Maximize your airfare: The best credit cards for booking flights

Jun 29, 2021

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As you return to the skies, 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

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for airline miles.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best business card for travel.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best travel protections.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for low annual fee.
American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining at restaurants
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best sign-up bonus and low annual fee.
Citi Prestige® Card: Best for airline miles and dining.

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In This Post

Comparison of the best cards for booking flights

Card Bonus for airfare purchases/return based on TPG valuations Notes Annual fee
The Platinum Card from American Express 5x points/10% 5x 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 Express 5x points/10% 5x on flights purchased through Amex Travel. Terms apply. $595 (see rates & fees)
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x points/6% 3x on travel (excluding the $300 travel credit), including flights. $550
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card 3x points/6% 3x 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 Card 3x points/6% 3x on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel. $250 (see rates & fees)
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 2x points/4% 2x on travel, including flights. $95
Citi Prestige 5x points/8.5% 5x points on air travel. $495

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Platinum Card from American Express

(Photo by The Points Guy)

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

Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the card at restaurants worldwide and when you “Shop Small” in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first six months of card membership. Check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for a 125,000-point bonus (offer is subject to change at any time).

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

Analysis: The Amex Platinum Card is the most rewarding card for airfare purchases, offering a whopping 5x points for airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel. You also earn 5x points on hotels booked through Amex Travel and 1x points on other purchases. On top of that, you can unlock discounts on airfare through the International Airline Program and will get a suite of travel protections when booking round-trip flights.

Among numerous other cardholder benefits are up to $200 in annual airline fee credits, up to $200 in annual Uber credits (in the U.S.), up to $100 in annual Saks Fifth Avenue shopping credits and a $100 credit toward a Global Entry application fee or an $85 credit toward a TSA PreCheck application fee. You also get access to Delta Sky Clubs when 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. Plus you can transfer your points to 19 airline and three hotel partners. Finally, you receive Gold status with Hilton and Marriott and elite status with Avis, Hertz and National. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

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

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $595 (see rates and fees).

Welcome offer: Earn 125,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 5x points on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, along with 1.5x points on eligible purchases over $5,000 (up to 1 million additional points per calendar year) and 1x points on other purchases.

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

And with the Business Platinum card, 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 500,000 points per calendar year), which effectively gets you 1.54 cents per point in value. Like the personal version, the Business Platinum card 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

At the airport, cardholders get access to lounges including CenturionPriority Pass and Delta Sky Club (when flying same-day Delta Air Lines flights). Other benefits include an up-to-$200 annual airline fee credit, a credit for 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 $200 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

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $550.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 3x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases worldwide. You’ll also earn 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022.

Analysis: The introduction of this card was the No. 1 story in the credit card industry in 2016. Its popularity went mainstream — and for good reason. With the Sapphire Reserve, you earn 3x points on all travel expenses, including not just airfare but hotels, car rentals and even parking and tolls. You also get 3x points on all dining purchases and 1x points on all other purchases.

According to TPG valuations, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2 cents each. Points are earned in the Ultimate Rewards program, which includes 10 airline and three hotel 1:1 transfer partners. Or, points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel and activities booked through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or when redeemed through the Pay Yourself Back program.

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 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 Card

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

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

Analysis: This business credit card offers 3x points on airfare and everything else that Chase includes in its travel classification. You also receive 3x points on all shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. Note that the 3x earning rate applies to the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases across those categories. You’ll also earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. 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. Even better, none of them require the purpose of the trip to be business.

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

APPLY HERE: Ink Business Preferred Card

American Express Gold Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

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

Welcome offer: Earn 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 a 75,000-point Gold Card offer (offer is subject to change at any time).

Earning rates: Earn 4x points at restaurants, 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each calendar year, then 1x), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com and 1x points on everything else.

Analysis: This card offers 3x Membership Rewards points 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 4x points at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets (for U.S. supermarkets, the 4x is capped at the first $25,000 spent each calendar year, then 1x), and 1x points on other eligible purchases.

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 credits in 2021. Aside from Amex’s baggage insurance plan and access to the Global Assist Hotline, the card doesn’t offer any travel protections. The wildly popular Rose Gold version of the card is now a permanent offering.

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

APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Annual fee: $95.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 2x points on travel (including airfare) and dining, and 1x points on all other purchases. Plus, earn 5x points on Lyft through March 2022.

Analysis: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is ideal for those who want to earn valuable rewards without paying a high annual fee. It earns 2x points on all travel expenses, including hotels, Airbnbs, public transit and more. Plus, it offers that same return on all dining, and for a limited time, boosted returns on Lyft rides.

Related: One year of earning and burning with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The rewards you earn with this card are fully transferrable, 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.

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

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Annual fee: $495.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.

Earning rates: Earn 5x points on air travel and dining at restaurants, 3x points at hotels and cruise lines and 1x points everywhere else.

Analysis: The Citi Prestige card increased its bonus category for air travel and dining to 5x points in 2019. While that sounds great on the surface, it’s important to remember that Citi ThankYou points are worth slightly less than Amex and Chase points. Based on the TPG valuation of Citi points at 1.7 cents each, the Prestige provides an 8.5% return on airfare. While that’s still a solid return, there’s also the drawback that the card no longer offers any travel protections.

Related: Even though the Citi Prestige has lost a lot of benefits, I’m still keeping mine (for now); here’s why

The main selling point of the Citi Prestige is that it offers two complimentary fourth night awards for hotel bookings. It also provides up to $250 in annual travel credits, Priority Pass lounge access and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit.

For more details, check out our Citi Prestige review.

Bottom line

Airfare is a popular bonus category among the top rewards credit 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 protect you when things go wrong, such as a long flight delay. 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.

Featured photo by Martin Chavez/Shutterstock.

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.  

The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points Terms Apply.

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber Cash annually (only for use in the U.S.)  (Enrollment required for select benefits)

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • New! American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships. Enrollment required.
  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Annual Fee
$695
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.