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 Benefits||Details|
|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
- 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
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?