How to Change or Choose Your Airline for Amex Credits

by Shelli Stein

American Express has an awesome lineup of travel credit cards. Some of the annual fees on these cards are high, though they come with extensive benefits to offset the fees. One of the annual rebates offered on the cards that helps offset the annual fee is the Amex airline incidental credit.

Many travelers holding the American Express cards that offer these airline incidental credits are not sure how to take advantage of the airline incidental credit and what it can cover. Though the airline credit will not rebate airfare, it does cover other fees incurred from an airline both inflight and while at airports.

For existing American Express cardholders, your airline selection will be kept from the previous year. Once the new year begins though, you can change your designated airline through January 31. After that, officially you can’t change it for the rest of the calendar year

I might be stating the obvious when I say that benefits are only beneficial when we know what they are and how best to use them. So let’s dig in and take a closer look at the airline incidental credit: what it is and some of the best ways to maximize it.

What is the American Express Airline Incidental Credit?

Both the Amex Platinum card and the Business Platinum Card® from American Express include a $200 airline incidental fee credit. The American Express® Gold Card has a $100 fee credit. The Hilton Aspire Card® has a $250 credit.

This credit is usable on inflight expenses on ONE specific airline of your choosing. Some of the items American Express lists as eligible for reimbursement include inflight refreshments and checked bag fees.

Unfortunately, things like airline tickets, gift cards, and points purchases aren’t eligible for reimbursement.

Here’s what the terms and conditions have to say:

“Incidental air travel fees charged prior to selection of a qualifying airline are not eligible for statement credits. 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. The airline must submit the charge under the appropriate merchant code, industry code, or required service or product identifier for the charge to be recognized as an incidental air travel fee.”

You select your airline and then charge these designated expenses to your American Express card. You are then automatically reimbursed with a statement credit within 4 weeks of the charge posting to your account.

Pro Tip: The airline incidental credit becomes yours on January 1 of each year. It does not roll over, so it’s use it or lose it.

Alaska Airlines Free Travel Voucher SF Giants Game Hawaii

How to Select an Airline for Your American Express Airline Incidental Credit

Some premium credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card come with a more general travel credit. With the Amex travel credit, you are limited to using it on a single airline. You can select your airline when you receive your card and change it once per year.

You can pick from the following airlines:

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

Remember to select an airline before using the airline incidental credit. Charges made to your account before selecting an airline are not eligible for reimbursement, so select your preferred airline as soon as you receive your Amex card and have a trip booked.

Pro Tip: Make sure you’re not OVERPAYING for hotels. If I’m paying cash for a hotel stay, I always use Pruvo to save money.

How to Designate your Amex Credit Card Airline Choice for Incidental Credits

Go to the American Express website, log in to your account, and select your credit card choice. Then, click on the Benefits tab on the bar at the top of the screen.

Here’s you will find the benefits included with your Amex card. Scroll down to the options for Airline Fee Credit and click on Learn More. Choose your airline using the drop-down menu at the center of the screen.

PRO TIP: Should you want to check your remaining balance on your incidental spending, return to the Airline Fee Credit on the Benefits page. It shows your remaining balance.

These Are the 9 Best Ways to Use Your Airline Incidental Fee Credit

Even though the Amex airline incidental fee credit cannot be used towards plane tickets, points purchases, or gift cards, there are still plenty of ways to use the credit.

Airport Lounge Day Passes and Annual Memberships

You can use your Amex credit to buy day passes to:

  • Alaska Airlines Boardroom
  • American Airlines Admirals Club
  • Delta Sky Club
  • United Club

Remember that when buying a day pass, the lounge of your choice must match your designated airline for the fee to be covered by the incidental credit allowance.

Change Fees

Flight change fees can be expensive, so this can be a great fee to have rebated with the incidental credit. A change fee is different than a fare increase fee, though. The incidental credit will not likely cover the airfare difference.

Checked Baggage Fees

Plan on checking a bag that isn’t included with your ticket fare? The incidental credit will cover the fee on your selected airline.

Checking to see standby flight options

Inflight Entertainment Fees

The incidental fee credit will cover inflight entertainment fees like TV, movies, and tablet rentals when the rental fees are charged directly to your Amex card by your chosen airline.

Unfortunately, this does not cover inflight internet as this is generally billed by a third-party. So ask ahead and find out more before assuming this charge will be reimbursed.

Inflight Amenities Such As Food, Drink, and Headphones

Most other inflight purchases you might make are covered. Offerings and inflight amenities such as headphones, blankets on budget carriers, food, and drink are reimbursable. These are almost always charged by the airline, rather than a third party, and will be automatically be reimbursed by your Amex incidental fee credit.

Seat Selection Fees

Paying to select a seat on your next flight? Seat selection fees are another option for spending your airline incidental fee credit. Flying a low-cost airline or paying for a basic economy flight that doesn’t include a free seat selection? The incidental credit covers paying for your seat.

Pet Flight Fees

If you’re taking your “best friend” along with you on your flight, use your Amex incidental credit to cover the pet fee.

Flying With Your Pet

Flying With Your Pet

Phone Booking Fees

You can often avoid fees by doing tasks online. However, there still may be times when you need to call to book an award ticket or a flight. If you cannot get the airline’s agent to waive this fee, your Amex incidental fee credit will cover it.

Priority Boarding

Priority boarding purchases work well as an incidental credit option. This can be useful on Southwest Airlines because priority boarding often gets you the best seats. Always remember that the incidental fees will only cover priority boarding fees on your designated airline.

Unofficial Ways to Redeem the Incidental Fee Credit

The options below are ways that do seem to work for some travelers. There’s no guarantee that these will work for you. So as with anything “unofficial”, your mileage may vary.

Admirals Club Food or Drink Purchases

A number of American Airlines Admirals Club locations have premium food and drink available for purchase. Because they are billed directly from American Airlines, these purchases are reimbursed

American Airlines’ 500-Mile Upgrades

American Airlines requires Gold and Platinum elite members to use 500 miles to request an upgrade to first class on flights over 500 miles. For flying you can earn these certificates. For $40 they can also be purchased. Reports show that purchasing these certificates does get reimbursed as an incidental fee credit.

Sub-$150 Airfare on Select Airlines

There are reports of sub-$150 fares on Southwest and JetBlue being reimbursed by the incidental fee credit. For example, sub-airfare for Hawaiian is $50, JetBlue is under $150, and Alaska and Southwest are under $100. But again, this is very much something you should try at your own risk as the purchase will code as airfare.

Split Airfare for Alaska and Delta

Here’s an example of how that can work. Let’s say you have a Delta voucher for $50 and you find airfare for $150. Delta treats the $100 you have to pay as an “additional collection” and they split tender ($50 from voucher, $100 from Amex). The additional collection coding triggers the credit.

$9 Fare Club (Spirit Airlines) and Discount Den (Frontier Airlines) Memberships

Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines both have members-only discount clubs under the names $9 Fare Club and Discount Den respectively. These programs provide access to discounted tickets and include other perks, but have an annual fee.

We’ve seen both $9 Fare Club and Discount Den memberships being reimbursed by American Express. Definitely keep this in mind if you’re a frequent ultra-low-cost carrier as it can save you a considerable chunk of change as you travel throughout the year.

$5.60 TSA Passenger Security Fee on Award Tickets

The $5.60 TSA Passenger Security fee reimbursement on multiple award tickets is another unofficial option.

Award Fees and Taxes

For Delta and Jetblue here is another option. On international itineraries these fees can be over $100 and it’s a nice way to use your credits. This generally works up to $200.

These Purchases Do Not Qualify for the Airline Incidental Credit

While it’s important to have a DO QUALIFY list, it’s equally as important to know what doesn’t qualify for receiving your credit.

Award Taxes And Fees

These fees don’t “officially” get reimbursed. These purchases code as airfare when posted to your American Express card.

Airline Gift Card Purchases

For a long time, airline gift card purchases were a favorite option for redeeming the airline incidental fee credit. However, these no longer seem to qualify.

Class of Service Upgrades

Unfortunately, cabin upgrades are not eligible for reimbursement.

Inflight Wi-Fi

As mentioned earlier, inflight Wi-Fi generally does not qualify for the incidental fee credit. A third-party bills for this charge. However, it’s always good to check with your chosen airline to see if this is the case.

What if my Purchase isn’t Automatically Reimbursed?

Life has hiccups. While American Express states it will reimburse eligible charges within 4 weeks, this isn’t always the case. Be proactive. Call the number on the back of your card if you’re not reimbursed for an eligible charge. You can also use American Express’s live chat service to request reimbursement.

To Recap: Here’s What’s Most Important To Know!

What airlines can I choose from?
You can pick from the following U.S. airlines. You can only redeem your credit on the airline you choose, and you can only change your selection once per calendar year.

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

Which American Express cards come with an airline incidental fee credit?

The following 4 American Express cards come with an airline incidental fee credit. Alongside each card I’ve listed the credit amount.

The Platinum Card – $200
Business Platinum Card – $200
Hilton Aspire Card® – $250

Can I use my airline incidental credit towards airfare?
Generally speaking, no. The terms and conditions prohibit this.

Can I cash out my incidental fee credit if I don’t use it?
No, you must use the entirety of the incidental fee credit before the end of a calendar year. Otherwise, the credit will expire.

When does the airline incidental credit renew?
You will receive the amount per year in incidental fee credit. The credit renews on January 1st of the calendar year.

Will I earn points on purchases reimbursed by the incidental fee credit?
Yes, you will still earn points on reimbursed purchases.

Final Thoughts

The American Express card’s airline incidental fee credit may be limited. However, their cards still offer a whole lot of value. You save money and also have a better travel experience with extra checked bags, lounge access, and many more options.

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