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For those of you with American Express cards, you’re probably familiar with many of the redemptions offered by the program. But one redemption option that doesn’t get much attention is the Upgrade with Points feature. In this video/post, we’re going to explore whether the Amex’s Upgrade with Points is worth it for most travelers.

Why Upgrade with Points?

For most of us, flying business or first class is something we aspire to do, but it isn’t something that we can afford to do on a regular basis. While collecting points and miles can be a great way to make it happen, it’s still an expensive proposition. Which is why it’s interesting to see American Express offering another way to get upgrades through their Upgrade with Points feature.

Membership Rewards points earned by cards like the American Express Platinum can be used to upgrade certain flights.

What is Amex’s Upgrade with Points program?

The Upgrade with Points option from American Express allows you to apply Membership Rewards points to bid for an upgrade on 21 different airline partners. You won’t see any major US carrier on the list, but is still a diverse group of airlines covering flights to all parts of the world.

As of October 2019, you can use the Upgrade with Points feature with 21 different airlines

How to use Amex’s Upgrade with Points?

To use this feature, you’ll want to go to the Benefits tab in your American Express account and select Upgrade with Points. You’ll then select the airline and enter your last name and confirmation number. Once your flight information is confirmed, you’ll be given the opportunity to bid for an upgrade using your points.

You’ll need to provide an airline booking number to confirm whether the flight qualifies for an upgrade

The dashboard hints as to what would be a competitive bid for an upgrade. It tells you the likelihood of getting an upgrade based on the bid amount. Keep in mind that there is a minimum bid amount, so you can’t go in with a low-ball offer.

Once you submit your bid, you’ll hear back within five days of your flight. It’s that simple! If your upgrade is accepted, then it is non-refundable and cannot be changed. If your itinerary contains multiple flights or stopovers, you can bid for each fight individually. However, keep in mind that you can only bid one offer per flight.

Increasing your upgrade bid offer

You also have the option of adding dollars to your offer. This doesn’t replace your points bid. You would still need to submit the minimum bid required. This just gives you the option of adding more to the offer using cash.

Redemption value of Amex’s Upgrade with Points

Using Amex’s Upgrade with Points program means that you’re redeeming at a value of 1 cent per point (which isn’t great!)

Using this option, each Membership Rewards point is redeemed at a value of one cent per point. This is definitely on the lower end of most valuations. As of October 2019, The Points Guy values American Express points at two cents per point. Everyone’s point valuation will be different, but know that you’re not getting a high redemption rate using this program.

American Express Gold Card
The American Express Gold earns 4X Membership Rewards points on dining out and groceries, which can help offset the cost of a flight upgrade

Is it worth using the Upgrade with Points feature?

For most people, probably not. That’s mostly due to the low redemption rate of one cent per point. For those of you that collect American Express points, you’ll likely be discouraged by the low per point rate. In fact, you could probably find business class flights for fewer points than using the upgrade with points option.

On the other hand, there are two scenarios where I think this feature could be useful.

Scenario #1: Treating a family member or friend to an upgrade

The feature doesn’t require the ticket to be your own, so you could upgrade a friend or family member’s ticket if they qualify for an upgrade. You would be accepting a low redemption rate, but it might be worthwhile if you’re looking to treat a family member or friend who has traveled to visit you. This might be especially valuable if the person has a long flight home.

Scenario #2: Upgrading a flight paid by work

Oftentimes, work travel is booked by an employer. However, this often means economy only. The Upgrade with Points feature could be worthwhile in this situation, especially if you want to fly business or first class without getting approval from work. You would be paying for your own upgrade. However, it could be valuable especially if you’re someone that struggles to sleep on a plane.

Things to consider when using Amex’s Upgrade with Points

If you decide to use the feature, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1. Be aware of restrictions:

The Upgrade with Points benefit only works with certain classes of tickets. If you’ve booked a low-cost economy ticket, then it’s unlikely that the booking will qualify for an upgrade. You’ll want to check with the airline’s website to see what classes of economy tickets are eligible for upgrades.

2. Consider upgrading directly with the carriers:

Many airlines will allow you to upgrade directly through their website. Some have a similar bidding system as American Express, while others show an exact point total for an upgrade. Going directly through the carrier often means that you’re getting a better point value rate than the suggested bids through American Express.

3. Always search for business class tickets to compare the rate:

You can often get more value per point by booking a business class award ticket versus upgrading an economy ticket. I suggest using tools like AwardHacker to see the approximate point requirements and airlines that serve your flight plan. This is often a great starting point. Awardhacker even tells you which partner airlines to check for the flight and which point currencies are needed. It’s not always 100% up-to-date and award availability may be limited depending on the time of your trip. However, it’s a great tool to use when searching for award flight redemptions.

Final thoughts

While I don’t think that I’ll be using the Upgrade with Points option anytime soon, I do think it’s a step in the right direction. I’d love for American Express to make it a more compelling value proposition. Also, I’m curious to see whether their competitors (like Chase) offer similar redemption options for their points.

What do you think of the Upgrade with Points feature? Have you used it to upgrade your flights?

If you’re interested in applying for any of the cards in this post, we encourage you to compare credit offers. We do get a commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us to continue building content for our site and channel.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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