Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
When you book a paid flight it’s best to use a card that earns extra points for airfare purchases, like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige Card, or Citi ThankYou Premier Card.
But what if you have more than 1 of these cards? How do you pick which to use?
The answer depends on your travel plans. And if you want to use points toward award flights or paid airfare!
How to Decide?
Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred
Link: Citi Prestige
Link: Citi ThankYou Premier
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold – earn 3 AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 you spend on airfare purchased directly from airlines (this also works with online travel agencies like Orbitz)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – earn 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 you spend on travel, including airfare
- Citi Prestige – earn 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on air travel
- Citi ThankYou Premier – earn 3 Citi ThankYou points per $1 you spend on travel, including airfare
Note: You can also earn 3X American Express Membership Rewards points per $1 on airfare purchased directly with airlines with the The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN. But ONLY if you choose airfare as your 3X category.
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:
- The airline you want to fly (and which alliance it belongs to)
- Which route you want to fly (because it might be served by different airlines)
- Hotel chains you want to stay with
- Which programs you already have lots of points in
Some Decisions Are Easy!
That’s because Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but NOT American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou.
Here’s a list of Chase Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel transfer partners:
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners|
|Aer Lingus||British Airways||Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)|
|Southwest||United Airlines||Virgin Atlantic|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners|
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to these airline and hotel partners:
|American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners|
|ANA||Asia Miles||British Airways|
|Etihad||Flying Blue (Air France / KLM)||Hawaiian Airlines|
|American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners|
And Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to these airlines and hotels:
|Citi ThankYou Points Airline Transfer Partners|
|Avianca||Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)||EVA Air|
|Etihad||Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Garuda Indonesia|
|Jet Airways||JetBlue||Malaysia Airlines|
|Qantas||Qatar Airways||Singapore Airlines|
|Thai Airways||Turkish Airlines||Virgin Atlantic|
|Citi ThankYou Points Hotel Transfer Partners|
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.
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.
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. 🙁
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.
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!
Delta also charges 30,000 miles. But the fees, like United Airlines, are only ~$6.
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.
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!
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.
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.
You’ll get the best deal if you have the Citi Prestige card. That’s because you’ll get:
- 1.6 cents per Citi ThankYou point for flights booked on American Airlines through July 23, 2017
- 1.33 cents per Citi ThankYou point for flights booked on other airlines through July 23, 2017
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!
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.
To make the best decision about which card to use when paying for airfare, it helps to have a travel goal in mind.
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?