Should you book flights on a travel portal? Comparing fares through Amex, Capital One, Chase and Citi

Jan 26, 2022

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While booking a flight directly with an airline is often your best move, it’s not always your best move. With many credit card programs, you have the ability to use points for flights or earn bonus points when booking through their respective sites.

Depending on the card you carry, issuers can offer up to 5 — or even up to 10 — bonus points per dollar to book flights through their respective travel portals rather than directly through the airline.

That’s a great return that’s hard to pass up.

For example, let’s say you have both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card in your wallet. The Sapphire Reserve offers 5 points per dollar on all flights booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal, while the Delta Reserve offers 3 SkyMiles per dollar on Delta flights booked directly through the carrier.

If you’re purchasing a Delta flight that costs hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, the difference between earning 5 points per dollar vs. 3 miles per dollar can be significant.

But, here lies the question: Is it worth booking travel through these portals? Are you finding the lowest fare possible — or are prices similar to booking directly?

We decided to put 20 routes to the test to see which of the four travel portals — American Express, Capital One, Chase and Citi — consistently gave us the lowest prices. Here’s what we found.

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Crafting the test

We searched 20 round-trip routes of varying fare classes across the same trip dates. Here’s what we found:

Route; class Amex Travel Capital One Travel Chase Travel Citi Travel Direct booking
FLL-ATL; first $832 (Delta) $842 (Delta) $843 (Delta) $842 (Delta) $832 (Delta)
PHX-DEN; economy $132 (AA) $98 (Frontier) $113 (Frontier) $113 (Frontier) $102 (Frontier)
JFK-SFO; business $998 (Alaska) $1,028 (Alaska) $1,028 (Alaska) $998 (Alaska) $1,028 (Alaska)
CLT-BOS; economy $196 (AA/Delta) $196 (AA/Delta) $196 (AA/Delta/JetBlue) $196 (AA/Delta) $196 (AA/Delta/JetBlue)
EWR-RDU; first $312 (Delta) $313 (Delta) $313 (Delta) $313 (Delta) $312 (Delta)
MIA-AUS; economy $145 (AA) $145 (AA) $141 (AA) $147 (AA) $145 (AA)
PDX-SLC; first $437 (Delta) $437 (Delta) $438 (Delta) $438 (Delta) $438 (Delta)
DCA-DTW; economy $207 (AA/Delta) $207 (Delta) $208 (AA/Delta) $208 (Delta) $208 (Delta)
SAN-OGG; business $2,208 (Alaska) $1,279 (Alaska) $1,227 (United) $1,226 (United) $1,225 (United)
MCI-BUF; economy $274 (AA) $274 (AA) $276 (AA) $274 (AA) $276 (AA)
IAH-CDG; economy $874 (Turkish) $1,232 (Qatar) $874 (Turkish) $874 (Turkish) $874 (Turkish)
LAX-LHR; first $10,545 (AA) N/A $10,545 (AA) $9,055 (British Airways) $10,148 (British Airways)
MIA-SCL; business $1,132 (Avianca) N/A $1,112 (Avianca) $1,112 (Avianca) $1,111 (Avianca)
JFK-ATH; business $3,187 (Turkish) $4,652 (Delta) $2,738 (Turkish) $2,706 (Egyptair) $2,738 (Turkish)
ORD-CMN; economy $695 (Turkish) $695 (Turkish) $695 (Turkish) $695 (Turkish) $695 (Turkish)
EWR-DXB; first $11,599 (British Airways) N/A $7,478 (British Airways) $7,478 (British Airways) $7,485 (British Airways)
SFO-HND; business $3,807 (Air Canada) N/A $3,808 (Air Canada) $3,808 (Air Canada) $3,641 (Air Canada)
DEN-KEF; economy $671 (Icelandair) $581 (Icelandair) $581 (Icelandair) $581 (Icelandair) $566 (Icelandair)
ATL-AUA; business $820 (AA) $1,111 (AA) $820 (AA) $820 (AA) $822 (AA)
BOS-MEX; economy $459 (AA) $412 (AA) $412 (AA) $412 (AA) $412 (AA)

All four credit card travel booking portals were generally consistent in showing fares that were on par with booking directly, give or take a few dollars in most of the cases.

Price differences became much more drastic when searching for international business- or first-class flights, so while it’s always a good idea to price compare, it’s pretty essential to compare prices for booking directly or via the portal if you’re searching for any of these higher-cost fares. Additionally, sometimes, the Capital One portal didn’t find any available international premium routes, as noted several times in the table above.

Each portal also has its quirks. For example, the Capital One portal does not show any JetBlue fares, while the Amex portal does not show any Frontier fares.

All things considered, these four portals were surprisingly consistent in pricing more often than not. But a quick cross-comparison can help you confirm that you are indeed getting the best price possible.

Should you book flights through a travel portal?

(Photo courtesy of Capital One)

Booking through an issuer’s travel portal is like booking through an online travel agency such as Expedia or Priceline. The biggest advantage of booking through these issuer portals is that you’re likely to earn a great number of bonus points depending card you carry in your wallet, helping you achieve your next award trip much faster.

However, you’ll want to weigh the opportunity to earn more rewards against the possibility of something going wrong with your trip, whether it’s weather or pandemic-related issues.

Many TPG staffers and readers have found it much more difficult to change a flight or get a refund when booking via a third-party site, including one of these portals. When you don’t book your flight directly with an airline, you’ll have to reach out to the portal or agency you booked with for assistance, which can be a headache.

These travel portals do have other consumer-friendly features that may positively influence your choice. For instance, Capital One offers an automatic price protection benefit that can give you a refund if the price of your airfare drops after you book your ticket through its portal.

To sum it up, there are pros and cons to consider when booking your flights through a travel portal rather than through the airline itself. For some travelers, it’s not worth the extra points or miles if something goes wrong with their trip, while others may be confident that their credit card issuer will help them in times of need — or are OK with dealing with extra hurdles if their plans change.

Best credit cards for booking flights

If you’re looking to maximize your flight purchases, here are the best rewards credit cards that will get you at least a 5% return according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations:

Card Bonus for airfare Return based on TPG’s valuations Annual fee
The Platinum Card® from American Express 5 points per dollar on flights purchased directly from the airline or through Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year). Terms apply. 10% $695 (see rates and fees)
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express 5 points per dollar on flights purchased through Amex Travel. Terms apply. 10% $695 (see rates and fees)
Chase Sapphire Reserve 5 points per dollar on air travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 10% $550
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card 5 points per dollar on air travel purchased through Capital One Travel. 9.25% $395
American Express® Gold Card 3 points per dollar on flights when booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel 6% $250 (see rates and fees)
Citi Premier® Card 3 points per dollar on flights. 5.1% $95

Bottom line

Issuers have been stepping up their game to improve their travel portals, and this test proved that most fares remained comparable to booking directly. There are times that the prices aren’t identical, so it is a good idea to double-check prices directly with the airline or via Google Flights before booking. You’ll also want to consider your game plan if you need to change or cancel a trip booked through a travel portal.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, click here.

Featured photo by Eric Rosen for The Points Guy.

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