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- Several premium American Express cards offer airline incidental fee credits** as a benefit.
- You’ll need to choose an eligible airline each year with which to receive your credit.
- You can officially change your airline selection once a year, in January.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.
Frequent flyers know that having a premium American Express card can be a great way to improve their travel experience, especially if it’s an Amex card that offers an annual airline incidental fee credit.
With The Platinum Card® from American Express
and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
, cardholders receive up to $200 in credits each year for eligible incidental fee purchases on their selected airline, which include expenses like checked bag fees, seat selection fees, and inflight food or drinks. With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
, this benefit is good for up to $250 in credits per year.
Read more: The Amex airline fee credit can save you up to $250 a year on extras like checked bags, but don’t assume all incidentals will trigger the reimbursement
However, to receive the credit, you’ll have to choose one airline from a list of nine qualifying domestic carriers. You can make the choice when you first open your card, and change your selection (if you want) once per year, in January.
Adding or updating your selected airline through your online Amex account is easy, but picking the best airline for you isn’t as straightforward. Here’s what you’ll want to consider before choosing your airline for the Amex fee credit.
Which Amex cards offer an airline fee credit?
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100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 in your first 6 months of card membership, plus 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership
Amex offers an airline incidental fee credit on several popular premium cards, and making the most of the credit is a good way to help offset their steep annual fees. Here are the current top options:
With all of these cards, the annual fee credit resets each calendar year (not account anniversary year). If you haven’t used the full credit by December 31, it won’t roll over to the next year — it’s use it or lose it.
How the Amex airline fee credit works
When you use your eligible Amex card to make a qualifying purchase with your selected airline, you’ll be reimbursed via statement credit for the amount of the charge, up to annual limits.
Officially, these purchases will trigger the Amex airline fee reimbursement:
- Checked baggage fees (including overweight and oversize fees)
- Itinerary change fees
- Phone reservation fees
- Pet flight fees
- Seat assignment fees
- Inflight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows and blankets, headphones)
- Inflight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet, which isn’t usually charged by the airline)
- Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships
Amex also publishes a list of purchases that do not qualify for the airline fee credit. These include:
- Airline tickets (airfare)
- Mileage points purchases
- Mileage points transfer fees
- Gift cards
- Duty-free purchases
- Award tickets
In practice, there may be other fees not listed that could be eligible, but none are guaranteed. Anecdotal reports from cardmembers suggest fees for things like priority boarding, award ticket cancellation, and mileage-redeposit fees have also been reimbursed. However, be aware that because such fees are not on the official list, you may have trouble getting your credit if it doesn’t appear automatically.
Which Amex designated airline is right for you?
Your gut instinct might be to choose your favorite airline or the one you fly most often for the Amex incidental fee credit, but that’s not always the best option.
You’ll actually want to consider which airline you’d be most likely to pay additional fees with. If you’re a frequent flyer on a specific carrier you may already have elite status or a co-branded airline card that waives certain charges, like checked bag fees, so picking a different airline (that you’re still likely to fly) could be a better bet.
Read more: Guide to the best airline credit cards
It’s also important to factor in your travel plans for the upcoming year. If you know you’ll only be flying a handful of times and have an idea of the airline you’re using, it makes sense to choose it for your fee credit. In addition, even though you may carry a co-branded card with your favorite airline, it might not cover some charges, like a second checked bag or bags on flights to certain destinations.
For example, if you fly American Airlines frequently, you might already have a co-branded AA card like Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® or CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®, which waives the fee for your first checked bag on domestic American Airlines itineraries only. If you’re flying overseas, you could still be on the hook for a checked bag fee — so choosing American Airlines as your selected airline could still be a smart move.
Another strategy is to pick a low-cost airline that charges lots of fees, like Spirit or Frontier. If you fly with these carriers you know that their fares are lower than other airlines, but they’ll charge you extra for just about everything — from seat selection to carry-on luggage and even having your boarding pass printed at the airport!
Choosing Spirit or Frontier could make it easier for you to justify taking advantage of extra-low fares you might have avoided otherwise because of the high ancillary fees, and translate into genuine savings over the year.
Read more: Don’t let the Amex Platinum’s new ‘lifestyle’ benefits distract you from its true value — here’s what the card is worth to the average person
Worst-case scenario, you could always redeem your credits for inflight snacks and drinks if you don’t have any eligible fees to burn them on. I know someone with a Platinum Card who ended up buying drinks for the other passengers seated in his row on his last flight of the year just so the credit wouldn’t go to waste.
How to select your designated airline with Amex
Once you’ve decided on your airline, you’ll have to sign in to your Amex account to make your selection official. Under the “Benefits” tab in your online account, you’ll find a section where you can choose (or change, if it’s January) your airline. You can also do this through online chat, or by calling the number on the back of your card.
There’s no requirement to change your airline in January — if you’re happy with your selection, it will remain the same if you do nothing. If you do want to change your airline, click on “Change selected airline” and a drop-down menu will appear.
In the past, some cardholders (myself included) have been able to change their selected airline at other times of the year by asking to do so via online chat, especially since the pandemic has made travel planning so tricky. But there’s no guarantee this will always work.
Keep in mind you must select an airline before you make a qualifying purchase. If you change or choose your airline after you’ve already made the transaction, you won’t be eligible for the credit.
Good to Excellent
3 free nights (each valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases and 10x total points on eligible purchases in select categories
Good to Excellent
1.5% cash back in addition to regular earning on everything you buy up to $20,000 spent in the first year (worth up to $300 cash back)
Good to Excellent