On my mind (Amex airline fee credits and gift card edition)

Amex Platinum and Gold cards offer a perk that helps offset the large annual fees: airline incidental fee reimbursements.  The idea is that when you use these cards on your selected airline to pay for incidental fees (checked bags, seat assignment fees, change fees, etc.) then Amex will reimburse that fee.  Platinum cards offer up to $200 back per calendar year, and the Amex Gold card offers up to $100 back.

For years, many cardholders have pocketed the full reimbursement each year by buying airline gift cards.  These apparently appeared to Amex as fees and so they were reimbursed.  Unfortunately, Amex has recently figured out how to identify these charges and no longer reimburses most gift card purchases (there are a few exceptions though).

Some have called this a devaluation.  I find that a bit silly since gift cards were never supposed to be reimbursed in the first place.  But I do get the point.  If the airline fee credit helps you justify paying the annual fee for a Platinum or Gold card each year, then you may suddenly be reconsidering.  Maybe you won’t renew when the annual fee comes due again.

Personally, this change hasn’t affected me at all.  I’ve earned the max reimbursement each year without buying gift cardsHow?  Award fees. Since Delta waives award change and redeposit fees for Platinum and Diamond elites (and I’m currently Diamond), I tend to book tons of Delta awards.  If I see an award sale of interest, I book it just in case I’ll actually fly it.  Sometimes when I don’t know exactly which day I’ll fly, I book multiple awards for different dates and make sure to cancel the ones I don’t need before it’s too late.  As a result, I never have trouble using up my airline fee credits.

If I didn’t have high level elite status with Delta, I’d probably book far more awards with Southwest points since those awards are fully refundable for everyone.  Of course then I’d have to pick Southwest as my preferred airline so that Amex would reimburse Southwest award fees.

Like gift cards, award fees aren’t supposed to be reimbursed, but in practice they usually are (except with United Airlines for some reason).  In my experience, as long as award fees are under $200 or so, Amex sees them as fees and reimburses them.  At least, that has been my experience with Delta.  People have reported similar findings with a number of other airlines too.  See our updated post: Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?

Obviously, it’s possible that Amex will stop reimbursing award fees too.  Amex specifically lists “award tickets” as one of the exclusions:

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.

Since the language is there, someone at Amex at some time in the past apparently decided that award fees were not the type of fees they wanted to reimburse.  Why?  I have no idea.  But it seems different to me than gift card purchases.  I can see why Amex would want to go the extra mile to disallow gift card purchases, but will they bother doing the same with award fees?  I doubt it.  Award fees are much closer to the intended use for reimbursements.

In the unlikely event that Amex does stop reimbursing award fees, what then?  Ironically the solution may be to go back to gift cards.  Will they reimburse a gift card if you buy it in an airport lounge (since lounge fees are allowed)?  I expect so.  And I know that Delta has been displaying gift cards in their lounges recently.  Or, how about if you pay most of your airline ticket with a gift card so that the amount charged to your Amex card is less than $100?  Would that sub-$100 charge get reimbursed as a fee?  Probably.  A number of people have reported success with that approach so far.

The best solution is for each of us to share our experiences with each other.  What works?  What doesn’t?  Please check out our dedicated post on this subject, and report your own findings.  I also recommend subscribing to comments on that post so that you’ll be informed when people report new things that work or not.  You can find that post here:  Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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AmexRATSupervisor
Guest
AmexRATSupervisor

Just assigned this project to a new RAT team member. Thank you for what you do here!

Brutus
Guest
Brutus

Rather than conduct surveys and collect data, I think I’ll just be cancelling and using a card that wasn’t created with breakage in mind.

Nun
Guest
Nun

Why couldn’t put off this post for at least a while? Drawing more attention right now is just idiotic.

losingtrader
Guest
losingtrader

It’s hardly idiotic. It’s what he does for a living.
Now, let’s say I gave you a trading strategy that had made me money for 10 years and you then SOLD it to other people (which happened). I’d be pissed. At first at you and then myself.
The fact is that all these little arbitrage strategies come and go as too many people use them.

losingtrader
Guest
losingtrader

Oh, and BTW, I’m calling the Pope to let him know one of his nuns called someone a mean name.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Oh come on, Amex already is aware of what is currently working despite being on the disallow list. It’s likely just a matter of how much they care, or more precisely, how much time and resources it would take to modify their systems such that award fees (or whatever) don’t automatically get reimbursed. Amex compares that to its estimate of how much they’re paying out in reimbursement that they don’t want to be, and decides whether to take action or not.

I do dislike Amex’s approach of setting up benefits that are so cumbersome to use that they’re often of little to no use to many people. I mean, they’re not alone in using that method to an extent but at least Chase and others have relatively low-hassle benefits.

Nun
Guest
Nun

Ryan, I never said Amex isn’t aware. You’re really making my point so thanks. The hole will be closed faster if publicized enough that everyone piles on.

Federico
Guest
Federico

Yes, still works but I prefer to use my Chase Sapphire Reserve because you are still protected when you paid just a little portion of the ticket with your CC, this benefits is for flight/bag cancellation/delays, and they will even cover the hotel if the flight has been canceled due to weather (which most airlines won’t do).

PJ Yoo
Guest
PJ Yoo

If I do the same thing as you and book a lot of speculative Southwest Airlines flights using miles and just pay the $5 award fee, and I end up canceling maybe three-quarters of them, how would that effect my AMX credits?

BML
Guest
BML

I would also like to know, thanks! It takes a lot of award bookings to recuperate that $200 (or $300 in my case since I have both)!

Allan
Guest
Allan

This whole airline credit is so unrealistic. Why the need to appoint one airline? Why can’t it be applied to any airline ? It’s designed like it is so that for many, if not most, it will not be fully utilized. Similar to the Uber credit – why is it not $200 per year instead of $15/month which is lost if not used? Because Amex expects that these credits will never be used.

MalMel
Guest
MalMel

And the Saks $50 every 6 months. There isn’t much to buy for $50 at Saks.

Bnn
Guest
Bnn

Uber and Saks want to develop new customers through regular, repeat visits. And yes, just like with the sale of gift cards, there is the expectation a portion will go unredeemed.

Antonio
Guest
Antonio

The Ritz card doesn’t reimburse award booking fees either. That’s the card I think I’ll be closing soon, although I do like their travel insurance. Amex platinum doesn’t have this. This article makes you think for sure

Billy Bob
Guest
Billy Bob

2×150$ AA GC and then use SM to request. Works every time

Fio
Guest
Fio

SM?

Antonio
Guest
Antonio

Are you referring to Ritz? If so, what do you say the charge was for?

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

I fly out of NYC and use Delta as my primary airline and American as my secondary airline. I have always designated American as the airline for my Platinum and used it for one-day lounge access when I fly American.

BML
Guest
BML

I appreciate the post, Greg. Just wondering if all fees are already waived for you as Delta Diamond, then what fees do you have to pay to get reimbursed?

Nick Reyes
Editor

The taxes and fees on awards ($5.60 for a domestic one-way, but more for international flights which varies based on the flight). The waived fees he references are change or cancellation fees with Delta. He’s saying that since he’s an elite member, he is able to make speculative award bookings since there will be no future penalty if has to cancel. That’s one of the benefits of Delta elite status — flexibility. Southwest is nice in that they are flexible for everyone when you’re booking awards.

Nina D Howell
Guest
Nina D Howell

I’m not sure if you will see this being 6 days ago but Amex has been very non-consistent with crediting the fees. I will try this again but on my companion pass Delta ticket using my Plat card, they didn’t credit the taxes for the companion ticket (although your blog said they would), then they credited an $11 fee on a small flight. The third they didn’t credit and I had to call them. So you get your Delta fees credited all the time or do you have to call? I think they are coded as a ticket now so I’m not sure if that’s what has changed.

Gene
Guest
Gene

@ Greg — Thanks for the tips. These are great because AMEX is slow to keep up and 2019 will by the last year for my household’s AMEX cards. In the end, AMEX really is only hurting themselves with these changes. Idiots.

JC1
Guest
JC1

Sadly this doesn’t work for American Airlines. I have booked over a dozen award tickets with my platinum card over the last 2 years in various dollar denominations ranging from $5.6 to $30 to $50 to $100 to $200 and never been reimbursed. Everyone has shown up with the full ticket itinerary. So while it may work for Delta in my experience with multiple data points it doesn’t work with American.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Indeed payment with gift cards and cash works. About a month ago I purchased two one way tickets. I paid each with 3x $50 gift cards (from the time I was reimbursed) and the remaining $30 in cash. The cash part was reimbursed by AmEx.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Let’s not forget the Aspire card. This is wounding the value proposition of that card, as well.

Larry
Guest
Larry

My wife and I have been using Southwest as our chosen airline with Amex Gold and Amex Business Platinum. Because we have companion pass we have been getting reimbursed for $100 and $200 worth of gift cards and getting the second companion passenger free as well. That made the annual fees much easier to justify. We will keep the Gold card because 4x on groceries is great and we use grubhub monthly. Business Platinum is just too much to continue paying.

Sam
Guest
Sam

Ummn so Amex Platinum reimburses 5.60 fees and also cancellation fee?. I’m yet to use $150 worth of credits this year. Speculative travel to rescue?

jol
Guest
jol

It’s just ridiculously difficult to use the Amex credit. They should be loosening the requirements, not getting tougher. Amex, meet Chase.

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