Last chance for 2020: A guide to the Amex Platinum $200 airline fee credit

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. 

The Platinum Card® from American Express is packed with premium benefits. In normal times, one of the most generous perks of the premium credit card is the annual credit for up to $200 in airline fees. When used properly, the perk can take out a chunk of the sting of the card’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

This credit operates on a calendar year basis, which means the timeframe to use up your 2020 credit is quickly coming to an end.

Normally, you must designate your airline of choice either online or over the phone after getting the Amex Platinum. Normally, you can change your selection once each year in January. If you don’t take any action, your selection will remain the same. You have a calendar year to spend the $200, regardless of when you got your card. So, it’s possible to get two $200 airline-fee credits within your first year of card membership.

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But 2020 has been anything but normal, and with so many cardholders staying firmly on the ground, using this credit has been harder than usual this year. So, we’ll walk you through some typical rules and use-cases as we all start to plan for 2021 and offer some last-minute 2020 advice and caveats.

In This Post

Choose the right airline

If you have an Amex Platinum, each January, you can click here to select/change your airline choice — you’ll need to log in to access your Amex account. You can also access the airline selection screen by scrolling to the “Benefits” section of your online account. Either way, you’ll see that you can choose from the following airlines:

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

However, this year specifically, Amex has been very lenient permitting some airline selection changes well beyond the usual Jan. 31 deadline if you just call or use the online chat feature and ask. I changed my selection for the year using the chat feature from Frontier to United this fall when it was clear my original travel plans weren’t going to happen.

Generally speaking, you might assume that the airline you most frequently fly with is the one to choose. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend picking your primary airline, since many fees are waived if you have elite status or a cobranded credit card with that airline.

Instead, consider an airline with which you’re likely to incur at least $200 in fees each year.

For example, if you fly United most frequently and you hold elite status, but also fly American some during the year, you’ll potentially be better off choosing American for your airline-fee credit. You could use that credit for seat assignments, extra legroom seats, bag fees, onboard drinks or food, etc.

Don’t forget about the low-cost carriers either.

You can designate ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier (where Kids Fly Free) or Spirit as your selected airline. That’s not a bad strategy if you fly those carriers. With all of the fees charged by these airlines, using the Amex Platinum credit should be really easy. Seat-assignment fees, checked and carry-on bag fees, onboard snacks and drinks and more could use up the annual credit in a hurry.

What’s covered by the airline-fee credit

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Generally, the following incidental fees will be reimbursed by using the Amex Platinum credit, as long as you purchase them separately from the airline ticket (so the purchase will show up as a different transaction):

  • Checked baggage fees
  • Overweight/oversize baggage fees
  • Change fees
  • Phone reservation fees
  • Pet flight fees
  • Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships
  • Seat assignment fees
  • Inflight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows/blankets, etc.)
  • Inflight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet)

As you can imagine, it’s not difficult for many travelers to use the airline-fee credit in a normal year. You could select Spirit Airlines as your airline and then use the credit to purchase Big Front Seats or snacks and to check bags. Or, if your plans frequently change, choose an airline where you incur significant change fees each year. Or, based on the sky-high pet fees on most — but not all — airlines, you may use up your airline-fee credit on just one or two flights with your pet.

If American Airlines is your selected airline, check out this post on which American Airlines expenses trigger the Amex airline-fee credit. And here’s a real-world look at what triggers the fee credit across more airlines.

According to the terms, the Amex Platinum airline-fee credit is not applicable for the following fees:

  • Fees charged to other card accounts (besides authorized user accounts)
  • Charges that aren’t separate from airline ticket payments (for example, you may pay to select seats when purchasing a ticket)
  • Fees not charged by the cardmember’s airline of choice (for example, wireless internet and fees incurred with airline alliance partners)
  • Incidental air travel fees charged prior to selection of a qualifying airline
  • Airline tickets
  • Upgrades
  • Mileage points purchases
  • Mileage points transfer fees
  • Gift cards
  • Duty-free purchases
  • Award tickets

The airline must submit the charge under the appropriate merchant code and required service or product identifier for the charge to be recognized as an incidental air travel fee. Allow two to four weeks after each charge for the statement credit to post to your account. But if the credit hasn’t posted after four weeks, you can call the number on the back of the card to get the credit manually approved for valid charges.

In the past, there were ways to get gift cards for some airlines reimbursed through the airline-fee credit. However, most gift card or credit type of options are no longer working as of July 2019, based on tests from TPG staffers and data points from the TPG Lounge. It is possible some types of flight credit purchases may trigger the reimbursement, but that’s very subject to change.

One other option that does appear to be working is to pay for a portion of a Delta ticket with a gift card, and then charge the remainder to your Amex Platinum.

As reported and confirmed personally by TPG’s Richard Kerr, the remaining airfare becomes an “additional collection” and triggers the reimbursement credit. Sometimes other small airline ticket purchases also trigger the credit, as have some purchases of smaller ($50-ish) amounts of future airline travel credit.

However, those are all off-label uses that could change at any time.

Other Amex cards with airline-fee credits

The Amex Platinum isn’t the only Amex card that offers an annual airline-fee credit (up to a certain amount). The following Amex cards also offer credits:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (up to $250)
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200)

The American Express® Gold Card also has a $100 airline free credit in 2020 and 2021, but will be eliminating that benefit in 2022.

The details of the airline-fee credit on these cards and the Amex Platinum are similar. But, there’s one important wrinkle for the Business Platinum Card. Business Platinum cardholders receive a 35% rebate on any points redeemed for business- or first-class travel on qualifying airlines when booked through (up to 500,000 points back per calendar year).

So Business Platinum cardholders may want to select an airline for which they use points to purchase economy tickets for their annual airline credit, as opposed to one where they’ll definitely incur fees that can be offset by the credit.

If you don’t already have the Business Platinum Card, now is an excellent time to apply. The card is currently offering 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of account opening.

How to use the Amex airline fee credit if you aren’t flying

Unlike the annual $300 Chase Sapphire Reserve® travel credit that can be used at grocery stores and gas stations through Dec. 31, 2020, the annual Amex Platinum’s airline fee credit hasn’t become more flexible during the pandemic.

However, Amex has introduced other new benefits to Platinum cardholders. This includes an up to $20 monthly streaming credit and up to $20 cell phone credit, both valid through the end of 2020.

As for using the airline fee credit itself, there are a few ways to use it even if you aren’t flying in 2020.

  • Pay for seat assignments on 2021 flights.
  • Purchase airline lounge day passes for future use. These are often valid for one year from purchase during normal times, potentially longer in some cases during the pandemic.
  • Allow an authorized user who is traveling again to put the fee credit to use on one of their flights. Remember you can try and change the airline selected for the year if that helps with putting it to use.
  • Join the Frontier Discount Den or Spirit $9 Club
  • Purchase Southwest EarlyBird boarding for future Southwest flights

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

For rates & fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.

Featured image by Chris Rank/Rank Studios 2017

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