My Airline Fee Credit Didn’t Apply — Reader Mistake Story

Jul 19, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Sam, who had difficulty using a benefit on his Amex cards:

Back in February, when American Airlines gift cards were no longer working to trigger American Express airline fee credits, I was unsure how I would use my $300 ($200 from the Platinum Card and $100 from the Gold Card). However, I’m starting a new job in consulting, and already have enough trips booked on American Airlines that I would earn status in one month with their Gold status challenge.

I thought putting the $140 status challenge fee on my Platinum Card was a brilliant idea to put the $200 credit to use. Before I attempted it, I read the terms and conditions carefully on Amex’s website, and noted that status challenge fees were not mentioned in the list of exclusions. For that reason, I went for it. I usually get my credits within a few days of the purchase, so when they didn’t show up, I got a little nervous and called American Express. The representative had a tough time understanding what exactly I bought, but ended up telling me to wait the full 14 days to see if it was covered.

After 14 days I still hadn’t been reimbursed, so I called back and again the rep didn’t understand what I had purchased. “So… it’s an upgrade?” she asked. I tried to explain that it wasn’t, but she told me that the fee wouldn’t be covered. I continued to push, mentioning that the terms state upgrades, miles, tickets, etc. are not covered, but they don’t say anything about status challenge fees. It was to no avail, however, as she spoke to her supervisor and they stuck to the decision that it would not be covered.

I thought this was interesting and wanted to share it with other readers. I posted it in the TPG Facebook group, and it seemed no one had the answer or could guess what would happen.

I have both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and while I get greater value overall from my Amex Platinum benefits, the airline fee credit is one feature I find to be deficient. The $300 travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve card applies to such a broad range of purchases that I would have trouble not using it even if I didn’t mean to. As someone who rarely pays airline fees (or even airfare for that matter), redeeming the credit on my Platinum card feels like a hassle in comparison. It’s only going to get more difficult, as the loophole of buying airline gift cards appears to have closed.

Amex airline fee credits on cards like the American Express® Gold Card are intended to cover “incidental fees,” but which purchases qualify for reimbursement is ill-defined and inconsistent. The terms and conditions note checked bag fees and in-flight refreshments as examples of incidental fees, and explicitly list airline tickets, upgrades, mileage purchases, mileage transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases and award tickets as ineligible; other charges (like status challenge fees or lounge passes) aren’t mentioned either way. Given that “ineligible” purchases such as gift cards have frequently been reimbursed in the past, it’s no surprise that cardholders are uncertain about when the benefit applies.

Anecdotal evidence (both from TPG staff and elsewhere) indicates that Amex does issue credits for American Airlines status challenge fees, but Sam’s story shows that isn’t always the case. The takeaway is that unless your purchase is unambiguously covered, there’s a chance it won’t trigger a credit automatically and you’ll have to call to request an adjustment. In that case, you’ll be at the mercy of whoever is on the other end of the line. Keep that in mind if you’re trying to use up remaining credits toward the end of the year, as you may have fewer opportunities to redeem if your request is denied with only a few days to spare.

Related: Battle of the Premium Travel Rewards Cards: Which Is the Best?

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Sam a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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