What Still Triggers the Amex Airline Incidental Fee Reimbursements?

Jul 30, 2019

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It has been widely reported over the last couple of weeks that airline gift cards have stopped qualifying for statement credits on American Express cards offering airline incidental fee reimbursements. Traditionally, American, Delta and Southwest gift cards triggered the annual airline incidental fee credits and provided a great benefit for cardholders paying annual fees up to $550. Today, let’s look at what is still triggering the incidental fee and if there are any cash equivalent strategies remaining.

Official Language for Amex Airline Fee Credits

American Express cards that award annual airline fee credits include:

Language from the Platinum Card terms and conditions are, for the most part, pretty vague and unhelpful in discerning what may qualify. The terms start with the following purchases counting for the $200 per year statement credits:

“incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card® (Amex) Account.”

The following additional language excludes a few charges and then places the ownership on the airlines in order to have a charge qualify:

Airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases, and award tickets are not deemed to be incidental fees. The airline must submit the charge under the appropriate merchant code, industry code, or required service or product identifier for the charge to be recognized as an incidental air travel fee … We rely on airlines to submit the correct information on airline transactions”

As TPG has pointed out several times, the larger issue is that Amex relies on an automated system to apply these credits, which means you’ll only receive the credit if the purchase is coded in a specific way. This coding can change from time to time as airlines update their billing processes. Some charges that are excluded by the above language still continue to work, making the official terms of limited use in knowing what works in practice.

What Still Works?

Seat Selection Fees — If you don’t have status with mainline carriers and need to pay for seat selection or plan to fly Spirit or Frontier, seat selection fees will trigger the annual credits.

Checked Baggage Fees — Paying to check a bag (or a carry-on fee with low-cost carriers) will trigger the fee credit, but honestly there are so many ways to avoid checked bag fees this shouldn’t be necessary except on low cost carriers.

Itinerary Change Fees — Paying the change fee (not airfare difference) will trigger the annual credit.

Phone Reservation Fee — You should be able to avoid this fee by booking online for mainline carriers, telling the phone agent your itinerary is not bookable online or buying a low-cost carrier ticket at the airport ticket counter (and saving even more) but if you have to pay the fee, the annual credit should be triggered.

Airport Lounge Day Passes and Annual Memberships — United Club, Delta SkyClub, Alaska Boardroom and American Admirals Club annual memberships or day passes will trigger the annual fee. As with all of this, remember to buy only club passes for your chosen airline for the annual benefit.

Award Ticket Cancellation/Redeposit Fees — Without status, most of the major carriers charge a fee for you to cancel an award ticket and get your miles back. This ranges from $75–$125 per ticket, which can really sting. Paying for the fee with your card should trigger the credit.

Inexpensive Airfare — Perhaps our best hope of a cash equivalent method still working is paying for airfare under $100 with your Amex. I have personally seen inexpensive Southwest, Delta and JetBlue airfares receive credit reimbursement. Just remember, this is not a guaranteed use.

Delta Airfare Partially Purchased With a Gift Card — Paying for any portion of a Delta ticket with a gift card changes how the remaining airfare you charge to your Amex card codes. The remaining airfare becomes an “additional collection” and has been triggering the Amex Platinum reimbursement credit. Here is a ticket I bought for my daughter in May with two Delta gift cards and I paid the remaining $44.60 with my Amex Plat, receiving the credit:

$5.60 Per Segment Award Ticket Fees — So far, the $5.60 TSA passenger security fee charged for award tickets has been triggering the annual credit.

Onboard Food and Beverage — As long as it is the airline processing the charge for your in-air snack or cocktail, you’ll receive the fee credit for your purchase.

Discount Den and $9 Fare Club Memberships — Commenters on several blogs and Flyertalk users say memberships for the Frontier Discount Den (now even more useful) and the Spirit $9 Fare Club have triggered reimbursement for the annual credit. If you fly these carriers, this would probably be the airlines you should chose for your annual reimbursement as all of the incidental fees for each flight would be covered until you exhausted your credit reimbursement.

Southwest EarlyBird Check-In and A1–A15 Boarding — Don’t want to play the Southwest boarding game and eager to secure the seat you want? Buy EarlyBird Check-In or secure a boarding position in the first 15 with your eligible card and you’ll be reimbursed by the annual credit.

 

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

AA 500-mile Upgrade Certificate Purchase — If you’re an American flyer with elite status, you can use 500 mile upgrade certificates on your next flight. Purchasing these for $40 each has triggered the annual credit.

AA Copay for Miles + Copay Upgrade — Reader Jeff shared he paid 30,000 miles and $150 for a Philadelphia to Phoenix upgrade. He used his Amex Gold card and was reimbursed $100 for his annual fee credit.

Pet Fees — Paying the additional charge for an airline to transport your pet has trigged the fee credit.

What Does Not Work?

Award Taxes and Fees Above $5.60 — If you are paying for an award ticket on an international itinerary, don’t expect the taxes and fees to be reimbursed with your credit. There are just a few data points across the different message boards stating taxes and fees less than $100 may trigger the credits but, for the vast majority, cardholders have not had such luck.

Physical and Electronic Airline Gift Cards — As of the middle of July, it appears gift cards and e-gift cards from any airline no longer trigger the statement credit. Sadly, this includes the physical Delta gift cards that are sold in Delta lounges.

$75 Close-in Booking Fee — Flyertalk reports the United and American close-in ticketing fees (soon to be discontinued anyway) will not trigger the credit.

Onboard Wi-Fi (except United) — The airlines, with the exception of some United flights, are not the providers for onboard Wi-Fi. Buying Wi-Fi on any other airline will not trigger the credit.

Infant Ticket Taxes and Fees — Paying 10% of an adult fare for lap infant ticketing fees on an international itinerary does not work for triggering the credit.

Bottom Line

I have no idea why Amex has made this so complicated. Compared to the $300 annual travel credit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Plat annual airline credits have become a bit of a nightmare. If you have status with any mainline carrier, the need for covering many of these airline incidental fees is almost nonexistent. These road warriors should be the very audience Amex is targeting to be cardholders with this benefit.

I’ve spoken with many friends and colleagues who are now questioning the value of the $550 Amex Plat annual fee (see rates & fees) and $450 Hilton Aspire annual fee (see rates & fees) if they cannot be offset with $200 to $250 in flexible airline gift cards. Amex should take a hard look at simplifying this benefit. Please share your recent data points in the comments so we can keep this post updated.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

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