I’m not going to say “I told you so.” But I’m going to say “I told you it might be so.”
Four weeks ago I described the doom and gloom that had descended upon Amex Platinum and Amex Premier Rewards Gold cardholders. The worst had happened. The longstanding loophole which allowed certain airline gift card purchases to count as reimbursable airline expenses appeared to have stopped working. Of course, this caused the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.
However, as the Devil’s Advocate, I theorized all might not be lost. Because upon closer inspection of all the data points, it was clear no one was getting any airline fees reimbursed, including completely legitimate ones. This suggested the problem might be an Amex IT issue rather than the closing of the loophole.
While I made no guarantees, I argued that until we got confirmed data points on some actual airline fee reimbursements, it was too early to declare the loophole dead.
So, here we are, four weeks later. Is there a pulse?
The verdict is in…
It’s been a long wait, but in the last 48 hours the relevant threads on Flyertalk and Reddit have finally lit up with reports (see here, here, here, and here). And the news is what we’ve been hoping to hear.
Not only are airline fees being automatically credited again, but airline gift card purchases made within the established guidelines are also again being automatically reimbursed.
Now, before everyone goes crazy, let’s clarify a few things.
First, clearly there was in fact an problem at Amex IT that caused their automatic reimbursement system to go on the fritz for a while. As a result, for approximately one month all airline charges, legitimate or otherwise, did not get reimbursed by the system. Basically, if you made an airline fee or airline gift card charge between August 20th and September 27th, the automatic reimbursement did not trigger.
It also seems that charges made during this time period are unlikely to be automatically reimbursed retroactively. So if you charged a legitimate airline fee (meaning one that falls within Amex’s terms and conditions for airline fees) to your Amex Platinum or Amex Premier Rewards Gold card during that time period, you should by all means call Amex and ask to be reimbursed manually for that charge.
However, do NOT call if you purchased a gift card.
The terms and conditions of the Amex airline fee reimbursement program clearly state that gift cards are not eligible.
This is why this little maneuver has always been considered a loophole. The fact that Amex’s computers can’t tell the difference between an airline fee and an airline gift card is a bit of faulty programming that Amex is undoubtedly aware of but currently not willing to spend money to fix.
So if you made an airline gift card purchase between August 20th and September 27th and it didn’t get automatically reimbursed, DO NOT CALL AND ASK FOR REIMBURSEMENT. Not only are you unlikely to get credited, but you are drawing additional attention to the loophole and making it more likely that Amex will prioritize closing up this little trick.
But, you might ask, if you can’t get credit for airline gift cards purchased during the last month, doesn’t this mean you’re stuck with unreimbursed airline gift cards?
Yes, it does. Sorry.
When you’re playing the points and miles game, once in a while you have to take a hit. Not every scheme works 100% of the time, and sometimes you just get unlucky. In fact, if you’re playing the game aggressively, you’ll take a loss more than once in a while. It’s a necessary evil in figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and you just have to make sure the wins outweigh the losses.
In this case, if you were the victim of unfortunate timing and made your airline gift card purchases during the “dead” month, just remember that you haven’t lost anything. Those gift cards are still valid for ticket purchases as always, so all you’ve done is prepay for $200 of airline tickets. No big deal. And now that the system is working again, you can buy a few more airline gift cards and get the reimbursement you were looking for as well.
Going forward, keep the rules in mind.
If you’re purchasing airline gift cards with the automatic reimbursement in mind, it’s extremely important to follow the established guidelines. Those rules have been worked out via trial and error over months and years and are laid out in each of the Flyertalk threads listed here:
American Reimbursement Thread
Alaska Reimbursement Thread
Delta Reimbursement Thread
Hawaiian Reimbursement Thread
JetBlue Reimbursement Thread
Southwest Reimbursement Thread
United Reimbursement Thread
The guidelines differ slightly from airline to airline, so read the threads thoroughly and especially check recent reports at the end of each thread before you proceed with your purchase. Also, remember that you must select your airline for reimbursement before charging any airline fees or making any airline gift card purchases. Only one airline can be selected for the year, so be sure to choose carefully.
Is this a teachable moment?
Ugggh, no. It was completely reasonable, given the reports, for people to assume the gift card loophole had been closed. And make no mistake, at some point in the future it will be closed. But we appear to have dodged a bullet for the moment.
If there’s a lesson learned, it’s that you should never count on the techniques that work today still working tomorrow. So, whether it’s reimbursements for airline gift cards or another under-the-radar technique, get out there and get it done today.Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- Why Are Points and Miles Better Than Cashback?
- Is The Amex Platinum $200 Credit Truly Dead For Gift Cards?
- While Chase is Tightening Approvals, Ultimate Rewards is Slowly Dying
Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.