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When it comes to paying for airfare, your best bet is usually to go with one of the handful of cards that earn you bonus transferable points on these purchases, or with a co-branded credit card from your airline of choice if you’re looking to earn more miles or even get an elite-qualifying dollar waiver.
With the recent introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which earns 3x points on all dining and travel purchases (including airfare), it’s become clearer than ever that other cards — especially premium travel rewards cards — need to step up their game when it comes to rewarding you for spending on airfare and other travel expenses. Well, this latest bit of news could signal a step in the right direction: American Express has confirmed that it will soon offer 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines.
As you can see in the tweet above, this earning rate will be effective as of October 6 (this Thursday), and it’s not yet clear which cards will be eligible.
The New Best Card for Airfare Purchases?
Currently, Amex cardholders’ best options for airfare purchases are the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card, which earns 3x points on airfare purchased directly from the airline, and the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, which earns 3x points on one category of your choice from five options (including airfare purchased directly from airlines). Based on TPG’s valuations, if you were to earn 3x Membership Rewards points on airfare with these cards, you’d be getting a 5.7% return. That’s definitely not too shabby, but it falls short of the 6.3% return you’ll get when you purchase airfare with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points.
Earning 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from the airline would net you a return of 9.5%, making eligible cards an obvious choice for spending in this category. Again, it’s unclear which cards will be adding this increased earning rate, but the result will either be an even better return with cards that already offer bonuses on airfare, or new, lucrative bonus categories for cards like The Platinum Card from American Express that have long fallen short when it comes to earning you extra points on spending.
Here’s a look at some of the current top cards when it comes to the return you’ll get on airfare purchases:
|Card Name||Annual Fee||Points on Airfare|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$450||3x Ultimate Rewards points (a 6.3% return)|
|Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||$0 for the first year, then $195||3x Membership Rewards points (a 5.7% return)|
|Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN||$0 for the first year, then $175||3x Membership Rewards points (a 5.7% return)|
|Citi ThankYou Premier Card||$0 for the first year, then $95||3x ThankYou points (a 4.8% return)|
|Citi Prestige Card||$450||3x ThankYou points (a 4.8% return)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||$0 for the first year, then $95||2x Ultimate Rewards points (a 4.2% return)|
As you can see, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is currently the top pick, in terms of return, for spending on airfare. However, 5x Membership Rewards will be an even better value (equalling a return of 9.5%). That said, you might value Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points a bit differently depending on which airline transfer partners matter most to you. For instance, the Ultimate Rewards program partners with Southwest and United, in addition to five other airlines, while Membership Rewards boasts partners such as Cathay Pacific and Emirates, among several others.
American Express has plenty of great travel rewards cards, and many of them stand out for offering benefits like Centurion Lounge access and annual travel credits. However, one area where most of the issuer’s cards have failed to impress is earning rates for airline purchases, so it’s great news that Amex will be making an improvement in this regard. It remains to be seen exactly which cards will offer 5x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline, but if the issuer has been paying attention to the battle between $450-fee cards, it will add this feature to the Amex Platinum and other premium picks. Luckily, we don’t have to wait long to find out more details — October 6 is only two days away!
H/T: View from the Wing
Which cards do you hope get the 5x airfare bonus?
The Platinum Card® from American Express
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|