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What still triggers Amex airline fee reimbursements?

Aug. 08, 2020
10 min read
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During the pandemic, Chase and Citi expanded their criteria for what counts as travel for each of their premium card travel credits. However, Amex has held firm with their airline fee credits.

And last year, airline gift cards stopped qualifying for statement credits last year on American Express cards offering airline incidental fee reimbursements. Enrollment required for select benefits.

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American, Delta and Southwest gift cards used to trigger the annual airline incidental fee credits and provided a great benefit for cardholders paying annual fees up to $550.

Today, let's look at what is still triggering the incidental fee and if there are any cash equivalent strategies remaining.

Related reading: How the Amex airline credit should change during the pandemic

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Official Language for Amex Airline Fee Credits

American Express cards that award annual airline fee statement credits include:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (up to $250 airline fee credit)
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 airline fee credit)
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 airline fee credit)

Enrollment required for select benefits.

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The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Language from the Platinum Card terms and conditions are, for the most part, pretty vague and unhelpful in discerning what may qualify. In fact, the terms are more clear about what doesn't qualify instead of what actually does.

The following language excludes a few charges and then places the ownership on the airlines in order to have a charge qualify:

Airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty-free purchases, and award tickets are not deemed to be incidental fees. The airline must submit the charge under the appropriate merchant code, industry code, or required service or product identifier for the charge to be recognized as an incidental air travel fee ... We rely on airlines to submit the correct information on airline transactions"

As TPG has pointed out several times, the larger issue is that Amex relies on an automated system to apply these credits, which means you’ll only receive the credit if the purchase is coded in a specific way.

This coding can change from time to time as airlines update their billing processes. Some charges that are excluded by the above language still continue to work, making the official terms of limited use in knowing what works in practice.

Related reading: Top cards with airline fee credits

What (often) still works to trigger the airline credit

Seat selection fees

If you don't have status with mainline carriers and need to pay for seat selection or plan to fly Spirit or Frontier, seat selection fees will trigger the annual credits.

(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Checked baggage fees

Paying to check a bag (or a carry-on fee with low-cost carriers) will trigger the fee credit, but honestly there are so many ways to avoid checked bag fees this shouldn't be necessary except on low-cost carriers.

Related reading: How to avoid checked bag fees

Itinerary change fees

Paying the change fee (not airfare difference) will trigger the annual credit.

Phone reservation fee

You should be able to avoid this fee by booking online for mainline carriers or buying a low-cost carrier ticket at the airport ticket counter (and saving even more) but if you have to pay the fee, the annual credit should be triggered.

United Club bar (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
United Club bar (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships

United Club, Delta SkyClub and American Admirals Club annual memberships or day passes will trigger the annual fee. As with all of this, remember to buy only club passes for your chosen airline for the annual benefit.

Related: Best cards for lounge access

Award ticket cancellation and redeposit fees

Without status, most of the major carriers charge a fee for you to cancel an award ticket and get your miles back. This ranges from $75–$125 per ticket, which can really sting. Paying for the fee with your card in some cases (but not all) will trigger the credit. Notably, there have been multiple data reports of American cancellation fees not triggering the credit.

Related: Can I cancel or change my award ticket due to coronavirus travel waivers?

Inexpensive airfare

Perhaps our best hope of a cash equivalent method still working is paying for airfare under $100 with your Amex. I have personally seen inexpensive Southwest, Delta and JetBlue airfares receive credit reimbursement. Just remember -- this is not a guaranteed use.

Delta airfare partially purchased with a gift card

Paying for any portion of a Delta ticket with a gift card changes how the remaining airfare you charge to your Amex card codes. The remaining airfare becomes an "additional collection" and has often triggered the Amex Platinum reimbursement credit.

Here is a ticket I bought for my daughter in May with two Delta gift cards and I paid the remaining $44.60 with my Amex Plat, receiving the credit:

(Screen grab courtesy of American Express)

$5.60 per segment award ticket fees

So far, the $5.60 TSA passenger security fee charged for award tickets has been triggering the annual credit.

Onboard food and beverage

As long as it is the airline processing the charge for your in-flight snack or cocktail, you'll receive the fee credit for your purchase.

Discount Den and $9 Fare Club Memberships

Commenters on several blogs and Flyertalk users say memberships for the Frontier Discount Den (now even more useful) and the Spirit $9 Fare Club have triggered reimbursement for the annual credit. If you fly these carriers, this would probably be the airlines you should chose for your annual reimbursement as all of the incidental fees for each flight would be covered until you exhausted your credit reimbursement.

Southwest EarlyBird check-In and A1–A15 boarding

Don't want to play the Southwest boarding game and eager to secure the seat you want? Buy EarlyBird Check-In or secure a boarding position in the first 15 with your eligible card and you'll be reimbursed by the annual credit.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

American 500-mile upgrade certificate purchase

If you're an American flyer with elite status, you can use 500-mile upgrade certificates on your next flight. Purchasing these for $40 each has triggered the annual credit.

American copay for miles + copay upgrade

TPG reader Jeff shared he paid 30,000 miles and $150 for a Philadelphia to Phoenix upgrade. He was reimbursed $100 for his annual fee credit.

Pet fees

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: A woman carrying a dog asks a JetBlue Airline flight attendant about her seat location May 14, 2017 at there John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York City. Headquartered in Long Island City, New York, JetBlue Airlines is the six-largest airline in the U.S. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Paying the additional charge for an airline to transport your pet has (sometimes, but not always) triggered the fee credit.

Related reading: A comprehensive guide to traveling with pets

What doesn't seem to trigger the airline credit

Award taxes and fees above $5.60

If you are paying for an award ticket on an international itinerary, don't expect the taxes and fees to be reimbursed with your credit. There are just a few data points across the different message boards stating taxes and fees less than $100 may trigger the credits but, for the vast majority, cardholders have not had much luck.

Physical and electronic airline gift cards

As of the middle of 2019, it appears gift cards and e-gift cards from any airline no longer trigger the statement credit. Sadly, this includes the physical Delta gift cards that are sold in Delta lounges.

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Onboard Wi-Fi (except United)

The airlines, with the exception of some United flights, are not the providers for onboard Wi-Fi. Buying Wi-Fi on any other airline will not trigger the credit.

Related: Credit cards that offer in-flight Wi-Fi

Infant ticket taxes and fees

(Photo by Dangubic / Getty Images)

Paying 10% of an adult fare for lap infant ticketing fees on an international itinerary does not work for triggering the credit.

Bottom line

Compared to the $300 annual travel credit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Platinum annual airline credits have become way more complicated than necessary. This is further amplified during the pandemic when air travel has been significantly reduced.

If you have status with any mainline carrier, the need for covering many of these airline incidental fees is almost nonexistent. These road warriors should be the very audience Amex is targeting to be cardholders with this benefit.

I've spoken with many friends and colleagues who are now questioning the value of the $695 Amex Platinum annual fee (see rates and fees) and $450 Hilton Aspire annual fee (see rates and fees) if they cannot be offset with $200 to $250 in near-cash equivalent. Amex should take a hard look at simplifying this benefit.

Have any other data points? Feel free to share by emailing here.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.