How to Maximize Your American Express Platinum Card® Airline Credit

Lyle is a writer specializing in credit cards, travel rewards programs, and banking. His work has also appeared on MSN Money, USA Today, and Yahoo! Finance.

When you travel often, the airline credit on The Platinum Card® from American Express can make a big difference in how much you pay for those all-too-common fees. Although the card won’t pay for your ticket itself, it can save you money on checked baggage, airport lounges, and other items that airlines charge you for.

Your airline credit with this card is for $200 per calendar year, but you’ll have to be careful to make sure none of it goes to waste. That’s why I’m going over all the important things to know about the airline credit, from what it covers to different ways you can put it to use.

How the credit works

The fee credit covers up to $200 in incidentals every calendar year from one qualifying airline. To use the credit, you need to select an airline, and then pay for the purchase with The Platinum Card® from American Express.

If the purchase qualifies for the credit, then you’ll receive a statement credit for it automatically within four weeks. There’s no additional action required on your part besides choosing the airline. Just keep an eye on your statement to make sure you receive the proper credit. If it doesn’t appear within the allotted time frame, contact the company so that one of American Express’s very courteous representative’s can help you out.

Why you can trust me

Credit and charge cards are my favorite financial tool, so you’ll frequently find me checking out what kinds of new card offers and perks are available. I love travel rewards credit cards, but I hate wasting money, and that’s why I always max out any travel credits my cards offer. To date, I’ve used credits to cover over $1,000 in expenses.

What the credit covers

Even though you can’t use your airline fee credit on airfare, there is a long list of items that the credit will cover. These are the types of fees that count as incidentals:

  • Checked baggage
  • Oversized luggage
  • Changing or canceling a ticket
  • Making a reservation by phone
  • Day passes and yearly memberships to airport lounges
  • In-flight amenities, such as drinks and entertainment (Wi-Fi is one notable exclusion)
  • Flying with a pet, either in the cabin or the cargo hold

Whether the credit applies depends on the code the airline uses for your transaction, as that’s how American Express determines whether it’s an incidental expense or not. So, you could receive the credit for charges that don’t fit into one of the categories above. Some cardholders have even reported having their credit cover the occasional inexpensive ticket (under $100).

What isn’t covered

While there’s a near-infinite number of things that wouldn’t qualify as incidental airline fees, I’m going to stick to the ones that are at least travel-related, as I doubt I need to point out that the credit won’t cover your Netflix subscription or trips to the zoo. Here are the airline fees that won’t qualify:

  • Airfare
  • Travel insurance
  • Surcharges for ticket upgrades
  • Surcharges for award tickets
  • Fees for transferring points
  • Charges from third parties or partner airlines

That last item is tricky, and it’s the reason why in-flight Wi-Fi isn’t covered by your credit. The airline isn’t charging you for the Wi-Fi, a third-party company is, so it’s not considered an airline incidental.

The same is true if you make an in-flight purchase while flying with a partner airline. For example, let’s say you’ve chosen United as your qualifying airline. You use the United site to book a flight to Germany, but technically, it’s operated by United’s partner Lufthansa. If you bought a meal on-board, the credit wouldn’t cover it, because Lufthansa would be the airline charging you for it.

How to select a qualifying airline

Since you need to pick an airline before receiving your credit, that’s one of the first things you should do after getting The Platinum Card® from American Express.

You can call the number on the back of your card for this or do it through your online account. If you want to do it online, here’s how:

  1. Log in to your American Express account.
  2. On the home screen, click “Menu,” and then click “Card Benefits” under the “Card Accounts” heading.
  3. In the “$200 Airline Fee Credit” section, click “Select an Airline.”
  4. Choose an airline from the dropdown menu and submit the selection.

The qualifying airlines are:

  • United Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • American Airlines and US Airways
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines & AirTran Airways
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Alaska Airlines
Advice on selecting an airline

The airline you select is the most important part of maxing out your credit.

I can’t tell you which airline you should select, but I can tell you which ones you may want to avoid:

  • Delta Air Lines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Any airline where you already have an airline credit card or elite status

This isn’t because of any issues with Delta Air Lines or Southwest Airlines. But The Platinum Card® from American Express already includes access to Delta Sky Clubs when you fly with that airline, so that’s one large incidental expense that you don’t need a credit for. Unless you check bags or bring guests to Delta Sky Clubs with you, you won’t have many incidentals with the airline.

Southwest has no airport lounges and lets you check two bags free, wiping away two of the biggest and most common incidentals.

If you have an airline credit card or elite status with an airline, you should check exactly what benefits you have, because you wouldn’t want them to overlap with your credit.

Changing your airline

American Express allows you to choose your airline at any time after you’ve gotten your card. Once you’ve done this, it only permits changes from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31 of every year.

If you forget, you can always try giving American Express a call to see if they’ll let you change your airline selection. Since this is at the representative’s discretion, it may or may not work. You’ll likely have better luck if you haven’t already used any of that year’s credit yet.

Using the credit for airline gift cards

The credit technically isn’t supposed to cover airline gift cards, but there are a couple reported exceptions. Consumers have had success receiving their airline fee credit after purchasing:

  • American Airlines gift cards for up to $100
  • Delta Air Lines gift cards for up to $50
  • Southwest Airlines gift cards for any amount

If you don’t incur many airline incidentals and you need to find another way to use your credit, you can go the gift card route and use that to buy airfare. Just remember that there’s no guarantee your credit kicks in, and if it doesn’t, you can’t exactly call Amex to complain. At that point, you’ll also be stuck with whatever airline you chose to try and get a gift card, so this workaround isn’t entirely risk-free.

Doubling up on the airline fee credit

Should you ever decide to cancel or downgrade The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can double up your airline fee credit since it’s renewed every calendar year and not every cardholder year (assuming you didn’t get the card on Jan. 1).

Here’s how that would work -- let’s say you originally got your card on June 1, and American Express charges you the annual fee of $550 every year on that date. In 2018, you use your $200 airline credit and pay the annual fee.

On Jan. 1, 2019, you’ll have another $200 credit. If you didn’t want to keep your card anymore and continue paying its annual fee, you could use the $200 credit prior to June 1, and then downgrade or cancel. You get the credit for that year without paying the annual fee, so you come out ahead.

Summing it up

The airline credit on The Platinum Card® from American Express is great for getting charges covered and recouping some of the card’s annual fee and this is among one of the top perks for American Express credit cards. Here’s a quick recap of how to use your airline credit:

  1. Pick a qualifying airline on the American Express site or over the phone. Give this some thought by considering your travel plans and what airlines you like to fly.
  2. Use The Platinum Card® from American Express for every expense with your chosen airline.
  3. Double-check your statement to make sure that your credit is applying like it’s supposed to.
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Our Bottom Line

The high annual fee is justifiable for frequent travelers who can take full advantage of a deep bench of valuable perks, including the big welcome bonus and annual travel credits.

What we Like:
  • 60,000 points welcome offer
  • 5x points per $1 on qualifying travel
  • $200 airline fee credit
Key Scores:
4.0 5 Perks
4.0 5 Fees
4.0 5 APR
Perks 4.0/5
Fees 4.0/5
APR 4.0/5
  • Annual Fee: $550
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  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
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