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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Chase Sapphire Reserve
Online travel agencies, also known as OTAs, sometimes offer significantly cheaper prices than you’d get directly with an airline, which could make them an option worth considering for booking travel when the rates are low. Among the many OTAs out there are CheapOAir and OneTravel, which happen to be owned by the same company, Fareportal. And as of this week, the two sites are offering credit cards to complement their existing loyalty programs.
With CheapOAir and OneTravel’s respective loyalty programs, customers earn points for their purchases and can redeem these rewards to reduce the cost of future travel. Points in each program are worth just 0.5 cents apiece — keep that in mind as you look at the earning rates below.
The new credit cards from CheapOAir and OneTravel come in three varieties — one is a private-label card, meaning it can only be used with the respective OTA; one is an entry-level Visa card; and the final is a Visa Signature card. None of the cards carry an annual fee, and the earning structure for purchases through Fareportal sites is the same across all cards, though the cards do differ when it comes to other category bonuses.
The sign-up process is a bit out of the ordinary, since you can’t select which specific card you want. For the three cards for both CheapOAir and OneTravel, you’ll apply through the same link with your personal information. Depending on your creditworthiness, you’ll be approved for one of the three options for each site. If you have great credit, you’ll get the Visa Signature version (the OneTravel Visa Signature Card or the CheapOAir Visa Signature Card); if your credit isn’t the best, you’ll be approved for the private-label card (the OneTravel Credit Card or the CheapOAir Credit Card); and those in between will get the mid-level card (the OneTravel Visa Credit Card or the CheapOAir Visa Credit Card).
Here’s a breakdown of the offerings for the three credit card options — details are the same across the CheapOAir and OneTravel versions. The left column is for the private-label cards, while the right-hand column shows the details for the entry-level Visa and the Visa Signature cards:
So, with all versions of the CheapOAir and OneTravel cards, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar on purchases through the two sites (only when you pay with one of these cards; not simply for being a cardholder). That might sound like a decent rate, but considering that points are worth just 0.5 cents apiece, you’re only getting (at most) a 3% return on spending. Additionally, the Visa versions of the cards offer 4x points on dining and 2x points on all other purchases, but that equates to just a 2% return and a 1% return, respectively.
The “sign-up bonus” of a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in the first 90 days is decent considering the rather low minimum spending requirement, and that $50 can be applied to any service offered by CheapOAir or OneTravel — rental cars, airline tickets, hotel rooms and more. Still, you have to factor in the opportunity cost of using one of these cards over another option that will earn you more valuable rewards — more on that later.
In addition to earning points with CheapOAir and OneTravel, you’ll still earn miles with the respective airline. So, not only will you be getting elite-qualifying points and miles, but you’ll also be getting rewards toward your next purchase with CheapOAir and OneTravel.
Because both of these Fareportal OTAs are looking to encourage members to book on each site’s app, the points-earning structure goes as follows:
|Loyalty Member||Loyalty Member + App||Loyalty Member + Card||Loyalty Member + Card + App|
As you can see, just for being a program member, you’ll earn 1 point per dollar on airline tickets, but if you pay with any of the six Fareportal credit cards and you also book through the site’s app, you’ll earn 8 points per dollar spent (a 4% return). That number increases to 12 points per dollar spent for hotel rooms and rental car bookings.
Once you’ve earned enough points (starting at 200 for hotels and 1,000 for flights), you can redeem them for CheapOAir or OneTravel gift cards to be used on future travel or discounts on your next purchase. Or, you could use your points toward purchasing gift cards for outside retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target and more (minimum of 4,000 points needed).
If you’re approved for the CheapOAir Visa Signature Card or the OneTravel Visa Signature Card, you’ll enjoy the same benefits you get with other Visa Signature cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. These include access to the Visa Signature concierge, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation/interruption and travel accident insurance and more.
Finally, these six new cards offer special financing on large purchases made with the card on the respective site. New cardholders who make purchases of $399 or more won’t have to pay interest if the purchase is paid in full within six months. This could come in handy if you’re planning a trip and need some extra time to pay for it.
Is it worth it?
This might all sound great to the casual traveler who frequently books through one of these sites, but don’t let the high earning rates fool you. Neither CheapOAir nor OneTravel make it easy to find the value of points in their respective programs, and now we know why: Half a cent per point simply can’t compete with the points, miles or cash back you’ll earn through other travel rewards cards.
For example, the Citi Double Cash Card effectively earns you a 2% return on all spending — 1% cash back on purchases as you make them, plus 1% back as you pay for them — and that’s actual cash back. With these cards, you’ll only get a 2% return (in CheapOAir or OneTravel credit) if you go for the Visa or Visa Signature version of these cards, and that’s only on dining purchases. And there’s no reason to use one of the CheapOAir or OneTravel cards for dining spend, since you’ll get a far superior return with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve (6.3%), Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.2%) and even the Citi Prestige (3.2%).
Since these new cards offer the highest earning rate for travel purchases through CheapOAir and OneTravel, let’s take a look at how they stack up to competition on this front. With a value of 0.5 cents per point, a 6x earning rate equals just a 3% return. Even if you were to earn 12x points for booking a hotel or rental car through one of the sites’ apps with these cards, the return would be just 6%. That’s still less than the 6.3% you’ll earn on all travel purchases with the Sapphire Reserve, and the maximum of 8x points you’ll earn for booking airfare with one of these cards falls way short of the 9.5% return you’ll get on these purchases with the Platinum Card from American Express now that it’s offering 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline.
Speaking of booking directly with the airline, you might want to skip OTAs entirely for a few reasons. For one, in the event that you need to cancel or change your reservation, you’ll have a much easier time dealing directly with the travel provider rather than going through a middle man — and OTAs have notoriously bad customer service. Plus, when it comes to hotel reservations, you’ll want to book directly with the property in order to enjoy elite benefits and points. And even if you find a lower rate on a site like CheapOAir, you might be able to take advantage of a hotel’s “best rate guarantee” policy to get the rate matched.
And if that doesn’t have you convinced, here’s a recap of TPG Assistant Editor Nick Ellis’ experience from a couple years back:
I booked a ticket from Chicago to Mexico City and on to Lima, and then from Rio to Miami back to Chicago. I got a great price, but quickly learned that booking on multiple carriers with CheapOAir wasn’t the best idea. The first annoyance is that they were going to charge ridiculous amounts to select my seat through CheapO, so I ended up with middle seats on every.single.flight. Then when I arrived in Mexico City on AeroMexico, I had to re-check in at the LAN desk for my flight to LIM. However, the LAN agents couldn’t find my reservation anywhere even though CheapO had given me a confirmation number from the airline. I called cheapO and couldn’t get through to anyone after several tries and ended up calling LAN in Peru (luckily I am pretty good at Spanish) and they were able to find my confirmation number and push it through to the agents in MEX. I think you’re leaving a bit to chance when booking with Cheapo… I won’t be doing it again.
These new credit cards from CheapOAir and OneTravel could appear valuable to frequent users of either site, but unfortunately the low value of their points make even their highest earning rates lackluster. While we appreciate that none of the cards charge an annual fee — and that the highest-end versions get you some solid Visa Signature perks — that’s simply not reason enough to use these cards for travel purchases when you could reap much more valuable rewards with other options like the Amex Platinum and Sapphire Reserve. The cards could make sense if you’re already planning on booking through one of these two OTAs, but think hard before you pass up on earning hotel points on reservations or accruing more valuable points or miles with another travel credit card.
Are you going to sign up for one of the OneTravel or CheapOAir credit cards?
With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
- 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 Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 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