Battle of the credit card travel portals: What’s the best for booking flights?
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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.
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.)
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
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
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:
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business.
- Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business.
- Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®.
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
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.
I looked at a variety of round-trip routes with the same dates (roughly six months from now) and gathered the following prices:
|Booked directly||Amex Travel||Capital One travel||Chase 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).|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 new 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.
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.
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.
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 photo by Cravetiger/Getty Images.
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