The Best Ways to Maximize Your Amex Airline Credits
Pour one out for the American Express gift card loophole.
Top-of-the-line American Express cards like the American Express Gold, the Platinum Card from American Express, or co-branded offerings like the Hilton Aspire card took a hit recently. These cards come with a yearly airline credit of between $100 to $250, helping quickly offset sizeable annual fees on these cards.
For years, cardholders had been able to purchase airline gift cards with these credits. Sadly, that’s no longer true after it recently stopped working for both Delta and Southwest gift cards.
But don’t despair; there are still some great ways to make sure you get everything you can out of these credits.
All About the Airline Credits
The airline credits you get from American Express cards are fairly straightforward … until they’re not.
The Amex Gold gets you $100 yearly, while the Amex Platinum clocks in at $200. The Hilton Aspire card’s annual credit is the largest, at $250. All of these credits reset each calendar year, not based on the month you opened your account. So you can use up the credits from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 – just beware they don’t carry over. Use them or lose them
These credits aren’t as all-encompassing as the $300 you get from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which kicks in automatically for any travel-related purchase. Only certain purchases on select airlines qualify. And you have to pick just one airline each year, though there are some reports that American Express will let you change mid-way through the year.
So what airlines make the cut? All the big U.S. carriers are eligible.
- United Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- American Airlines
- jetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Alaska Airlines
And what purchases will trigger the credit? Well, a lot. But it’s important to stress that buying airfare outright won’t work. Cabin upgrades, buying miles, and several other similar purchases also aren’t eligible. Because airlines have farmed out their connectivity to third-party companies, buying in-flight Wi-Fi generally won’t work, either.
In short, these credits are meant to cover incidental fees. And that leaves us with a handful of great ways to use them up every year.
When you use frequent flyer miles, you’re not exactly flying for free. But these credits can change that.
Every award ticket gets hit with some cash fees and taxes. These vary widely, from the standard $5.60 on every one-way domestic flight in the U.S. to $1,000 or more on most business or first class flights departing London-Heathrow.
It may vary by airline, but you should be able to charge those fees to your American Express card and have the credit kick in to cover them. Just remember that you have to designate that airline before making the purchase through your Amex benefits.
Airlines charge you an arm and a leg if you need to change your flight – unless if you’re flying Southwest. But these credits can save you big time.
Delta, American, and United each charge $200 for changes to any domestic ticket – and more for international travel. JetBlue and Alaska also charge some sizable change fees, as And that’s before you start counting any difference in fares.
Budget carriers typically have more modest change fees, but they can still add up fast. So if you need some extra flexibility, consider leaving your airline credits unspent. They could come in handy if your plans change and you need to pay to change your flights.
Seat Selection Fees
Whether you’re flying on a budget airline or on a basic economy fare, paying to pick your seat on the plane is the new normal.
These big airlines charge between $9 and $29 for a seat assignment on domestic flights. That means you can use your American Express airline credits to pick your seat on dozens of flights each year.
Just pay for your seat on your designated airline with your American Express card, and the credit should kick in to cover the cost.
Lounge Day Passes
There are a handful of ways to get into airport lounges when traveling, including some of the premier American Express credit cards that we’re discussing here. The American Express Platinum card opens more lounge doors than any other credit card.
But if you don’t have one of these cards – or you’re at an airport with precious few lounge options – there’s another way to get into some airline lounges.
United and American Airlines both sell single-visit day passes at some lounges for $59 each if you’re flying with them that day. While that may be steep, it could easily be worth it to survive a long layover.
And if you’ve designated that airline on your American Express benefits, simply pay the lounge fee with your card – it will get wiped out.
It’s a bit more complicated with Delta and SkyClubs, as the airline stopped selling day passes in late 2018. But if you’ve got a co-branded Delta American Express SkyMiles card like the Gold, Platinum, or Reserve, you can still buy your way in for $29.
It’s unclear whether Delta requires you to actually pay the entry fee with that co-branded card or if you could use another card to pay the fee. But it’s worth a try to see if you could make that $29 lounge visit free!
We saved the worst for last.
This is the quintessential airline fee that these credits were designed to cover. And with checked bags up to $30 each way on all major U.S. airlines, it’s not a bad way to save some money.
But there are better ways. Namely, most major U.S. airlines have a co-branded credit card that offers free checked baggage on every flight. And many don’t even require you to pay for your flight with that card to get the benefit.
So while you could use your American Express card to wipe out checked baggage fees, there are simply better options to get a bag for free.
There’s no denying that the death of the gift card workaround is a tough blow to top-tier American Express cards. It was an easy way to squeeze $100-$250 out of the airline credits, as you could even use those gift cards to book flights.
Still, there are smart ways that you can get the full value out of these Amex airline credits year after year.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.