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Maximize your airfare: The best credit cards for booking flights

Aug. 26, 2022
16 min read
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As you look ahead to trips this fall and holiday season, it’s important to think about what card you’re going to use to book your flights. Every time you purchase an airline ticket with your credit card, you could be earning valuable bonus points or miles toward your next award trip. And you can’t forget about the perks that make your flights go smoother and protect you when things go wrong, such as airport lounge access and trip delay reimbursement.

Before you miss the opportunity to earn additional rewards on this spending, consider opening and using one of these top cards for airfare purchases. Surprisingly, cobranded airline cards won’t always give you the highest value.

The top cards for airfare purchases

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Comparison of the best cards for booking flights

CardBonus for airfare purchases (return based on TPG valuations)NotesAnnual fee
The Platinum Card from American Express5 points per dollar (10%).Valid on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year). Terms apply.$695 (see rates & fees).
The Business Platinum Card from American Express5 points per dollar (10%).Valid on flights purchased through Amex Travel. Terms apply.$695 (see rates & fees).
Chase Sapphire Reserve3 points per dollar (6%).Valid on all travel (excluding the $300 travel credit), including flights.$550.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card3 points per dollar (6%).Valid on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year across the categories of travel (including flights); shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines.$95.
American Express Gold Card3 points per dollar (6%).3x on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel.$250 (see rates & fees).
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card2 points per dollar (4%).2x on travel, including flights.$95.
Citi Premier Card3 points per dollar (5.1%).3x points on air travel.$95.

Now let's take a closer look at each of these options to help decide which makes the most sense for your wallet.

The Platinum Card from American Express

RYAN PATTERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees).

Welcome offer: The current welcome offer for the Amex Platinum is 80,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership. Check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for an even higher bonus (offer is subject to change at any time).

Earning rates: Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and through American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). Plus, you'll earn 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotel bookings through amextravel.com and Fine Hotels + Resorts; earn 1 point on everything else.

Analysis: In addition to the ability to earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel, cardmembers can also unlock significant discounts on airfare through the International Airline Program and will get a suite of travel protections when booking round-trip flights.

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It offers more than $1,400 in annual statement credits for select prepaid hotels, Equinox gyms, Clear membership, select digital entertainment programs, incidental fees on airlines and Uber purchases in the U.S., effectively reducing the annual fee. You also get access to Delta Sky Clubs on same-day Delta flights and a Priority Pass Select lounge membership, along with access to the Centurion network of lounges, Escape lounges and Airspace lounges. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Plus, you can transfer your points to 18 airline and three hotel partners.

Finally, you'll receive Gold status with Hilton and Marriott and elite status with Avis, Hertz and National. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)

For more details, check out our American Express Platinum Card review.


APPLY HERE: The Platinum Card from American Express


The Business Platinum Card from American Express

RYAN PATTERSON/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees).

Welcome offer: The current welcome offer for the Amex Business Platinum is 150,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.

Earning rates: Earn 5 points per dollar on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, 1.5 points per dollar on eligible purchases in select business categories and eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year), and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Analysis: Unlike with the personal Amex Platinum, with the Amex Business Platinum, you won’t earn 5 points per dollar on tickets purchased directly from the airline — only on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel — but if you’re able to find what you need through the Amex travel portal, paying with the business card will get you the same impressive 10% return (based on TPG’s valuations).

And with the Amex Business Platinum, if you pay with points for first- or business-class airfare on any airline or any class of airfare on your airline of choice, you get a 35% rebate (up to 1 million points per calendar year), which effectively gets you 1.54 cents per point in value. Like the personal version, the Amex Business Platinum gets you access to the International Airline Program, which can get you significant savings on flights.

Related: Why you should consider having both the personal and business Amex Platinum cards

Cardholders get access to lounges including Centurion, Priority Pass and Delta Sky Club (when flying same-day Delta Air Lines flights) at the airport. Other benefits include an up-to-$200 annual airline fee credit, a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application (up to $100), and automatic Gold status in both the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programs. Non-travel benefits include up to $400 in annual statement credits toward U.S. Dell purchases. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)

For more details, check out our American Express Business Platinum Card review.


APPLY HERE: The Business Platinum Card from American Express


Chase Sapphire Reserve

WYATT SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $550.

Sign-up bonus: The Chase Sapphire Reserve currently comes with 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 10 points per dollar on hotels, car rentals and Chase Dining purchases through the Ultimate Rewards portal, 5 points per dollar on flights booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal, 3 points per dollar on all other travel (including hotels, car rentals, parking and tolls) and dining, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You’ll also earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 2025.

Analysis: According to TPG valuations, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2 cents each. Points are earned in the Ultimate Rewards program, giving you access to 10 airline and three hotel 1:1 transfer partners. When redeemed for travel and activities through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, these points are worth 1.5 cents a piece.

Related: What credit score do you need to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

Other benefits include an annual $300 travel statement credit, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, and a Priority Pass Select membership that includes guests and free meals at select airport restaurants. If anything goes wrong with your flight, this is the card you want to carry since it comes with industry-leading trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, and emergency evacuation and transportation.

For more details, check out our Chase Sapphire Reserve review.


APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve


Ink Business Preferred credit Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $95.

Sign-up bonus: The Ink Business Preferred Card currently has a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in combined travel; shipping; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases made on social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Analysis: Note that the enhanced earning rate on the categories listed above applies to the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases across those categories. If you redeem those points for travel in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you’ll receive 25% more value for them; plus you can transfer your points to 10 airline and three hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio.

Related: Airline credit cards ranked by their return on spending

Although coverage isn’t as comprehensive as with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Ink Business Preferred still offers a good array of travel protections.

For more details, check out our Chase Ink Preferred Card review.


APPLY HERE: Ink Business Preferred Card


American Express Gold Card

WYATT SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees).

Welcome offer: The Amex Gold's current welcome offer is 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months. Check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for an even higher offer (subject to change at any time).

Earning rates: Earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel, and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

Analysis: This card offers 3 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel. According to TPG valuations, American Express Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each, so you’ll earn a 6% return. You also get a whopping 4 points per dollar at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each calendar year.

Related: Want to switch to the Rose Gold Amex? It’s easier than you might think

The card also offers up to $120 in statement credits for dining at participating restaurants each calendar year and introduced monthly Uber Cash in 2021. It does provide solid shopping protections, though its travel protections aren't as comprehensive as those offered by other American Express cards.

For more details, check out our American Express Gold Card review.

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.


APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card


Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $95.

Sign-up bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card's current sign-up bonus is 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 5 points per dollar on all travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, plus 2 points per dollar on all other travel (including airfare) not purchased through the Chase travel portal; 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases; and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Analysis: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is ideal for those who want to earn valuable rewards without paying a high annual fee. Five points per dollar on travel through Chase's travel portal is extremely generous for a card with this low of an annual fee. It also earns 2 points per dollar on all other travel expenses booked outside of the Chase travel portal, including hotels, Airbnbs, public transit and more.

Related: How to maximize your rewards earning with the Chase Sapphire Preferred

The rewards you earn with this card are fully transferable, so you can convert your points to miles with United, Southwest, British Airways and seven other airlines, along with three hotel chains — Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club. Similar to the other Chase cards listed above, you’ll get a number of travel protections when booking your flights with this card, including trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance and baggage delay insurance. If you rent a car during your trip, you’ll get primary car rental coverage too.

For more details, check out our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card review.


APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card


Citi Premier Card

JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY

Annual fee: $95.

Sign-up bonus: The Citi Premier Card's current sign-up bonus is 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 3 points per dollar on air travel, hotels, gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

Analysis: The main selling point of the Citi Premier card is the number of airline partners you can transfer your points to through the ThankYou Rewards program.

The card’s relatively low annual fee can be easily offset by the $100 annual hotel credit you get when you book a hotel stay of $500 or more through thankyou.com (excluding taxes and fees). There’s no fee to add authorized users to your card, so you can earn points twice as fast, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

For more details, check out our Citi Premier review.


APPLY HERE: Citi Premier Card


Bottom line

Airfare is a popular bonus category among the top rewards cards. However, The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express stand out from the rest. Besides offering what’s effectively a 10% return on your spending, they can score you exclusive discounts on your flights and offer an array of travel protections. On top of that, they provide access to more airport lounges than any other card.

That said, if you don’t want to pay a high annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card are solid options as well and they offer terrific sign-up bonuses.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.

Featured image by (Photo Courtesy Of Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023