of your plans: this is the most important one. Don’t consider using it for bookings you think you might have to cancel, as you’ll lose the credit amount
  • Book travel that is equal to or over the travel credit amount: remember to target bookings that are going to total above the amount of your credit. If you have a specific flight or hotel in mind that is going to cost less than your credit you can consider increasing the cost to make it eligible for the credit, e.g. by booking a more expensive room type
  • Beneficial if you are chasing airline status but not hotel status: if you are chasing hotel elite status, you won’t earn any stay credits toward status on prepaid bookings via Amex Travel, so ensure you use it for hotel stays where you would otherwise not be worried about points and status. Conversely, a flight booking using the travel credit will still earn you frequent flyer points and status credits with the airline
  • For multiple people: if you are booking a $200 flight for yourself and also want to bring your partner or a friend along, you can book two tickets for $400 and claim the travel credit on the total, i.e. it applies to all passengers in the booking
  • For multiple cards: if you hold two or three of the above cards, you can choose which travel credit to use on your booking (phone Amex if you are having trouble doing this online). Note that you cannot stack multiple travel credits on the same booking, i.e. they’ll have to be used on separate bookings
  • Use on last-minute flight, hotel or car rental bookings: you know you won’t lose the credit because plans are less likely to change
  • Use it for travel into the future: even if your credit expires in, say, January, you can use it for travel in, say, March but you have to complete the booking before the credit expires

Last-minute flights on Qantas can be expensive, so offsetting the cost with your travel credit could represent good value

How to use it online with Amex Travel

Step 1: As soon as you’ve paid your annual fee and made the minimum payment on your first month’s statement, you should find a new credit in your Amex Travel account ready to use

Step 2: Log in to the Amex Travel website, noting that if you have multiple Amex-issued cards in your account, select the card with a travel credit to use. For holders of the Platinum Charge card, your screen will look something like this:

amex-travel-platinum-menu

While logged in as an Explorer cardholder, it will look something like this:

Step 3: Once logged in, in the top right-hand corner of the Amex Travel homepage you’ll see the available credit tied to your account. If you can’t see it and you know it hasn’t been used on your account, contact Amex via live chat or by calling 1800 059 388 (Explorer)/1800 673 760 (Platinum Charge)/1800 059 388 (Platinum Edge) to get that rectified

Step 4: From here, you can start researching your flight, hotel, car rental and/or experiences options

Step 5: Once you’ve found one over the amount of your available credit that you’d like to book, you’ll see the following option appear on the last checkout confirmation page:

amex-travel-explorer-book-with-credit

Step 6: That yellow button is the final step in choosing to redeem your travel credit. The credit is taken off the total price of your booking at the time of it being made, whether that’s over the phone or online—so, in short, you’ll receive it as an immediate discount. You can pay for additional costs with your American Express card, Membership Rewards points or both

Step 7: Review and confirm your booking

You can also use the credit over the phone (using the phone numbers in Step 2) or via the Amex Platinum Travel Concierge if you hold the Platinum Charge card.

American Express has also produced this video to walk you through the process:

Summing up

The travel credit is a handy and valuable benefit of all three cards but it’s important to remember to use it!

One thing I find troublesome is its non-refundable nature. I much prefer refundable rates, having been burned with wanting to change plans of my own accord too often and losing prepaid hotel nights. This means I often don’t use the credit for one- or two-night stays when it could be used.

That said, there’s almost always a paid Economy flight or last-minute hotel booking where this benefit can come in useful.

The ins and outs of American Express travel credits was last modified: July 18th, 2018 by Keith