The Amex airline incidental fee credit can save you up to $250 a year on extras like checked bags, but don't assume all purchases will trigger the reimbursement

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  • Several premium Amex cards, including The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, offer airline incidental fee credits as a benefit.
  • When you use your card to pay for an eligible purchase on your selected airline, you'll receive reimbursement in the form of a statement credit, up to a maximum each year — but the benefit resets every calendar year and doesn't roll over.
  • Airline purchases that officially qualify include checked bag fees, seat selection fees, airport lounge passes, and pet fees — but things like airfare or upgrades aren't eligible.
  • Some cardholders have had success getting reimbursed for purchases that aren't explicitly allowed, but there are never any guarantees you'll receive the credit if your transaction doesn't fall within Amex's criteria.
  • Read Business Insider's guide to the best American Express cards.

One of the most valuable benefits offered by premium American Express cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a yearly airline incidental fee credit. When you use your card to pay for extras like checked baggage, seat selection, or in flight purchases on one eligible airline of your choice, you'll receive a statement credit toward the charge, up to a certain amount each year.

The maximum in airline fee credits you can receive varies by card, but in all cases, the benefit resets at the end of the calendar year. As the year draws to a close, some cardholders struggle with how to use up their remaining credits — they don't roll over to the next year, so if you don't use them, you lose them.

Here's where things get a little tricky: American Express only publishes a partial list of airline fees that qualify for reimbursement. And although the terms and conditions for the benefit specifically exclude certain types of airline purchases, some cardholders have had success triggering the credit with transactions that aren't listed as eligible.

We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.


How to use the Amex airline incidental fee credit

Depending on the Amex card you have, you'll receive up to a specified amount in airline incidental fee credits on your selected airline:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express — Up to $200 per calendar year
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express — Up to $200 per calendar year
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card — Up to $250 per calendar year

When you open the card, Amex allows you to choose one airline from a list with which to use the credit, and you can change your selection each January. You can make your selection under the "Benefits" section in your Amex online account, through online chat, or by calling the number on the back of your card.

Airlines eligible for the Amex airline fee credit include:

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

Unofficially, it's possible to change your airline even if it's not January — in the past, many cardholders (self included) have been able to do so easily via online chat — but there's no guarantee this will always work. This can be handy if you've had a change of travel plans, or if it's near the end of the year and you want to use up the credit before it expires.

Once you've made your choice, you'll receive a statement credit toward eligible purchases made with the card on your selected airline, up to the yearly limit. The reimbursement typically posts within a few days of the transaction, although the terms say it can take up to four weeks.

Amex relies on airline transaction data to determine if a charge qualifies for the credit, so if you don't see a statement credit after four weeks, use online chat or call the number on the back of your card for help.

What purchases work for the Amex airline incidental fee credit? 

American Express is very clear about what will not qualify for the airline incidental fee reimbursement. According to the terms and conditions, you won't receive a credit for these types of purchases:

  • Airline tickets (basically, airfare)
  • Upgrades
  • Mileage points purchases
  • Mileage points transfer fees
  • Gift cards
  • Duty-free purchases
  • Award tickets

However, these exclusions haven't always been strictly enforced. For example, until mid-2019, gift card purchases from certain airlines would trigger the reimbursement even though they weren't technically allowed.

In the past, some cardholders have been credited for cheap airfare purchases (typically less than $100) on certain airlines. And there have been recent reports from people who've received statement credits for United Travel Bank purchases — that's essentially a United account you add money to which you can use to pay for flights later.

That doesn't mean these purchases will necessarily work for you, so proceed with caution if you use the card to pay for a fee that isn't explicitly included. 

Officially, the airline incidental fee credit reimbursement will cover the following charges:

  • Checked baggage fees (including overweight and oversize fees)
  • Itinerary change fees
  • Phone reservation fees
  • Pet flight fees
  • Seat assignment fees
  • Inflight amenity fees (beverages, food, pillows and blankets, headphones)
  • Inflight entertainment fees (excluding wireless internet, which isn't usually charged by the airline)
  • Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships

Anecdotal reports from cardmembers suggest other incidental fees — not mentioned by Amex — are also eligible, including priority boarding, award ticket cancellation, and mileage-redeposit fees. However, be aware that because such fees are not on the official list, you may have trouble getting reimbursement if it doesn't appear automatically.

Remember, these purchases only qualify if they're with your selected airline. 

What to do if you haven't used all your Amex airline fee credits

Many people aren't traveling as much or at all due to the pandemic, so cardholders might find themselves unable to use all of their Amex airline fee credits right now. Because these credits are a good way to partially offset the hefty annual fees on these cards, it's natural to want to maximize them before they reset at the end of the year.

Even if you don't have immediate travel plans, here are a few options (all of which are officially eligible) for using up your Amex airline fee credit before the new year:

  • Pre-pay for checked baggage fees, seat assignment fees, or pet fees for flights you've booked later in 2021 (note that this won't work if you pay the fees at the same time you book the ticket — it has to be a separate charge)
  • Buy airport lounge passes for yourself or as a gift to use in the future (just be mindful of expiration dates)
  • Offer to pay for a friend or family member's checked bags or seat selection fees if they're traveling soon

If you are traveling but won't have any fees or purchases to make, you could always pay for someone else's bag fee at the check-in counter or treat your seatmate to an inflight beverage or snack. You'll have the satisfaction of using up your credits, and will make someone's day a little better at the same time.

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