Now, while travel might be on hold for many of us, is an especially good time to learn new ways to travel at a discount.
That's where the American Express International Airline Program comes in. This occasionally overlooked program is great for saving money when booking international flights. On some itineraries, you might even save more than 50% off the airline’s price.
Here’s how to save on flights by booking through the American Express International Airline Program.
What is the American Express International Airline Program?
The American Express IAP is an airline discount program for certain American Express cardholders. Travelers can save hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars when purchasing premium economy, business class and first-class flights on participating international airlines.
In order to get the discount, you’ll need to purchase your flights through AmEx Travel while logged into a qualifying AmEx account (more on eligibility below). Flights can be booked online or over the phone. There is a $39 fee for booking over the phone, but this fee is waived for Centurion® cardholders.
How it works
To get access to the program, you need to have a Platinum or Centurion® branded card. This excludes co-branded Platinum cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. For most cardholders, that means you’ll need either The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express to qualify.
You’ll also need to pay for the flight in full with an American Express Card in the U.S. Platinum Card Member’s or U.S. Centurion® member’s name. That means that you don’t necessarily need to use The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express to pay for the flights but you might want to anyway.
Both The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express earn 5x points on airfare purchases through AmEx Travel. Even better, AmEx added travel protections to both of these cards effective Jan. 1, 2020. Between solid earnings and travel protections, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express have become go-to cards for booking flights for those looking to earn American Express Membership Rewards points. Terms apply.
There are currently 26 airlines that participate in IAP.
Departure & Arrival Airports
You must book a flight that originates in — and returns to — a U.S. airport or “select Canadian gateways.” These Canadian gateways aren’t listed. We have found from performing searches that at least Toronto (YYZ), Vancouver (YVR) and Montreal (YUL) are included.
One Way vs. Round-Trip Fares
Per the terms and conditions, the program generally requires a round-trip booking, but “one-way travel is permitted on some airlines.” Again, these airlines aren’t listed. From searches, we’ve found that you can book discounted one-way fares on at least Air France, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and Qantas.
For example, you can fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) in Delta premium economy for just $444 one-way through the American Express IAP:
Additional Passenger Allowance
You can apply the discount to book travel for yourself and up to seven additional passengers. However, the Platinum or Centurion® cardmember must be one of the travelers on the itinerary. That means you can’t use this discount to help friends or family book a discounted getaway on their own. Terms apply.
Just how powerful is the American Express IAP? Many premium economy and business class itineraries that we found are discounted around $200 round-trip. Meanwhile, first class fares could be discounted by thousands of dollars.
Let’s show some examples of how you can save.
One of the most comfortable ways to fly to Asia without breaking the bank is by flying Japan Airlines Premium Economy Class. You can save hundreds of dollars off of the already-reasonable prices by booking these flights through IAP.
For example, Japan Airlines premium economy fares for flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) are currently discounted by more than 50% when booked through the program. The airline is selling these flights for $1,739 round-trip, but it costs just $826 round-trip on the AmEx travel portal:
These aren’t false discounts off of overinflated airfare prices either. The $1,739 “strikethrough” price is the price that you’ll find when searching for these flights on Google Flights or the airline’s website itself:
Business class travelers can also use this program to save hundreds of dollars when flying between the U.S. and Europe. For example, you can shave $165 off of an already-discounted round-trip nonstop flight from Boston (BOS) to Paris (CDG):
Or, you can fly to Rome in business class for under $2,000 round-trip. This itinerary between New York-JFK and Rome (FCO) is discounted from $2,132 round-trip to $1,992 round-trip:
Nerd tip: You might be able to save even more on British Airways flights by booking using the AARP discount. AARP members can save up to $200 on a round-trip business class British Airways flight. So, it’s worth checking both options to see which is cheaper.
Ever taken a shower at 38,000 feet? It’s not an experience you’ll forget! Book your Etihad or Emirates first class tickets through IAP to unlock impressive discounts on a first class experience.
Take this itinerary from New York-JFK to Bengaluru, India (BLR) in Emirates first class. The standard price for this itinerary is $9,868 round-trip. However, you can save more than $2,000 on the round-trip by booking it in the AmEx travel portal:
Nerd tip: Make sure to select an itinerary that includes the Airbus A380 if you want to shower in the sky. First Class on Emirates’ 777-300ER aircraft is still incredible, but you won’t want to miss out on the unique shower-in-the-sky opportunity if you don't have to.
Stack even more savings
Travelers also have the option to use American Express Membership Rewards points to book these trips. The general redemption rate is approximately 1 cent per point. However, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express cardmembers can score a 35% points rebate on eligible flights. Terms apply.
This rebate is only valid on business and first-class tickets booked through the AmEx travel portal. In addition, you’ll get this redemption for any class of service — including economy and premium economy — on the airline that you’ve chosen as your qualifying airline for the year.
The rebate is limited to 500,000 points per calendar year. That means you can redeem over 1.4 million Membership Rewards points in a calendar year before needing to worry about the limit.
» Learn more: AmEx Membership Rewards: How to earn and use them
Let’s circle back to that NYC to Paris example from above. The discounted price is $1,992 round-trip, meaning it would require 199,155 Membership Rewards points to book.
Since it’s a business class flight, it would be eligible for the 35% rebate if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. The 69,704-point rebate lowers the net cost to just 129,451 points round-trip. That’s a better redemption rate than the 1 cent per point average.
The bottom line
When planning to travel overseas, Platinum branded and Centurion® cardholders definitely want to start their flight search process through AmEx Travel. You can save hundreds of dollars (or more) off of round-trip flights on more than two dozen participating airlines through the American Express International Airline Program.
Plus, you can charge the flight to The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn bonus points on the purchase. And now, you’ll get complimentary travel protections for using these cards to book your flight.
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