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In its efforts to cut costs, American Express closed a loophole that allowed cardholders to use their airline fee credit to reimburse gift cards purchased directly from the airline. Although the terms and conditions have always stated that gift cards are excluded from the credit, this had never been enforced for gift cards purchased in small denominations.
Reports first surfaced last month that Delta and Southwest gift-card purchases had stopped being reimbursed, and now American Airlines purchases are no longer triggering the credit. As far as we know this policy now applies to all airlines; however, if you know of an airline that has yet to be affected, please let us know in the comments.
Same Rules, New Enforcement
Not surprisingly, there has been no formal announcement or acknowledgment from American Express about this change. Since the gift card exclusion has always been explicitly noted in the terms and conditions, this is really a case of a new enforcement strategy rather than a policy change. On its page explaining the benefit, Amex states the following:
This benefit doesn't offer credit toward airline tickets, mileage points purchases or mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, upgrades, duty–free purchases, or award tickets
Before you can receive your fee credit, you need to select a preferred airline.
Based on data points reported on FlyerTalk—a popular points and miles forum—it seems that Amex has new systems for identifying gift-card purchases. In several cases, cardholders made two airline purchases on the same day, one of which was an eligible airline-incidental fee and the other, a gift card. Several days later, the eligible fee was classified as an airline incidental, while the gift-card purchase earned no credit at all.
Although reports are still coming in, it's safe to assume this applies to all Amex credit cards that provide some form of airline incidental credit as one of its perks. Popular cards in this group include:
$250 Airline Incidentals Credit
- You'll receive complimentary top-tier Hilton Diamond status
- A free weekend night certificate when approved for the card and each year after account anniversary, you'll also receive a second free weekend night certificate after spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year
- Complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
- $250 airline incidentals credit, $250 Hilton resort credit, and $100 credit at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties when booking an Aspire Card package
- 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio
- 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly through select rental companies, and at U.S. restaurants
- 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card
$200 Airline Incidentals Credit
- 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
- Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year
- 1X point on other purchases
- Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
$100 Airline Incidentals Credit
- 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide.
- 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X)
- 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
- 1X on other purchases
- Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
This is disappointing news, and it takes a little of the shine off Amex cards offering these fee credits. When you consider that card issuers paid out 22.6 billion in travel rewards in 2016 (and Amex reported a 36% increase in rewards costs that year), it's not surprising they've stepped up their enforcement of the existing rules. For many, it shouldn't be hard to burn through these credits—there's no shortage of “legitimate fees” like checked bags that should trigger a reimbursement. But Amex knows many won't bother to keep track.
If you add your Membership Rewards account to AwardWallet, you'll see your remaining Amex airline fee credit (and expiration date if you're an AwardWallet Plus member) in your list of accounts.
Looking for a card with premium benefits and an easy-to-use airline fee credit? The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a $300 travel credit that gets automatically reimbursed for any travel purchase.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
- Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
- One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit
- 3X points on dining at restaurants
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Source: Doctor of Credit
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