What’s the Best Card to Use for Paid Flights?

Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.

When you book a paid flight it’s best to use a card that earns extra points for airfare purchases, like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, or Citi ThankYou Premier.

But what if you have more than 1 of these cards?  How do you pick which to use?

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Which Card Is Best for Purchasing Paid Airfare?

The answer depends on your travel plans.  And if you want to use points toward award flights or paid airfare!

How to Decide?

Link:   American Express Premier Rewards Gold

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Citi Prestige

Link:   Citi ThankYou Premier

You’ll earn bonus points when you buy paid airline tickets with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, or Citi ThankYou Premier cards.

  • Citi Prestigeearn 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on air travel

Note:   You can also earn 3X American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 on airfare purchased directly with airlines with the The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN.  But ONLY if you choose airfare as your 3X category.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Think About What You’ll Use the Points for Before You Choose Which Card to Use!

The good news is, you can’t really go wrong using any of these cards, because the points they earn are flexible and can easily be transferred to airline and hotel partners.  Or used toward more paid tickets!

But if you already have a use in mind for the points, some cards are better than others!

Using Points for Award Flights & Stays

If you’re saving points for an award flight or hotel stay, think about your travel plans!

You should 1st consider:

Some Decisions Are Easy!

For example, if your main goal is to stay at a Hyatt hotel, it makes the most sense to use the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for paid flights to boost your Chase Ultimate Rewards point balance.

That’s because Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but NOT American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Saving up Points for a Hyatt Stay? Use Your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card When You Pay for Airfare to Earn 2X Points

Here’s a list of Chase Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel transfer partners:

 Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
British AirwaysFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)Korean Air
Singapore AirlinesSouthwestUnited Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
 Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 
HyattIHGMarriott
Ritz-Carlton

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to these airline and hotel partners:

 American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
AeroMexicoAir CanadaAlitalia
ANAAsia MilesBritish Airways
Delta AirlinesEl AlEmirates
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France / KLM)Hawaiian Airlines
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
Virgin AmericaVirgin Atlantic
 American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 
Choice HiltonStarwood

And Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to these airlines and hotels:

 Citi ThankYou Points Airline Transfer Partners 
Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)EVA AirEtihad
Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)Garuda Indonesia Malaysia Airlines
QantasQatar AirwaysSingapore Airlines
Thai AirwaysVirgin AmericaVirgin Atlantic
 Citi ThankYou Points Hotel Transfer Partners 
Hilton Hotels

It makes the most sense to use a card that will top-up your balance in a program where you’re close to having enough points for an award.

That said, it can get complicated depending on your goal!  (Although it’s perfectly fine to keep it simple, and I’ll show you how!)

Planning Award Flights Can Be Trickier

When I book international award tickets, I’ll often check United Airlines FIRST.

Folks like using United Airlines miles because they don’t add big fuel surcharges to award tickets (either on United Airlines flights or on airline partners).

If you’re saving for an award flight using United Airlines miles, consider using the Chase Sapphire Preferred to buy paid airfare.  Especially if you already have a lot of United Airlines miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points and are close to having enough for the award.

But it earns fewer points (2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1) for airfare compared to the other cards.

United Airlines is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, but NOT a partner of Citi ThankYou or AMEX Membership Rewards.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Saving for an Award Flight Using United Airlines Miles? There Might Be Other Options!

Say you want an award flight from New York to Frankfurt.  You can use 30,000 United Airlines miles plus ~$6 to book a 1-way coach flight on Lufthansa.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

You’d Pay 30,000 United Airlines Miles to Fly on Partner Airline Lufthansa Between New York and Frankfurt

But wait!  That’s not the only option to get to Frankfurt.

You could use Singapore Airlines miles get there.  An award flight on Singapore Airlines costs just 17,000 Singapore Airlines miles when you book online.  That’s just over half the miles required if you booked with United Airlines miles.  It’s a great deal!

BUT…you’ll also pay ~$179 in taxes and fuel surcharges.  🙁

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

You’ll Pay Fewer Miles (but More Taxes and Fees) If You Use Singapore Airlines Miles for the Same Route

Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of all 3 flexible points programs.  So if you don’t mind paying more out of pocket, you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points to Singapore Airlines for this flight.

A really fun way to use points for flights on Singapore Airlines is to treat yourself to a First Class Suite!  You’ll pay 57,375 Singapore Airlines miles and ~$200 for a flight from New York to Frankfurt.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Live Like a King or Queen in Singapore Airlines’ First Class Suites for Less Than 58,000 Singapore Airlines Miles 1-Way

If I were saving for this award ticket, I’d put any paid airfare expenses on my Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi Prestige, or American Express Premier Rewards Gold card.  That’s because they earn 3 points per $1 you spend on airfare, instead of the 2X points you’d earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

It’s Great to Have Options!

Air Canada and Delta are American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners, and you can use miles from both programs to fly from New York to Frankfurt.

Air Canada, like United Airlines, charges 30,000 miles for an award ticket on Lufthansa.  But look at the fees!

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Not a Good Choice – Air Canada Charges the Same Number of Miles as United Airlines, but the Fees Are Outrageous!

Delta also charges 30,000 miles.  But the fees, like United Airlines, are only ~$6.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Delta Is an American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partner, and You’ll Need 30,000 Miles + ~$6 for an Award Ticket From New York to Frankfurt

If I decided to save for this Delta flight, I’d put my airfare spending on the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card to help increase my American Express Membership Rewards points balance.  Then transfer the points to Delta.

British Airways Avios points are also popular.  That’s because they’re great for short flights within North America, the West Coast to Hawaii, and for certain flights to Europe.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Transfer American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to British Airways for Cheap Flights to Hawaii From the West Coast

Both Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to British Airways Avios points.  But I’d use Chase Ultimate Rewards points because the transfer ratio is better!

Hilton is a fairly easy choice.  Collect American Express Membership Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points.  You won’t get as much value as booking airfare, but if you want to keep it simple, it works well!

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

We Used Hilton Points to Stay at the Hilton Moorea in French Polynesia

It’s a good chain with hotels around the world including their upscale Conrad and Waldorf Astoria brands.  And their Hampton Inn hotels serve free breakfast!

You can also earn lots of Hilton points with their credit cards.

So again, it’s very important that you have a travel goal in mind before you start saving points!

Booking Paid Airfare With Points

If you prefer using your flexible points to book paid airfare through American Express Travel, Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, or Citi ThankYou Travel Center, it’s a lot easier to decide which card to use.

Folks often use points to book paid flights instead of award tickets if there are no award seats available or for last-minute trips.  There are no blackout dates and you’ll earn miles for the ticket!

And sometimes you’ll use fewer points to book a paid ticket than if you transferred them to airlines to book award tickets.

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

You Can Use Points to Book Paid Airfare, Like Through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

You’ll get the best deal if you have the Citi Prestige card.  That’s because you’ll get:

If you have the Citi ThankYou Premier card, you’ll get 1.25 cents per Citi ThankYou point when you use your points to pay for airfare.

Have both the Prestige and ThankYou Premier?  Transfer your points to the Prestige to get the higher value!

What's The Best Card To Use For Paid Flights

Have the Citi Prestige Card? You’ll Get 1.6 Cents per Citi ThankYou Point When You Use Them to Book Paid Airfare on American Airlines

Folks with the Chase Sapphire Preferred also get 1.25 cents per Chase Ultimate Rewards point.  Here’s how to use those points to book airfare through their portal.

The worst deal is using American Express Membership Rewards points to book paid tickets.  You’ll only get a value of 1 cent per point.

So if you’re trying to increase your balances with the aim of using points toward paid airfare (instead of award tickets), your best bet is to use the Citi Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier when you buy tickets, to earn 3X Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend.

Bottom Line

To make the best decision about which card to use when paying for airfare, it helps to have a travel goal in mind.

You’ll earn 3 points per $1 you spend on airline tickets when you use your American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Citi Prestige, or Citi ThankYou Premier card.

And 2 points per $1 you spend with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

In general, you should check the airline and hotel transfer partners for each program if you plan on transferring points for award flights or stays.  Then use the card that will help build your points balance for the award you want.

But if you’re using points towards future paid tickets, your top picks should be the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier cards.  That’s because their earning rates are better than the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and redemption rates are better or equal.

Which of these is your favorite card for booking paid airline tickets?

* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 responses to “What’s the Best Card to Use for Paid Flights?

  1. United Airlines only charges 5.60. However I recently flew to Lisbon via Frankfurt on the way there and through Belgium on the way back. There were additional charges from the US customs office, US Immigration Fee, German Fee, Portugal Fee, and a Belgium tax all adding up to $97. So yes there was only the UAL fee but taxes and other fees still applied. If I am missing something please let me know

  2. Nice table on the transfer partners. Thanks! Another consideration on paying for award tickets, at least for me, is insurance. Chase Sapphire Preferred has a very good name for taking care of people on award tickets.

  3. @Dan M : Dan, United will charge $5.60 in fees if you fly directly to the europien destination. Like, if you travel chicago-milan then it will charge only $5.60 but if you travel chicago-brussels-milan then it will add up all the taxes/airport fees. Please someone correct me if I am wrong.

  4. *European

  5. They only charged the $5.65 once. It was all the other taxes and fees I just wanted to point out unless I’m missing something else. Taxes and other little fees were charged but Mr. Millionaire Miles made it sound like there were no other fees.