Q&A: Should you use your card issuer's travel portal?

It you're redeeming points, you can cut your travel costs. Shop around, though.

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Are card issuers’ travel portals really a bargain, or are they even worth the time? While planning for my upcoming vacation, I was looking at the web and found a great hotel at a great price, but it wasn’t on Chase’s portal. I called Chase, and I was told if it wasn’t on the portal, I couldn’t book it through Chase. When are the portals worth bothering with? – Bill 

Answer Dear Bill,
There are all kinds of ways to book travel now. You can go directly to the airlines or hotels. You can use online travel search engines such as Kayak or Expedia. And yes, you can go to the travel portals run by your credit card companies. 

There can be advantages and disadvantages to each booking option. As with most purchases, it pays to shop around for airfare, hotels and rental cars when you’re planning your vacation. 

The main advantage of the card companies’ travel portals is that they are where you need to go to cash in your reward points. Card issuer travel portals work like other travel sites but they display the prices of flights, hotels and rental cars in both cash and points. With online travel agencies, there also is a fixed price, but with your card issuer travel portal, you have options to pay with points or cash.  

Travel websites do not always list every available option. Often, discount airlines and independently owned hotels do not appear on travel websites or card issuer travel portals. 

As a Chase cardholder, the number of points you need for a flight, hotel or rental car depends on the credit card you have. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve *, each reward point is worth 1.5 cents, so a $300 flight or hotel room is 20,000 points. If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred *, each reward point is 1.25 cents, so that’s 24,000 points for a $300 travel charge. If you don’t have either card, it’s 1 cent per point when redeeming your Chase rewards. 

If you are not using your card issuer’s portal to cash in points, the advantage of using it drops dramatically. For example, Chase’s travel portal becomes just another travel website – like Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia – that you would use to compare travel options for purchase. Using the Chase portal to book travel has no special advantages, as you don’t usually earn any extra Chase points. (Chase, in the past, has run short-term promotions that offer extra points for booking through its portal.) 

If you are paying for travel, you will still earn the category bonus for travel spending regardless of whether you pay Chase, an online comparison site, an airline or a hotel chain. Personally, I like using a couple of different travel search engines to see my options, then I compare those rates against the actual company that provides the flight or hotel. 

It is usually tough for other sites to beat the price offered by an airline. For instance, if you find a flight on American listed on Kayak, Chase or Expedia, it is usually no cheaper than if you book it directly with American.

Third-party sites, though, can sometimes beat the prices listed by hotels, so shop around. But be aware that if you book a hotel on a site that is not the hotel or hotel group itself, you might be ineligible to earn loyalty points on that stay, and you might have difficulty choosing the type of room. You also can sometimes find deals on rental cars when booking through a third-party site. 

Credit card companies’ travel portals have a place in the travel-booking ecosystem, but they are not always the answer. Be sure to look elsewhere if you want to save money.

*The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: Can you get the cheapest airline seats with rewards points?, Tips for booking holiday flights using airline miles, Earning points when renting a car

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Updated: 11-20-2017