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Why you might want to rethink which airline you choose for your Amex credit this year

Jan. 05, 2021
6 min read
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Editor's Note

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. 

Normally, the beginning of the year is when we clean out our closets, set resolutions, pack away the holiday decor and ... pick our new American Express airline for the next 12 months. That's because a number of Amex credit cards provide annual airline fee credits that reset each calendar year on Jan. 1, and you only have until Jan. 31 to select a new airline for the year.

While American Express was more lenient than normal last year and allowed airline fee selection changes beyond January, you want to set yourself up for success by choosing your airline early. But the airline you selected last year might not be the one you should stick with this year.

Here's why you may want to change your airline selection for 2021 if you have a card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (which has an annual airline fee credit up to $200), the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (up to $250) or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200). Enrollment required for select benefits.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

Related: Your guide to Amex airline fee credits

Some airlines make it easier to use credits from home

United Club (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While Amex has added great temporary credits and offers to select cards, it hasn't budged on making the airline fee credit more flexible. As usual, the credit is technically only valid on ancillary airline fees such as seat assignment fees, checked baggage fees, inflight purchases and more.

This year has just begun, but if we learned anything from 2020, it's to expect the unexpected. And some airlines do make it a bit easier to spend the fee credit from home if you find you're still not traveling much — if at all — at the end of the year.

American and United, for example, sell lounge passes you could use in the future. Spirit sells annual memberships to discount clubs. And other airlines, such as Delta and United, even have a few off-label uses you may get lucky with.

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Related: What triggers Amex airline fee credit

You might not want to choose your primary airline

Assuming travel will, eventually, start to return to normal later this year, choosing your primary airline for your Amex credit can be a solid plan. For me, that would be United Airlines, since I usually fly more than 50,000 miles per year with the airline.

But choosing the airline you fly the most can also have a downside. Because I fly my primary airline so much in a normal year, I have elite status that exempts me from many fees such as extra legroom seat charges and bags fees.

I can certainly still use the credit to offset onboard food and drink purchases, for example. But I'm not subject to a lengthy list of ancillary fees -- especially now that airlines are generally more flexible with changes.

So, before you choose the airline you fly the most as your Amex airline for 2021, think through whether you typically end up paying enough fees to justify the selection. We will likely select United on at least one of our Amex airline fee credit cards, since those occasional fees and onboard meals do add up over the course of a year. But we may not select United on all of our cards.

Related: These airlines charge the most fees

Go where the fees are

You might also want to consider selecting an ultra-low-cost carrier, such as Spirit, for your credit because it's very easy to rack up fees when flying with those carriers.

Spirit Airlines is a great choice for travelers who fly occasionally with the airline, especially if you like to sit in the Big Front Seat. That additional seat assignment fee should work just fine for the Amex airline fee credit.

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

Bottom line

For many people, it's exceedingly hard to predict what flights you will take and which airline fees you may face in 2021. And hopefully, Amex will continue to allow you to make changes to your airline beyond the usual Jan. 31 deadline.

But since that's not guaranteed, now is the time to make an educated guess about which airline will help you get the most value from your airline fee credit.

Going with the airline you fly the most can make sense (especially if you use your Amex points at a fixed value when booking economy airfare with eligible cards), but you may decide to go in an entirely different direction. Picking a low-cost carrier you fly with just once or twice a year could be the perfect way to use up your Amex fee credits. Or, select an airline that makes it easier to use the credit from home. No matter what the year has in store, no one likes leaving valuable credits on the table.

Featured image by Alberto Riva
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees