By: Spencer Howard
Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.
As we approach the end of the year, we have been receiving tons of questions about how to maximize the annual travel credit attached to several credit cards.
American Express, Chase, and Citi all have products that provide a lucrative travel credit that can be used every year you hold the card. As avid travelers, these credits are a great way to reduce the effective annual fee for these cards.
Let’s discuss how each card’s travel credit works.
American Express Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold Airline Fee Credits
Several American Express cards provide airline fee credits. Most of these cards are variations of the American Express Platinum card, which include a $200 credit. Additionally, those who hold the Premier Rewards Gold card have a $100 credit.
One very important point about the Amex airline fee credit: You must select a qualifying airline prior to making your purchase if you want it to be reimbursed. You can choose one airline each calendar year. Once you have made your selection, you can only get airline fees reimbursed when purchases are made with that airline.
You’re probably wondering what counts as an “airline fee” so let’s get into that. American Express will reimburse you for several types of incidental fees, including:
- Checked baggage
- Seat assignments
- Phone reservations
- Itinerary changes
- In-flight entertainment (this does NOT include in-flight wifi, as the airline is not the provider)
- Airport lounge day passes and annual memberships
- In-flight food and beverages
- Pet fees
Note that this list does not include airfare or taxes and fees for award tickets. This does make the airline fee credit with American Express a bit more restrictive than some other travel credits, but they are still easily used by anyone who enjoys travel.
Finally, you receive this fee credit annually. Every January 1, it refreshes and can be used for the current year. If you are hoping to be reimbursed late in December, keep in mind that the purchase must post to your account prior to the end of year. If it does not post by December 31, the new year’s fee credit will be applied. For this reason, we don’t recommend waiting until the very last minute.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Credit
When the Chase Sapphire Reserve was launched, it not only came with a hefty sign-up bonus and great earning structure, but the best travel credit on the market.
This $300 travel credit is by far the easiest to use as it covers any “travel” purchase and is automatically applied to your account. Unlike American Express’ airline fee credit, you could just purchase a flight with your Chase Sapphire Reserve and you will receive a statement credit. No extra work for you. It’s that simple.
Additionally, you could purchase a hotel room or rental car to utilize the travel credit. Flights, hotels, rental cars… I think most of could use that! Here are some other ways you can use your credit:
- Cruise Lines
- Travel agencies
- Discount travel sites
- Passenger trains
- Taxis (and Uber)
- Limo services
- Toll bridges and highways
- Parking garages and parking lots
As you can see, the Chase Sapphire Reserve provides plenty of options to offset some of your travel expenses.
Now that we’ve reviewed what qualifies for the travel credit and how simple it is to redeem, let’s get into a couple important points to ensure you get the most out of your credit.
First, this is an annual benefit. Regardless of when you opened your card (this is your anniversary date), the travel credit kicks in at the beginning of each new year.
BUT, and this brings us to our second point, the new year begins when your statement closes in December. If your statement closes December 8, your travel purchase needs to have posted by then.
For this reason, we strongly recommend utilizing your travel credit with plenty of time to spare as purchases sometimes take a few days to post. Once your statement closes in December, you are now using the next year’s travel credit.
With a little planning, you’ll make the most of this benefit of your Chase Sapphire Reserve and cut down on some travel costs.
Chase Ritz-Carlton Airline Fee Credit
The other Chase card that provides a travel credit is the Chase Ritz-Carlton card. Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you get a $300 credit to use every calendar year. However, this credit has some VERY different requirements.
This is not a “travel” credit, rather it is an airline fee credit. The Ritz-Carlton has some very specific qualifying purchases including:
- Checked baggage
- Airline seat upgrades
- Airline lounge day pass
- Yearly lounge membership
- In-flight meals
- In-flight internet/entertainment
- Global Entry fees
There’s still some solid value in this airline fee credit, but it is not as flexible as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
The other big difference with this credit is that it is not applied automatically. I don’t know why this is the case, but we can only hope they will rectify this issue soon. Fortunately, you have two fairly easy options to redeem the airline fee credit.
Once you have made a purchase in one of the categories listed above, you can call the number on the back of your card (1-855-896-2222). Unlike many customer service lines, a human being will answer your call. You simply tell them why you are calling and let them know to which purchase you would like to apply the credit.
The second way to redeem the credit is to send Chase a secure message from your account telling them you’d like to redeem some of your annual credit. You’ll want to include three key points in this message:
- Dollar amount of the charge
- Name of the airline
As always, when speaking with a customer service representative, we recommend maintaining a friendly attitude throughout the call.
Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the purchase must post by your December statement.
Citi Prestige Air Travel Credit
After the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige provides the most versatile annual credit option. Unlike the Chase Ritz-Carlton and American Express cards which provide an airline fee credit, the Citi Prestige provides a $250 air travel credit.
The air travel credit covers several types of purchases including:
- Air fares
- Baggage fees
- Lounge access
- Some in-flight purchases
How great is that? Air fare is covered! I don’t know about you, but I find this to be especially useful. Whether it’s a flight home to see family, a wedding, or a quick getaway, the air travel credit provided by the Citi Prestige can knock out some if not all of the cost of a flight.
As is the case with Chase credits, your air travel purchase with the Citi Prestige must post by your December statement date.
All of these cards have hefty annual fees. At first glance, those annual fees might feel like too much to handle. When we decide whether to get one of these cards, we must consider their respective travel credits and how that can offset the fee.
If you expect to be traveling (that’s why you’re here, right?!), take a minute to consider the benefits of each card once you’ve calculated the true cost of the card.
Bonus for Email Subscribers
Tomorrow, we will be sharing some of our favorite ways to redeem these travel credits that you might not expect. Join the mailing list so you don’t miss these clever tricks of the trade!