Will I Get Airline Miles & Elite Benefits With Portal Bookings?

Jul 17, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

A few months ago we answered a question about whether you can get points and elite benefits when booking hotels through Amex Travel. So it’s only fair that TPG reader Adrian wants to know the same thing about airline tickets…

Does booking airline tickets through the Amex Travel portal enable you to still leverage airline elite perks?

TPG Reader Adrian

There’s been significant interest lately in booking airfare and hotels through the Amex Travel portal because not that long ago American Express added a 5x bonus category for those purchases to both The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. With both cards you have to book prepaid hotels through Amex Travel in order to get the bonus points on hotel reservations, but when it comes to airfare, only the Business Platinum requires booking through the Amex portal. If you have the personal Platinum, you can book tickets directly with the airlines and still get 5 points per dollar.

As we learned last time around, when you book prepaid hotels via Amex Travel, you won’t earn hotel points or elite credit for your stay. So that certainly begs the question — is the same true for plane tickets? Well, as surprising as it may seem, on this point the airlines are actually more generous than the hotels, because in most cases you will in fact earn miles and get your elite benefits recognized when you book airline tickets through Amex Travel — or for that matter through most other online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Orbitz or Expedia.

But hang on. You’ll note in that last sentence I said “in most cases.” That’s because there are a few exceptions to keep in mind.

First, if you use an OTA like Amex Travel to book a basic economy ticket, you’ll be subject to the airline’s rules on basic economy fares, which could very well mean that you won’t be eligible for upgrades and you might not earn elite credit. The same rules apply regardless of whether you book a basic economy ticket through an OTA or directly with the airline, but you might not get any warning that you’re booking one if you’re doing it outside of the airline’s website. It appears that as of now Amex Travel is mostly returning standard economy fares in its search results, but you’ll need to do some outside research to be certain of what type of ticket you’re booking before you lock it in.

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Amex Insider Fares have been reported to code as special or bulk fares.

The other important caveat to keep in mind is that OTAs such as Amex Travel sometimes sell bulk fares or special fares. These are wholesale fares that have been historically sold by the airlines to liquidators or as part of vacation packages at below-published prices, but some bank travel portals and OTAs sell these fares through their own websites (some Amex Insider Fares have been reported to be bulk or special fares). It can be very difficult as a customer to determine if you’re buying a bulk or special fare since there’s little indication of it on the website, but if you get one, it could be subject to mileage earning using a non-standard calculation or even not earning any elite-qualifying dollars at all.

It’s not always easy to avoid these quirks, but if you can, you should get your airline elite benefits and miles even when booking tickets through Amex Travel or other OTAs. Thanks for the question, Adrian, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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