The Best Credit Cards for Buying Points and Miles
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Buying points and miles is usually not a great deal. You typically must buy them in batches of 1,000 or more, and airlines and hotels charge several cents per point or mile you purchase which is well above the value you’re likely to get out of them in the end.
Every so often, however, frequent-flyer and hotel loyalty programs offer either significant discounts or bonuses on purchased points that might be well worth it to some customers. This is usually the case if you can get the points for about half price and have a specific and imminent award redemption in mind.
In that light, there have been several attractive points and miles promotions available lately that you might be thinking of taking advantage of. Here’s a rundown of recent and ongoing promotions at time of publication, along with their deadlines. Read on below to find out which credit cards to use so you can maximize your points purchases.
|Airline||Promo Cost||Regular Cost||Deadline|
|Alaska||1.97 cents||2.75 cents||May 19|
|American Airlines||1.92 cents||3.5 cents||May 31|
|British Airways||1.84 cents||2.75-5.3 cents||May 21|
|Etihad||1.67 points||2 cents||May 31|
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||1.78 cents||3.12 cents||April 10|
|Lifemiles (Avianca)||1.47 cents||3.3 cents||June 5|
|Southwest||1.83 cents||2.5-3 cents||May 16|
|United||2.03 cents||3.5 cents||May 10|
|Virgin Atlantic||1 cent||1.95-3.9 cents||April 30|
|Hilton Honors||0.5 cents||1 cent||May 28|
|Hyatt||1.71 cents||2.4 cents||June 11|
|IHG Rewards Club||0.56 cents||0.575-1.35 cents||May 31|
|Marriott Bonvoy||0.94 cents||1.25 cents||May 15|
Maximizing Your Purchase
If you do decide to purchase points or miles, it pays to know which credit card will earn you the best return on your spending. Most points programs sell points via Points.com rather than directly, which prevents you from earning category bonuses as you normally would on travel, airline or hotel expenditures. But there are still ways to earn bonuses and more on your points purchases.
Points.com is a third-party clearance house for many of the major hotel and airline loyalty programs. Among those that run their purchases through Points.com are:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Aeroflot Bonus
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Air India Flying Returns
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Alitalia Mille Miglia
- ANA Mileage Club
- Asiana Club
- British Airways Executive Club (Avios)
- China Airlines Dynasty Flyer
- China Eastern Airlines Eastern Miles
- China Southern Sky Pearl Club
- Czech Airlines OK Plus
- EL AL Matmid
- Etihad Guest
- Eurowings Boomerange Club
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
- Finnair Plus
- JAL Mileage Bank
- Jet Airways JetPrivilege
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Oasis Club
- Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles
- Porter Airlines VIPorter
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Airways Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- South African Airways Voyager
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- Spirit Airlines Free Spirit
- Sun Country Rewards
- TAP Portugal Miles&Go
- THAI Airways Royal Orchid Plus
- Turkish Airlines Miles& Smiles
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer
- Vueling Club
- WestJet Rewards
- Best Western Rewards
- Coast Rewards
- Hilton Honors
- IHG Rewards Club
- Jumeirah Sirius
- Le Club Accorhotels
- Marriott Bonvoy
- Radisson Rewards
- Red Roof Inn RediCard
- Shangri-La Golden Circle
- Taj InnerCircle
- World of Hyatt
As you can see, most of the major programs use Points.com as their mileage retailer. Unfortunately, these purchases are coded as neither airfare, hotel reservations nor general travel purchases. That means you won’t get any bonus miles for using an airline credit card, a hotel credit card or a card that earns bonus points on travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Previously, the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card consistently earned 3x Ultimate Rewards points on Points.com purchases and seemed to code those purchase as travel, but in our recent tests the card now earns just 1 point per dollar on these purchases. So that’s no longer a go-to option, unfortunately.
Your best bet could be a card that earns a bonus on everyday spending. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for instance, earns 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, which can then be redeemed at one cent apiece. That’s a solid 2% cash back on your spending.
The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express earns 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 per year then 1 point per dollar after that, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% cash back (1.5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar).
Here’s a breakdown of the best options in this situation and how many points per dollar you’ll earn.
|Capital One Venture Rewards||2x miles per dollar|
|Blue Business Plus American Express||2x points per dollar up to $50,000|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5x points per dollar|
The good news is, some airlines do process their own mileage purchases. Among those that fall into this camp are:
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Avianca Lifemiles
- British Airways Executive Club
- Delta SkyMiles
In this case, you’ll want to predicate your purchase strategy on the cards that earn the most on either travel merchants, airlines, or even a specific airline, depending on which products are in your wallet.
In terms of specific airline cards, you’ll earn 2x AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases when using a card like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. With Delta, you also earn 2 SkyMiles per dollar using the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express or the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select 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.
Aside from airline cobranded cards, you can actually score even more points by using a credit card with an airline or travel category bonus.
One of the top earners in these circumstances is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5 points per dollar on purchases made directly with airlines. Several TPG readers have told us that they received this category bonus on their mileage purchases. The other is the Citi Prestige, which also offers 5 points per dollar on airfare.
As for cards with a general travel bonus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Ink Business Preferred earn 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar, while the Citi Premier Card earns 3 ThankYou Rewards points per dollar, and the American Express® Gold Card earns 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airline purchases when booked directly with airlines or through Amextravel.com
Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison.
|Platinum Card from American Express||5 points per dollar on airlines (booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel)|
|Citi Prestige||5 points per dollar on airlines|
|American Express Gold Card||3 points per dollar on airlines (when booked directly with airlines or through Amextravel)|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3 points per dollar on travel|
|Citi Premier||3 points per dollar on airlines|
Even with promotional bonuses, purchasing airline miles or hotel points is often too expensive to be worth it. Instead, consider your other options. Those include applying for a new credit card with a high sign-up bonus that can quickly stock up your loyalty account with tens of thousands of points. This is a great choice for folks who do not need the miles or points in a hurry for any specific redemption, but are looking to stockpile them for the future.
Rather than purchasing American Airlines AAdvantage miles, for example, you could sign up for the AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard and score a bonus of up to 75,000 miles by spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and adding an employee card on which a purchase is made within 30 days.
Need Hilton points? The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is still offering a 150,000-point welcome bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months. Its mid-range counterpart, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, is offering a welcome bonus of 125,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
Otherwise, consider getting a card that earns transferable points that you can convert into airline miles or hotel points with partner programs. Ultimate Rewards points that you earn with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, for instance, transfer to loyalty programs including Air France/KLM, British Airways, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club, World of Hyatt and more. So rather than actually paying for points and miles, you can earn them on everyday spending and then transfer them when needed as needed.
What’s more, Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards regularly offer transfer bonuses to specific partners, such as a recent one of 30% to Virgin Atlantic, and a 25% one to Qantas. Chase has finally gotten in the action and offered its first-ever transfer bonus to British Airways in April.
The ability to buy points and miles can be useful in certain circumstances. Significant discounts or bonuses can bring down the sometimes-exorbitant prices airlines and hotels tend to charge for such purchases. If you need to buy a small number of points for an otherwise out-of-reach premium award, that can also make the charges and fees well worth it. Add in the bonuses some credit cards offer on miles purchases, and you can end up with a decent return on your spending.
However, there are easier and cheaper ways to rack up the points and miles you might need. Signing up for a new credit card is one. Focusing your points strategy on cards that earn transferable points for maximum flexibility is another. In short, buying points is only one of several useful means that can put certain awards within reach and help you achieve your travel goals. If you do decide that this is the route you want to go, be sure to use a credit card that helps you maximize your purchase and racks up still more bonus points in the bargain.
Featured photo of JFK by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.