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Updated inflight Wi-Fi provides a new way to use airline incidental credits

May 27, 2022
8 min read
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We've previously discussed credit cards with airline incidental credits, and many people bemoan the fact these credits have become harder to use over time.

The unhappiest group is those with elite status. If you already get upgrades, snacks during the flight and checked bags for free, it seems like you really can't use your airline incidental credits for anything — right?

With recent updates to inflight Wi-Fi, you'll be happy to know that your airline incidental credits may provide value after all.

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Quick recap of cards with airline incidental credits and travel credits

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

"Airline incidental credits" offer reimbursement for the extras you have to pay for when flying. Here's a quick recap of cards offering this perk:

Note that you must enroll in advance and choose a preferred airline for American Express cards. With Bank of America, credits only apply to U.S.-based airlines on flights departing from the U.S.

The information for the Premium Rewards Elite card and 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.

Since these reimbursements are intended to cover things like paying to select a seat, priority boarding, checked bags or snacks and drinks during a flight, what happens to your credits if you get those things for free? For many people, the credits go unused. That can make it tough to justify paying hundreds of dollars for a card's annual fee.

Related: What still triggers Amex airline fee reimbursements?

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There are also cards with more generalized "travel credits." Two good examples here are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card from Chase (not currently open to new applications).

Both cards offer $300 in annual statement credits. With the Sapphire Reserve, this applies to anything broadly defined as "travel." With the Ritz-Carlton card, the $300 in annual credits is meant to apply to "incidental credits," but the credits don't happen automatically like you expect with other cards. You need to call or message Chase and ask to use your credits against a purchase you made.

The information for the Ritz-Carlton 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.

As you can see, there are several cards offering reimbursement for things that you may be receiving for free, if you have elite status with an airline. Even if you aren't getting those things for free, maybe you don't use them and are happy to hear about other options. Enter: new Wi-Fi systems.

Wi-Fi that codes as a qualifying airline purchase

(Photo courtesy of Delta)

Not all Wi-Fi systems are the same. That applies to how they work and whether they will trigger your credit card's annual travel or incidental credits.

Older Wi-Fi systems where you purchase your internet from a provider such as Gogo will not code as an airline purchase. That's because you are buying your internet from a third party — not directly from the airline itself.

At present, Wi-Fi purchases from Alaska Airlines will not code as a purchase from the airline. So, unfortunately, you won't be able to use your airline incidental credits or travel credits here. Additionally, Wi-Fi purchases during your flight with American Airlines will not count, but there is at least one data point where buying a monthly subscription in advance triggered the airline incidental credit with Amex.

Southwest's inflight Wi-Fi is provided by just one carrier, which makes things simple. Despite the fact that all of the branding looks like the Wi-Fi is offered directly by Southwest, it's not. Instead, it will likely code as something like "computer networking" on your credit card statement. Thus, Wi-Fi purchases from Southwest Airlines won't trigger your airline incidental credits.

Delta's inflight internet systems are the simplest to understand among airlines where your credits might work. When boarding, look for this decal on the side of the plane indicating it has the newer, faster Viasat system.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Beyond this, you can see which service may be available on your upcoming flight on Delta's Wi-Fi information page. Purchases of the Viasat Wi-Fi system will code as a Delta purchase, which should be eligible for reimbursement with airline incidental credits and travel credits.

Related: Putting Delta’s new blazing-fast inflight Wi-Fi to the test

The most complicated airline in this discussion is United Airlines. It has a total of four different internet providers on its planes. The good news, though, is that United is simplifying its onboard internet pricing and offerings. You can check this page for information on which Wi-Fi system your flight is likely to have. The best is Viasat, which is installed on select Airbus A319s, Boeing 737-900s, 757s and the 737 MAX 8 and 9. As part of the comprehensive “United Next” campaign focused on fleet renewal, the carrier promises to install “the industry’s fastest available inflight Wi-Fi” on all newly delivered jets.

Despite the complex question of which United internet provider your flight might have, the positive news is that increasing numbers of United Wi-Fi purchases are coding as "United Airlines" on credit card statements. That means these purchases should qualify for airline incidental credits and travel credits.

Related: United simplifies the Wi-Fi pricing structure, adds day pass option

Other ways to get inflight Wi-Fi for free

(Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images)

There are additional paths to free Wi-Fi on a plane. For our purposes, we are considering options beyond the free services limited only to using the airline's entertainment systems or messaging apps.

Related: Which airlines offer free inflight messaging?

Most T-Mobile customers may be able to get a free hour of Wi-Fi on select Gogo flights, while some subscribers get unlimited Gogo Wi-Fi with certain plans.

For Southwest Airlines fans, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card offers reimbursement for up to 365 $8 inflight Wi-Fi purchases on Southwest each year. Southwest charges $8 for an all-day Wi-Fi pass, so this card effectively gets you free Wi-Fi on Southwest every day of the year. Pay for the purchase using your card, and you will receive a statement credit after the fact.

For American Airlines passengers, there’s the $99-a-year AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard that offers up to $25 in statement credits toward Wi-Fi purchases on AA flights and the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard (not currently open to new applications) that offers up to $50 in statement credits per year.

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red card and AAdvantage Aviator Silver 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.

Beyond this, there are several airlines that offer free inflight Wi-Fi, though offerings can vary by elite status and which cabin you're flying in, or be subject to time limits.

Bottom line

(Photo by Content Pixie/Unsplash)

If you're looking for free internet on your next flight, there are several ways to get it. The fact that more inflight Wi-Fi purchases are coding as airline purchases should be welcome news for those with airline incidental credits and travel credits to burn. If you've struggled to use these credits in years past, buying an internet pass on your next flight could provide value to you. Be sure to check which type of Wi-Fi will be available on your plane in advance, and remember that if you're using an American Express card, this perk only applies to your preferred airline.

Featured image by (Photo by Delta Airlines)
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.