How to Buy Gift Cards with the American Express Airline Incidental Fee Credit

One of the benefits of having the American Express Platinum card is that you receive a $200 travel credit for each of the calendar years that you have the card.

For most people in Year 1, this means that you'll receive the credit twice. For example, if you applied fo the card now, you would receive a travel credit, and another in Jan 2019. 

For Example:

March 1, 2018:

  • 1st annual fee of $550 hits
  • access to $200 travel credit (2018)
  • use it in full before 2018 ends

Jan 1, 2019

  • access to $200 travel credit (2019)
  • use it before next annual fee hits

March 1, 2019:

  • 2nd annual fee of $550 hits
  • you can cancel now and get the fee refunded (must cancel within 30 days)

March 31, 2019:

  • last day to cancel to get refunded
  • if canceled; 2018 + 2019 credit for one annual fee

Which cards have an airline incidental credit?

Personal cards:

  • Amex Platinum - all variations ($200)
  • Amex Premier Rewards Gold ($100)
  • Amex Hilton Aspire ($250)

Business cards:

  • Amex Platinum Business ($200)

* This does NOT apply to the Amex Business Gold Rewards (BGR) card since it doesn't have a travel credit.

You can view credit card offers by going to the "Credit Card Offers" tab. Find offers for the respective cards in "Travel Rewards Credit Cards" and "Business Credit Cards." You don't have to use our links, but we're grateful when you do. Thank you for supporting AskSebby!

How it works

If you look at data points on FlyerTalk and The Points Guy, you can buy $100 gift cards from American Airlines and Southwest, and $50 gift cards from Delta Airlines to trigger the credit. 

Below is a list of airline carriers you can choose: 

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

The bolded airlines are ones where you can buy gift cards to trigger the airline incidental credit.

How to activate the airline incidental credit

  1. Login to your American Express account
  2. Navigate to "Membership" -> "Benefits"
  3. Find the "$200 Airline Fee" benefit
  4. Enroll in the benefit and select your airline of choice: American Airlines, Delta, or Southwest

Important: Be sure you're enrolled in the correct airline program. For example, if you chose United as the airline of choice, then buying Southwest gift cards will not work.

If you're already enrolled in an airline program, and you wish to change it, you can send a secured message via the chat bubble in your online account (bottom right corner).

One thing to be aware of is that if you try to buy gift cards on a mobile app, it will code differently. Be sure to use a desktop when buying gift cards.

The fine print

According to the terms of the benefit, gift cards are technically not allowed.

"Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 per calendar year in statement credits when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card® Account."

"This benefit doesn't offer credit toward airline tickets, mileage points purchases or mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, upgrades, duty-free purchases, or award tickets."

If you decide to take the gift card route, be aware that this "trick" could be discontinued at any time in the future. 

Bottomline

The airline incidental credit trick makes the Amex Platinum worth the annual fee.

Paying = $550 annual fee

Getting = 
a) $200 for 2018 travel credit
b) $200 for 2019 travel credit
c) $200 for Uber credit
Total = $600

Amex is "paying" you in Year 1: $550 - $600 = $50

This ignores the signup bonus, which is 60k at a minimum:

a) $360 in statement credit (0.6 CPP)
b) $600 in travel (easy mode) (1 CPP) 
c) 750 in cash via Schwab Plat (1.25 CPP)
d) $1,200 in travel (expert mode) (2 CPP)