American Express Introduces Bidding for Upgrades Using Membership Rewards Points (Poor Use of Points)

American Express has launched a new bidding for upgrades feature. In essence you can use Membership Rewards points instead of cash when bidding on last minute upgrades on airlines that use Plusgrade to support upgrade auctions.

This is available for Aerolineas Argentinas; Aeromexico; Air Canada; Air China; Air Mauritius, Avianca; Caribbean Airlines; Ethiopian; Etihad; Fiji Airways; Gulf Air; Icelandair; Kenya Airways; LATAM; Malaysia Airlines; Norwegian; Qantas; SAS; Singapore Airlines (including SilkAir); and TAP Air Portugal.

  • Enter your reservation, determine if you’re eligible to bid for an upgrade
  • Use Membership Rewards (or points and cash) to place a bid
  • Find out in the days prior to flight whether your bid was accepted

Etihad Business Class

I’ve helped plenty of folks identify usual low upgrade prices by searching for past bidding experience that passengers have had. This is for ‘leftover’ premium cabin seats that are going unsold. It’s a function airlines offer anyway to try to monetize those seats through their own website. American Express is partnering with Plusgrade to offer a new way to pay for those bids.

This is a shockingly bad deal. You’re using points either wholly or partially in lieu of cash, which means you’re basically buying back the cash cost of an upgrade with points. Redeeming American Express points in this way will get you either one cent per point in value or just half a cent per point depending on the card. Platinum cards get just half a cent per point. (Update: Platinum credit cards get half a cent per point, premium Platinum charge cards get a penny.)

For most American Express Card Members with a Membership Rewards account, 1,000 points = $10 of value through Upgrade with Points, except as noted below.

For the following Cards, 1,000 points = $5 of value through Upgrade with Points:
American Express® Platinum Credit Card
Blue for Business® Credit Card
Blue for Students®
Some Blue from American Express Cards
Business Management Account
Gold Optima® Card
Optima® Credit Card
Optima® Platinum Card®
Platinum Business Credit Card®
ZYNC® Card

Qantas A380 Business Class

More options with points is better, I suppose. However if all you’re getting is a penn in value for your redemptions you’re doing it wrong.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Has anyone done the math on how much is spent keeping track of points, planning where to eat, and extra time spent on phone or online either complaining or gaining upgrades? Is it worth it really, especially when we are now accepting that we are charged for a carryon, plus $100 for LUGGAGE.
    I usually fly out of Tampa where I can either get a meal or eat before I leave for the airport and usually connections are too close to worry about finding a lounge on the way to my destination.
    Seems like much ado, unless going overseas.

  2. Like, why? I cannot fathom how someone with a Gold or Green Card gets better benefits than someone with a Platinum, let alone someone with an Everyday card with no annual fee. Yes, having a Platinum + Everyday card will entitle you to the “better” 1 cpp benefit, but I literally cannot figure out the point of having such a low redemption rate for Plats.

  3. I have to assume that when they don’t mean the Platinum Charge Card we are all thinking of when they refer to the “Platinum Credit Card.”

    I used to work for a small business ~10 years ago that gave me a “Business Platinum Credit Card” for my expenses and it was not the equivalent of the charge card version. I imagine they are referring to a legacy credit card like that here.

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