Sunday, August 26, 2007



I tried to buy airline tickets and use points from AMEX to cover part of the cost.

There are a lot of hidden charges and hidden benefits depending on how it is done.

Here are some of the issues...

If the ticket is bought from the airline:

1 - There is a charge to transfer points from AMEX to miles at the airline.
2 - Miles only pay basic charges, other charges (like taxes) may have to be paid additionally.
3 - A specific number of miles is required to pay for a flight; the value of miles varies. One point (or one mile) may pay for more or less than one dollar's worth of the ticket cost.
4 - A ticket paid for by miles is not eligible for earning frequent flyer mile points.
5 - A ticket paid for by miles will not earn points on AMEX.
6 - A ticket paid for by miles will not be eligible for automatic flight/baggage insurance from AMEX.

7 - It required several calls to the airline, a call to AMEX, and several visits to the airline web site to complete the transaction.

When the ticket is bought from AMEX travel, the following may all be possible. In my case, for some reason, the charge on AMEX did not go through, although...

(a) I was assured before hand that I could make the charge on AMEX
(b) When I called AMEX to clear up the problem, some apparent glitch in the system prevented customer service from answering the phone for at least an hour, responding only with a strange prerecorded message to call up during normal business hours.

So here's what I think (unconfirmed!) the issues when buying the ticket from AMEX would be (if it were possible):

1 - Points on AMEX (up to the cost of the ticket, reducing the effective cost) may be converted to a credit at one dollar per point.
2 - The ticket would be eligible for frequent flyer miles at the airline.
3 - The ticket would carry any automatic insurance that was normally carried.
4 - The purchase price would earn points at AMEX.
5 - There would be no transfer fees, and the entire cost of the ticket would be one charge on the credit card.

It would seem that it would be much better to buy the plane ticket from AMEX than to transfer miles to the airline and buy it there. However, there may be other factors that I have not taken into account here. (Comments welcome!) And since AMEX customer service was unable to respond in a timely manner, I did not use AMEX to verify these hypothetical advantages. Advantages don't count when you can't use them when you need them.

There is an old joke. A man goes into a store and asks for wild salmon. It's very expensive. The man says, "The fish market across the street sells salmon for $4 a pound, less than half your price." "So buy it there." "They're out of it." "Oh," says the fish monger, "When I'm out of salmon, I sell it for only $2 a pound."


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