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):
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue
- Alaska Mileage Plan
- British Airways Executive Club
- Etihad Guest
- Iberia Plus
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Hilton Honors
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
- 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 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:
|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|
|American Express® Green 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. 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® (review) offers a $300 annual travel credit, which can be used to purchase miles with an airline that processes the purchase directly
- The Citi Prestige Card offers a $250 annual travel credit, which can be used to purchase miles with an airline that processes mileage purchases directly
- There are several Amex cards that offer an airline fee credit; the terms state that mileage purchases aren’t eligible for this, though there are reports of those purchases sometimes being automatically reimbursed if purchases are in small increments, so this is a case of “your mileage may vary” (Amex has largely cracked down on how these credits can be used, though)
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:
- First use a credit card on which you’re trying to reach minimum spending, 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® (review) or Citi® Double Cash Card (review)
- Do keep in mind that if you’re buying points from a program that bills them in a foreign currency, you’ll want to use a card with no foreign transaction fees
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%.