I spent my afternoon yesterday on the phone with American Express trying to rebook a pricey British Airways ticket. And failed. It’s a good (additional) warning to think twice about booking your airline tickets directly with American Express.
“Flexible” American Express-Issued International Airline Ticket Is Not All That Flexible After All…
An Award Expert client divides her time between the USA, London, and Kenya. She’s a lifetime British Airways Gold member and is happy pay for a pricey first class ticket when award space is not available. During the pandemic in 2021, she was scheduled to travel on a first class ticket from the USA to London. The ticket cost $7,775.47 and she had to cancel, but we banked the travel credit.
We booked the ticket through American Express because generally due to her schedule constraints the best use of her Membership Rewards points is simply to offset the cost of her paid tickets.
Now she’s in Kenya and needs to travel to London. Her round-trip ticket from Nairobi to London cost roughly the value of the travel credit, thus representing a perfect opportunity to use it. The AMEX website is so clunky that anything requires a call to complete. I called to cancel her original itinerary and I called again to rebook it.
As always with the poorly-trained agents at American Express Platinum Travel, it reliably takes 15-20 minutes for them to review the fare rules to determine if your credit is valid. Of course, it was.
However, when I provided the new flights, I was told, “Sir, your flight must originate in the same country.”
Here’s the thing. That was never clearly disclosed when booking or canceling the ticket. More on that in a moment.
I called British Airways, hoping it would agree to take over the ticket so I could reissue it. An agent told me the travel credit was valid on any route and there were no country of origin restrictions. But the agent also said BA was unable to take over the ticket since American Express was still in business (the agent explained BA can only take over travel agency tickets of defunct agencies). I called again just to make sure and got the same story.
Again, I called American Express and was connected to a very nice agent. I went right to the point of origin issue and asked her to call British Airways and see if she could work out a solution. She promptly agreed to call.
Fast-forward two hours. We were all on the phone together and British Airways insisted that the ticket could be re-issued with a point of origination in Kenya. But though the agent tried, her system simply would not let her. Perhaps a clever agent can find a way around this, but at this point I had already sunk several hours into this fool’s errand and had no additional time to spare.
We booked a new ticket…but via British Airways directly. Forget the Membership Rewards points.
In terms of my own client, money is not really an object and she will use the existing flight credit at some point this year originating in the USA. I could have saved myself a huge headache by simply booking a new ticket from the very start. But it’s hard to spend another $7K, even if it is not your own money, when you have $7K in credit sitting right there. It’s actually really absurd and represents the sort of archaic technological restriction that is unacceptable in 2023 from a leading worldwide travel agency.
But for your own knowledge, I combed through the AMEX website for the fine print on changing flexible airline tickets and found this:
eTicket Flight Credits FAQs
eTicket Flight Credits may only be redeemed with the same airline from the original booking. Travel must depart from the same country as on your original ticket. The currency of the country of origin cannot be changed from the original ticket.
I consider that bait and switch due to the lack of clear disclosure, but at least I am now on notice. So are you.
Hopefully, you can learn from this cautionary tale when booking an airline ticket with American Express. While the 5X Membership Rewards points and the ability to use your points to offset the ticket price is attractive, keep in mind that even on fully flexible tickets, you will not be able to change the country of origin. That makes unrestricted tickets in reality quite restricted.