All of the larger airlines in the U.S. offer co-brand credit cards. These cards, which provide extra benefits to cardholders, range from ones with no annual fee to premium cards costing up to $450 per year. While you’d think that using a co-branded card would be the best choice for earning points with your flight purchase, that’s usually not the case. For most airlines, you don’t earn any extra points for airfare purchases for having a more expensive card either.
In most cases, instead of using a co-brand card, it’s better to use a card that earns flexible points like Membership Rewards, Thank You Points or Ultimate Rewards. These cards provide the opportunity to earn more points as well as the flexibility to use points on multiple airlines. You’re able to transfer points from these programs into your airline mileage account when you need them.
Here are the earnings multiples on airfare for the main flexible points cards from each bank:
American Express (Membership Rewards)
- Platinum card ($550 annual fee) – 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
- Gold card ($250 annual fee) – 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
Chase (Ultimate Rewards)
- Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) – 3x points on travel worldwide (including airfares purchased from airlines or travel agencies/websites)
- Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee) – 2x points on travel worldwide (including airfares purchased from airlines or travel agencies/websites)
Citi (Thank You Points)
- Citi Prestige ($495 annual fee) – 5x points on purchases at airlines and travel agencies
- Citi Premier ($95 annual fee) – 3x points on purchases at airlines and travel agencies
The AMEX Platinum and Citi Prestige both offer 5x on airfare but the AMEX card only counts purchases direct from the airline or their website. When I had both cards, I used the Citi Prestige because I valued the additional travel insurance coverage but I know people would rather earn Membership Rewards than Thank You points. Of the $95 cards, the Citi Premier earns the most points on airline purchases at 3x.
So how many miles will you earn by using an airline co-brand card to purchase airfare and when does it make sense to do so? I’ve indicated which airlines are partners of one (or all) of the flexible currency cards so you can compare earnings potential between cards.
$75 annual fee – 3x points
Allegiant Air card
$59 annual fee – 3x points
American Airlines cards issued by Barclays
- No annual fee – 1x points
- Blue – $49 annual fee – 2x points
- Red – $95 annual fee – 2x points
- Silver – $195 annual fee – 3x points
American Airlines cards issued by Citi
- Mile Up – No annual fee – 2x points
- Platinum – $99 annual fee – 2x points
- Executive – $450 annual fee – 2x points
Delta Airlines (Membership Rewards transfer partner)
- Blue – No annual fee – 2x points
- Gold – $95 annual fee – 2x points
- Platinum – $195 annual fee – 2x points
- Reserve – $450 annual fee – 2x points
$79 annual fee – 5x points
Hawaiian Airlines (Membership Rewards transfer partner)
$99 annual fee – 3x points
JetBlue (Membership Rewards, Thank You and Ultimate Rewards transfer partner)
- JetBlue card – No annual fee – 3x points
- JetBlue Plus – $99 annual fee – 6x points
Southwest Airlines (Ultimate Rewards transfer partner)
- Plus – $69 annual fee – 2x points
- Premier – $99 annual fee – 2x points
- Priority – $149 annual fee – 2x points
$59 annual fee – 2x points
Sun Country Airlines
$69 annual fee – 3x points
United Airlines (Ultimate Rewards transfer partner)
- Explorer – $95 annual fee – 2x points
- Club – $450 annual fee – 2x points
With the exception of the JetBlue Plus card and the Frontier credit card, none of the airline cards pay over 3x. The JetBlue Plus card would be a good choice if JetBlue wasn’t already a transfer partner of all three banks. You can earn 5x points with American Express or Citi cards and transfer those points to your JetBlue account when you need it. An added advantage to this method is there are occasionally transfer bonuses, like this 30% bonus from March 2018.
So which co-brand airline card would I consider using?
- Frontier card – Earning 5x points on Frontier for airfare is the best way to earn points with that program. If you fly Frontier regularly, it does make sense and having the card also allows you to keep your Frontier miles from expiring if you go more than 6 months between flights.
- Alaska card – Alaska miles are valuable not for rewards on Alaska flights but for flying on any of their many partners. Since Alaska miles are hard to earn any other way besides flying, using the co-brand card to earn 3x Alaska points for airfare is a deal many can’t pass up.
- United Explorer card – The United card isn’t the best way to earn miles and I’d usually suggest using a Sapphire card and earn 2-3x Ultimate Rewards points. However, United does make it a requirement to use the credit card for your airfare if you want to take advantage of the free checked bag benefit. This only matters if you don’t otherwise get free checked bags from having United status.
- American Airlines cards – For whatever reason, even though Citi issues co-brand American cards, you cannot transfer Citi Thank You points into your American account. If you need to build up your American balance for an award, using one of the American cards from either Barclays or Citi is a sensible choice.
None of the reasons to use a co-brand card is because they earn the most amount of points. You use co-brand cards to earn points in a specific program which is not a transfer partner of any bank. If you have a goal and are working towards a specific redemption, using a co-brand card for airfare makes sense, even if doing so means you’re going to earn fewer points than you could have otherwise.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary