Credit Cards

American Express Cuts a Perk That Never Was an Official Perk

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Written by Charlie

American Express just closed off a way that customers were able to get some good value from certain cards and customers are not happy – even though this was never an official benefit anyway.

American Express has long had an unintended perk (or, loophole) with their airline incidental reimbursements. It has made getting value from that reimbursement much easier and more valuable – but that time has come to an end.

American Express Cuts a Perk That Never Was an Official Perk

What is the American Express Airline Incidental Reimbursement?

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With cards like the American Express Platinum, American Express Business Platinum, Hilton Aspire and American Express Gold Card, there is a card benefit that lets you select an airline of choice (from a list) and then use up to the maximum allotment of the amount for airline incidentals with that airline throughout the year – for example, the Platinum cards offer $200 per year and the Gold card is $100 (Hilton Aspire is $250).

Here are some things that count as airline incidentals:

  • Bag check fees
  • Advanced seat assignments
  • Ticket change fee
  • In-flight purchases
  • Pet fees
  • Lounge fees/memberships

It all is dependent on how the airline charges the purchase. If it shows up as a ticket purchase/airline reservation, Amex does not automatically issue the credit for it.

In the terms, American Express explicitly said that gift cards (among other things like ticket purchases) were not covered with these incidental fees for reimbursement. However, for the last many years, various airlines charged gift cards in a way that made them show up as incidentals. That allowed travelers to easily get the reimbursement amount.

Airline Incidental Reimbursements for Airline Gift Cards Now Dead

However, according to Doctor of Credit and others, that door has now been closed. It has been open and shut with various airlines the last few months but it appears that the coding has now been adjusted so that Amex knows what are gift cards and what purchases are not.

This means you should no longer figure the airline reimbursement fee at as high of a value when considering paying your annual fee. For example, even buying gift cards, you could never look at it as getting a straight $200 back (if you spent your $200 reimbursement on gift cards).

While gift cards maintain the flexibility that gives them value, you also don’t get points when booking airfare with gift cards. In addition, you are locked into a specific airline for the entire year. That means that I would have valued them around 80% of value.

American Express Just Really Decreased the Value on the Reimbursement Fees

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With gift cards no longer working, it makes the airline choice much harder. For example, if you are an elite member with United Airlines, you likely never pay bag fees, you get to pick your seats in advance, you may get award fees waived, and you may even have your lounge situation already taken care of just through your credit card. So, why would you select United Airlines as your airline of choice for a year of incidental fees?

Presumably, if you are a United elite, you fly most of your flights with them so switching to a different airline wouldn’t make much sense for that fee reimbursement either. Oh, and why would you choose Southwest which doesn’t have seat assignments (though you could purchase Early Bird check-in), change fees, bag check fees (on up to 2 bags per person) or even for WiFi since you could get the new Business card for Southwest and get WiFi free all year!

Summary

So, why is this such a disappointment when it was never an official perk to begin with? I think for most of us it is the fact that this reimbursement fee is so difficult to use in contrast to the $300 travel credit we get with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example. With that card, we just use the card for travel like normal and the reimbursement is automatic on all travel – so simple and truly helpful.

American Express is trying to cut things out that cost them money but they should be trying to target ways to give their customers increased value instead of closing loopholes like this. This move by Amex is going to result in many customers closing their card accounts that have reimbursement fees since that was one big way people were able to justify the annual fees.

Bad move, Amex…

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

8 Comments

  • I have a completely unrelated question
    Per are planning to spend couple of nights in or around Thessaloniki. we have free nights with ihg, hyatt and Marriott.
    Any hotel you’d recommend? Thank you.
    It will most likely be on my wife’s bday.

    • Hi and feel free to shoot me an e-mail about your trip as well (since we are here, maybe I can answer some other questions also) – charlie@runningwithmiles.com
      Our favorite hotel is the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki but it is a bit of a distance from the center (about 8-10 miles) and going the other way are the beaches (the nearest are about 7 miles). It is only about 1 mile from the airport and has a shuttle. Also, it is a Category 2 so a great redemption on points and the staff is fantastic.
      There is a Holiday Inn that I would not recommend as there is a lot of construction in that area and I did not find the hotel to be that great. There is a Marriott Design property that I have not stayed at (but plan to, just to try, at some point).
      But, if these are anniversary free nights, I would go with the Excelsior Hotel with the Hyatt certificates. It is a Category 3 and a really nice little boutique hotel with free breakfast for Hyatt members and right in the middle of everything (but in a quieter side street – just 2 blocks from the sea).
      Shoot me an e-mail if you want to dig further or have other questions!

  • I have a completely relevant question:

    I am traveling UA Polaris IAH-FRA in a few months. I have the Amex Gold card and have not chosen an airline partner. I don’t carry status with UA. With Lufthansa making first class award space available on UA usually within a week of departure, I would want to take advantage and rebook. UA charges I believe $125 for that change fee – would this count towards the 100 credit amex gold offers if I choose UA as my airline?

    • Yes, this has worked for me in the past and data points on the Flyertalk sub-forum on this has reports of it as well. If you find it didn’t happen automatically, definitely talk with Amex because this is exactly the kind of thing that they had intended it for. And, it is a great way to use it!

    • I had said you wouldn’t get POINTS. The miles you still get, you are correct. But, you would not earn the 3X, 4X, or 5X points on buying the tickets.

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