Another day, another bank pushing us toward Chase.
I don’t know what’s going on recently but it feels like the credit card universe is lining things up to give Chase more and more business. First, Citi cut all travel benefits from its cards including the Citi Prestige. Now, the airline fee credit that comes with some American Express cards has become even more difficult to use.
Put simply, while the airline fee credit perk offered by several Amex cards did not allow airline gift cards to trigger the statement credit, that had never been enforced. Now, that has changed. Amex is certainly within its rights to do this and we don’t think people should be complaining if a loophole didn’t work for them.
However, this is just another reminder of how Amex has made using card benefits unnecessarily complicated for its customers.
Amex Airline Fee Credit Backstory
For years, American Express has had cards that offer an airline fee credit. Unlike the travel credit with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige (Learn More), this credit has more limitations though there have been ways around them.
To start, you are required to preselect an airline on which to use your airline fee credit. You cannot use this credit on any airline you choose. You must select one for the calendar year — some have been able to get it switched mid-year before using any of the credit. Additionally, you must choose one of the following airlines:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
If that weren’t enough of a hurdle, only some purchases are eligible for reimbursement. In fact, paying for a flight or even just the taxes/fees on an award ticket you booked with miles won’t cut it. You won’t even be able to use it to pay for an upgrade. Here are the charges that are eligible for reimbursement.
- Checked bag fees
- Overweight or oversized bag
- Seat assignment
- Inflight amenities such as food and beverage
- Ticket change
- Phone booking
- Inflight entertainment (not WiFi)
- Lounge day passes
- Annual lounge membership
You’ll notice that airline gift cards are not included in the eligible purchases. However, this has not been enforced so many have been able to utilize this benefit in a much more useful way – ya know, use the gift card toward paying for a flight.
Airline Gift Cards No Longer Work
While we’ve seen delays in airline fee credits being triggered by airline gift cards in the past, it was always temporary and things worked out fine. Even this year, we saw American Airlines gift cards not trigger the credit but then return again.
Unfortunately, gift cards from all airlines seem to no longer work. At this point, there have been too many data points for too long to say that this change is temporary.
Amex Cards With Airline Fee Credits
Many have counted on being able to purchase airline gift cards to use this perk and help take the sting out of some steep annual fees. If you have one of the following cards, you’ll need to consider how you might be able to use the airline credit going forward:
- American Express Gold Card (Learn More): $100 credit
- The Platinum Card from American Express (Learn More): $200 credit
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express (Learn More): $200 credit
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (Learn More): $250 credit
If you’re considering one of these cards, consider how you might use the airline fee credit before you apply.
Why This Matters
The difficulty in using the Amex airline fee credits has been a point of contention for cardholders for as long as the credits have been available. Rather than providing a nice perk that’s easy to understand, American Express has gone out of its way to make it inconvenient.
It’s not just the airline fee credits that cause headaches for Amex cardholders, though. The Amex Platinum provides $200 in Uber credit but dishes it out $15 per month — $35 in December. However, you have to use it or lose it. The credit doesn’t roll over to the next month if you don’t use it one month.
Additionally, the Amex Platinum offers a $100 statement credit to Sakes Fifth Avenue except it’s split in two. You get $50 to use January through June then it’s gone and you have a separate one July through December.
One could be forgiven for thinking Amex has created these hurdles simply to prevent you from using the benefits. We’d certainly hope Amex isn’t trying to create the appearance of value while hoping it won’t have to deliver.
More Business For Chase
As with the removal of travel protections from Citi cards, it’s hard to see this as anything but good news for Chase. When you compare the high-end cards from each bank — Chase Sapphire Reserve vs Amex Platinum, you find that Chase makes benefits so much easier to understand and to use.
Think about it.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3X on dining and travel purchases while the Amex Platinum earns 5X on airfare purchased directly with airlines or via Amex Travel. If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s so much easier to know you’ll earn bonus points whether you book direct, via the Chase portal or even an online travel agency (OTA) such as Skyscanner or Expedia.
The Amex Platinum is still the champ when it comes to lounge access but that doesn’t mean it isn’t confusing. Consider the Priority Pass Select membership that comes with the Amex Platinum. As of August 2019, your membership will no longer include the credit to Priority Pass restaurants. So, you get the lounge access but not the restaurant credit while Chase has not added any restrictions like this.
Finally, the $300 travel credit that comes with the Sapphire Reserve just blows Amex’s airline fee credits out of the water. It covers any purchase that codes as travel. We’re talking flights, hotels, Uber, Lyft, taxis, train tickets, loading a metro card and more. Meanwhile, Amex already made it more difficult before eliminating the airline gift card option.
While there certainly are benefits to the Amex Platinum and other Amex cards with these credits, it just takes so much effort to keep track of all of the details required to use these benefits.
How is this good for the customer?
Look, we get that American Express is a business and will have to make adjustments and that airline gift cards were never technically allowed. However, it’s just another instance of Amex making things more difficult or worse for customers.
Many of you might remember when the Amex Business Platinum was relaunched with a 50% rebate option when you used points for premium cabin (and select economy) flights on Amex Travel. That didn’t last long and was quickly dropped to a 35% rebate.
If Amex wants to compete with Chase, it needs to provide consistent and easy to use benefits. These hurdles only make it easier for us to reach for the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead of the Amex Platinum. I can’t imagine that’s what they want.