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The new year is here and that means it is time to develop a 2019 Amex airline fee credit strategy if you have an Amex card that awards an annual fee credit so that you don’t leave money on the table…

There are a number of Amex credit cards that provide card holders statement credits for airline incidental fee charges. If you make use of these credits, the annual fees for these cards feel significantly less painful. If you don’t use the credits, then you are leaving easy money on the table. These use-or-lose credits are awarded per calendar year, and you can change your selected airline once per year — by January 31.

American Express Annual Airline Fee Credits

American Express cards that award annual airline fee credits include:

Each January you can change your selected airline on each eligible Amex card by scrolling to the “Benefits” section of your online account.  If you don’t make a selection, your choice from the previous year rolls over. Generally speaking, the airline you select for the year shouldn’t always be the airline you fly the most frequently.

If you have elite status (or even credit cards) that provides for free checked bags, waived change fees and complimentary seat assignments, you may do better selecting a secondary airline for the Amex airline fee credits. Additionally, it can be very useful to read some reports of what types of charges typically get reimbursed with each airline as that does vary based on how things code. Also factor in that your airline of choice for the fee credits will also be the one that you can get a rebate when using points to book flights with that airline (perk varies by card type).

Real-World Use of Amex Airline Fee Credits

The intent and terms of these airline fee credits is to use them for incidental airline fees such as checked bag fees, change fees, onboard food and drinks, etc. However, in the real world, the credits sometimes cover more than that. Remember that since we are now talking about somewhat off-label uses of the Amex airline fee credits, these examples are not guaranteed to work 100% of the time. I don’t recommend complaining to Amex if they don’t work in your case, but be pleasantly surprised when they do. With the timeline to change your airline for the year drawing to a close, let’s look at recent real world reports related to the Amex airline fee credits.

2019 Amex Airline Fee Credit Data Points

Based on some very useful linked threads on Flyertalk, tests from TPG staffers and data points from the TPG Lounge, here are some recent Amex airline fee credit reports that go beyond the prescribed incidental fee uses.

Airline Gift Cards for Sale? Gift Cards Reimbursable With Amex Airline Fee Credit?
Alaska Yes No
American Yes No (Updated Feb. 2019)
Delta Yes Yes (with caveat below)
Frontier No N/A
Hawaiian Yes No
JetBlue No N/A
 Spirit No N/A
 Southwest Yes Yes
 United No (TravelBank Gift Registry unavailable since 9/2017) N/A

Note that you have a better chance of off-label success with the airline fee credits with smaller transactions than larger transactions. I recommend gift cards that are $50 each, though some $100 (and even larger) successes are reported.

Delta jets airplanes at airport

Don’t Forget the Ultra Low-Cost Carriers

You can designate ultra low-cost carrier Frontier (where kids fly free) or Spirit as your selected airline, and frankly, that’s not a bad strategy if you fly those carriers. These airlines don’t offer gift cards and there aren’t that many data points out there about what works and what doesn’t with Spirit and Frontier. However, with all of the fees charged by these airlines, using the Amex fee credit “on label” should be really easy. Seat assignment fees (hello Big Front Seats), checked and carry-on bag fees, onboard snacks and drinks and more could make use of the annual airline fee credits in a hurry.

spirit big front seats
Happy kids in Spirit’s Big Front Seats (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Mommy Points’ 2019 Amex Airline Fee Credit Strategy

For years we had United as our selected airline and we used the Amex airline fee credit via United’s gift registry page. But with that option gone since late 2017, last year we switched to Delta and racked up $50 e-gift cards on our Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Gold Card we picked up at the end of the year. Our $50 Delta e-gift card purchases made from the desktop site were all refunded using the Amex airline fee credit.

For 2019, Delta is again my selection on my Amex Gold Card, but for my husband’s Amex Platinum, we’re going back to United. He is dropping from United Gold status this year, so having a card with United fee credits at the ready will be handy until he earns status again. If we had a trip booked with Spirit or Frontier 100% booked for 2019, I’d pick one of those airlines.

What is your 2019 Amex fee credit strategy?

Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.

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