What Credit Card Should You Use For Airline Ticket Purchases?

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In February I wrote a post about the best credit cards to use for airfare purchases. Usually these kinds of posts remain useful for a while, though lately we’ve seen a lot of improvements to the bonus categories offered by credit cards. As a matter of fact, over the past couple of months we’ve seen a change in the two very best credit cards to use for airfare purchases.

There are a couple of different things to consider when deciding which credit card to use for airfare. It’s not just about the direct return you get on spend, but also about the travel protection offered by different cards.

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With that in mind, I figured I’d cover the two important things to consider when deciding which credit card to use for your airfare purchases: the best rewards and the best travel protection.

Which cards offers the best rewards on airfare spend?

First let’s rank the cards that offer the best return on airfare purchased directly with airlines, without considering travel protection (all of these cards have no foreign transaction fees):

CategoryRewardsValue of rewards
The Platinum Card® from American Express5x Amex Membership Rewards points~8.5%
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points~5.1%
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express3x Amex Membership Rewards points~5.1%
Citi Prestige® Card3x Citi ThankYou points~4.8%
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card3x Citi ThankYou points~4.8%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points~3.4%

Those valuations are based on what I value the individual points currencies. My valuation of Citi ThankYou points has gone down a bit since the recent changes, and that’s reflected above.

Which cards offers the best travel protection on airfare purchases?

Rewards on credit card spend are only one of the factors to consider. You should also consider which card offers the best travel protection, as this is a perk that many people value. Of the above six cards, three cards offer noteworthy travel protection at no additional cost, as follows:

CardBenefit active after:Reimbursed expenses:Includes award tickets:
Citi Prestige® Card3 hours$500Yes
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card6 hours$500Yes
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card12 hours$500Yes

For more information on airline delay coverage in general, see this post. However, as you can see, the best protection is offered by the Citi Prestige CardChase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Chicago-Delays

Which credit card will I use going forward?

By my valuation, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a ~3.4% better return on airfare purchases than the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card. Is it worth sacrificing included airfare protection for ~3.4%? In general I’d say yes, and I plan on using my Amex card for airfare purchases going forward.

Why? In reality I’ve only used credit card airfare insurance twice in my life, and the marginal 3.4% return exceeds the value I got out of that protection. Of course everyone values things like this differently — many will gladly give up a ~3.4% return for the peace of mind of knowing they’re covered if there’s a delay, lost baggage, etc.

I suppose one option would be to purchase airline gift cards with the Amex Platinum Card, which qualifies as an airfare purchase with many airlines. Then you could use the gift cards for most of the purchase cost, and use another card for a small portion of the ticket purchase to get travel protection, since the above cards offer insurance even when you only partially pay for your ticket cost with them.

Still, in my case I’ll take 3.4% “in the bank” over insurance, but everyone values travel coverage, and even the above points currencies, differently.

What’s your go to credit card for airfare purchases with recent improvements we’ve seen?


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Comments

  1. Good post, most people just make this decision based on points and don’t really consider the insurance aspect. To go a layer deeper, think about the airline/airport/season you’re traveling. I’m much more likely to use the CSR when I’m flying out of JFK two days after Christmas, but will stick with my Plat for my usual “nerd bird” flights (Austin to Bay Area).

  2. Hi, Lucky. Thanks for the post. Question- Does the travel protection apply to one way trips only?

  3. @Dan Log into your AMEX account page, and check the “offers” section at the bottom. It varies by person and card, but you may very well see you are being offered anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 miles/points per person you refer for the same type of card. Just make sure the person you refer uses the application link that AMEX sends them. 🙂

  4. Ben, I am definitely canceling one of my two Prestige cards. If I end up getting Amex personal Platinum or PGR, I am debating on what to do with the other. The main reason is that for hotels, I use mostly points and Amex FHR (Business Platinum). Until then, I guess I will continue using Prestige.

    Amex essentially changed the game with 2 cent redemption and 5x unlimited on airfare. The most brilliant move in two years. The other might be letting go of Costco relationship.

  5. Using the AMEX Platinum to purchase all of one’s tickets for the marginal benefit ~3.4% would be attractive if and/or only if:

    — One is going to spend a lot of hard currency on tickets. I do not spend more on tickets than what would get me the $12K PQDs I need to requalify my 1K status, which means that I would earn at most around 60K MR points/year using the AMEX Plat for all my tickets. Not overwhelming.

    — One’s primary FF program is NOT UA, because marrying the CSR with UA MileagePlus is manna from heaven: https:https://milepoint.com/forums/threads/ua-mileageplus-and-the-chase-sapphire-reserve-visa-the-loyalty-game%E2%80%99s-one-stop-shop.137884/

    — One is not averse, as I am, to collecting points in many diverse denominations, which would happen if one uses the AMEX Platinum for all tickets only and the CSR for all other travel-related purchases and dining. In fact, I believe that CSR purchases on: tickets + travel-related items + dining + everything else would earn me >> 60K UR points/year.

    All three of the above apply to me so the CSR wins, hands down…

  6. Does the travel protection apply for Chase if something happens on my return leg back to my home city? I want to say I thought I read somewhere that it won’t cover that?

  7. I use the Aviator Silver for all AA flights, 3x miles on AA purchases. Helps load up AAdvantage miles.

  8. Thanks Ben, good perspective. I have the Amex gold personal card and Plat biz, as well as a Sapphire preferred. 5/24 resets in Jan so I might go for the Reserve then. Have been pondering dropping the Plat biz and upgrading the Gold. Weighing up whether to have both Plat And Reserve. I do value the insurance and have called upon it a couple of time, but just for the price of a hotel room due to weather disruption. 8% back is good value. Perhaps I will focus on the Plat card and use the chase card for all other travel expenses.

  9. Great post, I’ve been meaning to do this analysis for myself since the Amex announcement, now I don’t have to…Thanks!

  10. Your assessment of Citi is misleading as the limit on the reimbursement in awards is the amount you put on the card. Si if no APD or fuel surcharges, the limit could be as low as $13.

  11. But hang on, there is already some kind of travel insurance against delays and lost luggage in the AMEX Plat isn’t there?

  12. Why do you only focus on Chase, Citi and AX products? There are some great Credit Union cards out there from NFCU PFCU USAA etc. time to think outside of the box!

  13. Am I missing something? – my Amex website says 5 X airfare offer is NOT available to existing Platinum holders. Why do CC issuers always shaft their loyal customers this way?

  14. Ben,
    I fly more than 250K miles a year and it is over 90% for business, thus I need to use my company business card. I use Amex Gold Biz for airline purchases (I like the reporting on the statements) and Chase Ink for hotels/cars/meals etc..
    I don’t know how others do this, but I’m assuming if you travel for business many people don’t use personal cards. Like me and other people I know. Perhaps your next article could be “What Business Credit Cards Should You Use For Airline Ticket and Hotel Purchases?” …

  15. Ben, great post!
    Btw, for purchase-protection and extended warranty, which credit card should I use to purchase iPhone 7?
    Thanks in advance!

  16. Great question Katie since I had the same question for Ben.

    Ben, I thought Citi Prestige had some rule that if you didn’t use the card for the entire reward purchase they wouldn’t give you protection? Whereas I heard Chase would. Confused..

  17. Ben: How would you rate on your list the Amex Plat Business for airline travel – if using the pay with points and a 50% return?

  18. @Katie and @ Danny – AMEX Plat gives you the best coverage for extended warranties. There are so many coverage sections and the definition and terms are listed in the extended warranty section for each type of Amex type card. I had this question when I bought a iPhone 7 Plus recently. The key I remember is the whole purchase had to be on the card and it would NOT be eligible if you used the monthly pay plan on the ATT service. For ATT it had to be the entire iPhone purchase. A few years ago I had a broken screen after my iPhone coverage expired. I had it repaired submitted the receipt and AMEX paid it completely.

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