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If you work for an airline or have a buddy pass, which credit card should you get?

August 3 2022
26 min read
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A lot of our articles about credit card strategies discuss earning miles that you can use for free flights to get where you want to go — the beach, a family reunion or even a cruise port. But what if you already get free flights and don't care about this aspect?

Anyone who works for an airline or has a buddy pass falls into this segment, and we admittedly haven't covered this topic previously. TPG reader Kenzie reached out to us asking about credit cards for people who already have free flights at their disposal, and it deserves coverage.

Let's look at how to build a credit card strategy if you work in or are connected to the airline industry and regularly fly for free.

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Master the basics first

(Photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Before we talk about the unique credit card strategy for people who already receive free flights, there are some basic concepts from our beginners guide to keep top of mind:

Once you've got a good grasp of the above, you can start mapping out your credit card strategy.

What should your credit card strategy be if you fly for free?

(Photo by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

With the above general advice in mind, the next step in your credit card journey should be to consider what travel categories you'd like to use your credit cards for. While you won't need to focus on airlines because you fly for free, you'll want to have credit cards that cover other aspects of travel, such as hotels, cruises, trains, taxis and buses. You'll also want credit cards that provide important travel protections for things like trip cancellations, trip delays and lost and delayed luggage.

To map out your credit card strategy, start by thinking about these questions:

  • What are your travel goals? Do you want to backpack across Southeast Asia, stay in an overwater bungalow on a remote island, rent an Airbnb with friends in a European capital, take a cruise to Antarctica or something else? Look at how credit card points and miles can help you accomplish these goals and ensure that your earning strategy aligns with your redemption goals.
  • What is your travel style? This is similar to the above question, but consider whether you want to spend a few nights at an ultra-luxury property or prefer to stretch your points by staying at cheaper hotels, backpacker hostels or vacation rentals.
  • Who will go on these trips with you and how will they contribute? If your travel is primarily with co-workers — who also get free flights thanks to working for an airline — your strategies will probably align well. You could all chip in some points for a hotel together or take turns redeeming points for different aspects of an upcoming trip together. However, if your travel partner is someone who doesn't qualify for free flights, this will change your earning strategy. This person may need to earn some airline miles while you earn points for the hotel.

Then, look at what points can help you achieve your goals. More often than not, transferable points will help you the most since these offer terrific value and the greatest range of redemption options. For travel expenses that require paying with cash, a fixed-value card or a card with a "purchase eraser" feature can help you out. Hotel credit cards may be of use, too, if you find yourself favoring a particular hotel brand.

Transferable-points credit cards

(Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

Transferable points are points that you can transfer (hence the name) to travel partners. Rather than simply use these points like cash in a booking portal or as a statement credit, you can transfer them to airline and hotel partners for high-value redemptions. But since you're getting free flights already, the other ways to use these points (think: covering past purchases via statement credits and booking hotels, activities and cruises) will likely be of more interest to you.

Several credit cards offer transferable points, including:

Card nameWelcome offerKey benefitsEarning ratesAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardEarn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on travel booked through the Chase travel portal.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on Lyft (through March 2025).
  • 3 points per dollar spent on dining, select streaming services and online grocery store purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale club purchases).
  • 2 points per dollar spent on all travel not booked through the Chase travel portal.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
$95.
Chase Sapphire ReserveEarn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
  • 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • 10 points per dollar spent on dining purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on flights purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on all other travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining purchases worldwide.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
$550.
American Express® Green CardEarn 45,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first six months of cardmembership.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on dining (including takeout and delivery within the U.S.), travel and transit.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$150 (see rates and fees).
American Express® Gold CardEarn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in your first six months of cardmembership.
  • 4 points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants (including takeout and delivery).
  • 4 points per dollar spent on up to $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per calendar year (then 1 point per dollar).
  • 3 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly from the airline or through the Amex Travel portal.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
$250 (see rates and fees).
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressEarn 100,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of cardmembership.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines (up to $500,000 per calendar year).
  • 5 points per dollar spent on flights and hotels booked with Amex Travel.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$695 (see rates and fees).
Citi Rewards+® CardEarn 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,500 on your card within the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn 5 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent at restaurants within the first year from account opening.

.

  • 2 points per dollar spent at supermarkets and gas stations on the first $6,000 per year, and 1 point per dollar thereafter.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
$0.
Citi Premier® CardEarn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on your card within the first three months of cardmembership.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on air travel, hotels, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout).
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$95.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardEarn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
  • 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 5 miles per dollar spent on cars booked through Turo (through May 16, 2023).
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$95.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit CardEarn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.
  • 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals booked via Capital One Travel.
  • 10 miles per dollar spent on Turo rentals (through May 16, 2023).
  • 5 miles per dollar spent on flights booked via Capital One Travel.
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on other purchases.
$395.

The information for the American Express Green Card 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 above may seem like a confusing list of numbers, but that's where we can help.

Here's what each of these welcome bonuses could be worth, according to TPG's latest valuations:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: $1,200.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: $1,200.
  • American Express Green Card: $900.
  • American Express Gold Card: $1,200.
  • The Platinum Card from American Express: $2,000.
  • Citi Rewards+ Card: $360.
  • Citi Premier Card: $1,440.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: $1,387.50.
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: $1,387.50.

While some welcome bonuses are better than others, the best option for you will ultimately come down to which card best fits your lifestyle and travel habits, so be sure to weigh all factors before deciding on a card. If you won't get as much use out of transferable points, perhaps a fixed-value card is the better way to go.

Fixed-value-points credit cards

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

There are unfortunately travel expenses that you can't cover in advance with points, such as seaplane transfers to an island resort in the Maldives, rail passes in Europe and daily subway tickets needed to explore a major city. As a result, you'll need to fork over real money, not points, to pay for them.

Luckily, several cards can reimburse you for these kinds of purchases with fixed-value points. While you won't be able to transfer these points to travel partners for outsize redemption value, you can use them to pay yourself back for purchases in the form of credit card statement credits.

The following are some examples of credit cards that offer fixed-value points:

Card nameWelcome offerKey benefitsEarning ratesAnnual fee
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit cardEarn 25,000 bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Preferred Rewards members can earn up to 75% more rewards on every purchase.
$0.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit cardEarn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining.
  • 1.5 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Preferred Rewards members can earn up to 75% more rewards on every purchase.
$95.
U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® CardEarn 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on the card in the first 90 days.
  • 4 points per dollar spent on dining, including takeout and delivery.
  • 2 points per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations and EV charging stations, and on grocery delivery and  streaming services.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$0.
U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® CardEarn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first 120 days.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center.
  • 4 points per dollar spent on travel and gas.
  • 2 points per dollar spent at grocery stores and on grocery delivery, dining and streaming services.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$0 introductory annual fee, then $95.
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® CardEarn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,500 on the card in the first 90 days.
  • Up to $325 in annual travel credits.
  • Up to $100 in reimbursement for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, once every four years.
  • Four Priority Pass lounge or restaurant visits per year.
  • 12 complimentary Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes, valid for 12 months from benefit enrollment.
  • Click here for our full review of the card.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases and mobile wallet spending.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$400.

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

With Bank of America and U.S. Bank, options for transferring your points to partner programs and obtaining 2, 3 or 4 cents per point in value on redemptions don't exist. Instead, you can redeem your points from Bank of America against travel purchases within the past 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per point. Meanwhile, U.S. Bank enables cardholders to net a value of 1 cent per point for non-travel redemptions and 1.5 cents per point when redeeming against travel spending.

Next, if most of your trips include stays at hotels, there's a third type of card that you may find more useful than a fixed-value option: hotel credit cards.

Related: Why you should get a fixed-rate rewards credit card

Hotel credit cards

The Hilton Santa Monica Hotel & Suites. (Photo by Bill Fink/The Points Guy)

The good news about a hotel room is that unlike a seat on an airplane, the room can be shared by you and a friend, spouse or significant other. Because of this, your hotel points and free night certificates can go further when you're both earning points and free nights.

Adding hotel credit cards to your wallet is also a great way to garner extra perks, such as upgrades or shortcuts to elite status.

Here are some of the currently available hotel credit cards worth considering:

Card nameWelcome offerKey benefitsEarning ratesAnnual fee
World of Hyatt Credit CardEarn up to 60,000 bonus points: Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening. Plus, earn up to 30,000 additional bonus points by earning 2 points per dollar spent in the first six months of account opening (on purchases that normally earn 1 point per dollar, limited to $15,000 in spending).
  • 4 points per dollar spent on Hyatt stays and experiences.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on local transit and commuting.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on airfare purchased directly from airlines.
  • 2 points per dollar spent at fitness clubs and on gym memberships.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on up to $15,000 of purchases in the first six months of new card membership.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$95.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit CardEarn three free night awards (worth up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening.
  • 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on the first $6,000 of combined purchases at grocery stores, at gas stations and on dining each year.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$95.
IHG Rewards Premier Credit CardEarn 140,000 bonus points and a free night award (worth up to 40,000 points) after spending $3,000 on your card within the first three months of account opening.
  • Receive a free night award (which is worth up to 40,000 points, but you can add more points to it for higher-value redemptions) each year on your cardmember anniversary.
  • Complimentary IHG Platinum Elite status.
  • Fourth night free on award stays booked using points.
  • 10,000 bonus points and a $100 statement credit after spending $20,000 on your card during your cardmember anniversary year.
  • 20% discount when buying IHG points.
  • Click here for our full review of the card.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on travel and hotels.
  • 5 points per dollar spent at gas stations and on dining (including takeout and delivery).
  • 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$99.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardEarn 130,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on the card within your first three months of cardmembership.
  • 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and resorts.
  • 6 points per dollar spent on dining, takeout and delivery at U.S. restaurants.
  • 6 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on all other transactions.
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® CardEarn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on your card within the first three months of cardmembership.
  • 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels and resorts.
  • 3 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$450 (see rates and fees).
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire CardEarn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
  • 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and resorts.
  • 7 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$450 (see rates and fees).
Best Western Rewards® Premium Mastercard®Earn 80,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first three billing cycles after the account is opened.
  • 40,000 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary if you've spent $5,000 within the previous 12 billing cycles.
  • Automatic Platinum elite status.
  • 10% off room rates.
  • Points expiry is waived for cardmembers.
  • 10 points per dollar spent at Best Western properties.
  • 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
$89.

The information for the Hilton Aspire card and Best Western Premium card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you have a preferred hotel brand, you're likely leaning toward a certain credit card already. That said, all of the above cards have their positives and negatives.

Related: My top 3 picks for the best cobranded hotel credit card

In order to determine which card you should get, it's important to understand your priorities. Are you looking for a card with a low fee and moderate perks? Or, do you want top-tier elite status to enjoy suite upgrades upon arrival at the hotel?

It's also important to consider where you intend to travel and which hotels are available in those locations. If you're visiting Paris and London, for example, you'll have every hotel brand at your disposal. However, if you're traveling to the interior parts of South America or Africa, options will be far fewer.

Consider the lodging options for your intended destinations before committing yourself to a particular hotel program — or to international hotel chains at all — to ensure that your travel goals are aligned with the points you're pursuing.

Should you get other credit cards for specific types of travel?

The 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner. (Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

You may be wondering whether you should get credit cards specific to certain types of travel, such as Amtrak trains or cruise lines. While the answer to the Amtrak question is a simple one, as Amtrak's credit cards closed to new applicants at the end of 2021, the cruise line one may surprise you.

In nearly every case, you're better off paying for a cruise with a general travel credit card than a cruise-specific card. That's because the cards we highlighted above — those that earn transferable points — will earn much greater value in rewards when paying for your cruise.

Additionally, some transferable-points credit cards provide protections like trip cancellation insurance and trip delay insurance — perks that you won't receive with cards affiliated with particular cruise lines — and can help you pay for other parts of your trip, such as flights and dining.

Related: Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation

Bottom line

Whether your goal is to live the life of luxury or stretch your points as far as they will go at inexpensive lodging options, points and miles can help you accomplish your travel goals. If you get free flights already, you've already eliminated the most expensive part of travel for most people and the largest drain on points and miles for those of us who collect them.

Most advice on using credit cards to earn points for free travel includes strategies for those who must pay for flights. If you work for an airline or have a buddy pass and get free flights, a tailored credit card strategy is needed for your particular situation. By considering your travel goals and then earning the points that will help you accomplish them, you should be able to combine your access to complimentary flights with free travel in multiple other forms.

Featured photo by (Photo by Nicholas Ellis/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.

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
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 Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees