Which Credit Card Is Best For Buying Airline Tickets?

Which Credit Card Is Best For Buying Airline Tickets?

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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).

Over the years 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 when deciding which card to use for buying airline tickets:

  • 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.

Best Personal Cards For Buying Airline Tickets As Of September 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. Some cards also offer extra bonus points when you book through a credit card portal, so I’ll note when that’s the case (that has its pros and cons).

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: $695 (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 (and on up to $500,000 per calendar year; then 1x), as well as airfare purchases through American Express Travel (other travel agency bookings don’t 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 (apply for the Amex Platinum).

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 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: $0
Restrictions to be aware of: the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on all travel purchases, plus 5x total points on airfare booked through the Chase Travel portal
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. If you can book through the Chase Travel portal, you can do even better than that.

Read a review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve).

4. 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 (apply for the Amex Green).

5. 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: $0 (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 (apply for the Amex Gold).

6. 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: 0%
Restrictions to be aware of: the Citi Premier offers 3x points on hotels, air travel, at 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 (apply for the Citi Premier).

7. 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: $0
Restrictions to be aware of: the Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on all travel purchases, 5x total points on airfare booked through the Chase Travel portal, plus 10% anniversary bonus points
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. If you can book through the Chase Travel portal, you can get an even better return on your airfare spending.

Read a review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred (apply for the Sapphire Preferred).

8. 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 Travel portal, so that’s quite limiting
Travel protection: none

This is no doubt niche since you need to book through Chase Travel, but if you can, it’s great to be able to earn 5x points on airfare purchases with no annual fee cards. Just be aware of the lack of travel protection, plus the foreign transaction fees.

Read a review of the Chase Freedom Flex (apply for the Chase Freedom Flex), read a review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited (apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited).

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 (apply for the Citi Double Cash).

10. 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 (apply for the World of Hyatt Card).

Earn up to 5x points on airfare purchases

Best Business Cards For Buying Airline Tickets As Of September 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 (apply for the Ink Business Preferred).

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 (and then 1x)
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 (apply for the Amex Business Gold).

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 (apply for the Amex Business Platinum).

Travel protection can help in the event of irregular operations

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).

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  1. Oliver

    Amex travel protections require purchasing roundtrip tickets. Since I usually fly using one-way award tickets, I do not use an Amex card to pay any fees/taxes on these tickets.

    1. Eskimo

      Unless you never return to the same airport ever again, that is not true.

      "The period of round-trip travel may consist of roundtrip, one-way, or combinations of roundtrip and one-way tickets with Common Carrier(s)."

  2. Eskimo

    I disagree with the ranking as the best one is missing.

    Which Credit Card Is Best For Buying Airline Tickets?
    Someone else's credit card :) I'd take a free trip over points any day.

  3. Patrick

    You need to give AMEX additional credit. When purchasing a ticket from AMEX Travel (I use my AMEX Plat Card), I'm also saving 9.x% on the fare vs the airline's website.

    1. Never In Doubt

      Wait, what?

      Are you referring to special fares via Amex travel? which are only very occasionally available?

      or the international airline program? which when it hits, on one of the limited number of airlines, is also some savings.

      Or is there some other magic by which you think AMEX saves you money vs the airline’s website on a consistent basis?

  4. Omar

    @Peter, I believe the amex does cover transferred points as long as it's an Amex transfer partner and taxes paid with the card.

  5. Peter

    It's nice that all of these earn a lot of points, but none of them cover trips paid for in whole or part with frequent flyer miles, unless they are the direct use of the card's own miles, i.e. Chase points buying cash tickets on the Chase portal, or Amex points directly with Amex. Transferred miles no. (They used to, but the language has changed.)

    It would be nice to have a writeup on how to cover such trips.

    1. Rick

      The Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa is my go-to card for flights. The payback of Marriott points is not the best in town, but it is one of the very few cards that provides travel coverage if the card is used to pay for just a portion of the flight price. The card also covers travel delay after 6 hours, vs 12 hours with most of the cards out there. I got $648.12 reimbursed in March last...

      The Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa is my go-to card for flights. The payback of Marriott points is not the best in town, but it is one of the very few cards that provides travel coverage if the card is used to pay for just a portion of the flight price. The card also covers travel delay after 6 hours, vs 12 hours with most of the cards out there. I got $648.12 reimbursed in March last year when COVID started, my flight from Maui back to mainland was cancelled, and I had to stay on the island for another night. Hotel at walk-in price, car rental, meals, clothes and essential items for the one day, all paid for by Chase. This kind of coverage is much better than AMEX Plat's 5x in my book (I do have the AMEX Plat fwiw).

  6. CF_Frost

    "Chase Travel portal" Ok to use that from a points perspective. But if you need any kind of customer service after booking which is very likely these days then the Chase Travel portal introduces way too much risk. It's run by Expedia and the customer service is shall we say simply lacking.... Beware!

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Eskimo

Unless you never return to the same airport ever again, that is not true. "The period of round-trip travel may consist of roundtrip, one-way, or combinations of roundtrip and one-way tickets with Common Carrier(s)."

Oliver

Amex travel protections require purchasing roundtrip tickets. Since I usually fly using one-way award tickets, I do not use an Amex card to pay any fees/taxes on these tickets.

Never In Doubt

Wait, what? Are you referring to special fares via Amex travel? which are only very occasionally available? or the international airline program? which when it hits, on one of the limited number of airlines, is also some savings. Or is there some other magic by which you think AMEX saves you money vs the airline’s website on a consistent basis?

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