The best credit cards for buying points and miles
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Truth be told, buying points and miles usually is not a great deal. You typically have to 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.
But every so often, airline and hotel loyalty programs offer 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 the price and have a specific and imminent award redemption in mind.
Current points and miles promotions
In that light, there have been several attractive points and miles promotions available recently that you might have considered taking advantage of. Here’s a rundown of recent and ongoing promotions at the 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||1.85 cents||2.88 cents||May 22, 2021|
|American Airlines||1.93 cents||3.2 cents||April 30, 2021|
|JetBlue||1.74 cents||3.15 cents||April 27, 2021|
|Choice Privileges||0.99 cents||1.39 cents||April 27, 2021|
|Hilton Honors||0.5 cents||1 cent||May 11, 2021|
|Hyatt||1.8 cents||2.25 cents||April 30, 2021|
|IHG Rewards Club||0.57 cents||1 cent||May 3, 2021|
When it makes sense to buy points and miles
While we generally advise against purchasing points and miles, sometimes it’s your last resort.
For example, you’re just shy of a dream redemption and need the points or miles urgently to make the award ticket a reality. If award availability is limited, you may need to top off your balance by buying points or miles. If earning rewards through credit card spending or on a sign-up bonus isn’t possible in a given timeframe, it would make sense to purchase airline or hotel currency. Just make sure that this purchase doesn’t negate the value of your existing rewards, making it a poor redemption altogether.
Some promotions may actually be worthwhile. In the past, we’ve seen targeted 200% bonus offers for Avianca LifeMiles. Since you can score a short-haul United flight for 6,500 LifeMiles, you could potentially save money by taking advantage of a buy-miles promotion compared to the cash price of the flight. Later in this guide, we’ll provide an example of how buying Alaska miles can be lucrative.
When you should avoid buying points and miles
If the above scenarios don’t apply to you, you should avoid buying points and miles more than likely. Sure, it’s worth taking a deeper look when you get an email from your favorite loyalty program with an enticing discount. However, since points and miles are always devaluing, there’s no reason to convert your hard-earned cash to an unstable loyalty program currency.
Say you’re working toward a specific redemption — perhaps your first international trip since the pandemic — at the end of this year. You’ll want to compare the cash price of the flight to the cost in miles, then create a game plan for how you’re going to earn this balance in a given time frame. Generally speaking, you can achieve this through spending on the right credit card or locking in sign-up bonuses rather than buying points and miles from the airlines.
Finally, if your airline or hotel rewards are expiring soon, there are other ways to keep them expiring than purchasing points and miles. Consider shopping or dining portals or other simple activities to keep your balances alive.
How to get the best value when buying points and miles
Here’s an example on how to know if you’re getting the best value when buying points and miles. We’ll take Alaska’s current promotion of up to 60% bonus miles (ends May 22, 2021):
- Buy 3,000-39,000 miles, get a 40% bonus
- Buy 40,000-100,000 miles, get a 60% bonus
Although Alaska has a fantastic award chart, it can be hard to earn a ton of MileagePlan miles unless you fly with the airline often or open one of their co-branded credit cards. Let’s say you want to score a roundtrip business class ticket on Cathay Pacific — you’ll need 100,000 Alaska miles to make this possible.
The cash price of this ticket is a whopping $8,308:
Or with the current promotion, you can purchase 65,000 miles (with 39,000 bonus miles — for a total of 104,000 miles) for roughly $1,922. Here, you’re scoring a Cathay Pacific round-trip business class flight for a fraction of the real cost by taking advantage of the buy-miles promotion.
Of course, there are limitations with this. There’s a cap of 150,000 purchased or gifted miles in a calendar year for non-Alaska elite members. Additionally, be extra careful when purchasing miles, as this cannot be reversed. You’ll need to call Alaska to book your Cathay Pacific ticket and make sure there’s award availability. However, if you’re able to snag this deal, buying miles (especially on a promotion) can be incredibly convincing.
Maximizing your purchase with the right credit card
If you decide to purchase points or miles, it pays to know which credit card will earn you the best return. Most points programs sell points via Points.com rather than directly through the loyalty program, preventing you from earning category bonuses as you normally would on travel, airline or hotel expenditures. But, there are still ways to maximize 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
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Air Baltic Club
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air Europa SUMA
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Alitalia Mille Miglia
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- ANA Mileage Club
- British Airways Executive Club (Avios)
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Copa Airlines ConnectMiles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- Finnair Plus
- Frontier Miles
- Hawaiian Miles
- Iberia Plus
- Icelandair Saga Club
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- LATAM Pass
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- Spirit Airlines Free Spirit
- Turkish Airlines Miles& Smiles
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer
- WestJet Rewards
- Choice Privileges
- Hilton Honors
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy
- Radisson Rewards
- Shangri-La Golden Circle
- World of Hyatt
- Wyndham Rewards
As you can see, most of the major programs use Points.com as their mileage retailer. Unfortunately, these purchases won’t code as 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.
Your best bet is to use 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 card is awarding a sign-up bonus of up to 60,000 miles for new cardholders after they spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express also earns 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 in purchases per calendar 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).
The good news is, some airlines process their own mileage purchases. For example, you can purchase Avianca Lifemiles directly through the LifeMiles program and you can use a credit card that offers bonuses on airfare purchases. Some of the top earners are The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly from the airline or via Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offering 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and the Citi Prestige® Card, offering 5 points per dollar on airfare.
The information for the Citi Prestige 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.
Related: Should I buy airline miles?
As for cards with a general travel bonus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card earn 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar (on up to $150,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year for the Ink Business Preferred), while the American Express® Gold Card earns 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airline purchases when booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel.
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) and on prepaid hotels|
|Citi Prestige® Card||5 points per dollar on airlines|
|American Express Gold Card||3 points per dollar on airlines (when booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel)|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3 points per dollar on travel and dining|
Even with promotional bonuses, purchasing airline miles or hotel points is oftentimes too expensive to be worth it. Instead, consider your other options. Those include applying for a new credit card with a high welcome bonus that can quickly stock up your loyalty account with 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 Delta SkyMiles, for example, you could apply for the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and score a welcome offer of 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.
Need Hilton points? The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is still offering a 150,000-point welcome offer for spending $4,000 on purchase in the first three months of card membership. Its mid-range counterpart, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, is offering 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.
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 Card, for instance, transfer to loyalty programs including Air France/KLM, United, Marriott Bonvoy, 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 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 40% to Marriott Bonvoy and 25% to Air France/KLM Flying Blue.
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, it may be worthwhile to buy points or miles. 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 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 more bonus points in the bargain.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon.
Featured photo of JFK by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.
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