The Best Credit Cards for Airfare Purchases
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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.
Before you miss the opportunity earn additional rewards on this spending, consider opening and using one of these top cards for airfare purchases:
The Top Cards for Airfare Purchases
1. The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for airline miles
2. The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Best for airline bonus miles
3. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best travel protections
4. Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best sign-up bonus
5. American Express® Gold Card: Best for global dining
6. Citi Premier Card: Best for broad travel categories
7. Citi Prestige: Best for airline miles and dining
|Card||Bonus for Airfare Purchases/Return Based on TPG Valuations||Notes||Annual Fee|
|Platinum Card from American Express||5x points/10%||5x on flights purchased directly from the airline or at Amex Travel. Terms Apply.||$550 (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 $300 travel credit), including flights||$450|
|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. This is a business card.||$95|
|American Express Gold Card||3x points/6%||3x points on flights purchased directly from the airline or at Amex Travel||$250 (See Rates & Fees)|
|Citi Premier Card||3x points/5.1%||3x points on travel including gas stations||$95|
|Citi Prestige||5x points/8.5%||5x points on air travel||$450 (increasing to $495 starting in September 2019)|
The Amex Platinum card has always been known for its impressive benefits, but not for any special rewards for spending. It now offers you 5x points for airfare booked directly through the airline or through Amex Travel. You also earn 5x points on hotels booked through Amex Travel, 2x points on other purchases from Amex Travel, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
Among numerous other card holder benefits are a $200 annual airline fee credit, $200 in annual Uber credits and a $100 credit toward a Global Entry or $85 credit toward TSA PreCheck application. You also get access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta and a Priority Pass Select lounge membership, along with access to the Centurion network of lounges, along with Escape and Airspace lounges. Plus you can transfer your points to 19 Amex airline partners. Finally, you receive Gold status with Hilton and Marriott, and elite status with Avis, Hertz and National car rentals. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees). But it doesn’t come with any travel protections in case your trip goes wrong.
The business version of the Platinum card also offers you 5x points on airfare and on prepaid hotels booked though Amex Travel. But unlike with the personal Amex Platinum, you won’t earn 5 points per dollar on tickets purchased directly through 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). Plus, with the 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, which effectively gets you 1.54 cents per point in value.
Other benefits include a $200 annual airline fee credit, a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application and lounge access. This card has a $595 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees). Like the Platinum Amex, this card doesn’t come with any travel protections.
The introduction of this card was the number-one 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 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else.
According to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 2 cents each. Points are earned in the Ultimate Rewards program, which includes nine 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 Center.
Other benefits include an annual $300 travel statement credit, a Global Entry application fee credit and a Priority Pass Select membership that includes guests. 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 & Transportation. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Chase introduced the Ink Business Preferred Card in 2016, replacing the Ink Plus for new applicants. This 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 on 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 Chase airline and hotel partners 1:1.
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.
New applicants can earn 80,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on their card within 3 months of account opening. This bonus alone is worth $1,600 according to TPG’s valuations. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
This card is another solid choice for airfare purchases, as you earn 3x points on all travel expenses. You also receive 2x on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The points you earn are part of the Citi ThankYou Rewards program and are worth 1.7 cents each, according to TPG’s valuations. You can transfer your ThankYou points to several different partners, such as Avianca and JetBlue. Points can also be redeemed for 1.25 cents each toward airfare purchased through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center.
Currently, the card comes with a suite of travel protections, including baggage and trip delay reimbursement, but they will all be discontinued on Sept. 22, 2019. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Citi Prestige card recently increased its its bonus category for air travel and dining to 5x points. Based on TPG’s valuations, that equates to a great 8.5% return. The card currently offers some of the best travel protections after the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but as with the Citi Premier, come Sept. 22, 2019, the card will lose all travel protections, making it a less valuable option for airfare purchases than in the past. The card will see some other changes as well, including a twice-a-year cap on 4th Night Free bookings starting in September 2019, an annual fee increase to $495 and the addition of a 3x bonus category for cruises.
Featured image by JT Genter / The Points Guy
What’s your favorite card to maximize airfare purchases?
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees