I Hate To Say It, But I Warned You About AMEX Statement Credits

One of the reasons I cancelled my AMEX Platinum card was the ever increasingly difficulty in recovering the cost of the card through the various statement credits. When the annual fee was $450, I was reading posts claiming it actually only cost $250 because of the airline fee credit. When the annual fee went to $550, the card supposedly got even cheaper because AMEX added a $200 Uber credit (in monthly installments). You were led to believe that you could almost break even with the card, and that’s before taking any of the card benefits into account. Eventually, I decided that these credits were not the same as cash and couldn’t be valued that way.

AMEX just made another move to prove my point.

One of the primary ways to offset the high annual fee of American Express cards, like the Platinum or Gold card, is the airline fee credit. It’s important to note that this is an incidental fee credit, not an airline credit or a travel credit. Here are the airlines on which you can use the credit:

  • Alaska
  • American
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • JetBlue
  • Spirit
  • Southwest
  • United

Note that you can only get the fee credit for a single airline, which you need to choose after getting approved for the card and which you can change once a year, in January. There are reports you can get AMEX to let you change the airline mid year but they’re under no obligation to do so. 

Instead of telling you what’s covered, AMEX says that airline fees charged directly by the airline are reimbursable, except for the following expenses:

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

While it may be easy to incur $200 in fees for an airline like Frontier or Spirit, other airlines that don’t charge extra fees, such as Southwest, might be a bit trickier. And who has a Platinum card and flies on Spirit often enough to choose it as their airline of choice for the credit, anyway?

Despite the wording of the policy, it’s been possible to creatively work around some of the restrictions and use the credit for “not quite” the intended purpose. I’m not going to share the methods here, but a simple Google search will show you how and there are dedicated threads on FlyerTalk for each airline.

Over the last several years, AMEX has cracked down on the workarounds. You used to be able to fund a United gift registry with your card, which could then be used for any United expense, including airfare, but that got shut down. You could also buy Delta Airlines gift cards but without warning, only purchases from desktop purchases still worked, not ones made with mobile devices.

United1

Most recently, one of the most popular workarounds, buying American Airlines gift cards from the website, has apparently stopped working. This change is due to American now coding gift card purchases as a gift certificate when sending the information to AMEX. Since the credits are automatically generated, AMEX’s computers are now simply ignoring these charges for the credits.

Now, I’m not saying there’s no value to the air travel credit. You can use it to pay for baggage fees, if you don’t already get a free bag through other means. You can also use it to upgrade your seat, since airlines would rather sell discounted upgrades instead of giving them away to frequent flyers. The same goes for paying for lounge passes, if the airline still lets you buy one.

You need to ask yourself if you’re sure you’re going to need to spend this money or would have you not spent it if you didn’t have a credit burning a hole in your wallet? If you’re only spending it “just because,” remember this is money you already paid out of your pocket for the annual fee. Spending it frivolously just because you have it doesn’t make any sense. AMEX is tricking you into to thinking like this because if you haven’t used the money by the end of the year, it disappears. Talk about setting money on fire.

Now that the number of airlines you’re able to creatively use your AMEX credits with is shrinking, the airline you choose at time beginning of the year is even more important. That also is what makes the closure of the American workaround hurt the most. Most people didn’t discover the change until after the window had closed to make your selection for the year. Pretty sneaky there, AMEX. 

AMEXPlatinumCard

I’m not saying the AMEX Platinum or Gold cards aren’t worthwhile having for some people. If you value lounge access, the annual fee of the Platinum card might be worth it without getting any credits at all. And the Gold card is a good choice for for earning Membership Rewards points for ongoing spending at restaurants and supermarkets. Just stop thinking that these credits are like cash, cuz they’re not. If you had cash, AMEX couldn’t suddenly change the rules about what you can and can’t spend it on. 

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel  articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

12 thoughts on “I Hate To Say It, But I Warned You About AMEX Statement Credits”

  1. I agree with your assessment and cancelled my card as well. However, it is interesting what you think of the Amex Platinum card, yet you are advertising for it on your website.

    1. While I don’t think the credits are the same as cash, the Platinum card can be great for certain travelers. If you can use Centurion clubs regularly, or take Uber rides every month, the value is there. It’s important for each person to evaluate the cost given their own situation.

  2. Agree totally. Justifying the annual fee because of the airline credits was always a bit of a stretch. Didn’t that mean that Amex is making you change your behavior as a customer in order to use the airline credit? Customers like ease of use. A simple travel credit that posts automatically is much easier to use than what Amex does with its airline credits.

  3. It totally depends on your situation. But if you travel a lot, you should have no trouble using the airline and uber credits, and when you add PP – especially now that they have so many restaurants where you get a $28 meal for free – on top of the Centurions and Delta lounges when flying Delta, I find that it is well worth it and usually more than pays for itself.

  4. Fully agree. It hurts my brain when somebody makes some claim about the card’s “net annual fee” by just subtracting credits. I used to value Amex’s airline credit at 80% of face value, now it’s even lower, maybe 70%. The value of the uber and grubhub credits are also 70% face value at best. You have to value the benefit at the price you would be willing to pay for the standalone benefit if it were offered as such.

    Even the mighty CSR travel credit should not be valued at face value. There is opportunity cost of up to 5x points since that spend earns no UR. In addition, there is the possibility that you are unable to use the credit due to life circumstances. I’d value the CSR travel credit at about 90% of face value.

  5. So does seat upgrade still earn the credit?

    “Airline tickets, upgrades, … are not deemed to be incidental fees”
    “You can also use it to upgrade your seat”

    1. I would think the chances of getting a credit are good if you pay for a better seat in the same cabin after booking the ticket. A full upgrade to business class is less likely to get reimbursed.

  6. Uber eats and grubhub are up to 30% more expensive than calling the restaurant for a pick up so the $200 platinum credit and the $ 120 gold credits are worth about $150 and $70 respectively.

    1. When we found ourselves scheduling Uber eats meals just to use the credit was when I started to question its value.

  7. You can debate the ethics, but for at least one of the available airlines you can buy a ticket and cancel within the 24 hour period and still get the credit. Have not experienced a clawback or account closure (yet) but of course a future possibility…

    1. I’m not here to question ethics. If Amex made the credits easier to use, people wouldn’t need to get creative in order to use them.

  8. Great article. If you are changing your behavior to use the credit or not able to immediately use it after it posts, it’s not the same as cash and needs to be discounted. Cash = freedom to use on anything, So whatever you value the credit ass, you need to make sure that you are getting the remainder of the annual fee back in terms of increased multipliers or other benefits.

Leave a Reply