How to maximize your Amex airline fee credit

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The industry’s most popular travel credit cards offer valuable benefits to make up for their annual fees, but The Platinum Card® from American Express continues to stand out year after year.

This premier credit card offers a combination of the best benefits available, ranging from broad airport lounge access to Gold status with the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy programs and access to the Amex Platinum concierge.

This card also comes with up to a $200 airline fee credit each year that can help consumers save money when they fly with a specific airline. However, you really need to know how this credit works to make the most of it.

What is the Amex Airline fee credit?

The Amex airline fee credit is good for one airline of your choosing, and you have to commit to that airline once per year in January. You can do so by logging into your Amex account or visiting www.americanexpress.com/airlinechoice. Once you make your selection, you’ll receive up to $200 in automatic credits to your credit card when you use it to pay for “incidental travel expenses.”

Note that this credit will be applied to your credit card automatically within four weeks of a qualified charge posting to your account. You can also qualify for this credit in any increments you want, meaning you don’t have to use all $200 of your credit at once.

Choosing the right airline for you

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

Fortunately, the airlines you can choose from are popular and ones you may already fly. Your options include:

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

Your best bet is choosing the airline you’ll fly most often during a cardmember year, as well as one where you are more likely to face expenses you could use your Amex airline fee credit to cover. If you fly with Delta a few times per year and get sick of paying their $30 fee for a first checked bag, for example, selecting them for your Amex fee credit could be a smart move.

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.

Here’s part of what American Express says in its fine print:

“Incidental air travel fees must be charged to the Card Member on the eligible Card Account for the benefit to apply. Incidental air travel fees charged by both the Basic and Additional Card Members on the eligible Card Account are eligible for statement credits. However, each Card Account is eligible for up to a total of $200 per calendar year in statement credits across all Cards on the Account. Incidental air travel fees must be separate charges from airline ticket charges. Fees not charged by the Card Member’s airline of choice (e.g. wireless internet and fees incurred with airline alliance partners) do not qualify for statement credits.”

Also, be aware of all the purchases you cannot use this credit for, which are outlined clearly by American Express. 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.”

While there may be others, you can use your airline fee credit for the following:

Checked baggage

Many airlines charge $30 or more for each checked bag, yet this airline fee credit can be used to cover up to $200 of 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 typically does not qualify since it’s usually handled by a third party instead of the airline.

Seat selection

Airlines love nickel and diming passengers for preferred seats or even the option to select a seat at all. Fortunately, the Amex airline fee credit will work for seat selection with your chosen airline.

Pet fees

You can also 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 love paying for 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 an annual membership. If American Airlines is your chosen airline, for example, you could use the $200 airline fee credit toward an Admirals Club visit or membership.

Change fees

In instances where you wind up having to change your flight, airlines will charge a change fee that can easily be upward of $150 or more. 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.

How to use the Amex fee credit when you can’t travel

While it was possible to use your Amex airline fee credit for gift cards several years ago, this is no longer the case. In the event you cannot travel, however, you can use up your airline fee credit in the following ways:

  • Buying 500-mile upgrades if your chosen airline is American
  • Paying for airfare memberships when you cannot fly, such as the $9 Fare Club with Spirit Airlines or Frontier’s Discount Den

Other Amex cards with airline fee credits

Several other American Express credit cards offer an airline fee credit you could take advantage of. If you’re considering multiple travel credit cards or getting a separate card for your business, these options are worth considering.

Note that some of the cards that offer airline fee credits also let you earn points in the valuable American Express Membership Rewards program. This program lets you rack up points good for travel, gift cards, transfers to Amex airline and hotel partners and more.

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

The bottom line

Airline fee credits can help you save on incidental charges but don’t forget to read the fine print. American Express makes you choose an airline for your credit at the beginning of each year, which makes their credits 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 in value could easily go to waste.