Cards that offer statement credits for annoying travel fees

It’s often the extras that make travel expensive – baggage fees, Wi-Fi costs and comforts like hotel spa services and lounge access. Want to keep your shoes on through security, or skip the long lines at customs? That’ll cost you extra too. Delta luggage carousel at airport

Some cards offer to ease this burden somewhat by offering you statement credits for “travel incidentals.” If you use your card to make qualified travel charges (such as baggage check fees, a meal on a plane and other I-can’t-believe-they-charge-for-that purchases), or to apply for TSA Precheck or Global Entry, the issuer will reimburse you via a statement credit. The Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is the latest to announce it’s adding a statement credit benefit for airline fees (starting June 2015).

If you travel frequently, this type of perk can save you money (use the chart below to find out how much) – but our closer look turned up some fine print you’ll want to be aware of:

Credits don’t roll over

If your card offers $200 worth of statement credits per calendar year, and you use $150, don’t expect that remaining $50 to be available to you the following year. Read your card’s terms to find out exactly when that year’s credit expires to avoid leaving money on the table.

Rewards experts have long touted a favorite technique for quickly using up credits before the end of the year: Buying airline gift cards. It’s not a sure thing, though, and some cards’ terms and conditions explicitly state that no statement credits will be given toward airline gift cards. Here’s a snippet of American Express’s terms regarding the Platinum card’s $200 airline fee credit, for example:

Statement credit for airline gift cards

But run a Google search, and you’ll find bloggers and forum members who have received statement credits for gift card purchases. If you’d use the gift cards anyway, it’s worth a try – but don’t count on reimbursement.

Statement credits aren’t always automatic

The majority of the cards we looked at automatically reimburse you within the next few billing statement if you make a qualified purchase – you get your money back with no extra effort.

A few cards, however require you to call the bank, verify the purchase and request a statement credit. You’ll find instructions within your card’s fine print. Here are the terms on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card’s $300 travel credit, for example:

Ritz carlton statement credit

Don’t assume you know what “incidental” means

Seat upgrades often aren’t eligible for statement credits. Same goes for in-flight Wi-Fi (as this is often charged by a third party rather than the airline itself). Fees on reward tickets are generally out as well.

However, you might be pleasantly surprised by what your card’s statement credit covers. A few cards even allow you use it toward the cost of airfare.

Whether you can use your statement credit benefit toward a charge is completely up to your issuer. If you feel you weren’t credited properly, call your bank. Better yet, read your card’s terms before you splurge on something and assume you’ll be reimbursed.

Credit cards that offer statement credits for travel incidentals
Statement creditCan be used forRestrictions
Platinum and Business Platinum card from American Express$200 airline fee credit per yearAirline incidental fees (baggage fees, in-flight food and beverages and more)-Good only for selected airline (which you can change every January).

-Airline must be on AmEx's approved list of carriers

-Cannot be used for tickets, upgrades, buying miles, fees for transferring miles or gift cards.
Credit for Global Entry and TSA PrecheckApplication fees for either of these programs-Good only for one or the other (Precheck OR Global entry)

-Can be used only once every 5 years
American Express Premier Rewards Gold$75 hotel credit per stay of 2 consecutive nights or moreHotel incidental fees (qualifying dining purchases, spa and resort activities)-Must be used at properties in American Express's Hotel Collection

-Cannot be used for taxes, gratuities

-Cardmember must travel on itinerary booked
$100 airline fee credit per yearAirline incidental fees (baggage fees, in-flight food and beverages and more)-Good only for selected airline (which you can change every January).

-Airline must be on AmEx's approved list of carriers

-Cannot be used for tickets, upgrades, buying miles, fees for transferring miles or gift cards.
Discover it Miles$30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit each yearWi-Fi access on aircraftCannot use for airport Wi-Fi purchases.
FlexPerks Travel Rewards card$25 airline allowance for each reward ticketAirline incidentals (baggage fees, in-flight food purchases and more)-Only good on reward bookings

-Must call cardmember services to request the statement credit within 90 days of purchase
Ritz-Carlton Rewards card$300 travel credit per calendar yearAirline lounge day pass, yearly lounge membership, airline seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight entertainment, in-flight meals, Global Entry application feeMain account holder must call J.P. Morgan Priority Services to request credit within 4 cycles of purchase date
$100 hotel credit for stay of 2 consecutive nights or moreDining, spa and hotel recreational activities-Must stay at participating property.

-Cannot be used for cost of room.
Citi Prestige$250 air travel credit per calendar yearTickets, baggage fees, lounge access, some in-flight purchases
AAdvantage Aviator Silver$100 Global Entry statement creditGlobal Entry application feeApplication must be approved by Global Entry program.
Expedia+ Voyager$100 airline incidental credit per calendar yearAirline incidental fees (in-flight-dining, baggage fees, etc.), Wi-Fi hotspots, Global Entry application fee-Good only for qualified airlines (see card terms for list) and Wi-Fi hotspot providers (currently Boingo and Gogo).

-Cannot be used for airfare
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