Decisions, decisions: Why you might want change your Amex airline selection this year

Jan 7, 2020

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It’s the time of year when we clean out closets, set resolutions, throw out clutter and … pick our new American Express airlines for the next 12 months. We do this because a variety of Amex credit cards each provide up to $200 in annual airline fee credits that reset each calendar year on Jan. 1.

Not only do you now have a fresh round of credits to work with, but, until Jan. 31 of each year, you also have an opportunity to pick a new airline for the credits with cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200 annual credit), Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (up to $250 annual credit) and American Express® Gold Card (up to $100 annual credit).

Not only can you change your airline for the year by Jan. 31 — but you also may really want to. I’m absolutely changing my airline for 2020.

Related: Guide to Amex airline fee credits

Gift cards are no more

Even if your travel patterns are exactly the same in 2020 as 2019, the reality is that how the Amex fee credits function in the real world has changed from a year ago. Way back 12 months ago, gift card purchases counted (unofficially) toward the airline fee credit with many selected airlines. In fact, this is why I selected Delta for myself last year, even though I don’t fly the airline that frequently since I’m Houston-based. I was happy to pick up some off-label gift cards with the credit. That strategy stopped working about midway through 2019.

Should you choose your primary airline?

A safe bet with your Amex airline is to choose the airline you fly the most. In my case, that would be United Airlines, since I usually fly more than 50,000 miles per year with the airline.

Going with the airline you fly the most isn’t a bad strategy, as you know you’ll have ample opportunity to use the credits, but there’s a downside. Because I fly my primary airline so much, I’ve got elite status that exempts me from fees such as extra legroom charges, bags fees and even same-day change fees. I can certainly still use the fee credits for onboard food, drinks, change fees, etc.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy.)

Just think through whether you typically end up with enough periodic fees on your primary airline to justify selecting it for your Amex annual airline fee credit. We will likely select United as the primary airline on one of our our Amex airline fee credit cards, since those occasional fees and onboard meals do add up over the course of a year.

Related: These airlines charge the most fees

Go where the fees are

We’ll go another direction with the fee credits on other eligible cards. This year, we’ll go where the fees are and select Frontier Airlines on at least my Amex Gold card.

I typically only fly with Frontier once or twice per year, but I’m hit with extra fees each and every time thanks to the ultra low-cost carrier’s fee structure. Seat assignments, bags and more all cost extra, which makes it the perfect place to use my airline fee credit.

(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Stretch seats on Frontier. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

For 2020, I’ll be able to book Frontier Kids Fly Free deals and then use some of my annual Amex airline fee credit to cover the incidental fees we always face when flying Frontier as a family.

The same principles will hold true if I selected Spirit Airlines, which would actually also be a great choice — especially if you like to fly in Spirit’s Big Front Seat like I do. That seat assignment fee should work just fine for using the Amex airline fee credit.

Spirit Big Front Seats (Photo by Javier Rodriguez / The Points Guy)
Spirit Big Front Seats. (Photo by Javier Rodriguez/The Points Guy.)

Bottom line

Anyone who factored gift cards into the equation when making their 2019 Amex airline selections will need a new strategy for 2020. Going with the airline you fly the most can make sense (especially if you like to use your Amex points at a fixed value toward booking economy airfare with eligible cards), but you may decide to go an entirely different direction. Picking a low-cost carrier you fly with just once or twice a year could be the perfect solution to use up your Amex fee credits this year and create a more comfortable ride for yourself in the process.

Featured image by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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