Which Airline Gift Cards Trigger the Amex Incidental Fee Credit?

Jan 17, 2018

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One of many exciting things about a new year, from a points and miles perspective, is that various credit card fee credits reset, so you can use them anew.

The Platinum Card® from American Express, for example, offers $200 toward incidental airline fees — defined as purchases such as checked bags and in-flight meals — and since it’s based on the calendar year 2018 is a fresh opportunity to put it to use — or the similar credit offered by the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, or the $100 credit on the American Express® Gold Card.

How It Works

If you have an Amex card that offers an airline incidental fee credit, you can change your airline selection once each year in January at this link. (Note that you may have success switching your selected carrier at a later date by calling Amex and asking politely, but that’s definitely not guaranteed.)

Here’s a look at the available options for using your Amex airline fee credit:

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

Why This Credit is Valuable

The Amex incidental airline fee credit is a hot topic among frequent travelers for a couple reasons. It offsets your Amex card’s annual fee by getting you up to $200 in value each year, which is obviously great. But what makes it even more valuable is that you aren’t necessarily limited to using the credit for things like checked bags and flight change fees.

While it’s not technically allowed based on Amex’s terms and conditions, purchasing a gift card for an airline that qualifies for this credit (see the list of participating carriers above) often triggers the incidental fee credit, resulting in a statement credit to your account.

If the gift card trick works with your airline of choice, you’re essentially bypassing this perk’s restrictions; once you have a gift card, you can use it to purchase airfare, even though the Amex incidental fee credit in theory excludes actual ticket purchases. This is great news for those of us with airline status, since checked baggage allowances and even the occasional onboard snack and drink are elite perks.

Which Airlines Does This Work With?

There are plenty of data points about which airline gift card purchases work over on FlyerTalk, but luckily at TPG we also have an office full of Amex cardholders. We made test gift card purchases with the participating carriers — our results are below. Keep in mind that Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit don’t offer gift cards and, as Brian Biros explained, United’s TravelBank gift card registry is down, so UA flyers are currently out of luck.

Airline Gift Cards for Sale? Gift Cards Reimbursable With Amex Airline Fee Credit?
Alaska Yes No
American Yes Yes
Delta Yes Yes
Frontier No N/A
Hawaiian Yes No
JetBlue No N/A
 Spirit No N/A
 Southwest Yes Yes
 United No (TravelBank Gift Registry unavailable since 9/2017) N/A

Again, since the Amex incidental fee credit doesn’t technically work with airline gift cards, nothing is guaranteed here and you don’t have much recourse if you buy a gift card and it doesn’t result in a statement credit to your account.

Also, according to some reports the following caveats apply:

  • American: The maximum gift card value that will be reimbursed is $100.
  • Delta: The maximum gift card value that will be reimbursed is $50.

In those cases, to get the full value of your annual incidental fee credit through airline gift cards, you’d want to make multiple transactions.

Bottom Line

Unless you check a lot of bags and/or make a lot of in-flight purchases, it can be challenging to get the full $100 to $200 in value from the annual airline fee credit offered on select Amex cards. That’s why the ability to get reimbursed for gift card purchases with several of the participating carriers is so awesome.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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