American Express travel rewards bonus is truly bogus

American Express logo

American Express will give you double reward points when you book your hotel, flight, vacation or cruise through its website -- a deal that gives customers about 2% back on travel purchases.

At least, that’s what AmEx wants its customers to think.

After the hidden fees it imposes on each booking, most people will actually lose money while thinking they’ve earned a small reward.

Say you book a plane ticket through the credit card company's special travel booking website, www.americanexpress.com/travel.

As a result, you'll earn double points -- and get hit with a $6.99 fee per domestic ticket.

But only comparison shoppers who look at the cost of the same flight on other travel websites are likely to notice.

That's because the fee is rolled into your ticket price without being itemized; you won’t find out about it unless you read the fine print before you buy your ticket.

Indeed, after clicking through a bunch of legal boilerplate, the company tells you you'll pay an "Online Air Transaction Service Fee," which is "charged for each ticket purchased online for an airline that pays us a standard fee or commission."

Read further to learn the fees are intentionally hidden from you:

"Certain service fees are charged for processing your travel reservation through our system," according to the fine print. "These are often bundled into the Taxes and Fees amount in order to maintain the opaque nature of the 'prepaid' rate, as required by our contracts with our suppliers."

You’ll have to spend nearly $350 when you book through the American Express website to earn enough travel rewards just to break even.

You’ll pay similar hidden fees called "facilitation fees" or "processing service fees" when booking a hotel room or vacation package through American Express.

A better choice is to book directly through the service provider or through any of the major travel websites that don’t charge booking fees.

Since the AmEx rewards program offers 1 point per dollar spent on travel purchases anywhere, you don’t have to forego reward points, either.

If you're still looking to earn bonus travel points, we have two better options.

If you have a Citi credit card that’s enrolled in the ThankYou Rewards program, you can earn an extra 1 or 2 points per dollar when you book travel through Hotwire, Priceline, Travelocity or Expedia.

Hotwire and Priceline don't charge booking fees. Travelocity and Expedia charge booking fees if you book a trip that involves multiple air carriers.

To earn the extra ThankYou points, you’ll need to log in to your ThankYou account and book your trip through the Bonus Center, which lets you choose the travel company where you want to shop. You’ll be taken to that company’s website, and your bonus points automatically will be credited to your ThankYou account.

EBates offers cash-back rewards similar to those offered by Citi, but you don't have to use a particular credit card to get rewards, and you earn straight cash back, not points.

Current eBates travel offers include 2% back at Hotwire, 2% to 3.5% back at Orbitz, 1.5% to 5% back at Expedia and 1.0% to 5.5% back at Travelocity. There are also various cash-back offers at numerous rental car and hotel chains.

If you’re booking air travel at these sites, the cash-back rewards are sometimes a flat dollar amount, such as $1.25 at Expedia air -- not great, but better than losing money on fees.