Expecting a flight refund to your American Express card? Here’s how it impacts your next BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher or spend bonus.

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It says a lot about the spending and travel habits of Head for Points readers that I think I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, that at least 50% of our readers will currently be expecting an American Express refund for a cancelled flight.

An email from a reader yesterday reminded me that you may not be familiar with how American Express treats refunds when you have a spend target to hit.

The answer is simple:  all American Express spend targets are based on NET spend, not GROSS spend.  Your spending is adjusted for refunds, irrespective of when the original transaction took place.

I am a good example of this.

My British Airways American Express Premium Plus membership year runs to late February.  I need to spend £10,000 between late February 2020 and late February 2021 to receive my next 2-4-1 Avios companion voucher.

However, I am currently due a £2,000 refund from British Airways.

When this refund turns up, it counts against my target spend.  This means that I will need to spend £12,000 this year – not £10,000 – in order to trigger my 2-4-1 voucher.

It makes no difference that the original purchase took place in my old membership year.  Amex deducts the £2,000 from my gross spending in this membership year so, to hit £10,000 of net spend, I now need to hit £12,000 of gross spend.

The identical situation applies if you are working towards any other American Express spend bonuses:

Any sign-up bonus on any American Express card

10,000 Membership Rewards points for spending £15,000 in a year on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold 

Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for spending £15,000 in a year on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express 

A 25,000 point free night voucher for spending £25,000 in a year on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express 

Does this apply to other card issuers too?

I don’t know, unfortunately.  It will vary on a case by case basis, but you should assume any award is based on net spend and not gross spend.

This would include:

A free night for spending £10,000 in a year on the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard (which was pulled from the market last week)

40,000 HSBC points for spending £12,000 in your first year of holding the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard 

An upgrade or 2-4-1 voucher for spending £20,000 in a year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard 

An upgrade or 2-4-1 voucher for spending £10,000 in a year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard 

Luckily for me, a Virgin Atlantic refund which is also coming my way will be heading back to my MBNA Horizon cashback card (not available to new applicants).  This is the only 0% FX card that I hold and the taxes were paid in US$.  I do still need to find another £2,000 now to put through my British Airways Premium Plus card.

PS.  A few readers have asked me if American Express is likely to reduce the £10,000 or £20,000 spend target on the British Airways credit card to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher.  I haven’t seen any movement on this so far unfortunately.

Remember that if you have the free British Airways credit card, one option is to upgrade to the Premium Plus version which has the lower £10,000 spending target.  If you have already spent £10,000 in the current card year on your free BA Amex card, your 2-4-1 voucher is triggered immediately on upgrading.  If you haven’t already hit £10,000, your voucher will be triggered as soon as you do.

You can downgrade to the free card again as soon as you have your voucher in your Executive Club account.  The annual fee on Premium Plus is refunded pro-rata, so your net cost is only £16.25 (£195/12) per month.

There is no formal upgrade process.  You simply apply online for the BA Premium Plus card here.  Your existing free BA Amex is automatically cancelled and your existing membership year and spending to date target is carried over.  You don’t, obviously, qualify for the 25,000 Avios sign-up bonus on the Premium Plus card as an upgrader.

PS. If you have cancelled a card that is due for a refund you should get in touch with Amex to request a transfer of the refunded money.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Government hires Morgan Stanley to advise on Virgin Atlantic bailout, talks ongoing (Sky News)
Virgin Australia shares suspended as the airline hovers on the brink of bankruptcy

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  1. Fraser says:

    Rob, interested to see you put a Virgin flight on your Halifax Clarity card. Of course if you rebook you can now do so on the Virgin card with zero FX fees, unless it’s an ex-US flight?

    But I find I always need to put flights on my Amex Platinum. Virgin card would earn more miles but the travel insurance requires the purchase to be on the Platinum card. (Recent work BA trip lost my luggage and the terms clearly stated the Platinum card, not even corporate Amex, so I couldn’t avail of the generous clothes allowance!)

    • Genghis says:

      The Plat insurance does not clearly state that things need to be paid on the Platinum card.
      Section 1.4 notes for the section to be relevant transport and/or accommodation must have been paid on “the card”. “The card” means “any card or other Account access device issued to a Cardmember (or a Supplementary Cardmember) for the purpose of accessing the Account” while Account means “your consumer and small business cards issued by American Express in the UK, excluding corporate cards and any American Express cards issued by bank partners”.

      So whilst you cannot pay with a corporate Amex, any of your other personal or small business Amex cards would meet the terms.

      • Agreed. I’ve had a claim paid in last couple of weeks where part was paid by BAPP and the rest on Amex Gold. As long as it’s a personal Amex or you have evidence that the provider doesn’t accept Amex you’re fine.

    • No, it was US$. The Virgin card charges for $.

  2. Might have a work around for anyone stuck and needing to spend some more money to get over the £10 000 minimum spend to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher if you are struggling with the current situation.

    Bare with me for the background to this.

    – I use Curve with my underlying card set as my Australian visa debit card and the Paypal send money to friends and family function to essentially send myself money from Australia using the interbank excahgne rate.

    – I have 2 Paypal accounts which each have a different email address. The send money to friends and family function in Paypal has no fees for Visa/Mastercard when the currency is the same (thanks to Curve it’s a GBP transaction). You can use the send money to friends and family function in Paypal using an Amex but I’m not sure of the fee for Amex.

    – Once the money is in your second Paypal account (or a partners Paypal account) you simply transfer it back to your bank account and pay it off your Amex a couple of days later.

    Might be worth doing a £5 or £10 transaction to see how Amex treats this first as it might be classed as a cash withdrawal? This would also show you the Paypal fee but even if you needed to spend £2000 on your Amex to get over the £10 000 to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher, if there was a fee of say 3% this is only £60 and might be worthwhile spending to trigger the voucher if you can’t find a way of spending the £2000.

    Note: I couldn’t comment on the legal side of sending money to yourself this way. If you were concerned you could always send the money to your partners account. Also you would need to have your Paypal account verified by sending in copies of your ID etc. I personally break my transactions down into smaller amounts of say £500 at a time.

    • Genghis says:

      Good luck with this method. MS involving PayPal is not something I have ever done or would do as I’ve heard some horror stories.

      • Sandgrounder says:

        +1 Don’t mess with PayPal would be my advice, but as always DYOR.

    • Amex will ban your account for this transaction. Happened with one my friend.

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        Beware, PayPal have a tendency to freeze accounts when transferring money especially linked to a CC. Heard of some doing a couple of transfers a month but low amounts like £100 – £200 a time.
        I like to keep my PayPal account unfrozen so have never wanted to risk every thing for a few hundred a month.

      • memesweeper says:


        Never, ever send yourself money with Amex, not use your Amex to pay a company you have a significant interest in.

    • Neil Donoghue says:

      There was a guy on Reddit who had £15K frozen by Paypal for playing this trick. Good luck paying games like this unless you can afford the legal battle and the 72% interest on your BA card for 6 months.

    • Joshua Parker says:

      I think that process is called “Cash Recycling”, no better than buying Royal Mint coins then cashing them in (which you can’t do any more as that was clearly abused – https://www.headforpoints.com/2016/01/10/royal-mint-coins-avios-airmiles-frequent-flyer-miles/comment-page-1
      Hopefully, people don’t abuse the system because they will get rid of the ability to send money to friends with a credit card; I use this infrequently, when I have no other option to send money to someone such as the other day to pay a friend back after getting a refund for a trip which put my Amex account into a negative balance so paying via PayPal really helped me pay them back especially at a time like this when it would have taken me a while to spend that negative balance to accumulate the money in my bank to pay them back.

      • I remember the good old days of this, and of such high credit card earn rates too. The PayPal thing has always been there, and it’s always been a bad idea (either due to fees, shutdowns, or other reasons).

        OP’s methodology is flawed, this isn’t the time to be converting AUD to anything else (Aussie $ is weak), Curve are sensitive to this too (although they can shut you down, they can’t hold your money, so less risk), but most of all PayPal’s overzealous fraud triggers. The latter is the reason I wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole.

      • There was another option. Bank transfer the friend and ask the card to refund your credit balance.

  3. Seems like Creation/IHG is treating paying off my Virgin card as a cash withdrawal.
    Any other ideas how to reach the 10k on my IHG card? I guess they treat Amex the same way?

    • Neil Donoghue says:

      So you paid a credit card off using a credit card and are surprised you received a cash advance!? I think you need to go back and read the T&C’s. If you are struggling to hit the £10k in 12 months, maybe the card isn’t for you? Have you tried paying off your council tax bill in full or gas / electric?

    • You can withdraw £200 per month fee free via Curve, that’s a significant chunk.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      It’s important to remember that curve pass the merchants MCC on to the card issuer so doesn’t mask the type of institution it is.

      Also that anything can change at any time and you can be stung hard. It’s part of the “game”

  4. Data point…Virgin to Hilton transfer confirmed by text on 30th March arrived in Hilton account today.

  5. Miles. On point says:

    Does anyone know how the process works if you paid for a flight that has been cancelled (due to covid) with an Amex that is no longer in use (cancelled Amex Gold Credit card).

    My wife bought our flights on her Amex Gold Credit card in 2019 but has subsequently cancelled the card. If BA issue a refund then do we get in contact with amex and they issue her with a cheque for the amount?

  6. These refunds affected Avios earnings as well. I am now in negative balance for this month because of the refunds! Will see if BA deducts these Avios or not.

    For the application – it’s better not to apply for a Black card as if it was a new one because you are likely to be rejected. You need to call and ask them to upgrade / downgrade and they will do everything straight away!

    • ChrisC says:

      The negative balance is held on your credit card and you won’t get any points transferred over to BAEC until your card is back in credit via your spending.

  7. Daniel says:

    I’ve got just shy of £3k coming back to my BA Amex card, but I’d like to get the money back. Is this possible? Not happy to have been given a refund by BA but then have no way to actually get the money (which would come in handy at the moment, I hasten to add).

    • Once it’s back on your credit card and you’re showing a positive balance ring the credit card issuer and ask for a refund of your positive balance to your bank account. I’ve had this with more than one issuer and they’ve all obliged.

  8. Ben Edwards says:

    Hi I have the BA premium plus card. I reached my 10k spend in March and the voucher was issued straight away and shows on my BA account

    My progress bar on Amex account said I had earned the voucher for this year.

    A couple of days ago I received a refund from some cancelled flights. This has now changed my status bar on my Amex account to say I need to now spend xxx to get my voucher

    I have already got it, does that mean Amex will take the issued voucher back or not

    Can anyone help ?

  9. Cwyfan says:

    The oddity here is that the problem is caused by a refund, so maybe another refund would solve it.

    It surely follows that if time is tight, then buying something that is refundable, just before your deadline for the limit to be achieved, would get you the voucher, and then refunding after receipt would at least shift the problem to the next financial year when you would have more time to recover.

    It would anyway have been fairer if some sort of credit had been given if you would have achieved the threshold with something to spare. For example, if you had a £2000 refund, but had spent £11000 in the year including that item, then only £1000 should be added to your current year requirement. You would of course still get the £2000 itself back

  10. William Perugini says:

    Do you think this issue might be waived somehow? My Amex Gold (I still have charge card) year begun on February and at the moment I’m due more refunds than what I’ve spent, roughly 4500£ and if I have 90% of certainty they’ll not issue any waiver, I might take this chance to switch to the gold credit card, so I get a refund for the following months plus a first free year… any opinion on this?

  11. Gravey Boat says:

    My 2-4-1 voucher has been issued but my BA AMEX points balance has become negative because of a rewards flight refund.
    My card renews next month, will Amex rescind my 2-4-1 voucher if I don’t spend enough to recover the negative points.

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