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

Nov 24, 2021

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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 new 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 they must be booked through the new Capital One Travel portal. Purchases made outside the portal earn a mere 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, that is. Otherwise, you earn 2 points per dollar on 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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In This Post

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 Amex Travel portal with your select premium American Express card to get elite-like perks. Amex’s Fine Hotels + Resorts Program 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.

Amex Travel portal

(Screenshot from American Express)

Any American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points will grant you access to making 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:

Route Amex Travel portal Capital One travel portal Chase travel portal Booked directly
New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) in economy $187 (American Airlines, JetBlue Airways). $187 (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines). $187 (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines). $187 (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines)
Tampa (TPA) to Bozeman (BZN) in economy $332 (American Airlines) $332 (American Airlines) $333 (American Airlines) $333 (American Airlines)
Baltimore (BWI) to Las Vegas (LAS) in economy $389 (United Airlines) $263 (Spirit Airlines) $273 (Spirit Airlines) $243 (Spirit Airlines)
Miami (MIA) to Boston (BOS) in economy $169 (American Airlines) Error — no flights found $135 (Spirit Airlines) $124 (Spirit Airlines)
Chicago (ORD) to Milan (MXP) in economy $694 (Turkish Airlines) $644 (United Airlines) $645 (United Airlines) $645 (United Airlines)
Nashville (BNA) to Bogotá, Colombia (BOG) in economy $466 (American Airlines) Error — no flights found $375 (JetBlue Airways) $437 (JetBlue Airways)
Toronto (YYZ) to Seoul (ICN) in economy $1,049 (Etihad Airways) $1,141 (American Airlines) $1,093 (Etihad Airways) $1,086 (Etihad Airways)
New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) in business $1,189 (United Airlines) $1,690 (United Airlines) $1,189 (United Airlines) $1,189 (United Airlines)
Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) in business $1,948 (United Airlines) Error — no flights found $1,972 (United Airlines) $1,972 (United Airlines)
San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) in business $4,372 (Singapore Airlines) Error — no flights found $4,372 (Singapore Airlines) $4,372 (Singapore 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 have Spirit Airways or Frontier Airlines flights.

When it came to international flights, Chase Travel offered virtually comparable pricing compared to booking directly. There were a few cases where Amex Travel even offered slightly cheaper international fares.

Unfortunately, the Capital One travel portal failed to deliver results for multiple flight searches, whether it was a short hop like Miami to Boston or long-haul international routes like San Francisco to Singapore.

The Capital One portal also only provided a few options when searching for a flight from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) in business class, with fares much more expensive than its competitors.

Ease of use

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

(Screenshot from American Express)

On the other hand, despite not returning results for multiple routes I searched, the Capital One portal offers one of the most visually appealing interfaces, with color-coded dates to indicate the lowest prices. Since the Capital One portal is new, 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 from 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 didn’t run into any significant price differences during my test searches than 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 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.

(Screenshot from 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, but these can be quite specific.

A Delta Air Lines flight with Insider Fares through American Express Travel
(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 not 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 tzido for Gettys.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.