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Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card?

By Cathleen McCarthy

Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Cashing In,
I travel a lot for work using my corporate American Express card. Do I own the points for all that travel or does the company? And if the company does, is there anything I can do to change that? -- Confused

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Confused,
Your company owns any points earned from charges made on their corporate card, but you own the frequent flier miles you're logging. If it's your name on the plane ticket and your butt in the seat, those are your miles. It's up to you to claim them, of course. You should have a frequent flier account set up for whatever airline you're booked on and make sure you call the airline or log in each flight online so you get credit for the miles.

Beyond that, the company claims all reward points accrued for your travel expenses -- including plane fare, hotels, meals and transportation. If it's company policy to charge work-related expenses on a corporate card, there's nothing you can do about that. The corporation that employs you may have negotiated a cash rebate with the bank in place of the points that accrue from charges made.

Some people prefer using a corporate card because they don't have enough cash on hand to cover business-related travel expenses while waiting for reimbursement, or they don't like mixing company expenses with personal ones. The good news with a corporate card is that you don't have to wait for reimbursement. The bad news: You don't get to take advantage of points accrued on spending.

If you work for a small to midsize company, it's possible your employers assume you don't want to cover their expenses, even temporarily, and view the company card as a convenience. They might allow you to use your own credit card to charge travel expenses if you ask. You would have to submit an expense report after each trip -- an itemized list of business-related charges -- to justify your spending and allow the company the full benefit of those business-related costs at tax time.

When you charge business travel on your own credit card, you're essentially floating the company a loan until you're reimbursed -- in your next paycheck, one hopes. If you do this, as many do, make sure you don't get in over your head. If you charge more than you can cover every month, you'll get hit with fees and interest that can negate those rewards. If you keep up, however, the rewards can pile up fast.

Many large corporations don't offer the option of using your own credit card for expenses, but it's worth asking -- if you want to maximize rewards, don't mind the hassle of filing and waiting for reimbursement and know you can cover expenses in the interim.

If your employer insists you stick with the corporate card, make sure you're taking advantage of any comforts the card itself allows when you're traveling. For example, if your corporate card is an American Express Platinum, you can enroll online to receive a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership card, which you can use, along with your boarding pass, to access more than 600 airport lounges worldwide.

See related: 8 credit card strategies of frequent flier mile pros, Airlines offer better elite frequent flier deals

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Published: March 20, 2012


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