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Battle of the credit card travel portals: What’s the best for booking flights?

March 02, 2022
12 min read
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

American Express, Capital One and Chase are three of the major players in the travel credit card space. As such, these issuers offer their own travel portals, where users can earn and redeem their points and miles for flights, hotels, car rentals and more.

Increasingly, these issuers are incentivizing their cardholders to use their travel portal by offering bonus points on bookings.

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For instance, with the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, you’ll earn 10 miles per dollar on hotel and car rentals and 5 miles per dollar on flights — but only when booked through the new Capital One Travel portal. Purchases made outside the portal earn 2 miles per dollar.

Likewise, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar on all travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Otherwise, you earn 2 points per dollar on those travel purchases.

Given the lucrative earning potential that booking through these portals presents, it begs the question: Is it worth your time to use them rather than booking directly?

In this guide, we put these three travel portals to the test when booking flights. We compared price, ease of use, redemption value and other metrics.

(Note that Citi also has a travel booking portal, but we didn’t include it here, because you don’t need to book through it in order to earn bonus points with its cards.)

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Methodology

For this analysis, we limited our research to flights rather than hotels, rental cars or other travel. That’s because we generally recommend that you avoid booking hotels through a third party since you likely won’t receive elite-status benefits (if you have any) or earn elite-qualifying stay credits.

If you’re not concerned with earning hotel elite status or are booking an independent hotel, then booking your stay through a travel portal may still be advantageous for you.

Do note that you can book luxury hotels through the American Express Travel portal with your select premium American Express card to get elite-like perks. Amex’s Fine Hotels + Resorts and The Hotel Collection both offer valuable benefits such as room upgrades (upon availability), free daily breakfast, on-property credits and more.

With flights, you may be able to “double-dip” your earnings, since you can usually earn bonus points on bookings through your card issuer’s portal and earn airline and elite-qualifying miles just as you would by booking directly through the airline. That said, here are the features we examined on each portal:

  • Results: Do you get comprehensive results when searching through the portal?
  • Price: How do the prices compare to booking directly with an airline versus through a portal?
  • Ease of use: Is it easy for a user to navigate the portal? What kind of unique features or benefits do users get from using a portal?
  • Redemption value: Is it worth redeeming your points and miles for travel through a portal?

With these four factors in mind, here’s how the individual issuers’ travel portals stacked up.

American Express Travel portal

(Screenshot from American Express)

Any American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points will allow you to make bookings through the Amex Travel portal. Depending on the specific card you carry, you may earn bonus points for booking through the portal.

The Platinum Card® from American Express, for instance, earns 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year) and 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotel bookings made through Amex Travel. The American Express® Gold Card, meanwhile, earns 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel.

You can search for flights, hotels, flight and hotel packages, rental cars and cruises on the Amex portal.

Capital One travel portal

(Photo courtesy of Capital One)

The Capital One travel portal has recently been revamped and offers a fresh interface powered by the travel tech app, Hopper. The Capital One travel portal is accessible with the following cards:

The information for the Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business and Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Currently, you can only book flights, hotels and rental cars through the portal.

Chase travel portal

(Screenshot courtesy of Chase)

The Ultimate Rewards travel portal by Chase has long been powered by Expedia, but now the issuer has migrated to its new portal that uses cxLoyalty software.

You can access the portal with your Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card, including popular options like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Cardholders can book flights, hotels, cars, activities and cruises on the Chase travel portal.

Related: Why are some flights more expensive through the Chase travel portal?

Booking flights

I looked at a variety of round-trip routes with the same dates (roughly six months from now) and gathered the following prices:

Booked directlyAmex TravelCapital One travelChase travel
New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) in economy.

$288 (American Airlines).

$330 (American Airlines).$288 (American Airlines).$288 (American Airlines).
Tampa (TPA) to Bozeman (BZN) in economy.

$330 (American Airlines).

$329 (American Airlines).$329 (American Airlines)$329 (American Airlines).
Baltimore (BWI) to Las Vegas (LAS) in economy.

$404 (Delta Air Lines).

$404 (Delta Air Lines).$406 (Delta Air Lines).$366 (JetBlue Airways).
Miami (MIA) to Boston (BOS) in economy.

$147 (Delta Air Lines).

$147 (Delta Air Lines).$147 (Delta Air Lines).$148 (Delta Air Lines).
Chicago (ORD) to Milan (MXP) in economy.

$532 (United Airlines).

$565 (SAS).$532 (United Airlines).$532 (United Airlines).
Nashville (BNA) to Bogotá, Colombia (BOG) in economy.

$470 (American Airlines).

$549 (American Airlines and Delta Air Lines).$470 (American Airlines).$470 (American Airlines).
Toronto (YYZ) to Seoul (ICN) in economy.

$1,000 (Delta Air Lines).

$1,048 (United Airlines).$1,258 (United Airlines).$1,045 (United Airlines).
New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) in business.

$1,179 (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines).

$1,179 (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines).$1,180 (Delta Air Lines).$1,179 (American Airlines).
Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) in business.

$1,946 (United Airlines).

$2,005 (Lufthansa Airlines).$5,209 (Delta Air Lines).$2,000 (Lufthansa Airlines).
San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) in business.

$3,843 (Philippine Airlines).

$4,017 (Philippine Airlines).$4,159 (American Airlines).$4,018 (Philippine Airlines).

Price

All three travel portals generally fared well when it came to searching economy flights versus booking directly. However, there were a few major caveats worth noting.

Southwest Airlines is not bookable on any of the portals, and Spirit Airlines is consistently more expensive on the Chase and Capital One travel portals than booking directly. Amex Travel didn’t display any Spirit Airways or Frontier Airlines flights — though it'll be interesting to see if that changes with the forthcoming merger of the two carriers.

When it came to international flights, all three portals struggled at times to match prices or give comparable results versus booking directly. For a deeper dive on some of these routes and flight prices, we did a broader comparison across 20 flights in this guide.

As a general word of advice, domestic flights should yield the same results and price, but that all starts to get tricky when searching for international fares. Your best bet would be to compare the prices and only use a portal when the prices are identical.

Ease of use

The Amex portal was my favorite when it came to a comprehensible search experience, fast load times for results and the simplicity of parsing through the various options.

(Screenshot from American Express)

On the other hand, the Capital One portal offers one of the most visually appealing interfaces, with color-coded dates to indicate the lowest prices. However, the Capital One portal did not provide ample options and yielded in higher prices when searching for international routes, but I’m hopeful that the issuer will continue to make improvements in the future.

(Screenshot from Capital One)

Based on millions of data points from Hopper, Capital One is supposed to let you know if this is the best time to book via its price watch prediction feature.

(Screenshot from Capital One)

In an effort to standardize the offerings across various airlines, Capital One also provides detailed insights into what flyers can expect from their chosen fare class. With the rise of “basic economy” fares, it’s not always clear what amenities are included in your ticket and what you’ll have to pay for as extras.

Capital One does an excellent job of explaining in-depth features from seat pitch, aircraft type, food and beverage options on board and more.

(Screenshot from Capital One)

Finally, the Chase portal has seen vast improvements since fully migrating toward its cxLoyalty interface. Previously, when Chase was powered by Expedia, users complained about slow load times and much higher prices than what were offered directly by the airlines. Some of those issues seem to have been resolved.

(Screenshot courtesy of Chase)

While the Ultimate Rewards portal could use some work in cleaning up the interface, the overall user experience was much better than before. I only ran into marginal price differences during my test searches — compared to what I had noticed in months prior.

Redemption value

This is not a criterion we used for evaluating these three issuers’ portals for this particular article, since the value of your points or miles can depend on which particular rewards card you carry. Still, it is worth keeping in mind if you intend to use your credit card’s travel portal to earn or redeem points and miles.

Your credit card points or miles are typically worth 1 cent each through your respective travel portal. That’s the case with Amex cards that earn Membership Rewards points as well as with Capital One credit cards. Even with the Capital One’s premium card (the Venture X), your points are only worth 1 cent each when redeeming for travel through the Capital One portal.

On the other hand, Chase travel credit cardholders are incentivized to use the Ultimate Rewards portal thanks to a higher redemption value. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel bookings, while with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card your points are worth 1.25 cents each.

(Screenshot courtesy of Chase)

While not as consistent of a program, American Express offers “Insider Fares,” allowing cardholders to redeem their points for a better value than 1 cent apiece on select domestic and international itineraries. However, these can be quite specific.

(Screenshot from Amex)

Select Amex business credit cardholders can also leverage the Pay with Points benefit to get a 25% to 50% points rebate when booking select airfare through Amex Travel – yet another incentive to book through the portal.

Due to all these card-specific circumstances, we didn’t make redemption values a main criterion for judging these portals for booking flights. Rather, we focused on each portal’s user interface and the availability of competitive fares, since those two factors will probably be the determinants as to whether travelers end up using them.

Related: Why I love the Amex Business Platinum’s Pay With Points perk

Bottom line

Credit-card issuers have improved their travel portals over the years, but they’re still far from perfect. While there wasn’t a clear winner for the best travel portal, each offers its unique features and incentives for its cardholders.

If you decide to book a flight through your issuer’s travel portal, be sure to cross-check the price of booking directly to ensure that you’re getting the best deal possible. And don’t forget that you may want to book directly anyway to avoid any headaches down the road. If you need to change or cancel your airfare, booking with a third party can often complicate matters when plans change.

Featured image by Getty Images
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.

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    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
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  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
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  • 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