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Nowadays most airlines have co-branded credit cards which offer bonus points for tickets you purchase directly with them. That of course makes sense — they want you to be loyal to their brand in general (like using your co-branded airline credit card for non-airline purchases), but when you use their co-branded credit card for ticket purchases on them, they’re winning in two ways.
However, there are some other cards that offer huge rewards for airline purchases as well. So under what circumstances should you use the airline’s co-branded credit card directly, and under which circumstances should you use another card instead?
Here are a few of the credit cards not issued in conjunction with an airline which offer bonus points for airfare purchases:
|Credit Card||Earning Rate On Airline Spend|
|American Express Premier Rewards Gold||3 points/dollar|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||2 points/dollar|
|Hilton HHonors Citi Reserve||5 points/dollar|
|Hyatt Credit Card||2 points/dollar|
|Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card||2 points/dollar|
I’m mentioning all the cards in the interest of being as thorough as possible. The latter three almost certainly aren’t worth putting airfare spend on:
- I value Hilton HHonors points at ~0.4 cents each, so that’s a return of ~2% even with the category bonus, which isn’t compelling
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be converted into Hyatt Gold Passport points, so there’s no reason to choose 2.0 Hyatt points per dollar over 2.14 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar
- Marriott Rewards points are certainly worth less than a penny each, so that’s a return of not even 2%
That leaves us with the two first cards:
- The American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card offers 3x points per dollar spent on airfare; keep in mind the card has foreign transaction fees, so you’ll only want to use this card for airfare purchased in USD
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 2x points per dollar spent on airfare, this card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, so is great for airfare purchases in non-USD as well
And then there are co-branded airline cards, most of which offer 2-3x points per dollar spent on airfare. Here’s a quick rundown for some major US/international carriers:
|Co-Branded Airline Credit Card||Earning Rate On Airline Spend|
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card||3 points/dollar|
|Citi Executive® / AAdvantage® World EliteTM MasterCard®||2 points/dollar|
|British Airways Visa Signature® Card||3 points/dollar|
|Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards||2 points/dollar|
|Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard®||2 points/dollar|
|Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card||2 points/dollar|
|United MileagePlus® Explorer Card||2 points/dollar|
|The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®||2 points/dollar|
|The New Virgin America Visa Signature® Credit Cards||3 points/dollar|
If you have one of the above cards, there are almost no circumstances under which I’d purchase an airline ticket with an American, Delta, Southwest, United, or US Airways card.
Meanwhile there could be some merit to using the other cards, in my opinion:
- The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card offers three miles per dollar spent on Alaska, and I consider Alaska miles to be among the most valuable mileage currency out there, so I always use that card for my Alaska airfare spend
- If you don’t have the Premier Rewards Gold Card, it would make sense to use the British Airways Visa Signature® Card for 2.5 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways, depending on how you value Avois
- While the Lufthansa Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® “only” offers two miles per dollar spent, Lufthansa miles can be tough to come by (they don’t partner with Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards), so if you have a specific redemption goal in mind with them, it could make sense to accrue those miles for Lufthansa ticket purchases
- Virgin America Elevate points are more valuable than other mileage currencies, and on their co-branded Virgin America Visa Signature® Credit Cards they offer three points per dollar spent on Virgin America
Travel benefits that come with co-branded airline credit cards
It’s worth noting that nowadays co-branded airline credit cards give you (almost) entry level elite status benefits in many cases. You often get a free checked bag, priority check-in, priority boarding, etc. But for most airlines you don’t actually have to use the card for the ticket purchase in order to get those benefits. Instead the card just has to be linked to the frequent flyer account for the primary cardmember. There are some exceptions, but for most carriers that’s the case.
Extra point per dollar for going through Chase portal
Also keep in mind that if you purchase your tickets directly through Chase’s website, you earn an extra point per dollar, which is a nice extra “bonus” for tickets you’d purchase anyway. You also earn an extra point per dollar for airfare purchased with an American Express Card, though don’t earn 3x points if the card isn’t purchased directly with an airline.
- If you have the Premier Rewards Gold Card, it’s the best option for airfare charged in USD
- For foreign airfare, or if you don’t have the Premier Rewards Gold Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best all around card for airfare spend
- The Alaska, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Virgin America co-branded credit cards can be worth considering for airfare spend on their respective airlines
What’s your preferred credit card for airfare spend?