Which Credit Card Is Best For Airline Tickets?

Filed Under: American Express, Chase
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Using the right credit card for airfare purchases can help you rack up points quickly, especially if you’re anything like me, and spend a lot on air travel (at least in the long run).

A lot has changed regarding the best credit cards to use for airfare purchases, so in this post I wanted to take a closer look at that. There are a couple of key things to consider:

  • Which card offers the most points for airfare purchases?
  • Which card offers the best travel protection for airfare purchases?

Ideally you’ll find a card that ticks both of those boxes. With that in mind, let’s talk about the all-around best cards for purchasing your airline tickets.

The Best Personal Credit Cards For Purchasing Airline Tickets As Of January 2021

Below I’ll talk about what I consider to be the best personal cards for airline ticket purchases. With each card I’ll note the rewards points offered, how much I value those points, and the travel protection offered, if any.

I’ll be sorting these cards based on my perceived value of the points offered, and then for those that are tied, will order them by the travel protection offered. Everyone will have to decide for themselves how much they value the travel protection in comparison to the rewards points offered.

1. The Platinum Card® from American Express

Reward for airline tickets: 8.5% (5x Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $550 (Rates & Fees)
Foreign transaction fees: none (Rates & Fees)
Restrictions to be aware of: the Amex Platinum 5x points only applies to airfare purchases made directly with airlines, so bookings through travel agencies may not qualify
Travel protection: the Amex Platinum offers trip cancelation and interruption coverage, as well as trip delay coverage; learn all about the coverage here

Currently, I consider the Amex Platinum to be the single best personal card for airfare purchases, as you can earn 5x Membership Rewards points while also getting great travel coverage.

Read a review of the Amex Platinum Card.

2. Citi Prestige Card

Reward for airline tickets: 8.5% (5x ThankYou points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $495
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Citi Prestige 5x points applies to all airfare purchases, including airfare purchased through travel agencies
Travel protection: none

In the past the Citi Prestige was my go-to card for airfare purchases, but unfortunately the card no longer offers travel protection, so I’m not using it anymore for those purposes.

Read a review of the Citi Prestige Card.

3. Chase Freedom FlexSM Credit Card & Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Reward for airline tickets: 8.5% (5x Ultimate Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $0
Foreign transaction fees: 3%
Restrictions to be aware of: the Chase Freedom Flex & Freedom Unlimited offer 5x points only on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website, so that’s quite limiting
Travel protection: none

Ironically it’s Chase’s Freedom products that offer the most Chase points on travel purchases, though there are foreign transaction fees and there’s no travel protection, so these aren’t my go-to cards for these purchases.

Read a review of the Chase Freedom Flex, read a review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

4. Chase Sapphire Reserve® 

Reward for airline tickets: 5.1% (3x Ultimate Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $550
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on all travel purchases
Travel protection: the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers exceptional travel coverage, including coverage for delayed bags, lost luggage, trip cancelation and interruption, as well as for trip delays

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is an extremely well-rounded card for airfare purchases, thanks to the 3x points combined with the excellent travel protection.

Read a review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

5. American Express® Green Card

Reward for airline tickets: 5.1% (3x Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $150
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Amex Green offers 3x points on all travel purchases
Travel protection: the Amex Green offers trip delay coverage; learn all about the coverage here

The Amex Green offers 3x points on airfare purchases, along with trip delay coverage, which is extremely solid.

Read a review of the Amex Green Card.

6. American Express® Gold Card

Reward for airline tickets: 5.1% (3x Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $250 (Rates & Fees)
Foreign transaction fees: none (Rates & Fees)
Restrictions to be aware of: the Amex Gold 3x points only applies to airfare purchases made directly with airlines, so bookings through travel agencies may not qualify
Travel protection: the Amex Gold offers trip delay coverage; learn all about the coverage here

The Amex Gold offering 3x points on airfare purchases, along with trip delay coverage, is a very good return.

Read a review of the Amex Gold Card.

7. Citi Premier® Card

Reward for airline tickets: 5.1% (3x ThankYou points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Citi Premier offers 3x points on hotels, air travel, gas stations, supermarkets and dining
Travel protection: none

The Citi Premier offers a good return on airfare purchases in terms of points earned, but doesn’t offer any travel protection.

Read a review of the Citi Premier Card.

8. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Reward for airline tickets: 3.4% (2x Ultimate Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on all travel purchases
Travel protection: the Sapphire Preferred offers good travel coverage, including coverage for delayed bags, lost luggage, trip cancelation and interruption, as well as for trip delays

The Sapphire Preferred strikes an excellent balance between offering bonus points on travel, and also offering great travel coverage.

Read a review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

9. Citi® Double Cash Card

Reward for airline tickets: 3.4% (2x ThankYou points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $0
Foreign transaction fees: 3%
Restrictions to be aware of: the Citi Double Cash doesn’t actually offer bonus points on airfare, though it does offer 2x points on all purchases, and those points can be converted into ThankYou points in conjunction with a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige
Travel protection: none

While the Citi Double Cash card isn’t specifically that great for airfare, it offers an excellent return on all spending, and that would include on airfare. However, ideally, I’d have a more rewarding card for airfare purchases.

Read a review of the Citi Double Cash.

10. The World of Hyatt Credit Card

Reward for airline tickets: 3% (2x World of Hyatt points, which I value at 1.5 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the World of Hyatt Card’s 2x points only applies to airfare purchases made directly with airlines, so bookings through travel agencies may not qualify
Travel protection: the World of Hyatt Card offers good travel coverage, including coverage for delayed bags, lost luggage, trip cancelation and interruption, as well as for trip delays

The World of Hyatt Card is an especially good option for Hyatt loyalists, given the spending thresholds on this card, which can earn you bonus elite nights, an additional Category 1-4 free night certificate, and more.

Read a review of the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Earn up to 5x points on airfare purchases

The Best Business Credit Cards For Purchasing Airline Tickets As Of January 2021

As you can see, there are many great personal cards for earning bonuses and getting travel protection on airfare purchases. Meanwhile, the number of business cards offering bonuses in these categories is more limited.

Here are the best business cards to consider for your airline ticket purchases:

1. Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Reward for airline tickets: 5.1% (3x Ultimate Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Foreign transaction fees: none
Restrictions to be aware of: the Ink Business Preferred offers 3x points on all travel purchases, though you’re capped at earning 3x points on up to $150,000 of spending per account year in bonus categories
Travel protection: the Ink Business Preferred offers good travel coverage, including coverage for trip cancelation and interruption, as well as for trip delays

The Ink Business Preferred is the most well rounded business card out there, as it has a reasonable annual fee, huge welcome bonus, 3x points on all travel purchases, and also has good travel protection.

Read a review of the Ink Business Preferred Card.

2. American Express® Business Gold Card

Reward for airline tickets: 6.8% (4x Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $295 (Rates & Fees)
Foreign transaction fees: none (Rates & Fees)
Restrictions to be aware of: with the Amex Business Gold you earn 4x points in the two categories in which you spend the most each billing cycle, and airfare is among those, with a maximum limit of $150,000 of spending per calendar year
Travel protection: the Amex Business Gold offers trip delay coverage; learn all about the coverage here

I wouldn’t get the Amex Business Gold solely for the bonus offered on airfare purchases, but this is a good card to use for those purchases if you have the card anyway, assuming it’s one of your top two spending categories.

Read a review of the Amex Business Gold Card.

3. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Reward for airline tickets: 8.5% (5x Membership Rewards points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $595 (Rates & Fees)
Foreign transaction fees: none (Rates & Fees)
Restrictions to be aware of: the major restriction with the Amex Business Platinum is that you only earn 5x points on flights booked directly through Amex Travel
Travel protection: the Amex Business Platinum offers trip cancelation and interruption coverage, as well as trip delay coverage; learn all about the coverage here

While the travel coverage on the Amex Business Platinum is good, the catch is that you only earn 5x points on flights booked through Amex Travel, and I consider that to be a major restriction.

Read a review of the Amex Business Platinum Card.

Travel protection can help in the event of irregular operations

Best Airfare Credit Card Bottom Line

When deciding on the credit card to use for airline ticket purchases, consider both the card that offers the most valuable rewards, as well as the card that offers the best travel protection.

My top picks for airline ticket purchases are the:

Of course, for many it won’t be worth picking up a card just because it offers a good return on airfare purchases, so you should balance the above advice with your current card portfolio.

For example, I’d say the Chase Sapphire Reserve® strikes a good balance between offering a good return on airfare spending, while also having great protection.

What card do you use for airline ticket purchases?

The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: American Express® Business Gold Card (Rates & Fees), American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees), The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), and The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Comments
  1. Given Amex and Delta removed the redeemable miles boost on all spend from the Platinum and Reserve Delta cards, people who are spending on those cards for status boosts anyway may be well served by putting Delta spend on those cards. You get 3x Delta miles, travel protections and you make progress towards the 25K/30K thresholds.

  2. If you buy an upgrade to status for AA or Delta, does any cc give you a bonus or count it as an airline (i.e., for the AMEX credit) fee?

  3. I also prefer my Amex Platinum for airfare purchases. With all of the refreshes Amex made in 2019 with the Gold, Platinum, and even Green….I’m curious if Chase is going to respond. I’d love to see some updates to the CSR on spending earn. What I don’t want to see is an increased annual fee connected to other benefits (such as food delivery or otherwise) that really equate to you pre-paying for those services.

  4. I only fly American, i spend enough on air to get my EQD’s for EXP trice over – I only use my AA Citi Executive Card. I’m sure I’m not maximizing my rewards here, but by what margin? Is it enough to justify a different card? I can skip the club membership since the travel would get me in anyway. Is it easy to downgrade the Citi card to avoid two big fee cards?

  5. What about the Amtrak card – doesn’t it earn 2x (and a very valuable currency)? What kind of travel protections does it offer?

  6. No mention of Chase Freedom Unlimited or Freedom Flex? They don’t have the travel protections of the Sapphire Reserve, but they also have a higher earn rate through the Chase Travel Portal (5% vs 3%). If you’re looking strictly at maximizing miles, these should be on the list somewhere

  7. @ Ben — For someone who spends a lot of money flying, this is the primary reason to have a Platinum AMEX. The other benefits are mostly noise.

  8. What about the Barclay cards which you’ve mentioned in the past posts?? They’re fantastic also!

  9. What about the Wells Fargo Propel? You get 3 points for flights which then can be transferred to your Wells Fargo Signature Card which will up the value of the points by 50%. And both of these cards have no annual fee and the Propel is an American Express, so it has all the basic travel protections that Amex offers.

  10. Hi Ben, rather than solely focusing on the points earnings potential, it would be great if you could focus on the travel protections. This should cover bothe how comprehensive the coverage is (e.g. wahr are reimbursable expenses for trip interruptions, this is where policies differ a lot) as well as the ease of filing claims and getting them approve.
    The Amex Aspire has great travel protections too, on par with the Platinum card.

  11. This may be a newbie question, but what’s the downside of buying your ticket through amextravel vs directly with the airline? Assuming the same fare, and the fact that all tickets now have no change fees, is there a difference even when you have to make changes? Why would you leave the extra 2x points on the table?

  12. Your valuation of the Reserve card is wrong. The valuation is much higher if you redeem your points with Chase travel. You receive a 50% bonus. If you hold this card in conjunction with a lower card and merge the points the same will be true.

    To answer the title of this article, it depends if the tickets are a direct airline purchase or not and it depends if there is foreign currency. If a direct airline purchase then the Platinum card is best. If not then the Reserve card is best. If in foreign currency then the Freedom Flex and Unlimited would not work because those two charge for foreign exchange and the 5% only applies if you use their travel service, so you should not only be adding the other possible valuation to Reserve but adding another valuation to Freedom.

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