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TPG reader credit card question: Which card should I use to book Alaska Airlines flights?

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a column to answer your toughest credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com

When you start adding more credit cards to your wallet, it’s likely that you’ll start to see some areas of overlap with your credit card earning categories — especially if you have general travel cards paired up with cobranded airline or hotel cards. So when you have two cards that seemingly earn the same when booking flights, which do you choose?

Should I use my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card for an Alaska Airlines ticket or should I book it through my Chase Sapphire Reserve? Both give me 3x points/[miles].

TPG Reader Kunal

I say this a lot, but it remains true every time — there is no one-size-fits-all approach to credit cards. Not only does this apply to when you’re choosing which cards to add to your wallet, but also when you’re picking out which one to use for a certain purchase. In this specific case, there are a couple of different scenarios when different card options make more sense to use to book flights on Alaska Airlines.

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When you should book with Chase Sapphire Reserve

a hand holding a cellphone: (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

While both card options at hand earn 3x on Alaska Airlines flights, one thing to keep in mind is that TPG values Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, while we value Alaska Airline miles at 1.8 cents each. This means you’re getting a 6% return with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and a 5.4% return with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. So if you’re looking at the best rate of return based on averages, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the better choice.

Your points earned will be more flexible because you can use them through the Ultimate Rewards portal, with 10 airline and three hotel partners or through the Pay Yourself Back program. With Alaska Airlines, you are a bit more limited in how you can use your miles (although Alaska Airlines does offer its own lineup of partners — independently and as part of the Oneworld airline alliance).

Something else to consider is that the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with some of the best travel protections out there when you are booking a trip with your card. Of course, no one wants to consider the worst happening on a trip. But if you are interested in travel protections like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay coverage, travel and emergency assistance, travel accident insurance, emergency evacuation and transportation and more, the Chase Sapphire Reserve will provide the better coverage.

Finally, you may want to use your Sapphire Reserve card if you haven’t yet used your annual $300 travel credit and want to use it towards this purchase. You won’t earn the 3x points on that portion of the charge, but you could keep some cash in your wallet.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve review 

When you should book with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

a close up of a card: (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

However, there are cases when it makes more sense to use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature.

The first is if you’re trying to amass enough miles for a specific redemption using Alaska Airlines miles. TPG values points and miles based on a combination of factors, but you may personally find Alaska Airlines miles more valuable right now if you are working toward a specific redemption goal through the airline.

Additionally, it’s pretty easy to rack up Chase Ultimate Rewards points on a variety of cards and bonus categories, but it’s actually much harder to rack up Alaska miles. This could tip the scales to Alaska in some cases.

Related: Best sweet spots with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Another case where it might make more sense to book with your cobranded Alaska Airlines card is if you are traveling with a companion and want to use your companion fare you get annually with the card. Each year, you can book a coach ticket for a traveling companion from just $121 ($99 plus any taxes and fees on the ticket, which typically start at $22 for a round-trip itinerary).

There are rules and stipulations to using the companion fare, but if you’re traveling with someone on a particular flight, it could pay off to use your companion fare even if you’re technically earning a lesser return on the flights based on TPG valuations.

Related: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card review 

Bottom line

In many cases, I’d say book with the Chase Sapphire Reserve since you’re getting a better return for your points on average and that card comes with above-average built-in trip protections.

But there are cases when it makes more sense to use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature as those are the most valuable type of airline mile out there, and they are pretty hard to earn. At the end of the day, it just comes down to your priorities for this specific trip. What type of mile or point do you need more of and do you want some built-in travel protections?

If you want better travel protections, more flexible rewards or need to use up your $300 annual travel credit, go with the Sapphire Reserve. If you want to save money using the companion offer for the second ticket or need to rack up more Alaska Airlines miles, go with the Alaska credit card.

Featured image by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images. 

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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