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Should I book on Amex Travel or directly with the airline?

Facebook user Elizabeth asked the following question on the Pursuing Points Facebook page.

Going JFK to Kathmandu on Qatar. Should I book directly on Qatar website or AMEX travel website? I have AMEX Business Platinum. Thank you! (I get 5x points if I book through AMEX website, right? But better customer service if booked through Qatar if there is a problem?)

Although I do not have the Amex Platinum (for reasons you can glean from this podcast), I realize that folks greatly enjoy its 5x on travel benefit. The important thing to note in this question however, is that the user has the Amex business platinum, not the personal edition. With the business version of the card you’re limited to earning the 5x only on “flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com”. With the personal card you can earn 5x both on AmexTravel.com and, for flights, directly with the airlines. So what should she do? I don’t have an exact answer, but here are the questions I would ask myself before making a decision.

Can I get the same price both on QatarAirways.com and AmexTravel.com?

Any time you’re dealing with a 3rd party (in this case AmexTravel.com) there is potential for the price you see to not be the best price available. For that reason I would be sure to check the Qatar website first and check their prices. If you notice a significant discrepancy between what you’ll pay there vs. what you’ll pay on Amex then you may want to go direct.

Can I get the same seat assignment on both sites?

Generally with a 3rd party you’re not going to be able to select your seat, rather you’ll provide a preference. While the 3rd party will communicate that preference to the airline, thats no guarantee that you’ll get the seat you desire. For me, sitting in a middle seat is a non-starter so I place a great deal of value on being able to choose my exact seat. If you’re happy to seat wherever, or you’re traveling solo then this might not matter as much.

Will I have to pay additional fees?

AmexTravel.com charges a fee of $6.99 per domestic ticket and $10.99 per international ticket when booking through their portal. However, if you’re an Amex Platinum or Centurion card holder this fee is waived. Other fees include $39 per ticket if you purchase over the phone, and the main one that most folks will want to consider is the $39 change fee. While $39 may seem small relative to other change fees its important to note that this is in addition to whatever change/cancellation fees the airline charges.

What is the opportunity cost of not booking on AmexTravel.com?

So you’re getting 5x on the travel booked through the Amex portal, but what will you earn when you book directly with the airline? If you’ve got a co-branded card then chances are you’ll earn a bonus when booking direct and using the card. If you’ve got a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve then you’re going to earn 3x on all travel purchases. In both of those cases it may make sense to go direct, especially if any of the aforementioned points struck a chord. Take the time to figure out exactly what you’re passing up on by not booking with Amex.

Conclusion

The decision of whether to use a 3rd party of book direct is a personal one, and I would base it on the aforementioned questions. For me, if the price is nearly the same, I can choose my seat, Im confident that I won’t change or cancel, and the opportunity cost is high then ill book directly with Amex (as I sometimes do with the Chase UR portal). In all other cases I would choose to book directly.

 

What says you? Would you prefer to book directly with Qatar in this case, or on AmexTravel.com? Let us know in the comments!

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