As the COVID-19 pandemic rolled over the world in 2020, many credit card issuers rolled out new temporary benefits to help boost value to cardholders.
American Express was no exception. They started by extending the amount of time that new cardholders had to meet the minimum spending requirements by three months, and went on to add a bevvy of incentives like limited-time bonus rewards, streaming credits, wireless credits and a host of juicy AmEx offers.
Since I’m a travel enthusiast and admitted credit card junkie, I found myself flush with newfound perks and growing balances of bonus points from everyday shopping. The problem was, like many people, I wasn’t really traveling.
Here’s how I was able to make use of — and maximize — one particularly generous extra AmEx benefit.
» Learn more: How credit card issuers are responding to COVID-19
The $200 American Express travel credit
As the year progressed, American Express introduced an additional credit that was made available to some cardholders: The Platinum Card® from American Express customers who renewed their card became eligible for a credit up to $200 for travel booked through American Express Travel. Terms apply.
I didn’t give the credit much thought at first. Due to COVID-19 considerations, I had canceled all of my travel for the foreseeable future. Even when I do travel frequently in “normal” times, I rarely book through American Express. I generally prefer to transfer my Membership Rewards points to travel partners to get outsize value.
Still, $200 is a generous credit that I didn’t want to waste. And when my family was starting to go stir-crazy after months of quasi-lockdown, I set out to plan a safe “staycation” using the bonus AmEx travel credit.
How American Express Travel works
American Express Travel is a booking portal available to cardholders to book flights, hotels, cruises, tours and flight + hotel package deals. When you log into your AmEx account, just click into your Rewards page and you can find the AmEx Travel portal.
When you make a booking through American Express Travel, you can choose to pay with either your Membership Rewards points or with cash.
If you hold The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll earn 5x points when you use the card to charge travel booked through AmEx travel. All other Membership Rewards-earning cards will earn 2x points on AmEx travel bookings. Terms apply.
If you choose to pay with points, they’ll be worth 1 cent each. This isn’t a great redemption value, since you can easily command more value for your points by transferring to AmEx’s travel partners. But when you consider that you will earn airline miles (and sometimes hotel points) when you book your trip through AmEx travel, the value jumps up a bit. That’s because the airline or hotel sees this as a “cash” booking rather than an “award” booking, even when you’re using your Membership Rewards.
» Learn more: Best American Express credit cards
How I got the best value for the AmEx Travel credit
Since my family was staying grounded during the pandemic, we decided to take a “staycation” in a nearby hotel. And since we had missed most of our planned travel in 2020, we decided to use the $200 credit toward a splurge for luxury.
When I started hunting for hotel options in the American Express Travel portal, the first several hotels that appeared in my search were designated as being part of the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, or FHR.
Available only to cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the Centurion Card from American Express, the FHR program offers extra benefits, including:
4 p.m. checkout.
Room upgrade (based on availability).
Daily breakfast for two.
$100 property credit (varies by hotel, but dining and spa credits are common).
Since my $200 AmEx credit would cover anything booked through AmEx Travel — including a hotel in the Fine Hotels & Resorts program — I knew I could pack even more value when I combined the benefits.
We decided on a “staycation” night at the luxurious St. Regis close to where we live.
When booked through AmEx travel, the room was going for $349 a night. To be clear, booking a hotel through Fine Hotels & Resorts does not always give you the lowest rate. If booked directly, a room at this same hotel could have cost $308 for that same night.
But the added benefits from booking through FHR can usually outweigh the added cost.
Here’s how my AmEx travel booking broke down. The room rate was $349, but by booking a Fine Hotels & Resorts property through AmEx travel I got:
The Platinum Card® from American Express credit: $200.
Property credit: $100.
Breakfast credit: $60.
My family got the red-carpet treatment at the St. Regis. We were able to check in early at 11 a.m. to kick off our staycation, and we were upgraded to a larger room with a prime view.
The $100 property credit at this hotel was good for a food and beverage credit, so we used it to splurge on a fancy, socially distanced tea party, to the sheer delight of our two young kids.
In the morning, we were informed that we would be given $60 in breakfast credits from our booking. Even at St. Regis prices, that credit was enough for all four of us to enjoy a light breakfast.
At checkout, we had a few incidental charges, including valet parking, that we needed to pay for out of pocket. Since St. Regis is a Marriott brand, I used my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card for those charges. The card comes with up to $300 in credits for eligible purchases at Marriott hotels. Terms apply.
The bottom line
This staycation was certainly not free, since I pay a hefty $550 annual fee to hold The Platinum Card® from American Express. But by booking a room through American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts program, I was able to get even more value from the extra $200 travel credit. Terms apply.
Though earning hotel points can sometimes be hit-or-miss with FHR bookings, I was pleasantly surprised a few days after checkout to see that I had earned Marriott Bonvoy points and an elite night credit on this booking.
If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express and are eligible, make sure you remember to use your extra $200 AmEx travel credit whenever you’re ready to travel again. The credit is good for travel through the end of 2021. You can check your AmEx account to see if you have the offer or contact customer service through online chat or over the phone to confirm your eligibility.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card