Which loyalty programs process points purchases directly

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Almost every time I post about a promotion for purchasing points/miles, I get a question about whether it qualifies as an airline/hotel purchase as far as credit card use is concerned. This is because usually hotels and airlines offer bonus points on their co-branded credit cards when you make purchases with them. For example, Starwood gives you two Starpoints per dollar spent with Starwood on their co-branded American Express, and US Airways gives you two Dividend Miles per dollar spent on US Airways with their co-branded Mastercard.

So whether or not you’d earn that bonus for purchasing points depends on whether the transaction is being processed directly by the airline/hotel or through a third party. For example, many airlines and hotels use points.com to process points purchases. Last year I purchased some US Airways Dividend Miles using my American Express, and here’s how it showed on the statement:

While you see US Airways listed in the description, as you can see it’s processed by points.com, and the category is “Merchandise & Supplies – Internet Purchases.”

It’s also pretty easy to tell, because when you go to the “Buy Miles” page on usairways.com, it has the points.com logo at the bottom:

Conversely, Delta processes their mileage purchases directly. Here’s what my online summary showed for a purchase of Delta miles:

As you can see they consider it a “frequent flyer fee/purchase,” and the category is “travel – airline.”

With that in mind, I figured I’d lay out which programs process points purchases directly, and which have a third party process them.

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

  • Avianca Lifemiles
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Hilton HHonors
  • United MileagePlus

The following programs don’t process points directly (and therefore points purchases with them don’t qualify as airline/hotel spend):

  • Alaska Airlines MileagePlan
  • American AAdvantage
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Icelandair Saga Club
  • Marriott Rewards
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • US Airways Dividend Miles
  • Virgin America Elevate

In other words, with Delta, Hilton, and United, you’re better off using a credit card which accrues bonus points for airline/hotel spend. For example, for Delta or United you might be best off putting mileage purchases on the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, which offers triple points on airfare, as this would qualify. With Hilton you might be best off putting points purchases on the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card or Surpass American Express, which accrue 10 and 12 Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent on hotels, respectively.

As far as the other programs go, you’re best off putting your spend on whichever card accrues you the most valuable points for non-bonus categories. This could be cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (because Ultimate Rewards points are valuable) or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (because I’d argue a Starpoint is the single most valuable points currency per unit).

Hopefully that clears things up. If anyone has any questions on the above, let me know.

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  1. When I transferred US miles during the 100% bonus, it asked me what kind of credit card I was using. The interesting thing is it had Visa, Mastercard, US Airways Visa and US Airways Mastercard all as separate options. Do you think they may give bonus points for using their co-branded card to buy/transfer miles? Why else would they have separate categories?

  2. When Delta last had a miles bonus promotion, I used my Gold Amex and did indeed get 3X miles for the purchases. It lowered the cost of the miles a little bit…….

  3. Thanks for the post. It’s possible that you receive 2 miles per dollar on US Air for US Air purchases made with the US Air mastercard only when using the premier mastercard (but not with the regular one).

  4. Random question: Any idea how purchases from Airbnb and Pointshound are charged? The Freedom this quarter offers 5x on hotels directly from the hotel or hotel chain. Does Airbnb show the charge as being from the hotel (kinda like how Travelocity shows the charge as originating from the airline) or does it show up as Airbnb?

  5. @ Lee — I guess we’ll go with what Joel says. I was under the impression you couldn’t earn bonus points since it’s not processed by them directly, but maybe US Airways accrues double points on all points.com purchases since they seem to code that for bonus points for their own purchases?

    @ Harlan — I have no firsthand experience with this, though I would guess it wouldn’t qualify as hotels for the purposes of the Freedom bonus, unfortunately.

    @ LK @ Grant — Added, thanks!

  6. What about using a Chase Freedom card this quarter for 5x on airlines for Delta/United/Hilton/Avianca? Purchase miles plus get Ultimate Rewards points.

  7. Any idea about gift card purchases? Say Marriott gift cards purchased with Marriott CC? I’m thinking of trying it in the near future but wondering if you have any insight.

  8. That is really useful. Sorry I miss your post and ask you again. I read your blog through boarding area and sometimes missed your post.

  9. So if I purchase Alaska Airlines points now during their promotion and use my CSP, I wouldn’t receive double points since it’s travel related? Did I understand that correctly?

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