Here’s why Amex should make its airline credit as easy to use as Chase and Citi

May 29, 2020

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Appetite for travel is slowly beginning to reemerge, but that doesn’t mean everyone is ready to leave and explore the world yet. Many people will continue to stay close to home and funnel more of their spending towards things likes groceries and food delivery.

Some of the major credit card issuers — including Amex, Citi, and now, Chase — have made travel-heavy cards more usable at a time when well, travel isn’t so heavy. For two of these issuers, that includes allowing travel credits to be used on non-travel purchases. 

However, there’s an odd one out: American Express. 

Amex’s already-restrictive airline-fee credit has always been more difficult to use than the equivalent “travel” credit from both Chase and Citi. Could that change now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s why it should.

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In This Post

Premium cards and their travel credits  

The major trio of issuers — Amex, Citi, and Chase — each have at least one consumer premium card in their lineup with an annual fee of $450 or higher. Each card also comes with a travel credit to help offset the annual fee. 

The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

As mentioned, in recent weeks, all but one card has made it easier to use that credit in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the huge restrictions on travel: the Amex Platinum

New uses for Chase and Citi travel credits

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

Other card issuers have expanded their travel credits to include common spending categories like dining, grocery stores and restaurants.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: From June 1 through the end of the year, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can use their $300 travel credit towards grocery and gas purchases. 

Citi Prestige: Through the end of 2020, cardholders can use the $250 travel credit at supermarkets and restaurants.

Both Chase and Citi already had a fairly generous interpretation of the travel credit to begin with, including airlines, hotels, Airbnb, Uber, transit, and much more. Now, these changes expand the credit’s possibilities even further to include essential, everyday spending categories

Most importantly, these moves instill confidence in current cardholders that they’ll be able to use up their annual credits despite their inability to travel.

The Amex airline fee credit

Amex’s airline fee credit has always been the most limiting of the bunch, with only airline incidental fees triggering reimbursement. That means you cannot get compensation for buying an airline ticket for the future, but you can use the $200 credit towards things like seat selection fees and checked bag fees. That isn’t super helpful at the moment, especially if you’re not comfortable flying for the rest of 2020. Reimbursement is also reliant on merchants to properly code transactions

Related reading: What still triggers the Amex airline-fee reimbursement? 

Besides the personal Amex Platinum, these cards also offer an airline fee credit: 

The new credits on the Amex Platinum 

(Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Amex has taken a slightly different approach when it comes to convincing cardholders to spend dollars on their premium cards. With the Platinum card, Amex hasn’t re-purposed the airline-fee credit but instead added entirely new credits to the mix.

On the personal Amex Platinum, this includes up to $320 in statement credits on select streaming and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers (up to $20 per month) from May through Dec. 2020.

Related reading: 6 Amex Platinum benefits you can use from home 

These new credits above do a lot to offset the Platinum card’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), and in fact, you can come out ahead. However, I would also like to see Amex make the airline-fee credit more usable. 

What I’d still like to see from Amex 

Ideally, I’d like to see Amex allow more versatility when it comes to credits. This doesn’t just apply to the Amex Platinum, but also to cards like the Hilton Aspire and Amex Gold. While the Aspire’s $250 Hilton resort credit was made more flexible — applicable towards U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery from June through Aug. 2020 — Amex still didn’t address the airline fee credit. 

Similarly, the Amex Gold Card hasn’t had any COVID-related updates whatsoever. However, since that card is heavily skewed towards bonuses on restaurants and groceries already, I can also see why Amex has been reluctant to make moves. 

Id love to see the Amex airline credits to be able to be applied to bonus categories like groceries, restaurants, or even something like Amazon. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with new categories, and even the same bonuses from Chase or Citi would do wonders in making the credit more flexible — and usable. 

Bottom line 

There is no question Amex has made significant strides to make its premium travel-focused cards more appealing in the current environment. These limited-time perks are generous and may convince cardholders that were on the fence about paying hefty annual fees to keep their cards. 

However, Amex’s reliance on built-in credits — including narrow ones like the airline-fee credit — has always been a weak point of the issuer’s most premium cards. Now is the perfect time for Amex to buck that trend, follow Chase and Citi’s lead, and widen the usage of its travel-related credit. 

Kudos to Chase and Citi for smartly stifling any potential anxiety about whether or not you can use all your credits. Now, I’m just hoping Amex will do the same. 

Featured photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy. 

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

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