Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses That You Can Redeem for Paid Airfare

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Award redemptions usually give you the most bang for your buck, but there are many programs that allow you to use your miles and points haul for paid airfares. Today TPG Contributor Cindy Gossett looks at the credit card sign-up bonuses that allow you to redeem miles and points for paid airfare.

While you’ll almost always get the most value out of your points and miles by transferring them to a partner for premium award travel, there are times when you may want to redeem your points for paid airfare. If your travel dates aren’t flexible, for example, you may not find award availability for the flight you need. And unlike with award travel, traveling on paid airfare means you can use your elite upgrades to travel in a higher class of service and — perhaps most importantly — accrue elite miles toward airline status.

Today I want to compare different miles and points programs and credit card sign-up bonuses to redeem for $400 paid airfare. Why $400? The number is somewhat arbitrary, but I think it’s necessary to pick a single number in order to compare apples to apples. Also, there seems to be a confluence around $400 for several sign-up bonuses, and it seems like a reasonable enough average number for many domestic round-trips within the US to start the comparison.

Card Standard Sign-Up Bonus (Miles/Points) Point Value for Paid Airfare
(Cents)
TPG Point Valuation (Cents) Points Needed
for $400 Airfare
Annual Fee
Platinum Card from American Express 40,000 1.0 1.9 40,000 $450
Business Platinum Card from American Express 40,000 1.0 1.9 40,000 $450
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard 40,000 1.05* 1.0 40,000 $89
(waived the first year)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 40,000 1.0 1.0 40,000 $59
(waived the first year)
Capital One
Spark Cash for Business
$500 cash bonus  1.0 1.0   $59
(waived the first year)
Chase
Ink Plus Business Card
60,000 1.25 2.1 32,000 $95
Chase
Sapphire Preferred
50,000 1.25 2.1 32,000 $95
(waived the first year)
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card 100,000 1.5 2.1 26,667 $450
Citi Prestige 50,000 1.6 AA
1.33 Other airlines
1.6 25,000 AA /
30,100 other airlines
$450
US Bank
FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card
20,000 Varies; up to 2 N/A 20,000 $49
(waived the first year)

Let’s go through each program individually.

1. American Express

The Amex Business Platinum's sign-up bonus is enough to redeem for a $400 flight.
The Amex Business Platinum’s sign-up bonus is enough to redeem for a $400 flight.

Both the Platinum Card from American Express and the Business Platinum Card from American Express currently have sign-up bonuses of 40,000 Membership Rewards points (after meeting the respective spending requirements of $3,000 and $5,000 in the first three months) that equal $400 in paid airfare. However, the Business Platinum card will leave you with many more points left over to start building to a second redemption (or a more expensive ticket). The reason is that while the sign-up bonus for both cards is the same, the Business Platinum Card offers a 30% rebate when you pay for airfare on a preselected airline with your Membership Rewards.

Personally, I wouldn’t use my Membership Rewards for paid airfare unless I really needed to, since transferring those points to an airline or hotel program gives a much better value. In fact, that same $400 flight (assuming it’s on American) could cost you as little as 15,000 British Airways Avios round-trip (since 4,500-Avios redemptions ended in February) — or 18,750 Membership Rewards points transferred to British Airways. Still, paying for your airfare with Membership Rewards is an option if you absolutely need it.

2. Barclaycard

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is an ideal option for redeeming for paid airfare, since the miles don’t otherwise transfer to travel partners. You’ll need 40,000 miles to get a statement credit for $400 airfare, but you’ll get 5% back, making the total outlay 38,000 points. Since the Arrival Plus card gives you a statement credit for any expense that Barclays codes as “travel,” you can also use the points for rental cars or even theme park tickets if you buy them through third-party travel websites like Expedia or Orbitz.

3. Capital One

Despite an extraordinarily effective ad campaign, Capital One’s rewards aren’t as necessarily as valuable as competing cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus (with its 5% rebate). But there are some cards — including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Spark Cash for Business — with sign-up bonuses that would allow for paid airfare at our $400 example (with the last being a simple cash-back card that could be used for any expense). If that’s your goal, the Capital One cards could be for you — but do keep in mind that Capital One is notorious for pulling credit reports from multiple bureaus, so factor that into your calculations when deciding to apply for its cards.

4. Chase

Consider Chase's great selection of transfer partners before deciding to redeem Ultimate Rewards points toward paid air travel.
Consider Chase’s great selection of transfer partners before deciding to redeem Ultimate Rewards points toward paid air travel.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card comes along with a 50,000-point sign-up bonus (after you spend $4,000 in the first three months). That bonus is enough to cover more than $400 in airfare. Meanwhile, the Ink Plus Business Card will net you 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Factoring in the points you’ll receive for spending $5,000 as well, that bonus can be redeemed for two $400 airfares (at 1.25 cents per point). Finally, the recently introduced Chase Sapphire Reserve Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. Since you can redeem points from this card through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for 1.5 cents apiece (vs. 1.25 cents per point for the two other UR-earning cards mentioned here), the sign-up bonus can get you $1,500 in paid airfare — or four $400 airfares if you earn 3x points on travel and dining for some purchases when working toward the $4,000 minimum spending requirement.

That said, please don’t redeem points for paid airfare unless you truly have no other option; Chase Ultimate Rewards are so valuable because of the program’s transfer partners, and you’ll get much more value by transferring your points to a hotel program like Hyatt or airline programs like United and Korean Air, instead.

5. Citi

Citi recently upped its game in the rewards world, adding transfer partners such as Virgin America. But ThankYou points can also been redeemed for travel when booked directly through Citi. The Citi Prestige card comes with a 50,000-point sign-up bonus (after spending $3,000 in the first three months) that equates to $625 in general travel expenses, or $800 in airfare on American Airlines. Being able to redeem for two $400 airline tickets is pretty incredible. If you also have Prestige, you can redeem points for 1.6 cents each toward AA flights or 1.33 cents each toward airfare on other carriers; otherwise, you’ll get 1.25 cents in value for each point you redeem.

6. US Bank

The FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card from US Bank.
The FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card from US Bank.

US Bank FlexPerks is one of the smaller rewards programs, but it can still hold a lot of value. The current sign-up bonus of 20,000 points for the US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature Card equals $400 in airfare for each card. The drawback to the FlexPoints program is that the airfare you purchase must be less than $400 to be able to redeem the 20,000 points. In other words, if a ticket costs $401, you can’t spend 20,000 points and pay $1 — you have to redeem at the next tier, which is 30,000 points (otherwise worth up to $600).

Bottom Line

As you can see, there are plenty of options if your goal is to earn a sign-up bonus to redeem for paid airfare. There are also two cards with sign-up bonuses that equal two $400 tickets. And while this sort of redemption is rarely your best value, it’s a good option to have in your back pocket should you need it.

What’s your favorite card for redeeming points toward airlines?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit