The Only Airline Credit Card You Want to Put Spending On

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You get an airline credit card for the signup bonus and for the benefits of having the card. In general you do not put spending on an airline credit card.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve you earn 3 points per dollar on airline spend and those miles transfer to your choice of several airlines. Want United miles? Both Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card have points that transfer to United — or to other airlines.

In other words you earn more United miles with a Chase Sapphire Reserve or a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card than with a United card. And you get additional flexibility too.

If you want American miles, the American credit cards aren’t the ones that earn the most AAdvantage miles. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express earns faster for your spending because when you transfer 20,000 points to miles you earn 5000 bonus miles (leaving aside the regularly-occurring transfer bonus American seems to offer), meaning a minimum earn of 1.25 miles per dollar.

If you want Delta miles, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card isn’t going to earn as many SkyMiles as a ‘generic’ American Express card will.

American Express Membership Rewards cards transfer to Delta miles as well as other programs and earn points faster because of category bonuses. Even the no annual fee Amex Everyday will earn a minimum of 1.2 points per dollar (when you use it 20 times in a month) that transfer to Delta or elsewhere.

There are two exceptions to this rule: If you need to spend money on a credit card to help out with revenue requirements for earning elite status, and… Southwest Airlines.

You still earn points faster with Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and those points transfer to Southwest or other airlines. So you wouldn’t want to spend on a Southwest card.

However Southwest is back with 50,000 point signup bonus offers for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

The signup bonuses and ongoing spend count towards the requirements for a Southwest Airlines companion pass.

Arguably the single best benefit in all of travel is the Southwest Companion Pass which is earned after 110,000 points in a year – and credit card points (including signup bonus points) count. Your designated companion can fly with you for just taxes regardless of whether you’re traveling on a paid fare or points.

And now is the perfect time to earn a companion pass, the beginning of the year, since you’ll earn the pass for the remainder of the current year and the entire next year.

So you spend money on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card because you want to earn a companion pass, something transferable points cards don’t help you achieve.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Useful post, as far as it goes, Gary. But you might add (if I understand the rules correctly) that the Amex Platinum personal card gets 5X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, which can in turn be converted on a 1:1 basis into miles on foreign airline mileage programs such as Singapore and Asia Miles (Cathay), which in turn can respectively be used for award flights on United and American. I(And might Singapore miles be an even better deal than United in terms of miles required for domestic UA flights, or did that disappear in the recent Singapore devaluation?) ‘m unclear on whether any of the Amex airline partners are in turn Delta partners.

    Same 5X rate for Amex Platinum business, though you have to go through the Amex portal to buy tickets to qualify for that rate.

  2. PS: I should have noted that both of the aforementioned Amex cards have hefty sign-up fees, but that applies to the Chase Sapphire Reserve as well.

  3. Wouldn’t the JetBlue Plus card that gets 6 pts per dollar be a better deal than the others mentioned (other than the 5 Amex pts on the Amex Plat the Steve mentions above)?

  4. You only get the free bag benefit of the United card if you charge the ticket to that credit card. The Delta and AA cards give you that benefit just for having the card no matter how you pay for the ticket.

  5. @bob – no. They eliminated that loop hole a year ago.

    I fly WN a lot within California. So in get enough for A+ status. Then only 40k or so on CC spend. Remember the yearly 6k bonus counts too toward CP.

  6. Came here to say the same thing as Steve. On a point-by-point basis, 5X on the Amex Platinum is hard to beat. I’d pay the fee anyway for the benefits, so the points are icing on the cake.

  7. I thought the UA card allowed the benefits of: the extra United award seat availability you get access to, letting you book seats that non-cardholders can’t, access to enhanced award availability, priority boarding, and a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation.

  8. @kalboz

    Always use a card that gives primary rental car insurance as primary.

    UA card, sapphire cards or chase ink card offers that. Otherwise all others are secondary.

  9. Came here to say the same thing as Steve. On a point-by-point basis, 5X on the Amex Platinum is hard to beat. I’d pay the fee anyway for the benefits, so the points are icing on the cake.

  10. AmEx Blue for Biz. No annual fee and 2X MR points on everything up to $50,000. Frequent bonus specials of up to 40% on transfers to airlines. Where my ordinary everyday spend goes.

  11. Car rentals are an exception because of primary coverage being better. Although I had an accident, and to be honest the card coverage is not a big a deal since my insurance took over anyway. Still nice to have.

    What I do is have my Ritz with primary coverage as my automatic card on my rental company profile. So when I take it out the card covers it. But unless I need the coverage from an accident (1 time) I have the return agent “hold the bill open” and switch to another card with better points for final payment. Sometimes the return guy can do this but usually you have to go to the booth. If you had an accident keep it on the original card.

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