Spreading good cheer: TPG reader uses her airline fee credits to play in-flight Secret Santa

Dec 29, 2019

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Raise your hand if it’s the end of the year and you’re scrabbling to use one of your travel credits. From the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to the The Platinum Card® from American Express, a number of different credit cards offer reimbursement for costs associated with travel.

Unfortunately for American Express customers, however, that credit can be quite restrictive. While Chase has a broad definition for what qualifies as “travel” expenses, American Express will only reimburse qualified airline fees for things such as baggage fees and seat selection.

Enter TPG reader Mary C., who recently wrote in about her experience taking advantage of Amex’s airline fee credit after the TPG post “How to make sure you’ve used your Amex airline-fee credit before the year ends.” With no further plans for flights and the ability to purchase gift cards gone, Mary, who was flying home to Houston from San Francisco on Dec. 28 after a visit with her daughter, found herself with some spare cash at the end of the year. Enrollment required for select benefits.

(Photo by BraunS/Getty Images)
(Photo by BraunS/Getty Images)


So, she decided to play Secret Santa to an entire United 737-900’s worth of passengers. She had two full up to $200 annual airline fee credits to use thanks to The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. (Enrollment required).“I usually pay for that junk with my United Explorer Card,” Mary told TPG in a phone interview. “I thought to myself, ‘What can I do with this?’”

According to Mary, she called over a flight attendant and said, “I got all this money I need to spend today and I’m looking for help doing it.” The flight attendant was definitely, ahem, on board. “They were super excited about it,” said Mary. The caveat was that the bill had to remain under $388 because she had just purchased internet for the flight. Mary also wanted to remain anonymous — only her seatmate knew what was up.

“I heard the flight attendant come over the loud speaker and say, ‘We have a Secret Santa on board who wants to take care of snacks and drinks for you guys,” says Mary.

The final bill came in at $198 on her personal Amex and $115 (+$12 for internet) on her business card. The kicker? In addition to the crew gifting her a few free stroopwafels and bags of snack mix, the flight also confirmed Mary’s United Premier Gold status for next year.

Logistically, Mary said it was an easy feat to pull off but that if TPG wouldn’t have put the story out, “it never would have happened.”

An awesome way to spread the holiday cheer, Mary. Great job!

Additional reporting by Jane Frye.

Feature photo courtesy of Vector illustration.

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