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When it’s better to book travel directly with airlines

If you’re seeking elite status or trying to save money, you might want to bypass booking through your credit card's travel portal

Summary

For years, I used credit card travel portals by default. However, I recently missed out on a rare elite status fast track because my portal purchase counted differently to the airline. It was one of the three instances when you should consider skipping the travel portal and booking straight with the airline.

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For years, I used credit card travel portals by default.

Think about it: The right card can give you more value per credit card point versus the traditional airline mile. Travel portal purchases done with points often count as cash to the airlines, too, getting you more credit for your travel than you would with other methods.

I recently got burned, though: I missed out on a rare elite status fast track because my credit card travel portal purchase counted differently to the airline. And by missed out, I mean by less than $20.

It was one of the three instances when you should consider skipping the travel portal and booking straight with the airline.

See related:  5 times you should book travel through your card’s travel portal

When going for qualifying miles

Check out your last airline ticket. Each one has a designated letter showing what kind of ticket you bought, from a free award ticket to a full-fare first-class ticket.

Recently, American Airlines designated my Citi Premier travel portal purchase as a “V.” Parallel to buying through a third-party site, “V” tickets are worth fewer elite qualifying dollars (EQDs) than cash-bought tickets. EQDs determine your elite status.

In my case, a carefully-strategized travel schedule fell short because my last trip received a fraction of the usual EQDs. I lost out on the next elite tier by 15 EQDs. American was less than sympathetic and explained it could do nothing about the misjudgment.

When watching your money

Credit card travel portals should be viewed cautiously by your budget, too, for two reasons.

First, you can access credit card portals because you have a respective card from Chase, Citi, American Express or so on, and often you have to use that very card to make the purchase. If you are trying to manage credit card debt, but still want to use the portal, then you may not have a choice but to put it on the specific portal brand card.

Second, do not assume credit card portals are giving you the best deal. I’ve been ready to book a flight, but then I checked with the main airline website and found even cheaper seats. When I talked to the credit card companies, they explained that only certain seats were released to them to provide through their portal.

The difference may be worthwhile if, for instance, you are using credit card points instead of credit. Still, it is worth checking out the official sites before you commit to a credit card travel portal purchase.

See related:  Third-party travel site mistakes you should avoid

When you need airline-specific details

The cheapest seats aren’t the only details credit card portals can miss. Certain specifics like seat selection, preordering or special meal needs and carrier partner frequent flyer benefits aren’t always available.

In the last example, you could have access to premium seats because you have elite status on a partner carrier (say, British Airlines, in the case of American Airlines), but the portal may not recognize the partnership and may not give you premium economy, business class or first class privileges.

In my own experience, I will use a credit card travel portal to purchase my tickets and then immediately call the carrier to get my specifics down (though it can take an hour or so for the airline to be able to access the newly purchased tickets).

And you’ll want to call rather than contact them online, as credit card portal tickets often aren’t modifiable through the airline website until up to 24 hours later – and by then, your favorite seats could be gone.

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