Introduction & Short Answer
So, do cheap American Airlines (AA) flights really trigger Amex airline fee credits, like those on the Amex Platinum, personal Gold and Hilton Aspire cards?
We have some positive data points on cheap AA flight tickets triggering the Amex airline fee credit, resulting in statement credits in the amount of the ticket. But it may be a YMMV (your mileage may vary) situation.
Let’s explore what we know so far in this article. Then we’ll set up a future experiment that we’ll report back on when we get further data points.
Several high-end Amex cards include a benefit of annual airline fee credits. The fee credit amounts are based on spend within a calendar year, for each card with this benefit. The publicly-available cards that have this benefit are:
- Amex Personal Platinum – $200 annual airline fee credit
- Amex Business Platinum – $200 annual airline fee credit
- Amex Gold (personal) – $100 annual airline fee credit
- Amex Hilton Aspire – $250 annual airline fee credit
To use the credit, the cardholder must first choose one airline from a list of eligible airlines. Then, “incidental air travel fees” on the chosen airline are eligible for the credit. You charge your “incidental air travel fee” to your card, and the airline fee credit is automatically applied by Amex, up to the total amount of your annual credit on that card. Multiple purchases qualify, up to the point where you hit your cap.
According to Amex, eligible “incidental air travel fees” must be separate charges from airline ticket charges. Standard types of charges that are clearly eligible to qualify for the credit include:
- Baggage fees
- In-flight food & beverage
- Seat selection fees
- Pet fees
UPDATE 6/13/19, 11:00 am Central time – After we enrolled for the airfare credit and chose American Airlines, we received a confirmation email from Amex that contained a detailed list of eligible “incidental air travel fees”:
Amex also includes a list of types of charges that are not eligible for statement credits, including:
- Airline tickets
- Mileage points purchases
- Mileage points transfer fees
- Gift cards
- Duty free purchases
- Award ticket fees
In-flight Wi-Fi charges that are charged by a third party provider (like ViaSat or Gogo) and not directly by the airline are also ineligible.
Despite what Amex’s express terms and conditions say, it had long been possible to purchase AA gift cards (GCs) through the AA website and trigger the Amex airfare fee credit. Unfortunately, that changed earlier this year. As of earlier this year – February 8, 2019, to be exact – AA GCs no longer trigger the Amex airline fee credit.[It’s still possible to trigger the Amex airline fee credit by purchasing Delta or Southwest GCs, if you know what you’re doing. But we’re focusing on AA for this article.]
As you might imagine, this was a major negative change for regular AA flyers who hold one or more of these premium Amex cards. (Yes, we hold all of them. Multiples of some.) And it especially hurt Platinum-and-up elite AAdvantage members, who don’t incur too many incidental AA fees at all.
So, what’s an AA flyer to do? Choose Delta or Southwest as their preferred airline with Amex and buy GCs on one of those carriers? Or are there still some ways that AA flyers can use the airline fee credits usefully and without too much trouble?
Cheap AA Flights May Trigger the Credit
This article was motivated by a couple of things that happened within the past few days. One, Amex introduced a lucrative upgrade offer for its premium Aspire co-branded card that we covered extensively here:
- Middle Age Miles: Successful Upgrade – Amex Hilton Ascend to Aspire with 150k Point Bonus! Breaking Down the Offer and What to Expect (6/9/2019)
Accepting this upgrade offer gave us another $250 airline fee credit to use during 2019 on our Upgraded Aspire card, so we started thinking about how we could use it. Also, savvy reader HS brought this question to the fore in his comment in response to the Aspire upgrade article.
Two, a post in the Reddit Churning Discussion Thread for Sunday, June 9, caught my eye. There, user “GrapefruitCrush2019” commented:
“Data point, may be just a fluke. I paid for flights directly through AA on my Amex Plat and the $200 annual airline fee credit was applied directly to the flight cost. Never seen this happy before, anyone else? …[Used the] Full $200 for the year. One charge of 113 was fully reimbursed, and the remainder was applied to another charge so 2 credits were applied.”
In one of the replies to GrapefruitCrush2019’s post, user “jwk1414” commented:
“Pretty normal for sub-$200 tickets”
Wow. If cheap AA tickets can really trigger the Amex credit, then we’re back in business. Maybe we would even be able to book round trips as two one-way tickets to help get fares low enough to trigger the credit? If the ticket price was too high, maybe we could use one or more AA GCs to pay it down, so that the remaining credit card charge was low enough to trigger the credit?
Follow-up research took us to this FlyerTalk (FT) thread:
We decided to look only at recent data points (DPs), from this year. We found 2 other applicable data points:
- On 2/23/2019, “tommy14” reported that they received Amex credit after charging $25 in airfare; this was the balance remaining after they applied one or more AA GCs
- On 4/10/2019, “grump” reported that they received Amex credit for $18.30 in airfare, which was remaining fare after applying GCs – BUT “grump” also reported that a subsequent $60.30 post-GC charge had not received the credit
There could well be other DPs out there; that’s what we’ve found so far. We do have some positive news in that GrapefruitCrush2019 got 2 credits for cheap airfare, jwk1414 thought it fairly common, and tommy14 and grump received credits for airfare balances paid after applying GCs. And we have a positive DP on a fare as high as $113.
This is at least somewhat encouraging, although it seems like it could very much be a YMMV situation. There are enough positive DPs for us to experiment. As opportunities arise in the near future when we’re booking AA tickets, we’ll try to either pay the entire airfare with our Aspire card (perhaps breaking a round trip ticket into 2 one-ways to get the fare down), or we’ll pay part of the fare with GCs and charge the rest to Aspire.
It seems like we’d have a better chance of success, the lower the charge on the card. But at the same time, there’s $250 to use (and many hundreds next year if we keep most or all of our Amex cards that have the airfare fee credit benefit), so it’s not that helpful if we can only take down $20 at a time.
In any event, we’ll report back in future articles as we conduct the experiments and get DPs that may help Middle Age Miles readers!
Other AA Charges That May Trigger the Credit
During the course of our research, we discovered recent DPs of additional types of charges that may trigger the Amex credit:
- 3 separate FT posters reported that charges for the cash portion of miles + cash upgrades triggered the credit
- “SeattleDavid” on 3/29/2019 ($175 fee reimbursed)
- “saunders111” on 4/29/2019 ($350 fee reimbursed up to $200 cap)
- “wireless_999” on 4/30/2019 ($350 fee reimbursed up to cap)
- 2 FT posters reported that charges for purchasing AA miles using the “Mileage Multiplier” (offered when purchasing a ticket through AA.com) triggered the credit
- “TravelLawyer” on 3/29/2019 (<$25 each for 2 charges)
- “mia” on 4/18/2019 ($224 charge reimbursed up to $200 cap)
- “cyncyn129” reported on 5/8/19 that their purchase of an Admiral’s Club membership was reimbursed up to the cap
Each of these purchases was not necessarily squarely inside Amex’s terms and conditions for application of the credit, but they worked.
If the cash component of miles + cash upgrades reliably trigger the credit, that could be great for a lot of people. We’ve used those before, and we’d do it again if we have a trans-oceanic flight and no SWUs available.
Personally, the Admiral’s Club DP doesn’t really help us, as we prefer to get our membership by holding the Citi AA Executive card. Adding the Middle Age Miles kids as authorized users on this card also gives them access to Admiral’s Clubs, including guesting privileges for up to 2 guests.
Finally, the “Mileage Multiplier” DPs could be useful as a last resort if needed. Purchasing AA miles through a Mileage Multiplier offer generally costs 3.25 cents per AA mile (for instance, we received an offer today to purchase 4,000 AA miles for $130). That’s a terrible deal. Recall that our baseline value of AA miles is only 1.25 cents per mile. Basically, the Aspire’s $250 credit could buy us 7,692 AA miles using the Mileage Multiplier. Our baseline value of those 7,692 miles would be only $96.15. So, this is not an effective use of the credit at all – but if you don’t have anything else to use it on, this may look like a viable option come late December (or if you’re about to cancel or product-change your card)!
Major hat tips to all of the Reddit Churning and FlyerTalk contributors who provided data points that we mentioned in this article. We thoroughly appreciate your efforts, and hopefully our contributions to the community help you as well.
Our research on this subject was certainly eye-opening to us, and we hope it’s interesting and helpful to Middle Age Miles readers too. For now, we’ll choose AA as our preferred airline on our recently Upgraded Aspire card. As opportunities present, we’ll experiment with airfare, post-GC airfare and perhaps other charges, and we’ll report back to you here!
Do you have any experience or data points on cheap AA airfare triggering (or not triggering) Amex airline fee credits? How about DPs on other “incidental” AA charges? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments – thank you!
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