Don’t Miss Out on BIG Bonus Points – Use the Right Card for Paid Airfare!
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Purchasing airline tickets is a terrific way to earn a ton of bonus miles and points. So picking the right card to buy your ticket can make a big difference in boosting your account balances!
The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Citi Prestige cards all earn bonus points for airfare purchases. So I decided to compare each card to help you decide which is the best for buying airline tickets.
Keep in mind, it’s not just about how many points you’ll earn, but how you plan to use your points. Because some points are easier to earn than others. And each flexible points program has different airline and hotel transfer partners.
Here’s what I found.
What’s the Best Card for Airfare Purchases?
Link: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Link: The Platinum Card From American Express
Link: Citi Prestige
You’ll earn bonus points when you buy paid airline tickets with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, and AMEX Platinum card. And because the points you’ll earn with each of these cards are flexible, you can’t really go wrong using any of these cards for airfare.
But if you have a particular trip in mind or already know how you want to use the points you earn, some cards are better than others!
And keep in mind, I’m focusing on cards that earn flexible points instead of co-branded airline cards (like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or United MileagePlus® Explorer Card) because there are more ways to redeem flexible points, and they can be relatively easy to collect.
Which Card Earns the MOST Bonus Points for Airfare?
If your main goal is to earn as many flexible points as possible, the clear choice is the AMEX Platinum card, which earns 5X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 for flights booked directly with airlines or through the AMEX Travel Portal. To compare, you’ll earn 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and 3X Citi ThankYou points per $1 with the Citi Prestige.
That said, there are pros and cons to each of the flexible points programs, and a certain type of flexible points could be more valuable to you, depending on your personal travel goals.
So it’s worth considering the way you’ll actually use your points. And how easy it is to collect points from the various programs.
Which Points Are the MOST Flexible?
I find that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the most flexible, because they have great travel partners and are relatively easy to earn.
You can transfer points directly to travel partners, like British Airways, United Airlines, Hyatt, and Southwest for Big Travel. And there are never any transfer fees (unlike with AMEX Membership Rewards points!), plus most transfers are instant.
But if you have a particular trip in mind, it might make more sense to earn & use AMEX Membership Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points.
Let’s take a look at a few examples where one type of flexible points could be better than another.
1. Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for United Airlines Flights
I like to book award flights with United Airlines miles because they don’t add fuel surcharges on their own flights, or on partner airlines, like Brussels Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, and Turkish Airlines.
In fact, you have access to award seats on over 2 dozen Star Alliance partner airlines with United Airlines miles!
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the only points that transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United Airlines. You can NOT transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points or Citi ThankYou points to United Airlines miles. And Starwood points transfers are at a 2:1 ratio.
2. Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Southwest Flights
If you fly Southwest a lot, and especially if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Southwest flights can get you LOTS of Big Travel With Small Money.
That’s because with the Southwest Companion Pass, your partner or friend travels with you for almost free on paid and award tickets for up to 2 years. It’s like buying 1 ticket, and getting another 1 (almost) free!
But remember, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest do NOT count towards the 110,000 Southwest points required in a year to earn the Companion Pass!
3. Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Hotel Stays
Folks who want to earn flexible points for hotel stays will do best earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, because you can transfer them to Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton at a 1:1 ratio.
Hyatt has amazing hotels all over the world, and Hyatt points go further than most other hotel points. And being able to use your flexible points at IHG or Marriott is nice, because they have lots of locations. Especially with the Marriott – Starwood merger.
4. AMEX Membership Rewards Points for Delta Flights
If you like to fly Delta, earning AMEX Membership Rewards points with a card like The Platinum Card from American Express could be your best option. Because AMEX Membership Rewards points are the ONLY flexible points (apart from Starwood points) that transfer to Delta.
Delta miles are great to use for award trips to Europe. Or you could transfer your AMEX Membership Rewards points to Air Canada for flights across the pond. Plus, you can use Delta miles for flights on their partner airlines, like Air France & KLM, too.
Just keep in mind, you’ll pay an excise fee to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to US-based airlines.
5. Cheaper Award Tickets on American Airlines Using Etihad Miles
You can transfer Citi ThankYou points and AMEX Membership Rewards points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio. Then use Etihad miles to book American Airlines award tickets for fewer miles!
Here’s my series about earning and using Etihad miles.
Don’t Forget: Consider the Card’s Travel Insurance!
It’s not always about the bonus points you’ll earn or which program has better transfer partners. Because the Citi Prestige and Chase Sapphire Reserve offer trip delay, cancellation, and interruption insurance along with baggage delay and lost luggage insurance. While the AMEX Platinum card does NOT.
So if you think you may need to cancel your trip, or if you’re flying to or from an airport that’s prone to delays, you might want to consider foregoing the 5X bonus points you’ll earn using the AMEX Platinum card for airfare, and book using another card with better insurance.
Million Mile Secrets team member Jasmin has used her Citi Prestige card’s trip delay insurance, and getting reimbursed was easy! In fact, she won’t buy airfare with any other card now, even if it earns 5X bonus points. 😉
You’ll earn flexible bonus points for airfare purchases with the AMEX Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Citi Prestige cards. And while the AMEX Platinum card earns the MOST bonus points for paid flights (5X AMEX Membership Rewards points!), the Chase Ultimate Rewards points you’ll earn with the Chase Sapphire Reserve are usually the easiest to use.
So when you’re deciding which card to use for airfare, you have to think about your travel plans, how you want to use your points, and how easily you can collect points from each program. And consider what kind of travel insurance the card provides too!
For example, folks who book award tickets with United Airlines will do best with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Because you can transfer the Chase Ultimate Rewards points you earn to United Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio.
And if your dream is to visit Europe, earning AMEX Membership Rewards points with the AMEX Platinum card would be worth it. Because you can transfer those points to Air Canada or Delta for award tickets to Europe.
But if you want to use a card that offers trip & baggage insurance, you’ll have to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige. Because the AMEX Platinum card does NOT provide similar trip protections.
Do you have a favorite flexible points program? Let me know in the comments!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)