amex platinum cards
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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

amex gold cards

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
  • Delta
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • JetBlue
  • Spirit
  • Southwest
  • United

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
  • Pets
  • 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

Amex Charge Cards And Credit Cards

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

Paying With Credit Card On Laptop

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

Chase Sapphire Reserve

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?

Final Thoughts

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.

Spencer Howard

Spencer Howard is a credit card rewards and award travel expert. He’s living proof that points and miles can unlock many of the greatest travel experiences and uses his skills to tick off new bucket...

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10 Comments

  1. @ Spencer — I think AMEX will end up regretting this move. They will certainly be losing most of my household’s annual fees.

    1. I’m hearing this from a lot of people. I wonder if Amex realizes that it has an opportunity to hold onto some customers or even eat into Chase’s advantage by just being a bit more customer friendly.

  2. I’m trying to objective about this despite holding an American Express personal Platinum card. In full disclosure, I called up to cancel earlier this month, and was offered 20K MR in exchange for $3K of spend which I took. So here’s the thing, the annual fee is $550, BUT you do get $100 in Saks credit, $200 in airline fee credit, and $200 in Uber credit. If everyone maxed out those credits, you are paying $50 for the best lounge access availability you can get from a widely issued credit/charge card. On top of that, you get elite status with Bonvoy and HHonors and car rental firms. You also get access to Amex’s hotel programs (both Gold Card Hotels, and Fine Hotel and Resorts) and various sundry other benefits like discounted premium cabin travel, etc..

    So let’s compare that with CSR, where if you max out the credit which is super easy to use, your still paying $150 for airline lounge access. BUT you don’t get access to Escape, Airspace, and Centurion lounges. On the plus side, you get to use Priority Pass non lounge experiences (for now, I believe Chase and Citi will take these away for the same reason Amex did, the benefit cost too much). However, you get just about NOTHING else.. no hotel elite status, etc. Just the 3x on travel and dining, but really I can get better earnings with the non premium Citi Premier which is 3X on the same categories but includes gasoline.

    Finally, there’s the unstated here.. American Express has been giving out retention offers like there is no tomorrow and it’s usually $200 statement credit or 20K MR points in exchange for $3K spend. Meanwhile, last time I checked the Flyertalk thread on Chase retention offers, I see very few if anyone gets a retention offer for their Chase Sapphire Reserve.

    So, let’s be honest American Express has a great value proposition. I for one, will still find ways to spend my credit since I don’t have status and don’t have the credit cards which provide free bags with every airline. The unwritten rule with American Express, is you CAN change the airline for the fee credit as long as you haven’t earned any credit in the calendar year. The rep who gave me my retention offer was the one who told me!

    1. Appreciate the thoughtful comment!

      My concern with Amex is that it makes people jump through a ton of hoops to use the benefits. I don’t find that particularly customer-friendly. Saks credit is $100… but split into 2 $50 credits per 6 months. The uber credit is monthly and doesn’t roll over. The airline fee credit isn’t just a simple travel credit or even air travel credit. It has a ton of restrictions. While I’ve seen plenty of people change the airline mid-year if they haven’t used any of the credit, it’s still yet another hurdle.

      While I certainly appreciate that more effort one puts into miles/points, the more they’ll get out of it — in fact, I reguarly tell people this, the hurdles with Amex take things too far for my taste.

      With the CSR, Priority Pass is easy and I don’t think we can use the potential of Chase removing restaurtants as a points against it at this point. The 3x on dining/travel are super easy and it’s even better when paired with a Freedom/Freedom Unlimited and/or Ink Cash. Throw in 1.5x via the Chase travel portal and it’s a broadly useful card.

      As to retention offers, I don’t feel like we can bank on those. Sure, they’re giving out some now as they scramble to keep customers but it’s still hit or miss. It certainly isn’t a guaranteed “benefit” so it leaves us to hope Amex does something nice for us.

  3. Many of us have paid our last AMEX fee! They have been run by Fascist bastards for a long while and they are showing their true nature with this change! I will show them the same mercy they were given in Inglorious Bastards!

  4. “We’d certainly hope Amex isn’t trying to create the appearance of value while hoping it won’t have to deliver.”

    Sadly, I’m sure that’s exactly what they’re doing :-/

    1. While I’d love to see the airline free credit move to a simple travel credit, even moving to a simple air travel credit would be much preferred. Oddly enough, the Citi Prestige used to come with an air travel credit before moving to a broader travel credit like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. So, for Amex, I’d be happy with that first step.

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