Use Your 2021 Amex Card Airline Fee Credits

Filed Under: American Express, Credit Cards
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Happy 2021! There’s a lot to be excited about with the new year. For one, 2021 isn’t 2020, so it has that going for it.

On the credit card front, one of the things that I ordinarily like about the new year is that certain annual benefits reset. One of those is the airline fee credits that are offered by several American Express cards. Based on the cards that I have, this is an opportunity to get hundreds of dollars of value per year.

In this post I wanted to talk a bit about the current state of Amex airline fee credits, given that it’s a new year, meaning that a lot of peoples’ credits have just reset.

What Are Amex Airline Fee Credits?

Cards offer a variety of benefits, and in the case of several American Express cards, one of those is an annual airline fee credit. The credit is intended to be used towards airline fees (as the name suggests), and for many of us, benefits like this help offset the annual fees on cards.

When Are Amex Airline Fee Credits Valid?

In the case of all American Express cards offering airline fee credits, the validity is based on the calendar year. This is a strict calendar year definition, so it’s not like some other cards, where it’s based on your cardmember year.

With Amex, airline fee credits are valid January 1 through December 31, and it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.

Which Airlines Are Eligible For Amex Airline Fee Credits?

You can designate one of the following airlines as your airline of choice for this benefit:

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

You could designate Frontier as your airline for the Amex fee credit

Which Amex Cards Come With Airline Fee Credits?

The following cards offer airline fee credits, in the following increments:

What Can Amex Airline Fee Credits Be Used For?

Per the terms, the annual airline credit can be used for purchases made directly with airlines, excluding the following:

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.

As you can see, this excludes quite a bit of stuff. In the past purchasing airline gift cards would often automatically be reimbursed, though as of 2019 that’s no longer the case, so you won’t want to buy gift cards hoping that they’re reimbursed. For that matter, there are many things that used to be reimbursed, but that no longer are.

The American Express forum on FlyerTalk has individual threads dedicated to reimbursement reports for each airline, including AlaskaAmerican, Delta, Frontier, HawaiianJetBlueSouthwest, Spirit, and United. It can be worth looking there for inspiration on some of the best uses.

While it varies by airline and situation, often baggage fees, award ticket fees, change and cancelation fees, seat assignment fees, lounge passes, inflight food and beverage purchases, etc., qualify for reimbursement.

Lounge passes could be reimbursed with airline fee credits

How Do You Register For Amex Airline Fee Credits?

Your eligible airline purchase should be automatically reimbursed when charged to a qualifying card, assuming you’ve designated an airline for this benefit.

Each year you have to designate an airline for your airline fee credit. You can change your designated airline once per year, in January, so you can now change your designated airline, if you’d like.

To verify or select your airline of choice, log into your Amex account, and then click on the “Benefits” tab along the top. Then scroll to the section that talks about the airline fee credit, and you’ll see the link to “select an airline.”

Platinum Card From American Express 200 Airline Fee Credit

If you already designated an airline last year, that will be the default one this year, so if you want to keep it you don’t have to do anything. But if you haven’t designated an airline in the past or want to change your selection, you’ll want to edit it.

Keep in mind that for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the airline you choose is the same one for which you’ll get 35% off when redeeming points with the “Pay With Points” feature. You’ll want to choose your airline carefully.

It’s Time For Amex To Rethink This Benefit

Let me start by acknowledging that a lot of credit card perks are designed to have breakage, or else the economics wouldn’t work. That’s perfectly justifiable and understandable.

But I also think this perk is getting to the point where it’s so restrictive that it’s almost a gimmick.

Back in the day, this perk was easy enough to maximize, as there were all kinds of things that coded as airline fees. However, over the years there were fewer and fewer ways to use these credits. At least there were always airline change fees, so these were useful for getting some of those reimbursed. With many major US airlines having now eliminated change fees, that’s not even a practical use anymore.

This perk needs to be rethought, in my opinion. Now look, we have to be realistic — this isn’t going to be replaced with a flat $200 travel fee that can be used towards anything. I get that the economics here for Amex assume significant breakage, and the airline isn’t budgeting $200 per cardmember per year here.

There has to be some alternative, though, that’s useful without having so many restrictions.

Bottom Line

While I hate when the year “resets” in terms of elite status, I do love picking up new annual airline fee credits thanks to the Amex cards I have. If you have any of the above Amex cards, you can go ahead and designate your airline of choice, and then start taking advantage of your 2021 credits… if you can figure out uses.

I do hope that Amex considers refreshing this benefit, given how the airline and credit card industry have evolved in the past decade.

How do you plan on using your 2021 Amex airline fee credits?

The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (Rates & Fees).

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  1. @ Ben — Great, I left $300 left on the table for 2020 for the two new cards I added in Q3/Q4 when travel was mostly off of my mind. I could have used those credits yesterday. FML. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back on my AMEX relationship on cards with “incidental fee reimbursements”. I am closing all of these cards as they come due in 2021. I HATE AMERICAN EXSPRESS. I really do.

  2. Does moving up to Alaskas Premium class, through a different purchase (not at time of ticket), count as an upgrade or a seat assignment fee that would be eligible?

  3. Gene,
    same here. I ended up using $10 of the annual $200 fee reimbursement and I didn’t use the $200 travel credit either. It is simply not of a whole lot of value right now…

  4. I agree with you regarding rethinking how the $200 benefit works. This year AMEX is offering $200 travel credit that can be used on nearly all travel purchase made through AMEX Travel. Maybe they are testing about pivoting this benefit from airline credits to AMEX travel credit. This would help some with breakage as AMEX will get some revenue for trips booked through AMEX travel and will allow them to be a little more creative on how this benefit can be utilized on their travel portal.

  5. If you have AA as your airline they reimbursed me for 500 mile upgrades in December 2020. Better than losing the credit.

  6. I’m going with United this year for the AMEX gold $100 airline credit. They should allow it to count towards upgrades.
    Use it or lose it I’ll apply it towards an emergency exit for more legroom. Last year I used that Amex gold $100 credit on an AA flight from ZRH PHL to be in row 8 bulkhead on the 767. That was a good deal.

  7. @Steve. I also used some of my credit for 500 mile upgrades. Now, whether I can use them is another matter…

  8. It’s such BS sitting around crossing your fingers hoping that your charge counts towards the travel benefit every year. The card pays for itself, that’s why I keep it. Otherwise I’d cancel.

  9. Not everyone has elite status like you. most people pay for seat fees/early boarding fees/baggage fees.

  10. The AMEX airline travel credit has, indeed, gotten too restrictive, and that is why the CSR, with very few restrictions, remains the top travel card in my book. I typically spend down the CSR’s $300 travel credit within a week. The card’s definitions of travel and dining are so broad that one earns 3x on nearly every travel/dining-related purchases. The cards also adapts: I have just raked in loads UR points at 3x on groceries, an activity that increased in importance because of CV-19 and to which the CSR adapted…

  11. I used it for a Delta ticket (found out how to on FT. I mistakenly used my Gold card to upgrade to first class, didn’t work so lost out on that. (Instead of seat upgrade). I didn’t travel at all in 2020, had 3 international cancellations. I agree that they make it tough to use.

  12. My other problem with the Amex credit is that Allegiant Airlines isn’t even an option as an airline.

    Pre-COVID I’d fly them with some regularity and it would be nice to not think about or luggage or seat assignment fees (I find there algorithm for not assigning seats together particularly ruthless, compared to getting computer assigned seats on Basic Economy tickets on the legacies, Frontier, or Spirit). Flying them to Phoenix-Mesa or Orlando-Stamford has been such a time savor, compared to connecting or the long train ‘L’ slog form my home in SBN.

  13. @Oliver – Do you have information that travelbank doesnt work?

    I used multiple times last month for my 2020 credits (three different cards) and all were reimbursed.

  14. These credits are very useful for budget airlines where amenities like a carry-on are charged separately (e.g. Frontier or Spirit). I could also see people who travel with an infant on their lap, or with a pet. All seem like odd pairings with luxury travel cards.

  15. Well, it’s best to have an airline you don’t fly often because of not being able to use status.
    Much less flexible than Chase’s travel credit.
    Given the current situation they should consider revising.

  16. For some reason the airline fee option does not show up under Benefits at all, neither for my Platinum nor for Aspire. Any idea why that might be?

  17. Any suggestions how to use the airline credit without flying? United travel bank doesn’t work. Do day passes at clubs/lounges work that can be used later? Although with a CSR or Amex Plat I’m not sure how useful that would be either. Thoughts?

  18. Is it safe to (1) use your full $200 airline credit on January 1st, (2) wait for the airline incidental credit to post later in January and then (3) change your airline selection before January 31st?

    Essentially if you have the Business card can you use your incidental credit at the beginning of the year then change your airline selection for the purpose of taking advantage of the 35% point rebate on airfare booked with points?

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