Which Credit Card Should You Buy Points With?

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As I write about all the time, buying miles can be a fantastic way to book premium cabin tickets for pennies on the dollar when compared to the retail cost.

Emirates-A380-Cabin
Buy miles so you can redeem for Emirates first class

While airlines seem to be continually devaluing their rewards for frequent flyers, the programs are as robust as ever before when it comes to the ways in which you can buy miles. Which makes sense, since the airlines want to monetize on the programs as much as they can.

In the past I explained under what circumstances I think it makes sense to buy miles, both in terms of which programs are valuable and also which redemption values are best.

Maximizing credit card points when buying miles

Why does this distinction matter? Because it impacts which credit cards you’re best off using when buying points:

  • If the airline or hotel processes points purchases directly, you’ll want to use a credit card which offers bonus points for airfare and hotel purchases, respectively
  • If the airline or hotel uses points.com to process the purchases, you’ll want to use a card which maximizes your return on everyday spend, since it won’t count as an airfare purchase

With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the most popular programs for purchasing points, and how they process those transactions.

Which loyalty programs process points purchases directly?

The following programs process points purchases directly (and therefore points purchases with them qualify as airline spend):

The following programs use points.com for points purchases (and therefore points purchases with them don’t qualify as airline/hotel spend):

When points.com processes the purchase you’ll see a points.com logo at the bottom of the purchase page:

Points-Dot-Com

Which credit card should you use to buy points?

As you can see above, some airlines process mileage purchases directly. In those instances, you’re best off using a card which offers bonus points on airfare spend. Those typically include the co-branded credit cards of the respective airline, or otherwise your best bet would be one of the following, which are flexible cards offering bonus points on airfare purchases:

Also keep in mind that the Citi Prestige® Card $250 annual airline credit can be used towards a mileage purchase for an airline which processes the purchase directly.

Citi-Airline-Credit

If buying from a program which uses points.com, you’ll want to use a card which offers the highest rewards for everyday, non-bonused spend, given that points.com doesn’t belong to any bonus categories. Here are some good options, including my valuation of the “return” on spend:

Bottom line

For many, buying miles is one of the best ways to book premium cabin tickets at huge discounts. If you want to maximize the return you get out of your miles & points purchases, it’s valuable to understand how different programs process those purchases. Hopefully the above clears that up.

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Comments

  1. There’s an additional angle to consider, if you’re not a US resident, especially if you live in Canada, where points.com is. Canadians pay HST on all points.com transactions. As it turns out, AA also charges Canadian taxes on miles sales to Canadian residents. And that’s in addition to the US taxes. That’s right: buy AAdvantage miles and you’ll pay taxes twice. Or put another way, you’ll pay twice as much tax as Lucky and most of his readers.

    AA has just added insult to injury with the new Award Chart, too, with a new, special higher cost for itineraries originating or terminating in Canada. Canada/USA used to be one zone for redemptions. Not any more.

  2. Could the AmEx “Incidental Airline Fee Credit” on the Platinum and Gold cards be used for points purchases (from AA, for example?)

  3. When I go to purchase British Airways Avios, although I don’t see the points.com logo, the page is loading a points.com frame within the ba.com page (I can see the third party page loading in my status bar).

    When I worked for BA we used to liaise with points.com whenever a transaction went awry – so I know BA use(d) points.com as the processor – are we sure the charge still appears as a BA transaction? That’s good news for BA credit card holders if so!

  4. Any portals give bonuses for a click-thru to points.com? If so, can those be stacked with discounts/bonuses offered by programs that fulfill by points.com?

  5. I am interested in buying miles and learning about upgrade with miles options on foreign carriers. Any suggestions for that?

  6. A bit off topic, but I’m trying to recall what website you’ve discussed as being good for using a credit card such as the Prestige for paying things like property taxes.

  7. Not sure if this is relevant, but when points are purchased for IHG Points and cash nights, they code as IHG spend, yielding 5 points per dollar on the IHG credit card from Chase.

  8. Buying SPG points counts towards earning 2 SPG points per dollar spent using the Starwood Amex cards..

  9. Do mile purchases (e.g., Alaska Airlines) processed by points.com count as online spend?

    I guess it’s the same for all credit cards but I am specifically interested in the Citibank Rewards Mastercard (non US issued but I guess this shouldn’t make a difference).

    Thanks in advance!

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