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Using the right credit card for airfare purchases can greatly impact your points balances, especially for those of us who spend a good amount on air travel. It’s important not just in terms of how many points various cards offer for airfare purchases, but also in terms of the protection the cards offer in the event of flight interruptions.
While many individual airline credit cards offer bonus points for airfare purchases, the good news is that the Citi, American Express, and Chase cards accruing their transferrable points currencies all offer a return at least as good as the co-branded airlines’ cards.
In my opinion the four most rewarding cards for airfare purchases are as follows:
- Citi Prestige® Card
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
All four of these cards have no foreign transaction fees, so are great regardless of which airline you’re booking a ticket with.
Which card offers the most points?
With that in mind, which of the cards offers the biggest points bonus for airfare purchases?
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers 3x Membership Rewards points
- Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offer 3x ThankYou points
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2x Ultimate Rewards points
The American Express and Citi cards have the advantage, given that they offer triple points rather than double points on airfare purchases. I value Citi ThankYou points and Amex Membership Rewards points roughly the same (at least if you have the Citi Prestige® Card, since it makes ThankYou points more valuable), so on the surface there’s not much of an advantage to one card over the other.
The one major restriction I’d note is that the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express only offers triple points on airfare purchased directly with an airline, and not airfare purchased through a third party, like an online travel agency.
However, what matters is how the purchase is categorized, and not where you book it. Typically if you book a ticket on just one airline through Orbitz, the airline will directly bill the purchase, rather than the online travel agency. So in practice it may not be that important of a distinction.
Which credit card offers the best travel protection?
I recently wrote about the travel protection offered by the Citi Prestige® Card, which is the best offered by any of the above cards, in my opinion. These include coverage in the event of flight delays, medical emergencies, baggage loss, etc.
The catch is that protection with Citi only applies if you’re on a revenue ticket, and not on award tickets.
Of the above cards, only the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers travel protection benefits on award tickets. So it’s probably worth putting your award ticket purchases on that card.
Which credit card is best for airfare purchases is highly dependent on the following:
- Your relative valuation of ThankYou points, Membership Rewards points, and Ultimate Rewards points
- How much you value travel protection benefits, given that major interruptions are rare, but when they happen, can be costly
- Whether you’re mostly booking award tickets or revenue tickets
To simplify my advice as much as possible:
- Not factoring in travel protection, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is the best for airfare purchases in terms of the return on spend
- For award tickets the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is best; while you’re forgoing one point per dollar spent, you’re gaining protection on your award ticket, which other cards don’t offer
- When you factor in a combination of return on spend and travel insurance coverage, the Citi Prestige® Card is the most well rounded card for airfare purchases, in my opinion
Personally I’m just using my Citi Prestige® Card for virtually all airfare purchases nowadays. It offers a great combination of an excellent return on the purchases and also great coverage in the event something goes wrong.
What card do you primarily use for airfare purchases?