Key takeaways

  • The Amex airline fee credit can help offset the high annual fees of the premium cards that offer it.
  • Cover purchases such as checked bag fees, seat selection and in-flight food or entertainment with your airline fee credit.
  • You must pre-select the airline with which you’ll use your fee credit by Jan. 31 of each year.

Many of the most popular travel credit cards offer valuable benefits and rewards to justify their annual fees.

Some premium cards, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and other Amex cards, even offer annual credits that can help directly reimburse your spending.

The Amex airline fee reimbursement, in particular, can help frequent travelers save money when they fly with a specific airline. Here’s more about how this credit works so you can make the most of it each year.

What is the Amex airline fee credit?

The Amex airline fee credit is a benefit offered on select American Express credit cards. These include, among others:

The fee credit is good for one airline of your choosing, and you have to pre-select that airline once per year in January. You can do so by logging in to your Amex account online. Once you make your selection, you’ll receive up to the allotted amount in automatic credits to your credit card when you use it to pay for “incidental travel expenses.”

Amex will apply the credit to your statement automatically within four weeks of a qualified charge posting to your account. You can also make qualifying purchases in any increment, meaning you don’t have to use the full credit all at once.

Choosing the right airline for yourself

The first step to maximizing the Amex airline fee credit is making sure you pick your airline strategically. You can switch up your chosen airline by Jan. 31 of each year, but you cannot switch your preferred airline in the middle of the year if your travel plans change.

Fortunately, there are plenty of popular airlines to choose from:

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

Don’t assume that your most frequently used airline is the best one to choose for this credit. You may not use the incidental credit with an airline with which you already have status or credits for incidental charges. Instead, consider choosing an airline you fly only sometimes, but often enough to fully use the available credit.

For instance, if you achieve American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Pro status with your annual travel, you already receive three free checked bags. In this instance, you could decide to make Delta your Amex fee credit airline so you can use that credit to cover the checked bag fees for the handful of flights you take with Delta each year.

What is covered by the airline fee credit?

According to the terms and conditions of this offer, the Amex airline fee credit is good for “incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments.” In other words, you can use the fee credit to cover expenses you might encounter in the course of flying, but not for any major component of the airfare itself.

The credit will apply to both charges made by you and any additional cardmembers you add to your account, according to the benefit’s fine print. However, the $200 (or $250) limit is applied across all eligible spending on the cards combined. What’s more, fees not charged directly by the airline, including in-flight Wi-Fi or fees with airline alliance partners, don’t qualify.

You should be aware of all the purchases you cannot use this credit for, which American Express outlines clearly. According to the card issuer, “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.”

You can, however, use your airline fee credit for the following:

Checked baggage

Many airlines charge $30 or more for each checked bag. You can use your airline fee credit to cover those charges.

In-flight entertainment

Movies, tablet rental fees and other in-flight entertainment options can qualify for this credit. However, in-flight internet access may not qualify if it’s handled by a third party instead of the airline.

Seat selection

Paying to select your seat could qualify; however, you need to pay for that selection separately from booking your ticket. Charges rolled in with the purchase of your ticket won’t earn the credit.

Pet fees

You can use your Amex airline fee credit for pet fees whenever you fly with your furry friend.

Priority boarding

If you don’t have an airline credit card that offers priority boarding as a cardholder perk, using your Amex airline fee credit for this purpose is a smart idea. This is especially true if you choose Southwest Airlines for your fee credit and frequently pay for early bird seating. Remember, book your tickets in a separate transaction from purchasing the early bird seating.

Phone booking fees

In the rare instance where you cannot book your flight online, you can use your airline fee credit to cover fees charged by airlines for booking over the phone.

Best ways to use your airline incidental fee credit

The options above are good ones, but there are a few more ways to use your airline incidental fees to your advantage. Some of the most creative and lucrative options include:

Airport lounge access

As long as you’re spending with your chosen airline, you can use your Amex airline fee credit to pay for individual lounge visits or even an annual membership. If American Airlines is your chosen airline, for example, you could use the airline fee credit toward an Admirals Club visit or membership.

Change fees

Airlines often charge a change fee that can easily top $150 or more when you need to alter your flight. If you’re changing a flight with the airline you chose for your Amex airline fee credit, you can see all or part of the charge wiped from your credit card statement.

Anything that qualifies! Just don’t let it go to waste

The Amex airline fee credit effectively reduces the cost of carrying these high-annual-fee cards, so don’t waste it! It’s certainly ideal to strategically use the credit to offset an expense you would have to pay anyway rather than buying unneeded airplane food and drinks just to use it up. With the cost of checked bags and seat selection these days, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a way to use the full credit.

The bottom line

Airline fee credits can help you save on incidental charges with your preferred airline, but don’t forget to read the fine print. American Express makes you choose a single airline for your credit at the beginning of each year, which can make this benefit considerably less valuable than flexible credits like the $300 annual travel credit offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

You’ll get the most out of this credit if you choose your airline strategically and know which purchases apply. If you don’t have a plan to use your Amex airline fee credit throughout the year, $200 or more in value could go to waste.

*The information about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express has been collected independently by The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.