Turning Airline Incidentals into Airfare

Introduction

Incidental credits (not to be confused with generic travel credits which are much easier to liquidate) show up on the PenFed Pathfinder Visa, the American Express Platinum family, BoA Premium Rewards, the Hilton Aspire, and UnionBank Rewards cards. Now that we’re in the middle of January, we’ve had enough time in 2022 to figure out what’s working with turning airline incidental credits into airfare instead of using them as intended, so here’s the 4-1-1 (cool kids still say that, right?).

If you want to be low maintenance, United gives by far the easiest option with its TravelBank wallet, which so far works for all card issuers. There’s bad news with TravelBank though: you’ll be flying United, which means it’s automatically worth somewhere around 90 cents on the dollar.

The Deets

  • United: Buy TravelBank credit directly. It expires in five years and can be used to pay for United flights; if you get an error during checkout at TravelBank, add your card to your United profile as a saved payment then try again [more info]
  • Delta: Buy airfare and pay partially with a gift card or travel credit, pay for the remainder with your card (don’t go over the incidental credit amount though). Alternatively if you have a co-branded American Express Delta card, pay partially with miles and the remainder will be credited [more info]
  • Alaska: Buy a seat upgrade after booking or buy a flight less than $100, then refund to your wallet after 24 hours [more info]
  • Southwest: Buy a flight less than $100, or book an international flight with taxes under $100 per ticket, then refund to a travel credit [more info]
  • American: Buy cheap airfare, then change it to a flight that you really want that costs more and pay with your credit card (don’t go over the credit amount though). If you want to gamble, you’ve got roughly even odds that award taxes and fees will count [more info]
    Reader Jim points out that AA gift cards will work on the Bank of America Visa Preferred
  • JetBlue: Buy a flight less than $137 then cancel the flight after 24 hours and refund to your JetBlue wallet [more info]

Other Options

Of course you could use these incidental credits as intended if you’re basic, like for checked bag fees or pets flying with you [more info, but boring].

Why are United travel bank credits worth 90% on the dollar? Allow me to reference my favorite graph about United’s domestic fleet.

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