People just don’t accurately weigh the value of booking a flight. Sure, it can be a lot of money, but sometimes between the miles, the elite status points and the credit card points, the benefit you earn back can be nearly as valuable as the flying experience itself!

When it comes to earning credit card points, some cards will give you just one measly point per dollar, while others will give you five! Even then, some points are worth far more than others, so which rewards credit card gives the ‘most points’ or most value’ isn’t quite just as simple as a one liner.

If you want to make sure you’re always earning the best rebate via the most points on all your flight purchases, here are the credit cards you’ll want to prioritize.

First: Never Buy A Flight With A Debit Card

Things do go wrong in travel sometimes, and when they do, credit cards are far more powerful in helping you with refunds, or changes than debit cards.

In these times of uncertainty, any smaller airline could potentially go under, and credit cards allow you to get your money back via a “chargeback”, while all debit cards don’t automatically have that option. Plus, very few debit cards offer any rewards, and we all like rewards.

On The Face: Credit Cards Offering Most Points For Flights

Why earn one point per dollar spent when you can earn five? Believe it or not, you don’t even need a crazy high end luxury rewards card to earn five points per dollar spent anymore either. There are no annual fee cards which can do that. On the face of things, here are the cards offering up to 5X points or cash back when you book flights…

Rewards Credit Cards Offering 5X On Flights

For both Chase Freedom Unlimited and Freedom Flex, you only earn the 5X as cash back, not as transferrable points you can move to airlines or hotels, unless you also have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred Card. If you do, you can use the 5X earned from Chase Freedom Unlimited or Freedom Flex as transferrable points, or cash back. It’s a win-win.

Rewards Credit Cards Offering 3X On Flights

It’s possible in some cases that an online travel agency may count in your favor. But typically, especially with all the recent airline schedule changes and cancellations, it’s best to book directly with the airline. Perhaps the only exception would be with the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited or Freedom Flex, where booking with Chase Travel gives you 5X.

Breaking It Down: Best Credit Cards To Book Flights

Points are great, and it’s always better to earn points than not earn points. But which points, that matters too. If you pay with one card, you’ll be locked into airlines, hotels and other ways to use points – pay with another, you’ll have a different set. It’s called “transfer partners”.

Amex and Chase tend to offer stronger transfer partners than Citi, but all are very good, and with each offering a card with 5X points, you’ll need to look more closely into benefits of each, to decide which one is right.

If You Had To Pick One

It’s hard to argue with 5X points on flights booked via Chase Travel, with no annual fee, but Amex Platinum also has a huge bonus right now, and at least 18 luxury travel benefits which outweigh the $550 annual fee, easily.

Redeeming Points The Right Way

For people with tons of flexibility, solo travelers, or those who have the most aspirational airline seats and hotel suites in mind, using points transfer partners where you move points earned from your credit card to an airline or hotel loyalty program are going to be your best bets. Like, transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt, or Amex Points to Emirates. Here’s some help.

For those who just want a great rebate on travel, and want to use their points towards future purchases on any date of the year, without blackout dates, using points to cover some or all of the costs can make sense, especially when you’re earning 5X at a time.

When using points to cover some, or all of a future travel purchase, Chase Sapphire Reserve has the most attractive spending rates. 100,000 points with Chase Sapphire Reserve would get you $1500 towards a travel booking via Chase Travel, powered by Expedia. That $1500 can cover some, or all of just about any trip, without blackout dates or needing availability for points, as opposed to cash.

Be Mindful Of Cash Back Cards

With some credit cards, points can actually mean “cash back”, rather than a variety of airline or hotel loyalty programs you can convert your points into. Don’t worry though, none of the cards we’ve mentioned here stick you in that category.

The Chase Freedom Flex is a great “cash back” choice because on its own, it’s a cash back card, but if you happen to have Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Sapphire Reserve, the points can be used for airline and hotel programs too. It’s a no annual fee which can be cash back or transferred to loyalty programs. Clever stuff.

Wait, When Do You Get Your Credit Card Points For Flights?

When you purchase a flight with a credit card, you typically receive the points at the end of your statement date, with the exception of Capital One, which rewards points sooner.

This means if you get your credit card bill on the 25th, and the transaction is no longer pending, and hits the account before that date, you should have your points on the 25th. You’ll get your miles for flying after you actually fly, but the credit card points come within a month of purchase, typically.

If you get a refund on the flights for any reason and the charge goes off your account, you can expect the points will be clawed back from your account at some point in the future.

The Best Credit Cards For Booking Flights

The best credit cards for booking flights combine the highest points earning with the most value from redeeming those points. For luxury travelers, Amex Platinum is, and probably will remain the best option.

For those who don’t travel enough to justify the $550 annual fee, earning 5X on flights via Chase Travel without an annual fee at all is seriously tempting with Chase Freedom Unlimited, particularly if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card already to make the points more lucrative..

Whatever card you go with, just make sure you’re earning points on every flight purchase, and investing equal amounts of time into learning the intricacies of the best ways to redeem them. The only thing more tragic than people not earning points on every purchase is people who use them for minimum value. Happy travels!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. I’d consider booking via AmEx Platinum Travel a pretty safe option. I haven’t tested it in COVID, but they’ve been far more flexible than the airlines when things go wrong. For example, we got stuck in Chicago due to a snowstorm. The airline’s guidance was to sit there for two days, then take the next available flight with a long detour (Denver via Houston). Platinum Travel had us drive to Green Bay by bus or rental car, then re-booked our flight from there same day. They handled the claim against our Platinum card’s travel insurance, and we even got the points for the rental car.

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