As of this May, all U.S. American Express card members with a rewards account can use their points to bid on upgrades with participating airlines.
Following the launch of Amex’s new Upgrade with Points program at the start of May, Amex account holders can now place an offer for a business- or first-class or premium economy upgrade on a flight with more than 20 international carriers—subject to availability and the airline’s discretion. The carriers include Air Canada, Air China, Icelandair, Kenya Airways, Norwegian, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines. (Aeromexico, TAP Air Portugal, and Scandinavian Airlines, aka SAS, are also partners but were not listed on the site at launch while they were getting their systems up and running.) Currently, no U.S. carriers are on the list, but an Amex representative told AFAR that the company is looking into working with additional airlines (although they didn’t specify which ones).
So, how does it work? Once you have booked your flight (and yes, it has to be fully booked and ticketed—but it doesn’t have to be booked using your Amex card), you log in to the Upgrade with Points portal using your Amex member ID and password. After logging in, you enter your reservation details to see if your itinerary is eligible for an upgrade using points.
If it is, you can place an offer using points for all or for a portion of the offer amount. If it’s just for a portion, the remaining amount will be charged to your Amex card. The airline can then either accept or decline the offer.
Points will only be deducted (and monies charged) if the bid is accepted by the airline. Amex will send you an email letting you know what the airline decided typically within five days of your flight. If the bid is a go, the airline will reissue the ticket to reflect the upgrade. If it was declined, you simply keep the seat you already had reserved.
You can also change or cancel your upgrade offer up until the airline makes its call. But once the airline has accepted it, the upgrade is nonrefundable and cannot be changed. Also, applicable taxes and fees are not included in the offer amount and cannot be covered by points; those will automatically be charged to your card. So, even if the entire amount is bid on using points, you are likely to see some kind of charge.
If you’re still a bit confused or have additional questions, Amex put together an FAQ page about it all, which is available here. The video above provides a good breakdown of the program as well.
How exciting is this, really? Well, it depends on how well you keep track of your points and value them. If you’re like me and often let rewards points pile up but then forget about them, this could be a great way to try your hand at unloading some of them for a chance at a much better seat. It never hurts to at least see what is available and if you like the options, give it a go, right?
However, a recent story on The Points Guy site, whereby the writer actually attempted to bid for an upgrade for a Fiji Airways flight he had already booked, concluded that the bid options were not a great value. The minimum bid (the article points out that Amex suggests a “minimum” bid, as well as recommendations for “fair” and “good” bids) for a one-way upgrade for the flight was 76,805 rewards points. The Points Guy valued that bid at $1,536.
In response, Amex told AFAR that each airline determines its upgrade offers, taking into account a variety of factors such as the offer amounts themselves and the number of available seats. “There is not a minimum or a maximum amount of points needed to place an upgrade offer,” noted Amex.
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