This is a guest post from @RobertDwyer
Like I was saying recently the Rise of Bank Points (TM) has created a situation where bank points are often, perhaps ironically, better than airline miles for airfare.
The AmEx Business Platinum card’s 50% rebate when redeeming Membership Rewards for flights creates a 2 cents per point redemption opportunity. While it’s worth noting the restrictions on this redemption (it applies only on your “airline of choice” in Economy or any airline in Biz/First) it’s smart to fact check whether you’re getting the best available fare when redeeming Membership Rewards through AmEx’s portal.
While doing some searching for upcoming travel interests I noticed some “Membership Rewards Insider Fares” popping up. Insider Fares? I like the sound of that!
I was doing some searching very far out for flights from Boston to Phoenix between Christmas and New Year’s just as the schedule was opening up.
As is often the case with AA lately, award space was non-existent. It reminds me [kind of] of a line from Despicable Me: “Regarding saver level award space – there is none.”
This route is served by just two carriers: AA and jetBlue.
Since AA is an old guard carrier, they release their schedule 330 days out. Their opening salvo is uninspiring: $475 pp one-way in Economy, $640 pp one-way in First:
Fares for this date might come down in Economy, especially once jetBlue releases their schedule. But this is a bit of a peak date so you never know.
If I look at First fares on this route between now and then (ie, almost the whole year) I rarely see anything below $600. Based on past experience I ballpark a one-way legacy carrier biz/first flight as roughly $500 so while a $640 fare isn’t good it’s not horrendous.
If we wanted to book that with AmEx Membership Rewards we’d need 64,000. Thanks to the 50% rebate if you carry their Biz Plat card that’s 32,000 MRs.
That’s pretty great compared to the 75,000 miles AA wants for the flights thanks to lacking saver level space. Even if there was miraculously saver level space it would be 25,000 AA miles, so 32,000 MRs isn’t that far off. Plus we can call our shots on flight times and we’d earn miles in the process.
How much does AmEx want for the flights?
I wanted to check whether the AmEx booking portal showed the same fares as AA.com. I was pleasantly surprised.
On this route I saw that the AmEx fares were better than AA’s fare. Rather then $640, the AmEx portal showed an “Insider Fare” which was 9.6% better than the best fare on AA.com:
What about calling the AmEx concierge?
A while back I read this piece on TPG suggesting that you could sometimes find better fares by calling the AmEx concierge due to rates AmEx has negotiated with some airlines.
I called the concierge and found the exact same fares as I saw online. If I booked over the phone I’d incur a $39 per ticket booking fee. So it seems that on this route for these dates there are no high leverage/magic concierge fares.
When do Insider Fares pop up?
I don’t know, but I’ve seen them on multiple airlines. They’ve appeared on First fares and Economy fares alike. I’ve seen them for transcontinental flights and for short flights. The discounts I’ve seen range between 5 and 10%. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Boston to LAX in First
Let’s take a look at an example of Boston to LAX on February 23rd. Insider fares in First appear on Delta, AA, and Virgin America.
Even though I’d far prefer jetBlue’s excellent Mint product on this route, especially for just $449 pp one-way, let’s drill down on the Delta options since it says Insider Fares Available and they’ve got the cheapest fare on this day. Notice that the flight with the Insider Fare is the more expensive one. That’s not great, but still could be useful if you want to fly Delta and those flight times are better for you.
I thought perhaps it was a matter of discounted fare classes being ineligible for Insider Fares. But that’s not the case. Both A and P fare classes are considered discounted fare classes.
Boston to Chicago in First
Here’s a case where the cheapest flight available on that day does have an Insider Fare. And the fare class for both of these options is “I”. So the availability of Insider Fares doesn’t depend on fare class.
Chicago to Boston to Economy
Just in case you’re wondering, here’s a case where an Insider Fare popped up in Economy. Again, it wasn’t for the cheapest option and the discount was only 5%. But if the flight time was appealing to you it could be useful.
The reason I’m drawn to the First fares is because they’re often not much more than Economy. And even though Insider Fares don’t seem to appear on very cheap Economy flights (say a $99 ticket on jetBlue from Boston to Orlando) those flights cost so few MRs (or other currencies) they’re a great deal to begin with. Just 5,000 MRs for a direct flight to Florida on jetBlue? Sign me up.
What’s the value?
If you can get a 10% discount on a flight and pay with Membership Rewards with a 50% rebate, it equates to ~2.22 cents per point of value.
To work out the math on that: If a $1,000 flight instead costs $900 that’s 45,000 Membership Rewards (after the 50% rebate) for a $1,000 flight. $1,000/45,000 equals 2.22 cents per point of value.
That’s pretty fantastic and hard to beat domestically, internationally in Economy, and sometimes even Business Class internationally when you catch a good fare.
Can Insider Fares stack with the 50% rebate?
I don’t see why they wouldn’t. The AmEx concierge I spoke to said they would. I don’t have an immediate need for a redemption so I haven’t had a chance to test it personally. Perhaps someone can comment to confirm for sure.
Getting up to 2.22 cents per point of value for Membership Rewards is a very strong redemption.
When you pair an AmEx Business Platinum, the signup bonus earned from that and other Membership Rewards cards, an AmEx Blue for Business which currently has a signup bonus offer of 2.3 Membership Rewards per dollar up to $50,000 in spend the first year – this is an amazing program. 2.3 x 2.22 = 5.1% everywhere towards paid airfare, which is fantastic.
On the off chance that someone out there doesn’t have an AmEx account and would like me to spot check whether there are AmEx Insider Fares available ping me on Twitter @RobertDwyer and I’d be happy to help.
Have you had luck finding useful AmEx Insider Fares and stacking it with the AmEx Biz Plat’s 50% rebate?