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Should You Pick Your Airline Based on the Miles You Already Have?

March 19, 2019
4 min read
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"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Whether you're a true road warrior or a slightly less frequent flyer, picking a single airline can be a great way to earn bonus miles and other perks if you're able to qualify for elite status. TPG reader Eric wants to know whether he should make this decision based on the points he already has or the other way around....

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[pullquote source="TPG READER ERIC"]I'm not currently loyal to a single airline but if I were to choose one it would probably be American Airlines since my home airport is DCA. However, most of my points are Amex Membership Rewards points. Is there an airline that works better with Amex points?[/pullquote]

At first glance, the simple answer to this question is, "Yes." The three major credit card issuers (American Express, Citi and Chase) each partner with one of the major legacy carriers in the US. For Chase, it's United, with the United Explorer Card and the ability to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio. Citi works closely with American, issuing three of the carrier's cobranded cards, including the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. Finally, American Express issues a variety of Delta cobranded cards and allows 1:1 point transfers from Membership Rewards to Delta SkyMiles.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Eric is thus in a tough spot. Even though American Airlines would be an easier choice given his location, his Amex points appear to be more useful with Delta. However, he might be better off keeping his primary airline and credit card issuers separate.

Don't Forget to Diversify

There's a strong argument to be made for earning one set of miles from the airline you fly and using a credit card that earns transferable points to diversify into other options. If Eric uses the "Amex trifecta" for most of his spending, he can transfer those points to a plethora of different airlines spread across Star Alliance (Aeroplan, Avianca, Singapore, ANA), SkyTeam (Delta, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, Aeromexico) and even Oneworld (British Airways, Cathay Pacific). This means that Eric could use his Membership Rewards points to book routings on just about any airline in the world, or he could leverage them to book Oneworld flights at better rates than he'd get with American Airlines.

JT Genter has compiled an extensive list of 11 times when it's cheaper to book American-operated flights with British Airways Avios, an option that would be available to Eric with his stash of Amex points. Unfortunately, if he manages to earn elite status with American Airlines, he'd likely not be able to utilize his perks on American flights booked with Avios, so he'd want to keep that in mind.

Finally, he can rack up his points much faster if he books his airfare with The Platinum Card® from American Express and earns 5x points (on airfare booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel; up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), as opposed to 2x miles if he booked with an American Airlines credit card.

Bottom Line

Eric is not wrong to look for a synergistic pairing of airline loyalty and credit cards, but unfortunately American Airlines is the only one of the three US legacy carriers where this isn't really possible. Instead, he should jump at this chance to diversify his points earning by taking advantage of transferable points cards that can be used to book flights across all three major alliances, and even to book flights on American Airlines for less miles than the AAdvantage program charges.

Thanks for the question, Eric, 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 Getty Images
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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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
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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
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
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