Potential Change for American Airlines Gift Cards Triggering Amex Airline Fee Credit

Feb 12, 2019

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One of the ways that many American Express card holders help offset the pain of the annual fee on some of the more premium rewards cards is by maxing out the corresponding annual airline incidental fee credits. As the name implies, these fee credits were designed to cover airline fees — think checked bag fees, seat assignment fees, change fees, lounge access or even an onboard snack or drink. These more specific airline fee credits are not the same as the annual general travel credits you get with cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

However, in many cases, the Amex airline fee credits have been more useful than just covering incidental fees like snacks and seat assignments.

Use Amex airline fee credit for onboard snacks.

In fact, it is quite common for TPG readers (and staffers) to choose an airline for the annual fee credit based on whether or not gift cards historically get reimbursed “off-label” (i.e., an unadvertised perk) using the Amex airline fee credit.

Changes to how things like this are coded or programmed can happen at any time, and we are getting some reports from readers that a change may have impacted the coding of American Airlines gift cards as they relate to the Amex airline fee credit.

Before we dive into the reported change, here are the American Express cards that award annual airline fee credits up to a certain amount:

Reports of American Airlines Gift Cards Coding as Gift Cards

In January, when many people were putting their 2019 airline fee credits to use, American Airlines gift cards were coding as “Misc Fees/Taxes.” In turn, they were pretty reliably automatically reimbursed by the Amex airline fee credits. However, more recent reports both from TPG readers and on FlyerTalk point to American Airlines gift cards now posting as: “Document Type: GIFT CERTIFICATE.” Which, of course, is an accurate description of the purchase.

This isn’t a brand-new issue unique to American Airlines as there is precedent for airline gift cards not coding in a way that triggers the Amex airline fee credit on other airlines, such as Alaska and Hawaiian. On Delta, whether or not a gift card purchase triggers the airline fee credit depends on how it was purchased. And, of course, United, Spirit and Frontier don’t sell gift cards at all. However, such a change with how gift cards code on American Airlines would be a major shift in the strategy behind using the Amex airline fee credits.

TPG has some test purchases of both American Airlines physical and e-gift cards pending, but it will be at least a few days before we know for sure the fate of those purchases as they relate to the Amex fee credits.

Bottom Line

In addition to conducting our own in-house tests on American Airlines gift card purchases using an Amex Platinum, TPG has reached out to American Airlines to confirm if there has been an internal change to the way that gift card purchases are coded. A spokesperson promised to look into it for us. We will post an update if we receive an official comment.

We will also share an update when the results of our tests are known, but in the meantime, I’d hold off on making an American Airlines gift card purchase if the sole purpose is triggering the Amex airline fee credit. I’d also hold off on selecting American Airlines as your Amex fee credit airline for the year if the basis of that selection was related to how gift cards code.

Finally, if American Airlines gift cards indeed now code as gift cards and don’t trigger the Amex airline fee credit, there isn’t really anyone to complain to as it was a nice off-label perk, not an actual card benefit.

If you have purchased an American Airlines gift card this month, we’d love to know how the purchase coded for you.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock

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