One of the benefits of having a premium American Express charge card is a yearly Air Travel Credit. If you have an American Express Gold card you get a $100 credit and cardholders of either the Personal or Business Platinum card you get a $200 credit. These credits have often been touted as an easy to way to offset the high annual fees of these cards but I’ve been leery of doing that as I never felt these credits were the same as cash.
Since for as long as I can remember, it’s been possible to skate around the rules of these credits and find ways to use them as cash, most often by buying airline gift cards or gift certificates. Slowly but surely, American Express has been shutting down those loopholes. Who knows if this is the work of the RAT team or not but there’s been a constant push to make you use these credits as intended.
The first thing to go was the trick to use the credits for United flights (but this might as much been United’s doing as AMEX). Just this year the easiest way to cash these credits out for American went away. At that point, I didn’t want to say I told you so but the writing was on the wall. That day has now come as apparently the gift card workaround is now dead for the remaining two airlines, Delta and Southwest.
So if these methods to use credits are gone, what are they good for and which airlines would those benefits be the best for. Turns out, not the airlines you’d think.
Here are the airlines on which you can use the credit:
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.
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
That leaves charges like these as ones you can use your credits for:
- Ticket change fees
- Lounge Day Passes
- Lounge Memberships
- Checked Bag Fees
- Seat Assignments
- In-Flight Fees (Food and Drinks purchased onboard)
Now if you’re buying a lounge membership with Delta, United, American, Alaska or Hawaiian, then this is might be a good way to use that credit. But if you fly any of those airlines enough to value a lounge membership, then you might already fly them enough to get that access for free. The same goes for checked bag fees or seat assignments.
The best two airlines to use the credits on are Frontier and Spirit.
Ok. Ok. Put the pitchforks away and hear me out.
Which airlines are you most likely to spend a large amount of money on checked bag fees and seat assignments than ULCCs. If you find one of those low-cost fares during one of their seemingly never-ending fare sales, why not ball out and pimp your flight.
Here are your options if you’re flying on Frontier. Prices may vary based on your flight.
On this flight, for an additional $70 you can get the Perks bundle which includes a carry on bag, checked bag, seat selection (of any seat including the Stretch seats) and priority boarding.
Now the key is that you CAN’T bundle this with your ticket price, which is the only time you can get the Works bundle. To conform to AMEX’s rules, you have to pay for your ticket and then go in and purchase this separately. If you pay for it with your ticket it will just show as part of your ticket price and that’s not a reimbursable credit.
You need to book your flight and then go back into your reservation to upgrade. You’ll still be able to get the Perks bundle which doesn’t include the flexibility and refundability of the Works but when booking this and paying with your AMEX, you’ll get the money back.
The same goes for Spirit. You won’t be able to bundle the extras at the time of booking but you’ll be able to buy a Big Front Seat and pay for your baggage after booking and get your money back if you pay with your Gold or Platinum AMEX card.
Seems counterintuitive. doesn’t it? The airlines where you can get the most value from your Air Travel Credit are the airlines least likely for those with these cards to fly on. I hope you were able to use your credits at the beginning of the year, since that when the AMEX credits reset. If you weren’t and haven’t used any of them yet, you may be able to get AMEX to let you change airlines in the middle of the year if you ask nicely, but no promises they’ll let you do it,
I don’t think that anyone should be upset at American Express for shutting down a loophole everyone has been exploiting for years. It’s evident that AMEX wants to get rid of as many people who are using all their card benefits as possible as they are the least profitable cardholders. I’d argue that the people who can get the most value from a card like the AMEX Gold card at this point is a run of the mill traveler who goes on 1-2 trips a year and can earn 4x points on restaurants and supermarkets and 3x on travel booked with airlines (and then pays to upgrade their flights on Spirit or Frontier with their $100 credit).
For me, it’s just one more reason I’m not regretting the canceling of my AMEX Platinum card.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary