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One of the most valuable perks of the Platinum Card® from American Express is the $200 airline fee credit. A similar $100 credit exists for the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. This credit is meant to cover incidental fees, such as checked baggage or in-flight refreshments, on a pre-selected qualifying airline.
Unfortunately, this credit can’t be used on airfare like the credits offered with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Citi Prestige. And if you’re like me, you rarely incur incidental charges, so the credit may not seem so valuable. However, some airline gift card purchases do get reimbursed, despite fine print indicating the contrary, making them my favorite use of the airline fee credit.
United’s Broken TravelBank
At one time, United was the best Amex qualifying airline choice because flying United wasn’t even required to get the credit. Merchant gift cards purchased through the United MileagePlus X app would trigger the credit, but that stopped abruptly in December 2016. While United doesn’t sell gift cards directly anymore, it does have a TravelBank Gift Registry which you formerly could fund via your Amex, triggering the airline fee credit, and later apply to the purchase of a revenue ticket. However, United has recently suspended the ability to fund your TravelBank. You may have noticed, since September, this red bold message in your united.com profile:
This “maintenance” has lasted for three months. I reached out to United.com web support asking when or if the TravelBank Gift Registry would be available to fund again. Eight days later, they replied with a familiar looking message, without actually addressing my question:
Dear Mr. Biros:
Thank you for contacting United.com Web Support.
Please accept our apologies for the delay in this response.
We’re sorry, our gift registry page is currently unavailable for maintenance. You can still use the funds from your gift registry to book travel during this time, but you will not be able to receive contributions or update your registry details. Please check back at a later date.
We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you.
Thank you for using united.com.
After acknowledging their copy and paste abilities, I pressed further for a time frame and got this response:
Currently, we do not have a time frame when this will be resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused.
It was clear to me that United was in no hurry to fix this issue — or at least to tell me about it. Perhaps the launch of the United TravelBank credit card, also in September, is to blame. Regardless, I decided if I wanted to use the Amex Platinum airline fee credit, I would have to switch my qualifying airline. Officially, American Express only lets you change your airline in January of each year through this link. However, many cardholders, including myself, have had success switching their airline outside of this window by calling and politely asking an agent.
I switched my qualifying airline to Southwest, knowing its gift cards don’t expire. I then made a single gift card purchase of $200, which was promptly credited.
Qualifying Airline Options
Other cardholders have reported their success on gift card reimbursement in this FlyerTalk forum. I’ve compiled their results into this table. Interestingly, some airlines only reimburse gift cards below a certain value, meaning you’ll have to buy multiple. Note that this is all based on anecdotal evidence. Some cardholders didn’t get reimbursed, even where I’ve marked “yes” below. And because gift cards are technically not considered an incidental expense, you’ll have no recourse if you don’t get the credit.
|Airline||Gift Cards for Sale?||Gift Cards Reimbursable with Airline Fee Credit?||Maximum Gift Card Value for Reimbursement|
|United||No (TravelBank Gift Registry unavailable since 9/2017)||N/A||N/A|
|Alaska||Yes||No (as of mid-2017)||N/A|
|Hawaiian||Yes||No (as of mid-2017)||N/A|
If you still have your full $200 airline fee credit and you don’t anticipate using it, it’s worth calling to try to switch your airline to American, Delta or Southwest then purchasing a gift card. However, as the year gets closer to its end, finding a friendly agent who will switch your qualifying airline has gotten tougher.
Note that if you haven’t chosen a qualifying airline since opening your Amex Platinum, you can do so here (Premier Rewards Gold cardholders can use this link). Or, if you’d like to take advantage of the Platinum’s current 60,000-point bonus offer and sign up now, you still have time to get the credit for 2017.
In 2018, I don’t anticipate any more incidental fees than I had in 2017, so I’ll once again be looking to use the airline fee credit on an airline gift card. It wouldn’t be surprising if Amex closes the gift card loophole altogether very soon, so if a gift card is your preferred use of the airline fee credit, you should get it right away. Then you can select your airline, make your gift card purchases and hope that the green “AMEX Airline Fee Reimbursement” line item shows up on your statement a few days later.