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By: Caroline Lupini
The best credit card to use to purchase tickets for a specific airline is rarely that airlines’ own co-branded credit card. Yes, you heard that right. If you’re buying a ticket on United Airlines, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card. Likewise, if you’re flying American American, you shouldn’t assume that using the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select or Barclays Aviator Red card are your best bets.
The best credit card to buy an airline ticket is rarely that airline’s credit card
Why? And What’s Better?
There are a couple reasons why using an airlines’ co-branded card usually isn’t the best option. The two primary reasons are that other cards earn more points per dollar on airfare and that some other credit cards have better travel benefits automatically included so you don’t have to shell out extra cash to get the same benefits.
The one reason that it could make sense to use an airlines’ co-branded card to book your ticket is if it is required in order to get your free checked bag benefit that comes with your card. Some airlines require that you use their co-branded card, while others do not. We’ll go into more detail about this below.
So, now that you know that there are often better options than an airlines co-branded card, let’s look at a couple of those options. Two of the front runners are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred (learn more)
Chase Sapphire Reserve (learn more)
We’ll take a look at a couple of examples below to see when one card might be better for you than another. Depending on exactly what cards you are comparing and what your travel needs are, you might have to do a little bit of digging on your own to see what the best option is for you.
$300 Domestic Flight: United MileagePlus Explorer vs Chase Sapphire Preferred
Let’s assume you’re buying a $300 round-trip domestic ticket on United. The United MileagePlus Explorer card earns 2X United miles per dollar on United purchases, so you would earn 600 United miles.
If you had the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you would earn 2X Ultimate Rewards per dollar, so you would earn 600 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Ultimate Rewards can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to United, so you have effectively earned the same thing. However, your points aren’t tied to United so they could be transferred to another transfer partner.
Both of these cards have a $95 annual fee. In this case, both cards offer very similar trip delay, baggage delay, and trip cancellation coverage.
If you booked with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’d have earned 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. It comes with a higher annual fee, but a $300 travel credit helps offset it thought—and a ton of other benefits.
Now, the only time you would want to forgo the more flexible Ultimate Rewards points is if you don’t have status with United and you want to check a bag at no extra cost. To use the free checked bag benefit from the United Explorer card is to actually book your ticket with your United MileagePlus Explorer card.
To use the free checked bag benefit from the United Explorer card is to actually book your ticket with your United MileagePlus Explorer card
If you simply have the card but use a different card to book, United will not honor your free checked bag. If you have status or are on an itinerary that already includes a free checked bag, this won’t matter to you.