a plane on the runway

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, or incredible travel protections in case things go wrong, here are the credit cards you’ll want to prioritize.

a table with a tv and a table with a lamp on it

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.

Basically, never buy travel with a debit card — ever.

On The Face: Credit Cards Offering The Most Points For Booking 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, either way!

A notable addition to the space in late 2021, the Capital One Venture X not only offers 5X points on flights booked via Capital One Travel, but also automatic flight price drop protection and no hassle “full refund” cancellation, even on “non-refundable” tickets, for a small fee. That’s a pretty compelling duo.

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.

Some 2X Points Cards Having Incredible Flight Booking Perks

The Capital One Venture Card only offers 2X points on flights, but it’s got something others do not, and that’s the crazy cool travel booking features mentioned above, and help finding the best airfare deals.

There’s price drop protection, which ensures that if Capital One’s “best price” predictor gets it wrong and tells you to book, but the price later drops, you’ll get a refund of the difference if the price drops.

Not only that, there’s free flight price trackers, and no hassle ways to cancel a ticket for any reason on the way too. If you find a lower price within 24 hours of purchase, you can also get a refund on the difference in price, to be sure you always get the lowest fare.

rows of red seats in an airplane

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, though Citi’s new temporary American Airlines partnership is exciting, but all are very good. 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, or having the flexibility of points or cash back. Chase also has great travel protections on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (currently offering a 60,000 point welcome bonus), which are often overlooked.

Being able to use points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve to book travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point — 100,000 points would cover $1,500 of airfare — is also very strong.

Capital One Venture X combines that best in class 5X earning with best in class price features and flexibility, which makes for a major win.

But Amex Platinum also has a huge bonus welcome right now, and at least 18 luxury travel benefits which outweigh the new $695 annual fee, easily. One of those benefits is huge, which is the International Airline Program, which can offer discounts on select tickets, in addition to major earning for booking flights more broadly.

My vote: either get the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, and the Freedom Flex combo, or go Amex. If you want simplicity and the best price, Capital One Venture or Venture X is a great choice too. The travel protections and confidence are big!

a card on a map

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, to help get the juices flowing on all the incredible possibilities with points.

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 future travel booking via Chase Travel, powered by Expedia.

That $1500 can cover some, or all of just about any trip, including flights or hotel, without blackout dates or restrictions on availability using points, as opposed to cash. When you earn at 5X, spending $1000 on flights would get you 5,000 points.

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.

And Key Airline Card Perks

There’s one card worth mentioning, because it can save an uncapped amount of money on flights. If you’re an airline loyalist, who flies regularly to London, this might be the best card on the market.

The British Airways Visa Card offers an uncapped 10% discount on all British Airways flights departing the USA, in all cabins. You also earn 5X Avios Points for every dollar spent on British Airways flights.

This means if you book a $1000 ticket, you save $100 every time. A $10,000 ticket would experience $1,000 instant savings, every time. There’s also a 100,000 point welcome bonus right now, which is nice!

a glass of wine next to a window

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 from the airline, for flying, after you actually fly, but the credit card points come within a month of purchase, typically, since it’s all about when you book, not when you fly.

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 $695 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.

If you want to be able to book the lowest price for a flight every time, with confidence of a refund if prices increase after you’re recommended to book, Capital One Venture is a winner.

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. 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.

  2. Gilbert

    AX Platinum is $695 not $795 Annual Fee (I will still get one more year at the $550 rate).

    You left off the AX Green card which gives 3X MR on travel (not just airfare) and the AX Gold which gives 3X MR on airfare.

    Also the Citi Premier card gives 3X TY on airfare.

  3. Why not include the AMEX Gold card in this analysis? Annual fee significantly cheaper than Plat and still has decent perks including 3x on flights.

  4. Same comment as back in Oct 2021. You left off the AX Gold and AX Green from earning 3X MR on airfare

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