Ever since the demise of the gift-card-purchase method in early 2019, it has become increasingly difficult to effectively use Amex airline fee credits. In 2020, this problem has become even more challenging due to coronavirus-related restrictions bringing air travel to a near-standstill. Like a lot of people, we’ve been struggling and looking for a way to get some decent return out of these potentially valuable credits.
We have identified a way to indirectly convert Amex airline fee credits to American Airlines eVouchers, and we’ve run a complete experiment to confirm that this method works. It’s potentially very valuable, so we wanted to share it with Middle Age Miles readers.
The method is only available for the next 2 days. You must purchase your tickets today (6/29/2020) or tomorrow (6/30/2020) to utilize this strategy.
Disclaimers, Warnings & Risk Factors
We want to recognize at the outset that this strategy is not for everyone. Some may oppose on “moral” grounds; some may find the strategy too risky with Amex and/or AA for their tastes. Let’s examine these issues up front.
Although this strategy complies with Amex’s airline fee credit rules and AA’s current cancellation & change policies, some people may not have a comfort level with it on “moral” grounds. They may believe it takes advantage of AA’s customer-friendly coronavirus policies in a way that was not intended. We certainly respect that point of view.
There are potential risks on the Amex end. The strategy involves booking a ticket with seat selection fees and then cancelling the ticket. Amex has demonstrated that it will claw back credits if the underlying purchase was later refunded. However, in this strategy, there will never be a refund of the fees to the Amex card. To Amex, this method will result in a straightforward transaction that squarely complies with the airline fee credit terms – a purchase of seat selection directly from the airline, followed by routine and automated issuance of the credit. Nothing else will happen on the Amex account.
There is also potential risk on the AA end, that AA could be upset with a person booking and then cancelling flights. If you’re only doing this 1 or 2 times, you’ll almost certainly be fine. But if you’re using this method many times, the risk from AA is certainly increased. On the other hand, though, it’s hard to see why AA would be upset. It’s getting cash in the door from these transactions, which would seem to be a huge positive to AA in the current situation. There’s no doubt that AA is delighted to get cash now in exchange for providing travel sometime in the future. The method seems to be a clear “win” for AA.
In addition, you can (and should) minimize risk with AA by not associating your AAdvantage number with any flights you book using this method. If you’re a Platinum or higher AA elite member, you’ll need to do this anyway, as the method hinges on purchasing seats (and Platinum-and-higher elites don’t pay for seat selection).
All this to say, this strategy is not for everyone, and certainly not for the faint of heart.
Basically, it’s this: (1) Use an Amex card with airline fee credits available on AA; (2) purchase a ticket on AA along with seat selection fees; (3) wait a few days; (4) cancel your ticket; and (5) submit your seat selection fees to AA for issuance of a travel e-voucher.
To make this work, you’ll need to purchase the ticket from AA today (6/29/2020) or tomorrow (6/30/2020), the ticket will have to be for travel on or before 9/30/2020, and the ticket otherwise will have to comply with AA’s current coronavirus no-change-fee/no-cancellation-fee policy.
To maximize this, you’ll need to (a) pay as little as possible for the underlying airfare; and (b) pay seat selection fees that are as close as possible to the amount of airline fee credit you have available.
Puzzle Pieces That Allow This Strategy to Work
The first puzzle piece that allows this strategy to work is the Amex airline fee credit available on certain cards, such as the personal Platinum ($200), Business Platinum ($200), personal Gold ($100) and personal Hilton Aspire ($250) cards.
Amex airline fee credits may only be used to cover incidental fees, including seat selection fees, checked and overweight bag fees, change fees, and the like. For this strategy, the key is that seat selection fees are an expressly-approved use of the airline fee credits.
Also with Amex, you are required to select an airline on which you can use your credits. This strategy requires you to have selected AA as your designated airline, before making any ticket purchases using this strategy.
The next puzzle piece that allows this strategy to work is AA’s current and short-term no-change-fee/no-cancellation-fee policy. Under this policy, change fees are waived if you book on AA for travel through September 30, 2020, and then change or cancel your flight later. Restrictions include that you can only change your trip once, and all travel must be completed on or before December 31, 2021.
You can review AA’s current “No change fee” policy here:
- American Airlines: Travel alerts (information current as of 6/26/2020)
The final puzzle piece is a short-term policy from AA that allows you to “request a voucher for the value of your non-refundable seat if you cancel your trip during the coronavirus travel period and booked by June 30, 2020, for travel through September 30, 2020.” AA put this policy into place very recently as of mid-June. This is actually the linchpin of the strategy – the ability to receive a voucher for seat selection fees purchased in connection with a cancelled flight.
You can see this policy at the following AA webpage – scroll to the bottom of the page, expand the “Terms and conditions” section, and look near the bottom of the T&Cs under the “Request a refund or voucher” section:
- American Airlines: Main Cabin Extra page
(Note that this page will probably change and the critical term is likely to disappear after June 30, so it’s probably a good idea to print or screenshot the page, especially the specific and critical T&C.)
Executing the Strategy
In this section, we’ll walk through the steps necessary to execute on this strategy. We’ll use our confirmed experiment as the example. In this experiment, we purchased a Basic Economy fare for $155.20, with seat selection fees totaling $247.92. We used a Hilton Aspire card that had $250 in Amex airline fee credits available.
Our timeline was as follows:
- 6/17 – Purchase ticket & seat selection
- 6/19 – Airline fee credit posts on our Amex Hilton Aspire card
- 6/22 – Canceled trip (done online at aa.com)
- 6/26 – Requested voucher for seat selection fees (done online at prefunds.aa.com)
- 6/27 – Received e-voucher for seat selection fees
Step 1 – Purchase ticket & seat selection
Here, you’ll want to simply purchase a ticket online at aa.com as usual, along with seat selection at the time of your ticket purchase. The trick is to find a ticket where you minimize your out-of-pocket costs for the airfare, while purchasing seats in an amount as close as possible to the amount of your airline fee credit.
Obviously, in this step you’ll need to use your Amex card with the airline fee credit to pay for the seat selection fees, and you’ll need to have selected AA as your designated airline for the credit in advance.
In our experiment, to use a $250 airline fee credit on a Hilton Aspire card, we found a round-trip Basic Economy fare with one stop in each direction, where the fare was $155.20 and seat selection fees totaled $247.92.
To further minimize out-of-pocket costs, we paid for $150 of the fare using AA gift cards that we’d accumulated using previous promotions. For the fare, that meant that we only had $5.20 new out-of-pocket money for this ticket. The other $150 was already tied up with AA anyway – the only downsides there being that the credits now have a time limit to use them (for travel completed by 12/31/2021), and they’re now tied to a Basic Economy ticket.
On that last point, about the funds now being tied to a Basic Economy (BE) ticket: Based on several conversations with AA agents, we believe that these travel funds generally must be used for a subsequent BE ticket (and not Main Cabin/Premium Economy/Business/First or incidental fees). However, we believe that there is an exception to this limitation – that is, if you’re using the credit to book a flight where a BE fare is not available, then the funds can be used to book a higher fare class. We’ll probably be testing that exception sometime later.
Our Aspire card showed 2 charges from AA – one for the remaining $5.20 in airfare, and one for the $247.92 in seat selection fees.
Step 2 – Wait a few days
Here, you’re waiting for 2 things: One, you must wait past the end of the “full refund” cancellation period. For AA, that means that you have to wait until the 2nd day after you purchased the ticket. And two, we believe it’s a good idea to wait until your airline fee credit posts to your Amex card. This last step probably is not entirely necessary, but it sure gives us peace of mind to know that the credit has posted before we cancel.
In our experiment, we purchased the ticket on 6/17 and the Amex airline fee credit posted automatically, 2 days later on 6/19:
Step 3 – Cancel your ticket
This is a simple step. Just go to aa.com, look up your reservation on the “Find your trip” page, and cancel the reservation online.
In our experiment, we canceled our ticket on 6/22. The AA website confirmed the cancellation. It assured me that I can apply the value of my unused flight ticket toward a future trip. On the seat selection side, the AA website also advised me that I could “request a voucher for the value of [my] non-refundable seat.” But it didn’t provide any instructions on how to request or receive the voucher.
I also immediately received a confirmation email from AA. This email addressed the funds from my ticket and included my ticket number for future reference. But it didn’t mention the voucher for seat selection fees.
To use the value of our ticket in the future ($155.20 in our experiment), we’ll have to call in to AA Reservations and give them our ticket number. It is possible to use multiple ticket credits on a single ticket for future travel. It’s also possible to use only a part of a ticket credit on a future travel ticket and then use the rest of the ticket credit on another flight.
Step 4 – Request a voucher from AA using the prefunds.aa.com website
This is the trickiest and most opaque part of the process. As we mentioned earlier, AA didn’t provide any instructions about the voucher for seat selection fees.
I first tried calling AA. The agent was nice, but she provided me with incorrect information about the voucher for seat selection fees.
I next reached out to AA customer service via Twitter DM (@AmericanAir). They directed me to the AA refunds site (prefunds.aa.com). I had used that site for previous refund requests, and I was skeptical whether it would work to get a voucher for seat selection fees. Upon further examination, I became even more skeptical, because I saw nothing at all about vouchers, just refunds. (And remember, we don’t want a refund here because it will mess up the Amex airline fee credits.) I checked back in with the AA Twitter team, and they re-assured me that vouchers were done through the same site.
I took a leap of faith to request a voucher via the AA refunds site, and it actually worked, even though the site doesn’t say anything about vouchers.
Here’s how you request the refund:
On the prefunds.aa.com home page, on the “Request a Refund” tab, enter the “ticket number” for your seat selection fees (a 13-digit number starting with 001, and the 4th digit is probably a zero; note that this is a different number than the ticket number for your airfare) and your last name.
This should bring up your ticket details, like this:
Press “Continue” and you should next see the Refund Eligibility page:
Press “Continue” again and you’ll be prompted to provide your contact information:
Input your information, and press “Continue” again. This will take you to a Review screen where you can confirm your details.
This Review screen also contains some crucial details at the bottom:
- You can use your voucher to book travel up to 1 year from the issue date.
- Vouchers can’t be used for extras like seats (ironically!)
- Vouchers are non-transferable – can’t be bought, sold, advertised or bartered.
- Voucher will be emailed and you can redeem it on aa.com or call Reservations (basically, just like an AA gift card, but with an expiration date)
- The trip(s) where you use your voucher must begin in the US, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands (again, just like an AA gift card)
Press “Accept” and you’ll be taken to the final “Finish” screen:
I immediately received an email from AA confirming that they had received my “refund” request:
Step 5 – Get your eVoucher
The next day after we submitted our “refund” request for the voucher, we received an email from AA delivering the e-voucher. This seemed like a very quick turnaround time, especially given that we submitted the request on a Friday and received the email on a Saturday. This email confirmed that our e-voucher would be good for one year from the date of issue.
Clicking on the link at the bottom of the email took us to the e-voucher.
The e-voucher confirmed its value to be exactly what we paid for our seat selection fees, $247.92. It has a 19-digit number beginning with 6006 and has 4-digit PIN number, just like an AA gift card.
Remember again that these e-voucher funds are travel funds that can be used for airfare on AA. The AA web page on using e-vouchers contains additional details:
- American Airlines: Using American Airlines eVouchers
We’re not sure, but it looks like these e-vouchers could be used to book airfare for additional travelers and would not be restricted to being used solely for airfare for the person who originally purchased the seat selection fees. (But remember that AA made clear at issuance that the e-vouchers cannot be transferred.) When it comes time to use these, it may make sense to try to use them to book airfare for me and Philly together under a single record locator number. We’ll see if that works. But regardless, we’re delighted to have been able to convert Amex airline fee credit into an e-voucher for travel funds using this strategy!
After we confirmed that this experiment apparently was successful, we went back and booked other tickets to use other Amex airline fee credits. In total, we used about $1,200 in airline fee credits with about $790 in paid airfare. About $760 of the paid airfare came from AA gift cards that we already had, so we only tied up an extra $30 or so of “new money” into AA credits. That was well worth it to us, in order to “unlock” the Amex credits and effectively convert them to AA travel funds, assuming that we continue to be successful with canceling and receiving e-vouchers for our other seat selection fees. We’ll cancel those tickets and request refunds slowly over the next few weeks.
Again, we understand that some people may not be comfortable with this strategy and that it’s not without some risk. But we see so much interest in the subject of how to effectively redeem Amex airline fee credits that we wanted to present this information to our readers so that everyone can understand the process and make their own informed decisions on how to proceed.
And finally – remember that the time frame is very short if you want to utilize this strategy – book by tomorrow (June 30), for travel on or before September 30!
What do you think about this strategy? Do you have other relevant data points? Please let us know in the Comments!
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