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Do You Earn Credit Toward Elite Status by Booking Flights With Gift Cards?

May 09, 2019
4 min read
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"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

While some of the best bonus categories on travel rewards credit cards come for travel purchases (and even more specifically for airfare), from time to time you may find yourself using an airline gift card to pay for your flight. TPG reader Ricardo wants to know if he'll still earn credit toward his elite status if he does this ...

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[pullquote source="TPG READER RICARDO"]I just got an email from Delta offering a $25 bonus if I buy $250 in gift cards. If I go that route and then buy Delta flights, would I still earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs)?[/pullquote]

That pesky revenue requirement is often the hardest part about earning elite status for many deal-savvy travelers, and every dollar spent can help. It's natural for Ricardo to be intrigued by this promotion from Delta, as it offers an immediate 10% bonus (if you purchase $250 in gift cards). Based on TPG's valuations, that's the same return you'd earn if you bought airfare directly with Delta and used The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the purchase. It would also be better than buying Delta flights directly with other popular cards for airfare like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and its 3x points on all travel purchases (6% return).

Whether you bought gift cards through a sale like this, as part of your annual Amex airfare credit or as one of your Choice Benefits selections, they function the exact same way: They are a method of payment akin to using a credit card. As a result, if you use airline-branded gift cards to book a flight directly with an airline, you will earn elite and redeemable miles at the exact same rates as if you used a credit card. This means a general Delta SkyMiles member with no elite status will earn 5x redeemable miles per dollar spent, Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) based on the distance flown/type of ticket, and 1 MQD per dollar spent on base airfare.

While it seems like Ricardo will have at most one or two Delta gift cards from this sale (depending on whether or not the $25 bonus is issued as a separate card), it's worth remembering that Delta limits you to using a max of three gift cards per transaction (American's limit is 8). This is especially relevant for people who have multiple smaller denomination cards from their Amex Platinum credit, as it might affect your ability to redeem all your gift cards in one go.

Finally, keep in mind that buying airfare using gift cards exclusively will negate any trip cancellation protection or trip delay coverage that would've been provided with a card like the Sapphire Reserve. Snagging the 10% bonus may sound good, but be aware that if things go wrong, you won't be covered.

Bottom Line

Once you book your flight, you'll earn miles at the exact same rate whether you pay with a rewards credit card, a cash equivalent like a gift card, or even a debit card (though if you're reading this article, hopefully you know better). The only factors that can affect your earning rate are the fare class you book, the airline you fly or whether you book a special bulk consolidator fare (which sometimes has different earning rates). If it's just a regular, run-of-the-mill paid ticket, the payment method you use has no bearing on your redeemable or elite-qualifying earnings.

Thanks for the question, Ricardo, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Delta)
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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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    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 Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases