Top cards with airline-fee credits: Make change, cancellation and baggage fees a thing of the past

Nov 22, 2019

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Call it a la carte pricing or just nickel-and-diming. By any name, air travelers are being pummeled by an array of fees for all sorts of services. Sensing an opportunity, the credit card industry has seized on passengers’ misfortune and started offering benefits to help cardholders offset or eliminate these incidental airline expenses. Many of the top airline credit cards have perks that mirror basic elite status benefits, like free checked bags. These benefits can help, but if you want to avoid other fees you’ll have to look to some of our other best travel credit cards.

In this post I’ll provide a rundown of top cards that offer airline travel credits and explain how each one works.

In This Post

Top cards with airline-fee credits

Comparison of the top cards with airline-fee credits

CREDIT Card Bonus Annual Fee
The Platinum Card from American Express 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply. $550 (see rates & fees)
The Business Platinum Card from American Express Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of Card Membership. Terms apply. $595 (see rates & fees)
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply. $450 (see rates & fees)
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card 50,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. $95
American Express Gold Card 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply. $250 (see rates & fees)

All of these cards come with the opportunity to earn statement credits toward airline fees and incidentals. Credits for Amex cards are only valid for a specific airline that you choose ahead of time.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

Bonus: Earn 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rate(s): 5x points for flights and hotels booked through Amex Travel as well as flights booked directly through the airline, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

How the airline-fee credit works: Every calendar year, Amex Platinum cardholders get up to $200 in airline incidental-fee credits. These credits will only apply to one airline you choose from the following list:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

Once you make your initial airline selection, you can change it once per year in January. Anecdotally, I was able to change my selected airline “as a one-time courtesy” by calling and asking. You can make your selection or annual adjustment at this website.

Below are the types of airline fees that should trigger the credit:

  • Checked baggage fees
  • Overweight/oversize baggage fees
  • Change/cancellation fees
  • Phone reservation fees
  • Pet fees
  • Airport lounge day passes and memberships
  • Seat assignment fees
  • Inflight amenities (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, etc.)
  • Inflight entertainment (excluding wireless internet)

According to the card’s terms, the airline-fee credit is not valid for airfare, upgrades, miles or points purchases, miles or points transfer fees, gift cards, duty-free purchases or award tickets. Also, if a fee is bundled into a single transaction with your airfare purchase, then it won’t trigger the credit.

The Amex Platinum card also has other credits, including up to $200 in annual Uber credits, a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credit, and up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits every year. To learn more about the perks, read our Amex Platinum review.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of Card Membership

Earning rate(s): 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels booked at amextravel.com; 1.5x points on all purchases of $5,000+ (up to one million extra points year), and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.

Annual fee: $595 (see rates and fees)

How the airline-fee credit works: The Amex Business Platinum is the business version of the Amex Platinum and comes with the same airline-fee credit. Every calendar year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31) you’ll get up to $200 in airline-fee credits. You can choose from the same list of airlines and the credit will apply to the same purchases as the personal Amex Platinum card.

The Business Platinum card also has up to $200 in annual Dell credits and a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credit (up to $100). The card has exceptional airport lounge access and hotel elite status benefits, which you can learn more about from our Amex Business Platinum card review.

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy.)

Bonus: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 on the card within your first three months of account opening.

Earning rate(s): 14x points at Hilton properties; 7x points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and U.S. restaurants, and 3x points everywhere else.

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

How the airline-fee credit works: The Hilton Aspire airline-fee credits are the same as what you get with other Amex credit cards, except you can get up to $250 in airline fees reimbursed every calendar year. The Aspire’s airline-fee credits are higher than any other Amex card, even the personal and business versions of the Platinum card.

Once you’ve selected your airline, eligible fees will be reimbursed within two to four weeks of posting to your account. One slight difference with the Aspire card’s credit is that you won’t be able to use it for Delta Sky Club lounge day passes because you can only purchase them with eligible Amex Platinum (personal or business) or Amex Delta cards. But, the fee credit would apply to the purchase of an annual Delta Sky Club membership.

This card has an annual credit of up to $250 valid at select Hilton resorts and comes with top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond elite status. You can learn more about how to maximize this card’s many benefits from our Hilton Amex Aspire review.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Bonus: Earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening.

Earning rate(s): 2x points on travel and dining, and 1.5x points on everything else. These earnings rates can be even higher if you qualify for the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program.

Annual fee: $95

How the airline-fee credit works: The Bank of American Premium Rewards card comes with up to $100 in airline-fee credits each calendar year. You aren’t limited to a single airline either. According to the card terms, eligible purchases made on “domestic-originated flights on certain U.S.-domestic airlines” count. These include:

  • Preferred seating upgrades
  • Ticket change/cancellation fees
  • Checked baggage fees
  • Inflight entertainment
  • Onboard food and beverage charges
  • Airport lounge fees affiliated with eligible airline carriers

Based on reports, it looks like most of the major U.S.-based airlines will trigger the credit, except for Sun Country and Spirit. These purchases officially won’t count toward the credit:

  • Airline ticket purchases
  • Miles and point purchases
  • Miles and point transfer fees
  • Gift cards
  • Duty-free purchases
  • Award tickets
  • Fees incurred with airline alliance partners do not qualify

Some people have had success in getting gift cards or award-booking taxes to trigger the credit. But it varies by airline and is not guaranteed to continue working indefinitely. For more details, check out our guide to which purchases count toward the BofA Premium Rewards card airline credit.

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy.)

Bonus: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $4,000 in purchases in your first three months. However, higher offers may be available through the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change anytime).

Earning rate(s): 4x Membership Rewards points on dining worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year at supermarkets, then 1x); 3x points on flights purchased directly with the airline or at amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)

How the airline-fee credit works: The Amex Gold Card airline-fee credit of up to $100 annually works exactly the same as the airline credits for the other Amex cards I’ve mentioned. You’ll need to select an airline and the same purchases that trigger the credit for the Platinum and Aspire cards will also trigger the Amex Gold credit.

This card also has up to $120 ($10 monthly) in annual credits at Grubhub, Cheesecake Factory, Boxed.com, etc.

Cards with general travel credits

Many of the top travel rewards credit cards come with credits that apply to broad travel categories and will be much easier to use for most people. Here are a few of my favorites:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with up to $300 in travel credits every cardmember year. These credits apply to more than airline fees. They will apply to airfare, hotels, public transit, Uber and even Disney World tickets (depending on where you purchase them).

Citi® Prestige Card

The Citi Prestige card has been revamped and many of the card perks have been gutted. The 4th Night Free perk has been limited and all of the card’s most valuable travel protections are gone. The annual travel credit remains untouched. You’ll still get up to $250 in credit for travel-related purchases (airfare, hotels and much more). This isn’t limited to airline fees, but does include them.

U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card is not only an excellent card to use for mobile purchases (you’ll earn 3x points for those), but it also has up to $325 in travel credits each year. Again, nearly any purchase that codes as travel will trigger the credit, including purchases with taxis, cruise lines and rental cars, in addition to air travel and hotels.

The information for the Citi Prestige and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Holding a credit card with an airline-fee credit is a great way to avoid paying for everything from checked bags to change or cancellation fees. The airline-fee credits associated with Amex cards all work the same way and require you to select a specific airline to redeem them, but many other cards have credits that won’t be so specifically applied. If you have elite status with an airline, it’s a good idea to choose a different airline for your credits because many fees are greatly reduced or eliminated altogether for elite members.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.

Featured image by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts® program at over 1,000 properties. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
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Regular APR
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Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
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Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.