A few days ago I wrote about American Express’ Airline of Choice program and how I had successfully purchased American Airlines gift cards in $100.00 increments which were then reimbursed by American Express. Unfortunately, I messed up on my first attempt and am now stuck with $400.00 worth of American Airlines gift cards. This is not a terrible problem to have, but I never knew some of the quirks associated with using American Airlines gift cards when booking online.
My first attempt to use the gift cards ended in complete failure. I tried to purchase two one way tickets from Toronto (YYZ) to Chicago (ORD). A fairly straightforward transaction, but American Airlines does not let you use gift card to purchase fares that originate outside of the United States. Specifically per American Airlines: “Gift Cards are redeemable toward the purchase of air travel wholly on flights operated by American Airlines, American Eagle, and OneWorld carriers for itineraries sold and originating in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.” I did not know this rule and for most it will not be an issue, but for some who piece together itinerates as the go, it could cause some headaches.
Second, using the gift card is not as simple as it could be. Once you receive the virtual gift card you will click on the link to open the gift card. When opened, the 19 digit gift card number (yes, 19…) and pin are included. You must then type the gift card number, pin number, and amount you wish to apply to the airfare into the payment screen found on AA.com (image below). This is where the whole process can be very tricky. You must know how much value is on the gift card. If you put the wrong value, the ticked may not be issued! Luckily, American Airlines has a page to check the remaining value of gift cards before you enter it into the payment screen.
Last year, I used a gift card and ended up with just a few dollars on the card when it was all said and done. I payed for a flight and added the gift card value, but I was off by a few cents. Rather than AA’s system figuring this out and charging me the difference, the ticked held as pending for days before I finally called and had to work everything out.
It is surprising that American Airlines does not have a way to automatically just apply the remaining balance of the gift card and then calculate the remaining amount owed OR have a way to add gift cards to your AAdvantage account as a balance to be used later (much like how 500-mile upgrades work). I am very thankful that the gift card trick worked to help me recover some of the annual fee associated with my American Express Platinum Card, but it seems American Airlines could make the process of redeeming gift cards a little easier.