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American Express

Why Didn’t American Express Cover My Airline Fees?

Why Didn’t American Express Cover My Airline Fees?
Taylor Rains

One perk for American Express Gold, Platinum, Business Platinum, and Hilton Honors Aspire cardholders is the annual credit for any purchases made on incidental fees on qualifying airlines. But, if you’re a first-time cardholder, it can be confusing to pin down just what airline fees are covered by American Express. Here’s a quick guide to help you out.


How Do I Get Free Checked Baggage With American Express?

If you have an American Express Gold, American Express Platinum, American Express Platinum Business, or Hilton Honors Aspire credit card, you can get up to $250 in annual airline credit to cover the cost of checked baggage and other airline fees. But, there are a few catches. 

Firstly, you have to be flying on one of the following airlines:

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

To obtain the credit, simply pay for your checked bags or other fees on the card. Then the credit will appear on your credit card statement for the amount that you charged. The amount that is covered depends on the card. 

American Express Gold cardholders receive up to $100, Platinum and Platinum Business cardholders receive up to $200, while Hilton Honors Aspire cardholders receive up to $250. 

To check the status of your credit, log in to your Amex account and navigate to the “Benefits” section. Click “All Benefits” or “Travel” to see your airline fee credit. It will either show the remaining credit available or will say that you have already been reimbursed for the full possible amount.


Do I Get Anything Other Than Free Checked Bags?

While checked and carry-on bag fees are the most common, these American Express credits can be used for a variety of “incidental air travel fees.” However, these fees “must be separate charges from airline ticket charges.” That means that all of the taxes and fees that add up to your ticket price, or the fees that you pay on an award ticket are not covered.

This exception also applies to any purchase you make while you buy your ticket. Basically, any fees that you want your American Express to reimburse you for (up to the stated limit) must be purchased separately from your original reservation.

So if you are paying for checked baggage, pay for your flight first and click no checked bags. And then, go back and pay for your checked baggage in a separate transaction by going back into your reservation and paying there, or by paying at the check-in desk.

The following purchases also count for airline credit:

  • Pet Fees
  • Reservation Changes
  • Seat Selection
  • $5.60 TSA Passenger Fee
  • Change Fees
  • Inflight Entertainment
  • Inflight Food/Beverages
  • Airport Lounge Day Passes and Annual Memberships
  • Phone Reservation Fee
  • Cancellation Fees
  • Discount Den
  • $9 Fare Club
  • Southwest Early-Bird Check-In
  • Southwest A1-A15 Boarding
  • Checked/Carryon Baggage Fees
  • United WiFi


What Will Not Trigger the Credit?

American Express outlines the specific purchases that will not be covered, including:

  • Airline tickets
  • Upgrades
  • Mileage points purchases
  • Mileage points transfer fees
  • Gift cards
  • Duty-free purchases
  • Award tickets


I Followed the Rules, Why Didn’t American Express Reimburse Me?

Although they are on the list outlined above, it is possible for some airline gift cards or airfare to trigger the credit. This is based on the airline’s code for that purchase. Amex explains in its terms, “The airline must submit the charge under the appropriate merchant code, industry code, or required service or product identifier for the charge to be recognized as an incidental air travel fee … We rely on airlines to submit the correct information on airline transactions.” In other words, even though some purchases are on this “will not reimburse list,” some airlines do not have them coded properly, thus triggering the credit.

It has not been confirmed across all qualifying carriers, but a few airline gift cards (particularly Delta and Southwest) may slip past the system. However, as of July 2019, it seems that most, if not all, airlines have been making changes to block the airline fee from triggering for gift cards. If paying partially with a gift card does not work (although it is still worth a shot), many cardholders report that low fare plane tickets have been reimbursed. Reports on FlyerTalk say airfare under $50 on Hawaiian was reimbursed, while FrequentMiler reported the same for airfare under $100 on Southwest, although there does not seem to be any consistency.


American Express Airline Credit vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Credit

I have both the American Express Gold and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards, and honestly, I prefer Chase’s system over Amex. In my opinion, Chase offers much more flexibility of what is covered and gives you more bang for your buck when it comes to credit. American Express Gold charges me $250 a year and offers $100 back in airline credit for a single airline of my choice.

Chase Sapphire Reserve charges me $450 a year with $300 back in travel credit for any purchase, including airfare, hotels, taxis, and rental cars. At the end of the day, I am still paying the same $150 annual fee for both cards (assuming I receive the full amount of credit back every year), but Chase offers a much wider range of options to receive the travel credit, making it easier to rack up.

My personal issue with Amex is that I rarely need extra purchases, such as a checked bag, seat upgrade, WiFi, or an alcoholic beverage, so I found that I was buying things just to get my money back when I wouldn’t have spent that money in the first place. With Chase, my purchases are needs – airfare, parking, public transportation, etc. – that I would have purchased at some point during the year. Furthermore, if you have status with an airline, a lot of those extra purchases are covered as a frequent flyer anyway.

I know every person has a different travel preference, where some may need that Comfort+ seat, but I personally do not find benefit in the Amex airline credit. However, if you find yourself flying on Spirit or Frontier, the credit would come in handy if you prefer a more comfortable seat or need a checked or carry on bag. What are your thoughts? Have gift cards or low fare airline tickets been credited to your American Express card recently? Do you have any tips for getting the airline credit back easier? Let us know in the comments!

View Comments (5)


  1. sdsearch

    January 1, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    This article is MISSING A VERY IMPORTANT STEP: With American Express, you have to CHOOSE which airline you’re going to use the credit for BEFORE you make the purchase. And in case you didn’t use the whole credit on the first purchase, all successive “incidental” purchases the same year on the same card have to be on the same airline to qualify for the credit. (You can use a different airline each calendar year, if you wish.)

  2. formeraa

    January 8, 2020 at 8:21 am

    @sdsearch That is a VERY important point. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. rpjs

    January 8, 2020 at 11:22 am

    How exactly does one get to pay for the TSA fee separately from the flight booking?

  4. TommyC80

    January 9, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Regarding the TSA fee it only credits if you’re booking in conjunction with a reward ticket. I think that’s a function of the amount of the charge, $5.60, rather than it being a separate, reimbursable category.

  5. ftoader

    January 15, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Well, those are the rules in writing (including that you have to pick your airline before you use this benefit). However, during 2019 I have purchased four airline gift cards of $50 each and all four were credited to my Amex account as part of this benefit. Now 2020, I purchased an airplane ticket last week and the next day I got a $200 credit posted in my Amex account, all to my surprise. Two days later is still there, hopefully it will not go away!

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