How to Get the Most Value From the Amex Airline Fee Credit

This coveted travel credit has restrictions you’ll want to know about.
5 minute read | 7/19/19July 19, 2019
Young businessman sitting in a business class seat

If you’re looking for the best travel rewards cards, you’ve likely heard about sought-after travel perks provided by American Express. Among its suite of exclusive benefits is the annual Amex airline credit, which offers savings for frequent flyers.

With an annual value of $100 to $250 on qualifying airline transactions, this credit might help justify Amex’s reputation for high annual fees. Here’s what you need to know about the Amex airline fee credit and how to maximize it.

How does the Amex airline credit work?

The airline fee credit is available on select American Express cards, all of which have an annual fee. If you’re a cardmember of one the following cards, or plan to open an account, you’re on your way to accessing this valuable perk.

Credit value Annual fee
Amex Gold Card $100 $250
Hilton Honors Amex Aspire Card $250 $450
Amex Platinum Card $200 $550
Amex Business Platinum Card $200 $595
Amex Centurion Card $200 $2,500
Amex Centurion Business Card $200 $2,500

But before planning your next trip, you’ll need to activate this benefit by choosing a qualifying airline. Only the primary cardmember or an authorized account manager can choose a preferred airline and it can be changed once per year.

To make your selection, log into your online American Express account or call the phone number on the back of your card.

Participating airlines include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

Incidental fees covered by the Amex airline credit

After choosing your airline, receiving the airline fee credit is straightforward. Only eligible incidental charges from your selected airline will qualify for the Amex airline fee credit.

Simply make qualifying purchases using your card, and you’ll receive a statement credit up to your card’s benefit value.

Incidental fees that qualify Incidental fees that do NOT qualify
Airline fee charges Airline tickets
Airport lounge day passes Award tickets
Checked baggage fees Mileage points purchases
Overweight/oversize baggage fees Mileage points transfer fees
In-flight amenities Gift cards
In-flight entertainment (excluding WiFi) Duty-free purchases
Pet flight fees Upgrades
Phone reservation fees Charges not made by your selected airline
Seat assignment fees Charges made before selecting your airline
Cancellation fees
Unaccompanied minor fees

You have the whole calendar year to redeem the full value of the credit. Each year, at the end of January, the credit value resets on your account, regardless of when you activated the benefit.

4 caveats to be aware of

There are a few details you should know to make sure you’re not leaving money on the table. Although this card benefit is a great incentive for travelers, you’ll need to pay close attention to the fine print.

1. Airline codes matter

Amex automatically applies the airline credit to your statement based on the identifier code the merchant uses. Airlines tag all card-based transactions with a merchant code or industry code that describes the purchased product or service.

Merchant codes on goods and services can differ between airlines. If your airline codes a purchase differently than you expected, you might not receive credit.

2. What counts as “incidental fees” can be inconsistent

We’ve listed eligible and ineligible incidental fees above, but since merchant codes trigger which purchases the Amex airline credit is applied to, what counts as an incidental fee can sometimes vary from airline to airline.

For example, gift cards are on Amex’s list of ineligible purchases. Some cardholders, however, have had airline gift card purchases reimbursed unexpectedly. Fair warning, though, since the credit shouldn’t technically apply to this type of purchase, it’s unreasonable to expect it to work.

When using your Amex card through your selected airline, stay on top of your statement activity to see if a specific purchase type qualifies. But don’t spend money you otherwise wouldn’t have in an attempt to trick the system and earn credits for unofficial uses. Doing so could put your account on the fast track to being shut down.

3. Use it or lose it

The Amex airline credit renews every calendar year. However, if you don’t use the maximum value of your credit by Dec. 31, you’ll lose any remaining credit on your card.

Since the credit doesn’t rollover to the following year, ensure you account for this during upcoming travel. When possible, make your purchases strategically to max out the airline fee credit each year well before your year end statement closes.

4. You’re stuck with one airline

Aside from the credit being limited to airlines that participate in the program, Amex requires you to stay loyal to one airline each year.

If it’s your first time selecting an airline, you can do so at any time. But as soon as you make a selection, you can’t switch it until the following January. If you end up flying with your selected airline infrequently that year, you may have a hard time maxing out your credit.

If you have an extenuating circumstance and need to switch your selected airline mid-year, you can call the phone number on the back of your card to see if Amex will make an exception. This courtesy, however, is on a case-by-case basis.

How to get the most value from the Amex airline fee credit

Taking advantage of this airline credit can help you travel for less, if you use it wisely. Here are a few ways to make smart choices when enrolling.

  • Research your airline options: If you already have elite status with an airline, you might already get similar perks through the carrier. Consider a different airline so your Amex travel benefits have greater reach.
  • Choose your enrollment date strategically: When opening a new account, remember that the credit is applied each calendar year. That means if you get a new card in November, you’ll only have a limited window of time to use it up before your statement closes on Dec. 31. On the flip side, you’ll also receive another airline credit the following January.
  • Pay attention to your purchases: Keep tabs on your statement to see which purchases received the airline credit. Also note how you made the purchase (for example, online vs. in-person). This intel helps you make educated purchasing decisions when using your Amex card toward the credit.
  • Stay on top of your remaining value. Throughout the calendar year, review how much of the benefit value is left so unused airline credit isn’t wasted. You can see how much of the credit is available through your Amex online account.

The airline fee credit isn’t the only travel benefit offered by Amex, but it’s a valuable perk you’ll want to get the most out of. And with the annual fees associated with these cards, any opportunity to recoup travel costs is a good thing.

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