Maximize Frequent Flyer Miles When Booking Flights
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Hilary Stockton

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Maximize Frequent Flyer Miles When Booking Flights


How can you maximize frequent flyer miles and points when booking airline flights? While the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card is a good start, there are other ways that could be a better bet. Here are some factors to take into account before I get into my recommendations:

  • Credit Card Bonus: What bonus miles or points does my credit card earn?
  • Portal Bonus: What bonus miles or points do I earn by going through a portal, such as the Ultimate Rewards Mall?
  • Portal Merchant Restrictions: What are the restrictions to receive bonus points for the portal merchant?
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: Keep in mind that even if a purchase is denominated in dollars, if it's processed outside of the U.S. there will be a foreign transaction fee--and you want to make sure to avoid that.
1. Travelocity via Ultimate Rewards Mall, Pay with AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card: 5X
Miles / Points Earned: 3X AMEX Membership Rewards points + 2X Ultimate Rewards points
  • 5X points!
  • Earn both Membership Rewards points and Ultimate Rewards points
  • Great AMEX consumer protection
  • Risk of flight purchase not being coded to the airline: AMEX Premier Rewards Gold 3X points is only supposed to be for air tickets bought directly from an airline. Usually Travelocity air tickets appear this way and you earn 3X, but if they instead appear as a Travelocity charge, you'd only receive 1 point
  • No UR points earned via Travelocity for Amtrak, Last Minute Deals, activities, Top Secret Hotels, insurance, order changes with the call center, Travel for Good products, rental cars, or taxes included in the tickets' base fare
  • If for some reason the Ultimate Reward points don't post, you have no recourse, since you're supposed to be using a Chase card for these transactions
2. Travelocity via Ultimate Rewards Mall, Pay with Chase Sapphire Preferred: 4.28X
Miles / Points Earned: 4.28X Ultimate Rewards points
  • 4.28X points thanks to 2.14X for Sapphire Preferred (2X and 7% annual dividend) and another 2.14X for booking with Travelocity through the Ultimate Rewards Mall
  • As a travel purchase no risk of not getting 2.14X
  • Help from Chase in case points don't post properly, since you're using an Ultimate Rewards linked card
  • Same Travelocity restrictions and risks as noted above
  • Only one type of points earned
3. Buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS with Chase Freedom for 5X, Load Onto Bluebird: 5X
Miles / Points Earned: 5X Ultimate Rewards points, if you have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold or Ink Plus in addition to your Chase Freedom
  • 5X Ultimate Rewards points
  • Help from Chase in case points don't post properly, since you're using a Chase card
  • Hard to find Vanilla Reloads at CVS
  • Limit of $1500 for Q1 2013 5X, for Chase Freedom
  • Poorer consumer protection when using Bluebird vs. regular AMEX credit card
4. Book Flight via Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal: 3.21X
Miles / Points Earned: 3.21X Ultimate Rewards points, if you book airfare using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal using your Sapphire Preferred card, thanks to 2.14X for a travel purchase and the 7% annual dividend, and an extra 1.07 points for using the Ultimate Rewards portal to book:
"As a Chase Sapphire Preferred customer you earn 1 point per dollar on all purchases, and an additional point for each dollar you spend on travel and when dining at restaurants. Plus, you earn an additional point per dollar spent when you book airfare and hotel accommodations online through Ultimate Rewards."
  • 3.21X Ultimate Rewards points
  • Help from Chase in case points don't post properly, since you're using a Chase card and the Ultimate Rewards site
  • No foreign transaction fee: ideal when you need to book directly with a foreign carrier 
  • Fewer points than when booking via Travelocity and Ultimate Rewards Mall using the Sapphire Preferred
5. Book via the AMEX Travel Site Using Your AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card: 4X
Miles / Points Earned: 4X Membership Rewards points, if you book via the AMEX Travel site using your AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card: 
"Extra Points:
To earn one (1) extra point on each dollar of eligible purchases, you must charge air, prepaid hotel, Complete Trip (flight + hotel packages), American Express Vacations package or cruise reservations through to your Membership Rewards program-enrolled Card. Any portion of a charge that you elect to pay through redemption of Membership Rewards points is not eligible to earn points. Bonus ID A2EM (Air, Hotel, and Complete Trip); Bonus ID 5432 (Cruise); Bonus ID 6955 (American Express Vacations Packages). Bonus points will be credited to the Membership Rewards account 10-12 weeks after final payment is made."
  • 4X Membership Rewards points
  • Help from AMEX in case points don't post properly
  • Foreign transaction fee if your flight purchase is processed outside the U.S., since the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card does charge foreign transaction fees
6. Book Directly with the Airline with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 2.14X
Miles / Points Earned: 2.14X Ultimate Rewards points, since the Sapphire Preferred provides a 2X bonus for all travel purchases and 7% annual points dividend
  • Useful when booking with low cost carriers such as easyjet that count as a foreign transaction and only take MasterCard and Visa 
  • Help from Chase in case points don't post properly, since you're using a Chase card
  • Lower miles/points vs. above options
What are your favorite ways to maximize frequent flyer miles and points when booking airline flights?
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User_avatar_default Michael J. commented 16 Mar 2013
Great article. Two Strategic questions. First could you differentiate between the cards which can be churned after cancellation versus those which only permit one lifetime bonus. It would seem to make a big difference on a strategic decision on whether to retain a card. Second when canceling a card I have always poliely declined the retention bonus. I know others accept the retention bonus and then ultimately cancel the card. Is there any negative repercussion from any of the card companies when one takes the retention bonus and then cancels?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 16 Mar 2013
Michael, Thanks, glad the article was helpful! In terms of churning, you may want to see and And you can definitely get AMEX bonuses again, although watch the terms, since they often specify the bonus is for cardholders that haven't had that particular card within the past 12 months, and certain other AMEX cards within the past 3 months. There are certainly a number of posters on Flyertalk who have done exactly what you describe (getting the retention bonus and still canceling) with seemingly no negative consequences, so it's more an ethical issue and whether you feel it crosses a line or not.
Picture?type=large Flyer C. commented 16 Apr 2013
Another wonderful post Hilary. But I am kinda confused about #1. Don't you get points only if you put the spent on Chase Sapphire Preferred card? How do you get the 5x points anyways?
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 16 Apr 2013
While that's the intent, in reality you can typically use another card or even a gift card to still get the UR Mall points, plus the points for that card. The main risks for #1 are if the purchase does not appear as a purchase directly from the airline, or if Travelocity enforces the "eligible within 3 weeks of booking" stipulation. Some folks have gotten all the points, some have not.
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