I frequently write about promotions for purchasing airline miles and hotel points, as this can often represent an excellent value.
While I never recommend buying points without a particular use in mind, this can represent an excellent value for aspirational redemptions, like for international first class flights and stays at five star hotels.
Buying Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific first class redemptions can be a great deal
We’ve seen quite a few award chart devaluations over the years, though for the most part we’ve continued to see robust promotions for purchasing miles. These often get better and better to account for the devaluations we’ve otherwise seen.
While the main aspect to buying points is to make sure the deal as such makes sense, in this post I wanted to look at which credit card you should use in those instances where you choose to purchase points in order to maximize your value, since this can make a significant difference.
Buying Hilton points for a stay at the Conrad Bora Bora can be a great deal
Maximizing credit card rewards when buying points
Using the best credit card to purchase points might not be quite as straightforward as it sounds. This is due to an important distinction with how loyalty programs choose to process these purchases:
- If the airline or hotel program processes points purchases directly, you’ll want to use a credit card that offers bonus points for airfare and hotel purchases, since you can earn bonus points for the purchases
- A lot of loyalty programs use points.com to process points purchases, in which case that wouldn’t qualify as an airfare or hotel purchase; however, there’s another trick to maximizing purchases in those instances
With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the most popular programs for purchasing points, and how they process those transactions.
Which loyalty programs process points purchases directly?
The following programs process points purchases directly (and therefore points purchases with them qualify as airline spend):
The following programs use points.com for points purchases (and therefore points purchases with them don’t qualify as airline/hotel spend):
- Alaska Mileage Plan
- Etihad Guest
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Hilton Honors
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards
- Radisson Rewards
- World of Hyatt
When points.com processes the purchase you’ll see a points.com logo at the bottom of the purchase page:
Which credit card should you use to buy points?
As you can see above, some airline programs process points purchases directly. In those instances, you’re best off using a card that offers bonus points on airfare spend.
Those typically include the co-branded credit cards of the respective airline, or otherwise your best bet would be one of the following, which are flexible cards offering bonus points on airfare purchases:
|Card||Points earned on airfare spend|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent|
|Citi Prestige Card||5x ThankYou points per dollar spent|
|American Express® Gold Card||3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent|
|Citi Premier℠ Card||3x ThankYou points per dollar spent|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||2x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent|
As you can see, some cards offer up to 5x flexible points per dollar spent, and I value those points at 1.7 cents each. So to me that’s like an incremental 8.5% return on that spend, which is incredible.
Furthermore, for these purchases you can also potentially take advantage of some travel credits offered by cards:
- The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a $300 annual travel credit, which can be used to purchase miles with an airline that processes the mileage purchase directly
- The Citi Prestige Card offers offers a $250 annual travel credit, which can be used to purchase miles with an airline that processes the mileage purchase directly
- There are several Amex cards that offer an airline fee credit; the terms state that mileage purchases aren’t eligible for this, thought there are reports of those purchases being automatically reimbursed if purchases are in small increments, so this is a case of “your mileage may vary”
So, the above is my advice if buying points from an airline that processes mileage purchases directly. But what about the other airlines, and the major hotel groups, which process points purchases through points.com?
My general advice with points.com spend is to:
- First use a credit card on which you’re trying to reach minimum spend, since this is a great non-bonused category in which to do so
- Then use a credit card that helps you maximize your return on everyday, non-bonused spend; this includes cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® (see terms), etc.
Now, there is one further quirk and trick to maximizing your spend on points.com purchases. The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card is one of my favorite all around business credit cards, and for whatever reason it seems to offer 3x points on points.com purchases (thanks to David W for the heads up on that).
The statement shows the bonus points as being for “travel, shipping, advertising, telecommunications.” I’m not sure exactly which of those points.com qualifies as, but I imagine it’s not travel, since other cards that offer bonus points on travel don’t offer bonuses on points.com transactions.
So it seems most likely that the Ink Preferred views points.com as either advertising or telecommunications.
I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so getting a ~5.1% return on points.com purchases is pretty awesome.
For many, buying miles is one of the best ways to book premium cabin tickets at huge discounts. If you want to maximize the return you get out of your miles & points purchases, it’s valuable to understand how different programs process those purchases.
As you can see above, you can earn up to 5x points on mileage purchases processed directly by airlines, and up to 3x points on points purchases processed through points.com, which personally I value as an incremental return of 5.1-8.5%.