Skip to content

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

May 09, 2019
4 min read
Do You Earn Credit Toward Elite Status by Booking Flights With Gift Cards?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

"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 ...

[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.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best for earning alternative rewards for travel purchases
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review
Apply for Credit One Bank Wander® Card
at Credit One Bank's secure site

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
5XEarn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
1XEarn 1x points on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 10,000 Bonus Points
Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

Fair/Good
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.

Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Credit One Bank Wander® Card
at Credit One Bank's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for earning alternative rewards for travel purchases
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner site
5XEarn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
1XEarn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel

    Earn 10,000 Bonus 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.

    Fair/Good

Why We Chose It

The revamped Wander Card from Credit One Bank earns cardmembers up to 10 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases. With no foreign transaction fees, the card is also great for international travel. However, points earned from this card can only be used at a fixed value, so it may not be the best option for those striving to get maximum value from their rewards.

Pros

  • This card has no foreign transaction fees and earns up to 10 points per dollar on travel purchases through the Credit One Bank travel partner site.

Cons

  • While cardholders can earn a significant amount of points on travel purchases, there isn't any way to redeem points from the Wander Card for maximum value (beyond 1 cent per point).
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days and redeem for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
  • Earn 10x points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel site
  • Earn 5x points on eligible travel, dining, and gas
  • Earn 1x points on all other purchases
  • Redeem your reward points for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, flights, hotels, and more
  • With $0 Fraud Liability, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized charges
  • Free Online Credit Score and Credit Report summary, terms apply
  • If you are a Covered Borrower under the Military Lending Act, you may get a different offer
  • See Rates & Fees