When you buy a ticket or purchase miles from a US airline you normally have to pay a 7.5% Excise Tax, which is basically a nationwide sales tax on airline services.
When you transfer points from a bank like AMEX, Barclays, Capital One, Chase, or Citi to an airline, that bank is buying miles from that airline for you.
While most banks eat the 7.5% excise tax they need to pay to buy miles from US airlines, AMEX does not eat the full amount.
They normally charge cardholders an “Excise Tax Offset Fee” of 60 cents for every 1,000 points transferred to domestic airlines, up to a maximum of $99. In other words a 25K transfer would cost $15, while a transfer of 165K or more points would be capped at a $99 fee.
However the CARES act suspended Excise taxes on airlines. Airlines were quick to raise the cost of tickets and purchasing miles to make up for it, but it’s also an opportunity to transfer AMEX points to domestic airlines without paying the AMEX Excise Tax Offset Fee.
AMEX is also posting refunds if you paid the fee earlier this year.
Domestic airlines that normally have the fee include Delta, Hawaiian, and JetBlue.
Sadly, none of those programs are where I’d want to park my points unless I had a specific valuable use for them in mind. The international airline partners are typically more valuable and they never have any transfer fees.
When this happened 9 years ago I noted that the transfer options were Airtran, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, or Jetblue. Airtran and Continental were excellent transfer options and I took advantage of that excise tax holiday, but sadly those days are long gone.
This will stay in effect until the end of the year, so if you do find a valuable mileage redemption with those airlines later this year, you can instantly transfer miles from AMEX without paying fees.
Will you transfer any AMEX points to Delta, Hawaiian, or JetBlue?