Use your Amex Platinum airline-fee credit to upgrade to a better seat

Jan 16, 2020

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

The Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the top premium travel rewards cards on the market, though it comes with a hefty $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) to match. One of the easiest ways to recoup that upfront investment is by taking advantage of the card’s up to $200 annual airline incidental fee credit, though over the years Amex has made that credit harder to use. Enrollment Required. TPG reader Adam wants to know if he can use the credit to pay for seat upgrades …

I recently used my Amex Platinum to pay for an upgrade to Economy Plus for a United flight from Houston to Honolulu. It was my understanding that the $200 travel credit is for Wi-Fi, food/drink, luggage, etc, but does not include upgrades. Amex actually reimbursed me the $139 for the upgrade. Is this new or does it just depend on how the charge is coded? Thanks!

TPG READER ADAM

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Great question Adam. Unfortunately, Amex doesn’t provide a whole lot of clarity on what charges are eligible for this annual travel credit. This credit is even more restrictive when you compare it to the up to $300 annual travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gets automatically applied to a broad range of travel purchases, including airfare, hotels, ride-hailing services and more. By comparison, Amex only lists which charges are excluded for this credit, with the following list appearing in the terms and conditions under the Amex Platinum application:

“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. “

Related: Which American Airlines expenses trigger the American Express airline fee credit?

From this, we can see that upgrades are not eligible for reimbursement. While Adam definitely got a more comfortable seat flying in Economy Plus on the longer flight to Hawaii, technically all he did was pay to select a better seat; he didn’t actually upgrade to a higher class of service. This is an important distinction, as if he’d paid to upgrade from economy to business class he would not have been reimbursed by Amex.

This means that selecting preferred seats (Economy Plus on United, Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines and Comfort+ on Delta) is one of the most consistent ways to get value out of your Amex Platinum airline-fee credit. Especially on longer flights, including transcontinental or international trips, those extra few inches of legroom can really go a long way.

Things start to get a bit murkier when it comes to upgrading to premium economy. Some airlines will let you pay extra to select premium economy seats after booking, and depending on how the purchase codes it might trigger the Amex Platinum airline fee credit. This is much less consistent though, and unfortunately if the credit doesn’t trigger automatically you won’t have much luck calling in and asking for it to be manually applied to a purchase like this.

Related: Top cards with airline-fee credits: Make change, cancellation and baggage fees a thing of the past

Bottom line

One of the biggest complaints about the Amex Platinum is how hard it is to use the all-important $200 annual airline incidental fee credit. While Adam wasn’t expecting to get reimbursed for his purchase of an Economy Plus seat, this is actually a great use of the credit and one of the most surefire ways to get value out of it on longer trips.

Thanks for the question, Adam, 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 Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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

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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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