Do Amex airline credits cover mileage boosters?

Oct 3, 2019

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Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Premium credit cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express entice users to pay substantial annual fees by offering a long list of luxury travel and lifestyle perks to offset the cost. Some, like a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership or hefty bonus multipliers for certain spending categories are relatively straightforward to use, while others require a bit more effort to maximize. Enrollment required for select benefits. TPG reader Taylor wants to know if he can use his Amex airline credits for mileage boosters …

I have a few Delta flights coming up and am curious whether the $200 annual airline fee credit on my Amex Platinum will cover a mileage multiplier purchased at check-in? I know this isn’t the best bang for my buck but I’m not sure how else to use the credit.

TPG READER TAYLOR

Let me start by saying that Taylor is not alone, and I’ve heard from many friends and readers who struggle to fully use their Amex airfare credit each year. Amex offers one of the most restrictive airline credits on its Platinum cards (up to $200 per calendar year) and its American Express® Gold Card (up to $100 per calendar year). Unlike Chase and Citi which offer broad travel credits on their premium credit cards that apply to just about any type of travel purchase you can imagine, Amex’s airfare credit only applies to airline incidental fees. It explicitly excludes the one thing people most want to use it on, actually buying plane tickets. It used to be possible to get around this by buying airline gift cards and being reimbursed, but that loophole closed this year leaving many Platinum cardholders struggling to utilize a key benefit of the card.

Related: Choosing an airline for your Amex Platinum $200 airline-fee statement credit

Many airlines (including all three U.S. legacy carriers) will offer you the ability to buy extra miles during the check-in process or even before your flight. These deals are usually a hard pass, as the price just doesn’t make sense. For example, I have an upcoming United flight from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Detroit (DTW). I have the option to buy 5,000 extra miles for $125 or 10,000 extra miles for $250, a cost of 2.5 cents per mile. TPG values United MileagePlus miles at 1.3 cents each, and even though I can usually redeem them for a higher value than that, I’m not going to buy them at such a high price. This is why we strongly recommend passing on these offers and looking for other ways to boost your mileage balance, like signing up for a new travel rewards credit card or waiting for a sale if you need to buy miles.

When it comes to the Amex Platinum card, the $200 annual airline fee credit is poorly defined. While there isn’t a clear list of which charges are eligible, the terms and conditions specifically exclude the following types of purchases:

“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”

Based on this it would appear that mileage multipliers are not an eligible purchase, yet a number of readers in the TPG Lounge were quick to jump in and confirm that they had received reimbursement when purchasing a mileage multiplier on their select airline, as recently as about two weeks ago. The airlines people mentioned having success with were Delta and American, though it’s possible that others would work as well depending on how they code the purchase. Since these are technically excluded, there’s no guarantee this will work.

The biggest issue is that if the credit doesn’t automatically apply, I wouldn’t expect Taylor to have much luck getting an Amex representative to manually issue it given the specific exclusion of mileage points purchases. This is just like the gift card loophole — it worked for a long time, but when it suddenly stopped working people who didn’t receive the credit had no recourse with Amex since gift cards had always been explicitly excluded.

Related: Maximizing benefits with the Amex Platinum card

Bottom line

Taylor should be able to get about 10,000 miles give or take by buying a mileage booster with his preferred airline, in this case Delta. However, this is not the best redemption value, so he’ll want to weigh this heavily when the annual fee comes due next year and he needs to decide whether to keep or cancel the card.

If you have an Amex Platinum (including The Business Platinum Card® from American Express) or Amex Gold and are struggling to use your annual airline fee credit, one popular use that is entirely within the published terms and conditions of the benefit is to spend your credit on seat selection, specifically on upgrading to premium economy. While “upgrades” are excluded from the list of eligible charges, many airlines still allow you to “upgrade” to premium economy simply by paying to select a seat in that cabin. At the end of the day, it’s all about how your charge is coded when it’s submitted to Amex.

Thanks for the question, Taylor, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.

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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.

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