Which Credit Card Should You Buy Points With?

Filed Under: Advice, Credit Cards
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I frequently write about promotions for purchasing airline miles and hotel points, as this can represent an excellent value.

While I generally don’t recommend buying points without a particular use in mind, in some cases you can get outsized value, particularly for aspirational redemptions (whether that’s a five star hotel or first class flight).


Buying 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 consideration when buying points should be that the deal as such makes sense, in this post I wanted to talk about what credit card you should use when buying points. This might not be as obvious as it sounds, since different programs go about points purchases in different ways.

Using the right credit card can make a material difference in terms of the value you get.


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; that’s because the purchase of points is processed the same way as an airfare or hotel purchase
  • 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; in that case you’ll want to use a card maximizing your return on everyday spending

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 spending):

The following programs use points.com for points purchases (and therefore points purchases with them don’t qualify as airline/hotel spending):

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 spending.

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:

CardPoints earned on airfare spend
The Platinum Card® from American Express5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent
Citi Prestige Card5x ThankYou points per dollar spent
American Express® Gold Card3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent
American Express® Green Card3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent
Chase Sapphire Reserve®3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent
Citi Premier℠ Card3x ThankYou points per dollar spent
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x 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. 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:

So, the above is my advice if buying points from an airline that processes mileage purchases directly. But what about the other airlines and hotels, which process points purchases through points.com?

My general advice with points.com purchases is to:

Great cards for everyday spending

Bottom line

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 2x points on points purchases processed through points.com, which personally I value as an incremental return of 3.4-8.5%.

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Comments
  1. Quality post Ben, thanks. Anymore I almost exclusively use my Amex Plat for travel purchases, aside from hotels which goes to Citi for the 3x.

    Recent success story with the lifemiles bonus. Bought 150,000 lifemiles for around $2k with amex plat. 5x 2k got me 10,000 amex points and the lifemiles got me two one way tix in EVA Royal Laurel from LAX>TPE>MNL.

    Love it when they code the mileage purchases as airfare.

  2. If you use topcashback to access points.com you can usually get from 1%-2.5% back. At least that’s been my experience buying IHG and Alaska points (can’t speak for any of the other currencies)

  3. @Neil – There are multiple shopping portals that offer cash back. It’s a great way to save money. Ben often suggests shopping portals and he’s right. You should never buy points without using a portal.

  4. Agree with your analysis that basically credit card points are more flexible these days and give a better return with many airlines and hotels devaluing their points and I also agree that clients need to check to make sure if it is being processed directly.

  5. FYI I called Alaska to buy points and it was processed by Alaska so I got the 3x on my Amex Green…which I wasn’t expecting. So maybe phone and online transactions are processed differently.

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