Continuing our mission to stop people from using debit cards on purchases that could earn tons of points, we’re going to talk about paying for flights. Too many credit cards let you earn bonus points on airfare to pass up such an easy opportunity. We’re talking 3X, 4X or even 5X on flights!

You’ll even get access to some travel protections when paying the taxes/fees on award tickets with some credit cards. Not to mention some come with access to tons of airport lounges.

If you’re already set and have your system in place for purchasing tickets, maybe this isn’t for you. Hopefully, maximizing your points when you pay for tickets already. If you’re worried, feel free to skim the list below. However, if you’re new to earning miles and points with credit cards, pay attention.

It’s time to set yourself up for success.

Now, let’s get into it!

Best Overall Card For Airfare – King Of The Hill

If you’re looking for the total package, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It earns 3X Ultimate Rewards points on travel purchases which means you can book flights directly with an airline or via an online travel agency (OTA). This gives you the freedom to book the cheapest fare you can find and still earn bonus points on the purchase.

However, what helps set the Sapphire Reserve from the pack is its travel benefits — specifically, trip delay protection. While other cards don’t even offer trip delay coverage and others offer it for flights delayed 12+ hours (or overnight), it kicks in after delays of only 6 hours. Once your delay exceeds 6 hours, you can cover reasonable expenses — up to $500 — such as food, local transportation and even a hotel room.

Perhaps the best part is that it covers you even if its a weather delay so you don’t have to rely on an airline’s mercy to get a meal during a storm. You’ll even be covered if you book an award ticket with miles and just pay the taxes/fees with your Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Keep in mind that all Chase cards are restricted by the Chase 5/24 rule which you’ll want to consider before making a decision on which credit card to get.

Best Cards For Earning Points On Airfare

Now, if you’re not worried about travel protections and simply want to earn as many points as possible on your booking, you can easily earn 5X transferable points.

The Platinum Card From American Express

The Amex Platinum is a great card when paying for flights if you’re trying to earn max points as it earns 5X on airfare booked directly through airlines. Yes, this restricts you to booking direct but you’ll still often find the cheapest price that way so 5X is a great return on the purchase.

The biggest downside to using the Amex Platinum for flights is that it doesn’t come with travel protections that the Sapphire Reserve provides. That means you won’t be covered during a weather delay and will have to foot the bill yourself. Still, earning 5X Membership Rewards so it might be worth it if you’re not worried about delays and cancellations.

Of course, the Amex Platinum comes with access to a ton of airport lounges including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta) and more. It’s a give and take, but there are a lot of upsides here.

Check out some of the fun ways you can redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for max value.

Citi Prestige

If you’re a fan of Citi ThankYou Points, it’s tough to beat earning 5X points on flights with the Citi Prestige. Unlike the Amex Platinum, you can purchase your flights via an OTA such as Expedia or Orbitz and earn 5X so you aren’t restricted to working directly with the airline.

The ease of earning the bonus points is certainly a point in favor of the Citi Prestige, but sadly this card closed for new applications. When you do earn, there are so many great ways to redeem ThankYou Points.

Personally, I’ll be moving to the Chase Sapphire Reserve to ensure I’m covered during delays. I’ve had too many delays (and one massive baggage issue) in the past year or so to pass on trip protections.

Honorable Mention – American Express Gold Card

If you don’t want the perks the Amex Platinum offers or perhaps prefer a lower annual fee, look to the Amex Gold if you want to earn a bunch of Membership Rewards points. This card earns 3X on all flights booked directly with an airline or via Amex Travel.

Best Business Cards For Airfare

If you’re looking for a small business card, you have a couple of great options to earn 3-4X on these purchases. There are some restrictions and limits on these options but many of you won’t even come close to hitting them. If you do, you’ll be earning some serious points in return for those business trips.

American Express Business Gold Card

The Amex Business Gold earns 4X Membership Rewards points on flights purchased directly with an airline. With this card, you have your choice of 8 possible 4X bonus categories but you’ll only earn 4X on the two categories you use most during any given billing cycle.

Basically, pick 2 of these categories and stick with them during a billing cycle. If that includes airfare, this card will really come through for you. Additionally, keep in mind that you are limited to earning 4X on $150,000 in spend per calendar year across all bonus categories. As I said earlier, this won’t affect most people.

If you’re under 5/24 and still thinking about getting Chase cards, know that Amex business cards do not add to your count of five as they don’t show on your personal credit report.

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Similar to the Amex Business Gold, the Chase Ink Preferred caps its 3X bonus categories at $150,000 per cardmember year across all bonus categories. However, it’s a little easier to use as you can earn 3X on all bonus categories during any given billing cycle. The Ink Preferred also has the advantage of being part of the Ultimate Rewards program which partners with World of Hyatt which is the best hotel partnership of any transferable points program.

Best Credit Card To Earn Airline Miles On Airfare

We’ll preface this section by saying we generally recommend using one of the cards above for airfare purchase. You won’t beat earning 3-5X and earning transferable points gives you more options when you want to book an award ticket. However, there’s one case in which it might make sense to use a co-branded that earns airline miles.

Bank Of America Alaska Airlines Cards

While there are some amazing ways to use Alaska Mileage Plan miles, they aren’t easiest to earn as Alaska Airlines doesn’t partner with any transferable points programs.

However, you can earn 3X on flights operated by Alaska Airlines when you pay with either the Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card or the Alaska Airlines Business Credit Card — both issued by Bank of America.

These cards also come with an excellent companion fare benefit which allows you to book a ticket on Alaska Airlines and get a second one for $99 plus taxes/fees — can be as little as $121 total.

Best Card To Earn Hotel Points On Airfare

Image courtesy of Conrad Bali

Similar to earning airline miles on flights, we generally suggest skipping hotel points for transferable points on these purchases. If you happen to be working on earning the points for a stay at a Hilton property, it might be worth earning some Hilton Honors points.

Hilton Honors Aspire Card From American Express

You can often buy Hilton Honors points with an 80-100% bonus but, if you need a few more, you can earn 7X on flights with the Hilton Aspire Amex.

It’s not our first choice, but it’s probably the best hotel card choice if you want to top off your account. Alternatively, you could earn 6X Hilton points with The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.

Best Credit Card To Earn Cash Back On Airfare

While we’re clearly big fans of earning points and miles for flights and hotel stays, we understand that you might have enough for your current travel needs and just want to earn a little cashback. It doesn’t have the flash of points and miles, but it might be useful for you.

Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi

With the Citi Costco Card, you can earn 3% cashback on all travel purchases including airfare. Simple as that. You can redeem you Costco Cash Rewards for cash or items at Costco location in the U.S.

Alternatively, you will receive cash back as an annual reward certificate when your February statement closes each year. Keep in mind that you must be a member of Costco to have the card but there isn’t an additional annual fee.

Best Cards For Perks When Flying

Now that we’ve covered the best ways to earn points and miles when buying your flights, let’s take a look at some of the perks that stand out. Specifically, we’ll touch on lounge access and travel protections that could be important when deciding whether to get a card.

Best Cards For Airport Lounge Access

The Amex Platinum and Amex Business Platinum are pretty much the champs of airport lounge access. As a cardmember, you’ll receive a Priority Pass Select membership that provides access to over 1,000 airport lounges across the globe. While Amex cards will no longer have access to Priority Pass partner restaurants as of August 1, 2019, this can still be a useful perk.

Additionally, Amex has its own Centurion Lounge offering that can be found at several major U.S. airports as well as Hong Kong and it continues to expand. If you’re flying Delta, you can also visit the SkyClub regardless of whether you’re flying economy or business. You also have access to Airspace lounges at some regional U.S. airports and Escape lounges in the U.K.

You can even visit select Lufthansa business class and Senator lounges in Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) when flying Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa or SWISS.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve also provides lounge access via a Priority Pass Select membership.

Best Card For Travel Protections

As we mentioned up top, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best card overall when booking flights thanks to its 1-2 punch of 3X Ultimate Rewards points and travel protections. The 6-hour mark is not only the point at which trip delay coverage kicks but also baggage delay. It’s certainly nice to be able to get a change of clothes after a long flight knowing you can get reimbursed.

These are the perks we find people need most often but you also get lost bag coverage and trip cancellation and interruption coverage. As with any credit card benefit, it’s always a good idea to read through the fine print of the benefit so you know exactly what is covered.

Best Card For Airline Lounge Access

While American, Delta and United all have co-branded credit cards that provide lounge access, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is a cut above the rest. With the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, you’ll have access to any Admirals Club location — as of November 1, 2019, you’ll need a same-day boarding pass on American or a partner airline.

Additionally, you will also have access to Alaska Airlines lounges when you fly on a ticket marketed and operated by American or Alaska. If you’re visiting Australia and flying Qantas from city to city, you’ll have access to Qantas Clubs as well. You can also access Qantas Clubs when flying American out of Sydney, Australia or Auckland, New Zealand.

Finally, you can add 10 authorized users at no extra cost and each member will receive the same lounge access. Your friends and family will love you for your generosity.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re booking a crazy business class flight deal or a $200 economy deal to Europe or Asia, you might as well earn a bunch of points on top of it. If you can get some peace of mind from the travel protections, even better.

Throw in airport lounge access and a hectic airport experience can quickly become a much more enjoyable preflight routine. All that’s left for you is to decide what combo of points and perks you want when booking your cash flights.

Spencer Howard

Spencer Howard is a credit card rewards and award travel expert. He’s living proof that points and miles can unlock many of the greatest travel experiences and uses his skills to tick off new bucket...

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the insightful information. There are so many credit cards to choose from, which makes it extremely difficult to select one. You were very detailed including all the benefits of all the major travel credit cards. Now off to choose one!

    1. Hey Chrissy K – There really are soooo many cards. I’m slowly trying to build out a library of reviews to provide no nonsense info to make it all a bit easier to navigate. Let me know if you ever have any questions!

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