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Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Airline Credit Card to Pay for Flights

I was at my friends’ house last weekend celebrating their twin daughters’ birthday. We started talking about travel, and my friend mentioned how they spent a large sum of money for all four of them to go to Florida to visit family this Christmas.

Knowing that they hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, I asked if they used it to earn points on their large airfare purchase. “No, we paid with our Delta card.” My heart sunk. I felt as if I failed as a friend (and now I know who doesn’t read my articles).

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having co-branded airline credit cards. They come with some nice perks, such as free checked bags, reduced lounge access and priority boarding, to name a few. However, these credit cards shouldn’t be used for actual spending, even for purchasing flights on the same airline. Here’s why.

Flexible Points Have More Value

 

My friends had a choice in their situation: pay for flights with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or with the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express. Unfortunately, they made the wrong one, even though both cards earn 2X points per dollar spent.

The reason is, Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Sapphire credit card are flexible points—they can be transferred to a number of airline and hotel partners or used as cash at a rate of 1.25 cents via the Chase travel portal to book any available flight.

Delta SkyMiles, on the other hand, are worth about 1 cent apiece (at least it’s what Delta Air Lines wants you to think) and don’t have a lot of versatility.

When given the choice between earning transferrable points or specific airline miles, even if the earning rates are the same, choose flexibility because you have more control in how you can redeem them.

Nobody Wants to Be Stuck With a Single Rewards Program

By earning miles with a single airline program, you willingly limit yourself in how the miles can be redeemed. Sure, Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for flights operated by any airline in the SkyTeam alliance or Star Alliance, respectively, but you’re still stuck with limited options, and sometimes no options, when working with a single currency.

Flexible points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points all have a variety of airline partners, at least one of which belongs to one of the major three alliances, which helps increase redemption opportunities significantly.

Delta SkyMiles Isn’t a Particularly Valuable Program

 

Finally, Delta SkyMiles specifically isn’t the most valuable rewards program on the market, and collecting its miles shouldn’t be anyone’s top priority.

For example, Flying Blue, the Air France/KLM loyalty program that partners with Delta, offers one-way economy flights to Europe starting at 21,500 miles on certain routes. The same flights booked through Delta SkyMiles require at least 30,000 miles (or more when dynamic pricing kicks in).

It helps that Flying Blue miles can be used to book SkyTeam flights, including those operated by Delta, and the program partners with all transferrable point programs.

Another example is the possibility of redeeming 50,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for a one-way business-class Delta flight from the U.S. to Europe. Delta, on the other hand, often wants hundreds of thousands of SkyMiles for the exact same flights.

Essentially, earning 2X points with a flexible program will get you an award flight faster than earning the same 2X SkyMiles with Delta because of inflated redemption rates. In my friends’ case, it’s a no-brainer—earning Chase points would’ve been a better option.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to points and miles, they’re not all created equal. One point in one program isn’t the same point in another. Unfortunately, airlines improved its marketing tactics for its credit cards. However, what they don’t tell you during the in-flight pitch is that their miles aren’t worth as much as bank points. The only reason to hold a co-branded airline credit card is for perks and not for buying anything with it.

Where do you stand on making everyday purchases with a co-branded airline credit card?

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21 Comments
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GrayAnderson December 5, 2019

Anya, It is hard to put into words how condescending you come across. We all have different strategies for getting what we want or need from our credit cards and airlines/hotels. It is hardly unreasonable for your friend to use their Delta card if they are pursuing either the MQD waiver or the MQM boost (with the higher tier cards) or seeking to get the free bag. This goes double since they have the CSP and not the CSR (which would make for a stronger case because of the associated extra points and benefits). The idea that you had "failed as a friend" because your friend might have a different set of objectives at a given time is just absurd and comes across as pompous.

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N174UA November 20, 2019

I have the Delta Reserve AMEX, and I use it for just about everything, except for at Costco. This year, not only did I meet the MQD waiver, but I also hit the $30k spend threshold, which gave me 15,000 SM, and also 15,000 MQM's. This meant I reached Gold Medallion status for next year. There's a better reservations line, free checked bags, priority boarding and baggage handling, and also no fee to use the Sky Lounge, as long as I'm traveling on Delta that day. I fly Delta exclusively, anyway. With this card, and being a Gold Medallion member, I also a get a total of 8x miles based on what I pay for a ticket. So that $1,000 fare to wherever turns into 8,000 miles. Adds up fast.

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AnyaK November 20, 2019

Clarification from the author: A lot of readers commented that a free checked bag comes into play only when that card is used to buy the flight. It's incorrect. Although this policy is true for United cards, Delta, Alaska or AA don't require a flight be paid with the co-branded card to get the benefit. The SkyMiles number attached to the card and the reservation is enough to get free bags and priority boarding.

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dane1 November 15, 2019

The MQD waiver and MQMs are the reason I have the card - much more so than for the miles. As has been pointed out above, the bag fee waiver itself makes up the difference in point value so why, unless a paid promoter for the Chase card, would anyone suggest not using it?

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jamesteroh November 15, 2019

While I consider one sky peso per $ charged a poor return I use it until I get enough spend in for the MQM's boosts and the mileage waiver. I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of business spend on credit cards and there is no way I could get the status otherwise. I consider the poor return to be worh it for the value I get from the SWU's since I take two international trips a year and being a hub captive the Co-Terminal benefit is great. Once that spend requirement is met the Delta cards go in the drawer until next year. Even on Delta spend I find the Chase Saphirre return gives a better return and I am not restricted to using it on Delta and get trip protection. I use a card at merchants if there is a bonus involved (i.e. Chase Saphhire reserve for all travel and dining and if Discover or Chase freedom has a quarterly category card gets used there) and all other spend goes on my Citi Double. Next year however my LAS trips will always go on my Delta Reserve since I will have Am Ex lounge access. if someone doesn't have status or doesn't need the spend minimum for MQMs/MQD Waiver, I agree just keep the card for the luggage waiver and sign up bonus or the Delta credit you'll get on the lower end cards next year.