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Reader stvr asked if I could write an updated post of the one I wrote a bit over a year ago about which credit cards to use for airfare purchases.
I spend a good amount on airfare every year (after all, flying 400,000+ miles per year doesn’t come free!), so making sure I’m getting the best return on airfare spend is pretty important to me. Fortunately you have lots of choices as a consumer, as there are plenty of cards offering great category bonuses for airfare spend.
But which are the best?
The four best cards for airfare spend
Nowadays there are four cards which I’d consider to be the all around best for airfare purchases. Here’s the return they offer on airfare spend, and also what I value the return at:
|Credit Card||Earning Rate||Value/Point||Return|
|Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||3 points/dollar||1.8 cents||5.4%|
|Citi Prestige® Card||3 points/dollar||1.6 cents||4.8%|
|Citi ThankYou® Premier Card||3 points/dollar||1.6 cents||4.8%|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||2 points/dollar||1.8 cents||3.6%|
All four of the cards have no foreign transaction fees, meaning you can get that great return with no fees, regardless of whether your airfare purchase is billed in USD or not.
When it comes to charging airfare onto cards, one important distinction between the above cards is how different cards define travel and airfare. Specifically:
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline
- Citi Prestige® Card offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline as well as through a travel agency
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline as well as through a travel agency
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline as well as through a travel agency
So the major distinction is that while the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express only offers bonus points for airfare when purchased directly with the airline, the other three cards offer it even if you book through a travel agency, including Orbitz, Expedia, etc.
Not all cards give you bonus points for airfare purchased through a travel agency
There are some other non-airline credit cards which offer bonus points on airfare, but I don’t think any of them rival the value offered by the above cards.
For example, the Hilton HHonors Citi Reserve offers 5x points on airfare purchases. That being said, I only value Hilton HHonors points at ~0.4 cents each, so at best you’re looking at a return of ~2.0%, which can’t even begin to compete with the above. So I’m aiming to share what I think are the best bonus categories here, as opposed to just listing them all out.
Bonuses on airline branded cards?
A vast majority of airlines offer bonus points for airfare spend booked through them directly. That makes sense, given that airlines obviously want to incentivize you to use their own co-branded card for purchases on their flights.
But how many co-branded airline cards actually offer a compelling return for airfare spend? For what it’s worth, there are only three airline branded credit cards which offer more than double points on airfare, as far as I know:
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with Alaska
- British Airways Visa Signature® Card offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with British Airways
- The New Virgin America Visa Signature® Credit Cards offers 3x points on airfare purchased directly with Virgin America
I value Alaska miles at close to two cents each, so that’s a case where it could make sense to put airfare spend on the card. The same is true for Virgin America points. In the case of British Airways, I still think you’re almost always better off going with one of the cards in the above section.
But aside from that — for the cards which simply offer 2x points on airfare spend — you’re much better off accruing transferrable points with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, Citi Prestige® Card, Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
It’s fantastic that all three major transferrable points currencies offer bonus points on airfare nowadays, and in a vast majority of cases they’re the best options. At the moment all my airfare spend purchased directly with an airline is going onto the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, while airfare purchased through an online travel agency is going onto the Citi Prestige® Card.
Which credit card are you using for airfare spend nowadays?