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American Express card holders help offset the expense of the annual fee on some of the more premium travel rewards cards by maxing out the corresponding annual airline incidental fee credits. As the name implies, these fee credits were designed to cover airline fees — things like bag fees, seat assignment fees, change fees, lounge access or an onboard snack or drink. These more specific Amex airline fee credits are not the same as the annual general travel credits you enjoy each year with cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
But for years, the Amex airline fee credits have been more useful than just covering incidental fees. With multiple airlines, including American Airlines, they also covered gift card purchases in practice, though not per the terms.
However, around Feb. 8 or 9, the way that American Airlines processed gift card purchases changed. On credit card statements the purchases changed from coding as “Misc Fees/Taxes” to coding as “Document Type: GIFT CERTIFICATE.” Since airline gift cards are not expressly within the parameters of the Amex airline fee credit, this coding change, combined with multiple reports of the purchases no longer triggering the airline fee statement credits were not good signs for folks who enjoyed “off-label” use of this card benefit. Around the same time, we also received similar reports for Delta gift cards. We tested things out for ourselves and the news is mixed: good for one, but bad for the other.
There have been times in the past when Amex airline fee credits weren’t processing timely, only to return later on, so anything is possible in the future. However, for at least the time being, we do not recommend buying American Airlines gift cards with an Amex for the purpose of triggering an airline fee statement credit.
Testing Delta Gift Card Purchases
TPG also made test Delta gift card purchases last week with an Amex Platinum, and a $50 Delta gift card triggered the airline fee statement credit from the desktop site. The catch here is that if you purchase from a mobile site it will not trigger the statement credit, so be very careful with how you purchase Delta cards with your American Express.
What To Do Now?
If you have one of the following Amex cards and were banking on using your airline fee credit for American Airlines gift cards this year, you probably need a new strategy.
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express ($250)
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express ($200)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express ($200)
- American Express® Gold Card ($100)
First, if you really want to use your annual credit for an airline gift card, you can contact Amex and ask to change airlines for the year. The normal deadline is Jan. 31, so this request isn’t guaranteed, but we have heard some success stories from readers who have asked nicely. While things can obviously change quickly and without notice, here is the most recent info on other airlines that sell gift cards in terms of the Amex airline fee credit.
|Airline||Gift Cards for Sale?||Gift Cards Reimbursable With Amex Airline Fee Credit?|
|American||Yes||No (Updated Feb. 12)|
|Delta||Yes||Yes (if purchased from desktop site)|
|United||No (TravelBank Gift Registry unavailable since 9/2017)||N/A|
Basically — we are down to choosing between Delta and Southwest if you want to use the Amex airline statement fee credit for a gift card.
On-Label Uses of the Amex Airline Fee Credit
Of course, the safest plan is to just use the credit for its prescribed purpose. The terms of the airline fee credit exclude airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases and award tickets. However, that still leaves plenty of airline charges, especially if you don’t have elite status with your selected airline. Spend your annual credit on a bag fee, seat assignment fee, onboard snack or drink, lounge access or a change fee. We spent one of our credits this year on a $75 same day change fee and E+ seat assignment fee with United.
It was fun while it lasted, but being able to use the Amex airline fee credit for American Airlines gift cards was always going well beyond the intended terms. If you want to use your credit for a gift card with Delta or Southwest, I recommend not waiting even though both are still working for now.
If losing the ability to purchase American Airlines gift cards with your airline fee credit is a deal breaker for you, there are other premium cards that issue more flexible annual travel credits. These include the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($300 annual travel credit), US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite ($325 annual travel credit) or the Citi Prestige ($250 annual travel credit).
How does this change affect your 2019 Amex airline fee credit strategy?
Featured image by John Gress / Getty Images
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