Almost every time I post about a promotion for purchasing points/miles, I get a question about whether it qualifies as an airline/hotel purchase as far as credit card use is concerned. This is because usually hotels and airlines offer bonus points on their co-branded credit cards when you make purchases with them. For example, Starwood gives you six points per dollar spent with Starwood/Marriott on their co-branded American Express.
So whether or not you’d earn that bonus for purchasing points depends on whether the transaction is being processed directly by the airline/hotel or through a third party. For example, many airlines and hotels use points.com to process points purchases. Back in the day, I could purchase some US Airways Dividend Miles, and here’s how it showed on my American Express statement:
While you see US Airways listed in the description, as you can see it’s processed by points.com, and the category is “Merchandise & Supplies – Internet Purchases.”
Conversely, Delta processes their mileage purchases directly. Here’s what my online summary showed for a purchase of Delta miles:
As you can see they consider it a “frequent flyer fee/purchase,” and the category is “travel – airline.”
With that in mind, I figured I’d lay out which programs process points purchases directly, and which have a third party process them.
The following programs process points directly (and therefore points purchases with them qualify as airline/hotel spend):
- American AAdvantage
- Avianca Lifemiles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Hilton HHonors
The following programs don’t process points directly (and therefore points purchases with them don’t qualify as airline/hotel spend):
- Alaska Airlines MileagePlan
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Icelandair Saga Club
- Marriott Bonvoy Rewards
- IHG Rewards Club
- United MileagePlus
In other words, with Delta, Hilton, and United, you’re better off using a credit card which accrues bonus points for airline/hotel spend. For example, for Delta or United you might be best off putting mileage purchases on the American Express® Gold Card, which offers triple points on airfare, as this would qualify. With Hilton you might be best off putting points purchases on the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express, which accrues 12 Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent on hotels.
As far as the other programs go, you’re best off putting your spend on whichever card accrues you the most valuable points for non-bonus categories. This could be cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (because Ultimate Rewards points are valuable) or the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card.
Hopefully that clears things up. If anyone has any questions on the above, let me know.