Award fee reimbursements: searching for limits

A standard benefit of American Express Platinum cards is the $200 per calendar year airline fee credit.  The stated purpose of this credit is to reimburse the traveler for “incidental air travel fees” such as checked bag fees.  American Express’ terms & conditions explicitly exclude certain charges from this benefit:

  • Airline tickets
  • Upgrades
  • Mileage points purchases
  • Mileage points transfer fees
  • Gift cards
  • Duty free purchases
  • Award tickets

Many blogs have written that, despite the explicit exclusion of gift cards, you can still get reimbursed when purchasing them.  For example:

A nice twist is to use United’s gift registry:

Award fee reimbursements

Given how often I write about gift cards it’s a bit ironic that I prefer not to buy gift cards to get my $200 credit.  Instead, I know that I’ll book lots of awards anyway, so why not use the credit to reimburse those award fees? 

I can’t guarantee that this works with other airlines, but I’ve been using my $200 reimbursements each year to pay for the fees associated with booking Delta awards.  Many awards cost only $5 in fees, but to certain destinations (e.g. England) or with certain Delta partners, larger fees come into play.  In my experience, Amex will reimburse most of those fees as long as Delta is your chosen airline and you pay for the fees with your Platinum card.  By obtaining my credits this way, I achieve the same savings without having to deal with gift cards.

Finding the fee price point

Last year I discovered that a very large award fee ($386) was not reimbursed [Don’t cry for me: I ended up canceling that award anyway and got all of my money back from Delta thanks to my Platinum status].  This is consistent with gift card findings: with each airline there is a different price point above which Amex will not reimburse gift card purchases (for details, see these FlyerTalk threads: Alaska, American, Delta,Southwest, United, and US Airways).

With two Platinum cards in-hand (mine and my wife’s), I set about trying to determine the price point at which Delta awards would be reimbursed.  Here were my initial findings (including results from prior years):

  • $59.30 (yes)
  • $82.30 (yes)
  • $105.30 (yes)
  • $133.20 (yes)
  • $163.70 (yes)
  • $258.70 (no)
  • $386 (no)

Note with the above results that the total reimbursements within a calendar year never exceed $200 (per Amex Platinum card).  So, when I say that a certain fee was reimbursed, it might not have been 100% reimbursed.  For example, if I already was reimbursed for a $150 award fee, then I would only receive $50 reimbursement for the next $150 award fee within the same calendar year.

My guess from the above findings was that Amex would reimburse Delta award fees as long as they were less than $200.  So, I found and booked an award costing $200.90 in fees.  I expected that it would not be reimbursed.  Result:

  • $200.90 (yes)

The fact that a $200.90 award fee was reimbursed proves that my “less than $200″ guess was wrong.  Instead, I’m now thinking that the rule may be that award fees under $250 get reimbursed.  Unfortunately, I’ve already used up my $200 reimbursements for this calendar year so my personal experiments are at an end for now.  If you try booking an award with fees above $200.90 and less than $258.70 please let me know the results!

A nuance

One award that I booked last year cost $133.20 per person, and I booked three people on the same itinerary.  Surprisingly (at least to me), Delta charged $133.20 three separate times rather than combining the charge.  This was great since it meant that the charges came under the cap.

Has anyone tried this with other airlines?  Please comment below.


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Pingbacks

  1. […] There’s no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton card has a steep annual fee ($395).  That said, if you play it right, you can use the $300 annual travel credit to effectively reduce the annual fee to just $95.  Obviously, if you have a lot of qualifying airline fees each year, you can pay for them with the Ritz card and get reimbursed.  If not, its possible to manufacture fees by buying gift cards, or by paying for refundable fees (see, for example: Award fee reimbursements: searching for limits). […]

Comments

  1. I bought the same amounts of United gift cards this year and last and was only reimbursed last year. I think there is a manual coding variable with the airline.

  2. I always get billed separately from UA for award fees. Even when they are on the same confirmation. I bought 1 $200 gift certificate last year from UA and this year I thought I would not push it and bought 4 $50 certificates. Now to cancel the card.

  3. @Corky, based on my research United gift cards don’t work anymore, but United’s Gift Registry program does. I loaded $200 in one shot to my gift registry in late Dec and was quickly reimbursed.

  4. @Sajer Guy, what you said is both right and wrong. My own experience mostly agree with you and corky: while I bought a single $200 UA GC last year and got reimbursed, I didn’t get the same reimbursement this year (exactly the same product, $200 UA GC). As both you and corky said, after waiting for more than a week, I bought a $200 GR, it was reimbursed in 3 days. But what you are wrong is that in flyertalk, people did show if you only buy $50 GC, you still can be reimbursed. I read it somewhere in this post: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-express-membership-rewards/1300452-200-airline-fee-reimbursement-reports-ua-only-14.html. Note to other readers: I am not advocating to buy those $50 GC even if you can. Actually a $50 GC is really inconvenient (you can only use one GC per reservation), so it may not be a wise idea to get lots of $50 GC.

  5. @frugal guy, think you may be looking at old posts in that FT thread. Recent posts indicate reimbursement for Gift Registry(GR) but not Gift Cards(GCs). Coding likely changed in the Nov/Dec timeframe.

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