Turning American Express Airline Fee Credits into Spendable Cash

I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).


American Express offers ‘airline fee credits’ on several of its cards. You’re supposed to be able to use the funds for things like seat assignment fees, checked bag fees, and inflight food and drink.

  • You’re not supposed to be able to use this for airline tickets. In fact you’re not supposed to be able to use the credits for upgrades, buying miles, or gift cards either.

  • You select one airline to use the credit with for the year out of Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United. Your chosen airline continues as a default year after year unless you change it, and you can change it once a year in January.

  • It’s use it or lose it

Clearly American Express gets value out of promoting a $200 benefit but that not all cardholders take full advantage of. Their cost to provide the benefit should therefore be substantially less than $200.

As we’re approaching the end of 2018, make sure not to let any fee credits go unused. Here are American Express cards that offer an airline fee credit:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express will let you earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. I love earning 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel with this card.

    This card gets complimentary access to American Express Centurion airport lounges. It also provides individual cardmember access to Delta lounges when flying Delta same-day, and a Priority Pass Select membership for cardmember access to lounges that are a part of the Priority Pass network (which includes Alaska Airlines lounges and many international lounges).

    The card provides up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees. There are also additional travel benefits like Gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Hilton Honors and Executive status in the National Car Rental program.

    The card’s annual fee is $550, and it has a benefit of up to $200 Uber Savings annually (available to the primary cardholder only).

  • The Business Platinum® Card from American Express also has this $200 airline fee credit and has similar lounge and elite status benefits.

    There’s an initial offer of up to 75,000 Membership Rewards: 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 & an additional 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of cardmembership.

    You earn 1.5 points per dollar on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more up to 1 million additional points per year.

  • American Express® Gold Card is the new ‘it’ card — available until January 9, 2019 only as a metal rose gold. It earns 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at US restaurants and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets as well as 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

    It has an annual fee of $250 along with a $100 airline fee credit (and dining credits).

  • The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a $450 annual fee card that comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status and also a free weekend night each cardmember year. $60,000 in purchases in a calendar year earns another weekend night.

    It has a $250 airline incidental fee credit per calendar year and a $250 Hilton resort statement credit per cardmember year.

I’ve been buying American Airlines electronic online gift cards with my fee credits. It’s not supposed to work, but it has worked. Of course there’s no guarantee that it will continue to work because American Express could change this at any time.

The nice thing about American Airlines gift cards is that I’m going to use them anyway, so if they ever weren’t reimbursed I am not out any money. They’re just credit that I’m going to use towards a paid ticket.

Reports have been that the following work:

Interestingly Derp Report says that $200 electronic American Airlines gift cards have been getting reimbursed successfully. I’m not going to try this because there’s no benefit to me in doing so — I’m just as happy applying (2) $100 gift cards as a single $200 card. The edge case to care about $200 gift cards is if you’re applying a lot of them to a single reservation, since the maximum American supports is 8 per booking.

United hasn’t been an option since the airline stopped allowing purchases of gift registry funds.

Now is the perfect time to get an American Express card with an airline fee credit. That’s because the credit is based on calendar year rather than your cardmember (or annual fee) year. You still gave time to get the card in 2018 and use the 2018 fee credit and then once January 2019 rolls around you can use the fee credit again. This means you’d get the airline fee credit twice in your first annual fee year.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. AMEX is so far behind with these pain in the butt airline credits. The idea that you have to pick an airline first (which may not be your “preferred airline” since if you have elite status with that airline, you’re not paying for bags, etc.) really is behind it’s competitors.

    Citi, Chase, etc., all is a straight up credit. You don’t have to think about using it because you know you’re going to make an air purchase over the year.

  2. @Gary – Is there a limit to how many gift cards you can use on a single ticket? That may affect whether going for a $200 gift card is worthwhile.

  3. @Christian: My experience with Delta is that there is no limit. Yes, you do have to call in and a supervisor needs to get involved, but I’ve used up to 20 to pay for one ticket.

  4. Hey, Gary
    I’ve had success setting up Ubers for my college age son pick up/drop off several times via my mobile app. We’re not in an UberEats locale, but I’ve read that’s another option for using the Uber credits on the AmEx Plat.

  5. I think you forgot to mention that in order to use the airline fee credit twice, you must pay the huge annual fee when due, or cancel the card. (Which means you can never re-apply).

    Am I wrong?

  6. @JOHN. In your first year you apply for the card you can get it twice before paying the annual fee. Let’s say you apply in November 18….you could select your preferred airline as soon as you get the card and spend the. Credit right away. Then on January 1st 2019 you can spend the credit again and you will get reimbursed. That’s twice in your first year of CArd ownership because Amex uses the calendar year to reset fee credits. Hope this helps!

  7. I used it to buy a couple 500 mile upgrade certificates with American, successfully. Not the best use but better than letting it go to waste.

  8. I was told by an AE agent that the Southwest Early Bird fee was NOT reimbursable as part of the $200 annual airline credit. I personally didn’t try.

  9. @J.C. this is news to me. I have so many $50 Delta gift cards from all my credits and Delta only allows 3 at a time. I have spoke to supervisors etc., but they’ve never let me use more, they have said the system will not allow it. @KT call and let Amex know. They’ve credited every single one of mine. Sometimes they ask what I used it for and if so, I would tell them bag fees. They’re not going to check and usually issue the credit immediately.

  10. @Nina: We get at least 16 $50 Delta GCs every year and we use them all in one shot. Sometimes we use them all when two of us are flying, sometimes when only one of us flies. The phone agent takes all the numbers and PIN numbers and gets a supervisor to combine them all in one giant eCredit.

  11. @Brent @Donna you have to purchase in separate transactions and I would space them out a few days. I also had a huge problem when I had $58 left on the credit and did a $60 gift card. Amex said that the dollars have to match perfectly to clear the credit. They did eventually credit the $58 but I have stuck with $50 gift cards from then on.

  12. Someone asked it already, but is there anyway to use it on United? (When you are NOT flying?). Just curious if anybody has an answer. Still have 130 to clear and no flights booked until next year.

  13. I fly Business Class all the time and never need the $200 credit. It’s been a wasted reward for years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *