Money at 30: Using My American Express Airline Incidentals Credit
Over the past two years, I’ve loved using the benefits that my American Express Platinum Card has afforded me. In fact, said perks have also evolved in just the past couple of years, with some temporary additions coming in 2020 and a big overhaul arriving just a few months ago. Yet, amid these changes, one of the card’s more complicated features has remained: the airline incidentals credit.
To catch you up, as a Platinum cardholder, you’ll earn up to $200 in statement credits triggered by “airline incidentals.” This $200 credit is a pretty big deal considering the card’s former $550 and now $695 annual fee, so it’s definitely in your best interest to use it each year. Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done as the list of qualifying purchases is limited — and has even shrunk in recent years as Amex grew hip to some hacks and loopholes. Thus, I’ve barely been able to use this credit since being a cardholder… until last week!
Given the excitement I feel now that I’ve finally been able to tap this resource, I wanted to take a look at how the Platinum card’s airline incidentals credit worked out for me this time and why I still wish it would be updated for the future.
American Express Airline Incidental Fee Credit: What it Is and How I Used Mine
What can airline incidental credit be used for?
As I alluded to, Amex’s airline incidental fee credit can only be used for select purchases. First and foremost, airfare itself is explicitly excluded from this credit, with upgrades also being ineligible. Also, while gift cards may have worked in the past, they are a no-go these days. I will say that, if you do some digging on FlyerTalk or other message boards, you may find a couple of hacks that still work for now — although try these only at your own risk (risk of being found out by Amex and seeing your credit clawed back or just not getting the credit in the first place).
So what does count? Officially, here are a few examples:
- Baggage fees
- Seat selection fees
- In-flight food
- Some airline lounge fees (such as buying a guest pass for a Delta SkyClub)
Making matters even more complicated, some purchases will work for some airlines but not others. For example, while WiFi purchases might show as an airline purchase for some, other carriers use third parties, making it so transactions won’t code properly for reimbursement.
And speaking of different carriers, you’ll need to select one for which your incidentals will trigger the credit. The current list of options is as follows:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Spirit Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airline
Surely you now have a better idea as to why this particular Amex benefit can be so hit or miss and can be difficult for some like to me use. Nevertheless, let’s look at how I was able to make use of it — starting with making an update to my profile.
Changing my airline
Since Delta is my domestic airline of choice, they’re also who I happened to select when I opted into this benefit. However, since I planned to fly American for my Thanksgiving travels, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to use my credit and worried that I would have trouble changing my choice. Well, those fears were completely unfounded as swapping my pick was (nearly) as easy as it could be. On the Amex site, I was able to launch a service chat. Once a rep came on, I told them I wished to change my selection to American. After confirming, I was all set and the Benefits page of my account reflected the update.
Of course, while this was indeed easy, it’d be even easier if Amex just let you change it yourself at any time. Still, I’ll take what I can get as the process was still pretty quick and didn’t require me to pick up a phone. That’s a win in my book.
Using my credit
To be honest, I nearly forgot about my airline fee incidental credit until my wife pointed out that, on top of the fares we were looking at, I’d need to pay extra if I wanted to reserve a seat. That’s when I realized that such an expense would likely qualify for the credit — which is when I decided to contact Amex to make the change. Still, there was one more hoop I needed to jump through.
While I could have selected seats when making my initial booking, I was worried that this would result in just a single flight + seats transaction and, thus wouldn’t trigger my credit. Indeed, I’ve read anecdotes that suggest this is exactly the case. So, instead, I finished my main booking while forgoing seat selection and then went in and added my picks separately.
All in all, my four seat selections came to a frankly ridiculous $112. After a couple of days of the transaction pending, I saw that Amex had credited me back this amount. Victory!
On top of that, when my first flight was delayed and I needed to book a different connecting flight, I once again had an additional fee of $46 for that flight’s seat selection. Similar to the first go-round, this fee was also credited within a couple of business days. Making matters interesting, American Airlines then refunded the $27 I paid for the initial seat (the one on the flight I had to cancel and rebook). I am curious to see if Amex ends up clawing back that $27 in airline credit. They’d actually be well in their right to do so seeing as I currently turned $27 of credit into $27 cash if you think about it. Of course, I wasn’t trying to get away with anything and I can’t be the first person that experience such a situation… so we’ll see.
For the record, I also planned on using up more of my credit by purchasing food on-board my longer flights, but they must not have been long enough to warrant such sales. I suppose it’s just as well.
How could this perk be improved?
Despite the fact that I was able to make the Amex airline incidental fee credit work for me this time, there are still plenty of ways I think this perk could be better. The most obvious option is simply moving to something akin to what the Chase Sapphire Reserve has: a travel credit that can be used on any travel purchase! What a novel idea. A runner-up proposal would be to keep it airline-specific but allow it to be used on any airline booking made via Amex Travel. This is actually somewhat similar to what the new Capital One Venture X does and would also make a good companion perk to the recently-added $200 annual Hotel Credit (valid on qualifying American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts or Hotel Collection Bookings).
Short of those major changes, I’d also be a lot happier if they just expanded the list of eligible airlines. While such discount carriers like Spirit are currently options, Allegiant Air is notably absent. That’s key for me as I incur far more “incidentals” flying with them than I do with, say, Delta — especially when I’m flying internationally. So, while I’d bet that Amex is more inclined to remove this credit rather than improve it, I hope they at least consider some of these options.
Even though the other perks of the American Express Platinum card make it so I still get positive value from the card despite its pricey annual fee, it’s always nice when I can utilize even more of the benefits made available to me. On that note, though, I still wouldn’t put the actual value I received from this transaction at the $112 it technically provided me. Instead, if I were paying out of pocket, I probably would have spent closer to $50 by scaling back on the options I choose — still, $50 is $50 and I’m glad things worked out.
For those still looking to tap their credits before the new year, hopefully you can find similar use cases for upcoming holiday travel. Meanwhile, here’s also hoping that Amex finally improves this feature in the future…although I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Also published on Medium.