My Strategy For Maximizing Points On Airfare Purchases

Filed Under: American Express, Chase
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I spend a significant amount of money annually on airfare purchases, and thanks to the generous bonus categories offered on some credit cards, it’s one of the biggest ways I earn points through credit card spend.

The two most rewarding cards for airfare spend

The way I see it, there are two best cards for airfare spend:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly from airlines; I value Membership Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, so to me that’s like a return of 8.5%.
  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel purchases, which includes airfare purchased directly from airlines, as well as airfare purchased through online travel agencies (which isn’t covered on the Amex Platinum Card); I value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 cents each so to me that’s like a return of 5.1%

But what about travel protection?

As you can see above, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a return on airfare spend that’s 3.4% better than the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, per my valuation. That’s assuming that you’re purchasing airfare directly from an airline rather than through an online travel agency, and assuming the airline takes American Express (some of the more obscure airlines I’ve flown lately don’t).

But that’s not the entire equation here. While the Amex Platinum Card doesn’t come with any sort of included travel coverage, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers excellent travel protection, as it’s a Visa Infinite Card. Here’s a chart showing some of the benefits you can expect with the Chase Sapphire Reserve in the event of a delayed flight, delayed baggage, etc.:

Sapphire Reserve Travel BenefitsDetails
Baggage Delay Benefit• You can be reimbursed up to $500 when some or all of the cost of a common carrier ticket is charged to your card (therefore award tickets should be eligible if the taxes are charged to the card)

• You can be reimbursed a maximum of $100 per day for emergency purchases of essential items at a destination other than your current residence
Lost Luggage Reimbursement• Receive reimbursement for lost or damaged checked or carry-on bags and personal property

• Maximum reimbursement is $3,000

• You must report the loss or damage to the Common Carrier immediately as soon as you exit the Carrier. You will need to provide proof that you submitted a report to the Common Carrier, so be sure to keep a copy of the report for your records.
Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance• Receive the non-refundable amount of the passenger fare or $10,000 (whichever is less) in the event of a trip cancellation or interruption

• The cancellation or interruption must be caused by death, accidental injury, disease, or physical illness of the passenger or immediate family member

• This also covers you if your airline goes out of business or tickets are otherwise cancelled by the carrier
Trip Delay Reimbursement• Receive up to $500 if your trip is delayed for more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay

• The trip has to be delayed by an equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes, or hijacking

Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they’d rather earn an additional 2x points per dollar spent on airfare, or whether they’d rather receive travel coverage in the event that things go wrong. I’ve taken advantage of the excellent Chase Sapphire travel protection in the past, though at least in my case things don’t often go sufficiently wrong that I need to use it (that’s probably partly because I almost never check bags, and partly because I try to be proactive in anticipating travel disruptions).

Here’s my strategy for airfare purchases

Taking the above into account, and given that I have both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, here’s my strategy:

  • I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for airfare that I purchase through online travel agencies, since the Amex Platinum doesn’t earn 5x points on those purchases (at least technically — in practice airfare purchases through OTAs are sometimes still processed by airlines directly, in which case you’d receive 5x points)
  • I use the Amex Platinum for airfare purchased directly with airlines that’s $200+ (otherwise I use the Sapphire Reserve); the way I view it, on a fairly inexpensive ticket there’s value in forgoing the additional points (since it’s not that many) and going for the travel protection, while on bigger purchases I’d rather have the extra points
  • I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay the taxes on award tickets (unless we’re talking about a ticket with hundreds of dollars of carrier imposed surcharges), since you receive trip protection on award tickets as long as you pay the taxes and fees with the card

Bottom line

People often ask me if I think it’s worth forgoing the additional 2x points per dollar spent in order to get travel protection. As you can see, my answer is “it depends.” While I value travel interruption coverage, I also want to earn as many points as possible.

I think I take a pretty balanced approach by putting smaller airfare purchases on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (where the opportunity cost in terms of points isn’t huge), while I put bigger airfare purchases on The Platinum Card® from American Express (where I find it worthwhile to sacrifice the coverage in order to earn more points).

To those who have both the Amex Platinum and Sapphire Reserve, what’s your strategy for airfare spend?

Regarding Comments: 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.
  1. Hi Ben! What do you think of the Allianz annual travel insurance policy that offers almost the same protections as the Chase Sapphire Reserve to protect Amex Platinum purchase?

  2. If you value Chase/Citi/Amex equally wouldn’t 3x on the prestige (with good insurance) be roughly equal to the Sapphire?

  3. Is it possible to split the payment between 2 cards? With a $1,000 ticket, for example, could you put a nominal amount (say, $50) on the CSR to secure the protection (since indeed “some” of the cost is on that card), then charge the $950 balance to the AmEx Platinum for the higher points (or a card for which you’re trying to hit the minimum spend for a bonus). I have an expensive flight to book this week that I’ll be paying out-of-pocket and wonder if this strategy is even feasible with any of the major US carriers.

  4. If you read the citi prestige terms, it says as long as you put any part of the flight on the card.
    So you can put 99% of the purchase on the AMEX plat, and then put 1% of the purchase on the Prestige and still get the benefit.

  5. @ Ben — That seems to be a good strategy. I’m generally too lazy to think about travel protection until after a problem arises, which is extremely rare since I am super-proactive and usually not in a rush to get somewhere. Consequently, I probably over-use my AMEX Platinum for 5x points.

  6. I tend to look at whether or not the flight has a connection, the connection time and the time of year. For example, a flight in December (I live on the east coast) with a tight connection where I would have limited options if the flight is canceled, then I go to my CSR. Otherwise, I generally just go with the Amex. I also try to consider upcoming award travel goals and whether I need Amex or Chase points more and go from there.

  7. buy gift cards on the platinum you will get 5x purchases when buying gift cards direct from airline. Apply gift cards to airfare purchase and use remainder on CSP. that way you get best of both worlds.

  8. I am curious about splitting the cost as well. I (believe) had read that any portion of the flight must be paid using the CSR to be eligible for protection. So can you pay for the ticket itself with the Amex and the pay bag fees with the CSR and still be covered with delay protection?

  9. I have heard that with Chase, the entire purchase has to be on the card. Not just the taxes/fees in order to get trip protection. Anyone have any insight or comment on that?

  10. Not sure I would call the CSR travel insurance “excellent”. I’ve been awaiting reimbursement for over a month now for a $213 claim from a weather cancellation which resulted in an overnight at DFW. Receipts and documentation were all uploaded on the claim website the day after the return. It was required to provide documentation from the airline as well stating the case for the delay- which was given a week later. Although the website says notification will come within 5 -7 business days this has not been the case. I’ve made 2 phone calls each resulting in another hoop to jump through (i.e. needed statement of relationship of the other passenger on the itinerary even though no additional claim was being made for that passenger).

  11. How about Citi thankyou premier vs Chase saffire reserve for this usecase?
    both give 3x points but thank you premier gets you price rewind – just had a bad experience when I got 4 maui tickets & the price dropped (not sure any of these cover it though)

  12. I’ve personally been rescued by the CSR baggage delay coverage as recently as May and it was an award booking on EK and thanks goodness for using CSR as no amount of Amex points would of made up for the expenses I injured for my wife’s delayed luggage of 2 days while we already traveled onward and need to buy complete wardrobe and got reimbursed every penny minus whatever EK reimbursed us and have used my CSR exclusivity for many bookings since and will stick to them unless Amex Platinum gives me anything close to Chase

  13. I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve card will reimburse you $5000 PER PERSON and 10,000 per trip total for travel insurance. So if you travel alone, it will give you a max of $5000 per trip. If you travel with a covered person under your card, It will give you $10,000 of coverage for the two individuals. Never had to use it. Hope I don’t.

  14. I used to never think about trip cancellation and was fine not worrying about it until one time 3 months before my trip I ended up in the hospital for 3 weeks. It was a disaster and I almost died. But I lived. Yay. But when it came time to cancel my trip (because walking more than 100 feet was a chore let alone hauling luggage onto a plane so no flying), I really wished I had travel protection. Thats when you realize most airlines just suck with non refundable airfare and ones with awful award ticket penalties and the importance of booking hotels with a good cancellation policy.
    Now rather than always go full in on trip protection I think about how much I am covered without trip protection and as lucky saids, pay some of the taxes with csr to be covered. If I am about 75-85% covered, I’m good with that.

  15. I have a question i could not find the answer yet. Can you purchase miles with new opened Credit card and that amount will go against spending so you can get the bonus?

  16. Can anyone speak from experience about the CSR trip cancellation coverage?

    Is a “nested vacation” (i.e. RT flights to Europe purchased from airline, with hotel stay, then a European cruise purchased from the cruise line) considered one “event” or two for purposes of the “per-event max”? I wouldn’t want to make the purchases based on coverage if it’s excluded. I can’t find it at the CSR trip cancellation benefit page.

    TIA for any tips.

  17. Some clarification here, just because it will reimburse up to $5,000 per person, it does not mean you will get that. We had to cancel a tour, because of a hurricane, we had booked in the UK that was about $9,000. They covered everything we had paid except the 10 % the tour company reimbursed us. If you charge $15 of your trip to the CSR, they will only reimburse you $15. That’s the way it works. As for the baggage delay, etc. not sure how that works. Have to read the fine print!

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