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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.
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):
- Alaska Airlines MileagePlan
- Club Carlson
- Hilton HHonors
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- IHG Rewards Club
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Marriott Rewards
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin America Elevate
When points.com processes the purchase you’ll see a points.com logo at the bottom of the purchase page:
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:
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold — 3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card – 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent
- Citi Prestige® Card — 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — 2x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent
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:
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card — 2.7% return (if you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle on this card you earn a 50% bonus on the Membership Rewards points you earn, and I value each at 1.8 cents)
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — 2.2% (what I value each Starpoint)
- Citi® Double Cash Card — 2%
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.