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Buying Airfare? Use These Cards to Maximize Your Points

Nov. 6, 2019
Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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If you’re collecting points and miles, chances are you’re looking for ways to travel for free or almost free. That’s a noble goal. However, it’s not always possible to redeem miles for airfare, whether it’s because of limited award space or because paid fares are too cheap to justify using your miles.

If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll want to charge your airfare to a credit card that earns as many points as possible. Below is a breakdown of our top picks.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express is a great choice for airfare purchases because it earns 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines and through American Express Travel. That’s one of the highest payouts you’ll see in the travel category. The card also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which is great if you’re abroad or booking flights on a foreign website. You can book your airfare with The Platinum Card® from American Express with peace of mind, since the card provides baggage and travel accident insurance. Terms apply.

The Platinum Card® from American Express also offers an annual $200 airline fee credit. If you end up paying for an upgrade or baggage fees with the card, you may get those credited back. Just be mindful of the fact that the credit is only valid on one airline and you have to select which airline when you get the card. Once you’ve chosen your selected airline, you can reselect every January. Terms apply.

» Learn more: American Express Platinum review: Luxury isn’t cheap

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

You may be wondering if there’s an actual difference in the earning rate between The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express.

It’s definitely a slight one. The Business Platinum® Card from American Express earns 5 points per $1 on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com. Meanwhile, the personal version of The Platinum Card® from American Express issues 5 points per $1 on flights booked directly with the airline in addition to bookings through Amex Travel. Terms apply.

So if you’re going to charge airfare to your The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, be sure to compare the prices on AmEx Travel with fares available on the airline’s website to ensure you’re getting the lowest fare.

» Learn more: American Express Business Platinum review: Worth the fee for heavy travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of the most popular credit cards out there, and part of that is due to the 3 point per $1 spent bonus on travel and dining worldwide. This is a great card to charge airfare to, not only because of the bonus points but because the card also comes with an annual $300 travel credit. What makes this credit unique is that unlike the one issued by the AmEx Platinum card, it can be applied to any travel purchase, not just incidental fees with a preselected airline.

So if you haven’t used your $300 travel credit from the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can use it to cover airfare by charging the purchase to this card.

The slew of travel protections offered by this card will also come in handy in case things don’t go according to plan once you’re traveling. Cardholders receive $10,000 per person in trip cancellation/interruption insurance, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement ($3,000 per passenger), $500 in trip delay reimbursement, and emergency evacuation and transportation coverage of up to $100,000. Those benefits alone can be worth charging your airfare purchases to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

» Learn more: Chase Sapphire Reserve review: A first-class premium travel card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

If you can’t quite justify the $450 annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and have opted for the more modest Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll still do fine. The card earns 2 points per $1 on travel and dining, which is still a good bonus. The card also comes with many of the same travel protections as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. The difference is that this card excludes lost luggage reimbursement but does offer up to $100 per day in baggage delay insurance.

The coverage for trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and trip delay reimbursement remain the same on both cards.

» Learn more: Chase Sapphire Preferred review: A must-have for travelers

American Express® Gold Card

The American Express® Gold Card earns 4 points per $1 on airfare booked directly with airlines. The restriction that airfare must be booked directly with the airline paired with the lower category bonus is why this card isn’t as preferable for airline purchases as The Platinum Card® from American Express. However, it does come with a $100 airline fee credit and useful travel protections. Terms apply.

» Learn more: American Express Gold Card review: Dining rewards royalty

What about the Citi Prestige® Card?

At 5 points per $1 spent on air travel, the Citi Prestige® Card should be topping the list in terms of credit cards to charge airfare to. Especially considering some of the incredible Citi ThankYou sweet spots out there. Plus, the card issues a $250 annual travel credit. But Citi lost that standing when it removed the majority of its travel and purchase protections.

» Learn more: Citi Prestige: Premium perks at a plump price

Travel can be unpredictable, and you never know when your credit card’s travel benefits might save your vacation. While you can certainly buy travel insurance if you’re using the for airfare purchases, there are other cards which will offer coverage free of charge while also earning you 5 points per $1 spent.

The information related to Citi Prestige® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best airline credit card for you
Recouping Citi’s lost travel and purchase protection benefits
5 tips to find a cheap flight

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