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What’s the Best Credit Card to Use When Purchasing Flights?

I’ve always purchased flights through airline websites because I like the idea that if there’s a problem with my trip, I know I can call the airline to handle it (that doesn’t mean they’ll handle the problem, it just means I know whom to call). I’ve never found the online travel agencies to be particularly helpful when I’ve had an issue with a flight – they generally have to contact the airline anyway if there’s a problem.

But I’ve been thinking about how to maximize points generated when purchasing airfare, and it turns out I’m doing myself a bit of a disservice by booking this way.

To maximize points earned, you have three options, depending on the value of the ticket and where you like to earn:

American Express Premier Rewards Gold card earns you 3x points when you pay for airfare. If you book through the Amex travel portal, you’ll get another bonus point per dollar spent, giving you 400 Membership Rewards points for every hundred dollars you spend on flights.

— If you use the Amex PRG to book a flight on Priceline (not the name your own price part, just the regular online travel agency part) using a Bigcrumbs link, you’ll earn 3x Membership Rewards points plus $4 for each ticket (my referral link for Bigcrumbs). Assuming an average $300 ticket and that MR points are worth a penny (yes, I know, they can be worth more than that), then you’re essentially getting $4.33 back for every $100 spent on airfare.

— You can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to get you 2x points on airfare. If you book using Travelocity through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you’ll earn another 2x points for the purchase, giving you 400 Ultimate Rewards points per 100 dollar spent on flights. At the end of the year, you also get the 7% dividend on all points earned, giving you 428 points. Those are transferable, of course, to other programs. However, if you use them to pay for travel through the UR portal (which may make sense in some cases if you’re using it for domestic coach travel and cannot find award space available), you get a 25% bonus, giving you roughly $5.35 cash to use towards a travel purchase for each $100 you spend on airfare.

It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it for you to book through a 3rd party (rather than the airline directly) to get those extra points, but, as in the last example, a more than 5% kickback for airfrare spend is not a bad deal at all.

(Disclosure Note: Sapphire and PRG links are affiliate links)

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  1. also consider the travelocity Amex. it gets 5x points or basically 10 pct back when making purchases through Travelocity.

  2. Great tips. I normally use my Mastercard and book through Expedia. Always good to know what other people are doing and how you can save.

  3. Do you get fewer SkyMiles and MQMs if you book Delta flights using you AmEx GoldPremier card then you would using your AmEx Delta POlatinum card?

    • Maybe that was a dumb question but I’m always worried I get less or that I won’t get miles if I don’t book with the airlines credit card.

      I have just started following your blog and have read a number of your older blogs and found them very helpful. Thanks

      • That isn’t a dumb question at all. There rules for all of this stuff are arcane and vary by carrier.

        You’ll get 3x Membership Rewards points when you book with the Amex Premier Rewards Gold. You’ll still earn the full SkyMiles and MQMs when you fly. Those 3x Membership Rewards points can then be transferred into SkyMiles.

        If you book with the Amex Delta Platinum, you’ll earn 2x SkyMiles when you book, then the regular SkyMiles and MQMs when you fly.

        You’re still better off using the Amex PRG because you’re getting 3x on the purchase (which can be transferred to SkyMiles, if you wish) vs. 2x on the purchase. There is no penalty for booking with that card.

        The only travel area where you are penalized in a way like you’re asking about is in the hotel world. Some chains (Hilton, Marriott and Starwood come to mind) DO NOT give points (at least usually do not) if you book through a 3rd party (such as Expedia).

        Airlines to not have the same restrictions – you’ll get full points if you book through a third site (except Priceline and Hotwire opaque fares), and there’s no penalty for using a non-airline branded credit card.

        Hope that helps!

  4. If I book using Travelocity through the Ultimate Rewards Portal, will I still accrue the airline’s miles for that flight?

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