The Best Personal and Business Credit Cards for Airline Purchases

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One question that we get asked consistently is, “Which credit card is the best for airline purchases?” Fortunately, it’s a simple question to answer as so many travel rewards cards are designed for frequent travelers who purchase airline tickets, as well as other travel, on a regular basis.

If you spend a lot on airline flights or on change fees, in flight purchases, or other airline incidentals, you’ll want a card that offers elevated earnings on those purchases.

And while earning rewards is important, trip protections can add value to having a travel rewards card. Finding a balance between the highest level of rewards earnings for airlines purchases and useful trip protection will determine the right card match for you.

Here is a look at some of the most popular travel rewards cards to see how they stack up for earning on airline purchases and providing trip benefits.

Best Personal Credit Cards for Airline Purchases

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Earning on Flight Purchases

Flights purchased via American Express Travel or directly through the airlines earn 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent.

Why We Like the Card

  • Complimentary access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, including the prestigious Centurion lounges, for cardholder and up to 2 guests
  • Hundreds of dollars in airline, Global Entry, and Uber credits
  • A welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on flight purchases directly with the airlines
  • 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • Points are transferable to airline and hotel partners
  • Hotel elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors.
  • Car rental program benefits and status on Hertz, National, and Avis

The Amex Platinum comes with a long list of travel benefits and ranks at the top of the best travel rewards cards list. It also has the highest earning rate for airline purchases.

The American Express® Gold Card

Earning on Flight Purchases

Flights purchased directly from the airlines earn 3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent.

Why We Like the Card

  • Earns 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets (limit of $25,000 per calendar year)
  • Earns 4x Membership Rewards points on dining purchases worldwide
  • $100 statement credit for airline incidental charges, $120 dining credit, and $100 Global Entry credit
  • Redeem points for travel or transfer to hotel and airline partners
  • No additional fee to add up to 5 authorized users to the card

The Amex Gold Card balances its dual identity well. It offers the redemption and earning options of a travel rewards card and the versatility of functioning as an everyday spending card. This allows you to get great benefits from the Amex Gold card.

San Francisco International Airport AirTrain
Balancing reward earnings for airline purchases with travel protections you can use is essential when selecting the right travel rewards card.  Image Credit: flysfo.com

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Earning on Flight Purchases

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel purchases including flight purchases.

Why We Like the Card

  • A welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • Complimentary Priority Pass Select worldwide lounge membership
  • The elevated earnings are not just for airline purchases but on every travel purchase
  • Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on dining
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • The card earns valuable Ultimate Rewards points that can be redeemed at 1.5 cents per point for travel
  • Points are transferable to hotel and airline partners
  • The card offers primary rental car insurance worldwide plus trip interruption and cancellation insurance

If you want a premium travel rewards card with strong earnings, flexible redemptions, travel credits and perks, and valuable trip protections, the Chase Sapphire Reserve checks all those boxes.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Earning on Flight Purchases

You’ll earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points for each dollar spent on travel purchases, including airline purchases.

Why We Like the Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of our favorite cards. It’s a great first travel rewards card.

Bottom Line: While earnings can be strong for airline purchases on the Amex Platinum and Amex Gold cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred cards have elevated earnings on the broader travel category which includes airline purchases.

Citi Prestige® Card

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 5x ThankYou points per dollar spent on flights purchased directly from the airlines or from travel agencies.

Why we Like the Card

  • Welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • Earn 5x ThankYou points on restaurants
  • Earn 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent on hotels and cruise purchases
  • Complimentary Priority Pass Select worldwide lounge membership
  • Receive the 4th-night free when you book a hotel through ThankYou.com
  • $250 travel statement credit, $100 Global Entry credit
  • Transfer points to airline partners or redeem for travel at 1.25 cents per point

Citi Premier℠ Credit Card

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent on travel including airline purchases and at gas stations.

Why We Like the Card

  • Welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • 3x earnings is on all travel purchases, not just airline purchases
  • 2x earnings at restaurants and on entertainment
  • ThankYou points are worth 25% more when redeemed for flights on the ThankYou Rewards portal

The Citi Premier card is a great first Citi card to have if you’re spending a lot on travel. You’ll be earning 3x flexible ThankYou points on your travel purchases and when it comes time to redeem those points, they’re worth 25% more in value for flights.

Bottom Line: These Citi cards offer elevated earnings for the broader travel category purchases. However, as of September 22, 2019, travel protections will be eliminated on these cards.

U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 3x points per dollar spent on travel including airline purchases.

Why We Like the Card

  • A generous welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • Complimentary Priority Pass Select worldwide lounge membership
  • Earns 3x points per dollar spent on mobile wallet purchases
  • $325 annual statement credit for travel purchases
  • 12 free Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi passes per year
  • Points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel

For the traveler on the go, earning 3x points for every dollar spent on travel and on mobile wallet purchases creates a perfect match. Add in an annual travel statement credit, Wi-Fi while you’re in the air, and a nice comfy lounge to relax in, and you’ve got a package a traveler can appreciate.

Airplane
Points add up quickly when all your flights are paid for using your personal travel rewards card.  Image Credit: Chase.com

Personal Credit Cards – Airline Earnings and Trip Protection Summary

The best travel rewards card for the airline purchases you make will depend on whether you value higher earnings over trip protections or vice versa.

Here’s a simplified breakdown comparing card earnings and trip protections for each personal travel card we’ve featured.

Personal Travel Rewards Card Earnings on Airline PurchasesTrip Protections
Amex Platinum Card5x earnings on flights purchased directly with airlines or through Amex Travel
  • Secondary Car Rental Insurance
  • Premium Global Assist Hotline
  • Baggage Loss and Damage Insurance
Amex Gold Card3x earnings on flights purchased directly with airlines or through Amex Travel
Chase Sapphire Reserve3x earnings on travel purchases
  • Primary Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip Interruption, Cancellation, or Delay insurance
  • Lost and Delayed Baggage Insurance
  • Roadside Assistance (Fee Based)
  • Emergency Travel Assistance
  • Travel Accident Insurance
Chase Sapphire Preferred2x earnings on travel purchases
  • Primary Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip Interruption, Cancellation, or Trip Delay insurance
  • Lost and Delayed Baggage Insurance
  • Roadside Assistance (Fee Based)
  • Emergency Travel Assistance
  • Travel Accident Insurance
Citi Prestige5x earnings on airline purchases or travel purchased through travel agencies
  • None as of Sept 22, 2019
Citi Premier3x earnings on travel purchases
  • None as of Sept 22, 2019
Altitude™ Reserve3x earnings travel purchases
  • Primary Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip interruption, cancellation, or delay insurance
  • Lost Luggage Insurance
  • Roadside Dispatch
  • Emergency Travel Assistance
  • Travel Accident Insurance

Trip protection descriptions have been abbreviated and are not inclusive of all benefits and protections that come with each card. You will need to access the guide to benefits for each card to view complete coverage information.

Bottom Line: Finding a bonus category mix that matches the majority of your travel spending and a collection of travel protections that can save you money are keys to selecting the right travel reward card.

Best Business Credit Cards for Airline Purchases

Business Man Walking with Suitcase
Don’t let business travel expenses go unrewarded. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Running a business involves paying a lot of expenses. Without the right business credit card, that outgoing cash flow can go unrewarded.

If you’re spending a lot with the airlines, or on travel in general, you’re missing out on travel rewards that could be used to offset your business travel expenses or even used to fund your family vacations.

Here are 3 business travel cards to consider that offer elevated earnings on airline purchases or travel.

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel

Why We Like the Card

  • Welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • $200 airline fee credit each year
  • Receive a 35% airline bonus rebate when using Pay-With-Points to purchase flights on your pre-selected airline
  • 1.5X Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on purchases of $5,000 or more
  • 10 complimentary Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi passes per year
  • Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card℠

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on all travel purchases, including airline purchases.

Why We Like the Card

  • A sign-up bonus worth $1,000 in travel
  • Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on common business categories such as shipping, internet, cable, phone and advertising with social media or search engines
  • Flexibility to transfer points to hotel and airline partners or redeem for travel at 1.25 cents per point
  • $100 deductible cell phone coverage when you pay your bill with your card
  • Lower annual fee

American Express® Business Gold Card

Earning on Flight Purchases

Earn 4x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly from the airlines when it is one of your top 2 bonus category expenses during the billing period.

Why We Like the Card

  • A welcome bonus worth hundreds of dollars in travel
  • Your business earns 4x points on the top 2 highest bonus category expenses each billing cycle up to $150,000 each calendar year
  • Use the Pay-With-Points option for first and business class flights and receive a rebate of 25% of your points
  • Transfer points to hotel and airline partners or redeem for travel
  • Purchases over $100 can be paid back over time

Hot Tip: You need to be a business owner to qualify for a business credit card but you may be surprised as what qualifies as a business. Check out our guide to applying for a small business credit card. It has all the information you need to know.

Business Credit Cards – Airline Earnings and Trip Protection Summary

businessman with carry on luggage
If you spend a lot on business travel it’s important to select a card with elevated earnings in that bonus-earning category.  Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Once again, higher earnings alone won’t determine the best card for airline purchases if you value trip protection.

Here, we’re comparing earnings on airline purchases and trip protections that come with each business card.

Business Travel Rewards CardEarnings on Airline PurchasesTrip Protections
Amex Business Platinum5x earnings on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel
Ink Business Preferred3x earnings on travel purchases, including airline purchases
  • Primary Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip Interruption, Cancellation, Delay Insurance
  • Lost, Stolen, Delayed and Damaged Baggage Insurance
  • Roadside Assistance (Fee Based)
  • Emergency Travel Assistance
  • Travel Accident Insurance
Amex Business Gold4x earnings on 2 highest bonus category expenses each statement period, which includes airfare purchased directly from the airline
  • Secondary Car Rental Insurance
  • Premium Roadside Assistance
  • Lost, Stolen, Delayed and Damaged Baggage Insurance
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Global Assist Hotline

Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Cards for Airline Purchases

The best travel rewards credit cards come with annual fees, but you can earn plenty on airline purchases with these no annual fee cards.

  • Wells Fargo Propel® Card – 3x points on travel purchases
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card – 1.5% cash-back on every purchase
  • Discover It® Miles – 1.5% miles for every purchase

Bottom Line: You don’t need to pay an annual fee to earn rewards on airline purchases but the best credit cards for airline purchases do come with annual fees.  The elevated earnings, travel benefits, statement credits, and welcome bonus value you receive, can potentially outweigh any annual fee.

Final Thoughts

It’s a simple process to determine which travel rewards card earns the most on airline purchases. However, the card that earns the most may not have a useful mix of associated trip benefits or protections.

The Amex Platinum Card, for example, earns a stellar 5x Membership Rewards points on flights but does not come with trip interruption, delay, or cancellation insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points and offers these coverages, plus more. You’ll need to determine which is more important to you when selecting a card.

Another factor to consider is whether you spend a lot on travel in general or your greatest expense is on airfare. Matching spending categories to your actual expenses results in greater earnings.

Pair those earnings with a selection of benefits you can use and you’ll have made a wise travel rewards card decision.


FAQ

Which is the best card for airlines purchases?

The best card for airline purchases is one that has elevated earnings in the airline or travel bonus category and has travel protections that you deem valuable.

For example, the best card for airline purchases may offer 5x earnings but have no trip interruption, cancellation, or trip delay coverage.

If you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy, card travel protections might not be important to you. You might select a card with elevated earnings alone and few or no travel protections.

If you’ve utilized travel protections in the past and find a lot of value in having that peace of mind, you may select a card that earns slightly less but has strong travel benefits.

How do I use credit card rewards for free flights?

Each credit card has it’s own reward currency that you earn by making purchases with that card.

Most of the cards we’ve highlighted in this article earn points that can be redeemed for flights through the credit card issuer’s online travel website or by calling the affiliated travel program.

Points such as Membership Rewards, ThankYou points, and Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs and redeemed there for award tickets.

When you log in to your credit card online account you’ll find a section specifically designed for redeeming your rewards.

Are credit card travel protections worth it?

The travel protections that come with credit cards can save you money. Plus, the coverage is complimentary.

Trip cancellation, delay, and interruption insurance can reimburse you for having to buy incidentals, for hotel expenses, and other financial outlay you incur due to trip disruption.

Premium roadside assistance can provide complimentary service calls should you break down during a road trip.

Luggage insurance can cover damaged, lost, or stolen baggage.

Car rental coverage can allow you to decline the rental car agency’s coverage and save you the cost of that daily added on expense.

Are there any travel rewards cards without an annual fee?

Premium travel rewards cards come with annual fees but there are plenty of no annual fee credit cards that earn 1.5% – 3% on airline purchases. We’ve mentioned a few of the higher earning no annual fee cards in this article.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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