One of the reasons I canceled my AMEX Platinum card was the ever-increasing 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. This is even more true since the annual fee has gone up to $695.
Let’s look at one of the higher value credits, the airline fee credit.
It’s one of the primary ways to offset the high annual fee of the American Express Platinum card. 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:
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.
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.
More recently, one of the most popular workarounds, buying American Airlines gift cards from the website, stopped working. American now codes gift card purchases as a gift certificate when sending the information to AMEX. Since the credits are automatically generated, AMEX’s computers ignore these charges for the credits.
I’m not saying there’s zero 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 for the annual fee. Spending it frivolously just because you have it doesn’t make any sense. AMEX is tricking you into 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.
With the number of airlines where you’re able to creatively use your AMEX credits 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, Delta, and United workarounds hurt.
I’m not saying the AMEX Platinum card isn’t worthwhile having. If you value lounge access, the annual fee of the Platinum card might be worth it without getting any credits at all. 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.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary