What Credit Card Does Airbus Accept When Buying New Planes?

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Four years ago a Chinese billionaire made news earning 2 billion Membership Rewards points with a single purchase.

  • Earning was based on Hong Kong dollars, and the card earned 1.5 points per Hong Kong dollar spent.

  • But the Hong Kong Membership Rewards program transfers points to miles on average about 15:1.

  • So normalizing with the US Membership Rewards program he ‘only’ really earned enough points for 132 million frequent flyer miles.

And that barely topped the largest US Membership Rewards account balance at the time.

It’s a huge win whenever you make a big purchase and can pay with a rewards-earning credit card. Most car dealers won’t take a card for the full purchase price of the vehicle. But what about an airplane manufacturer?

Steven Udvar-Házy is one of the biggest names in aircraft leasing. He founded International Lease Finance Corporation and sold it to AIG. Twenty years later he started a new company, Air Lease Corportation. They own nearly 300 planes, and have about 400 more on order, leasing to 90 airlines around the world.

At a Paris Air Show press conference announcing a 100 jet order from Airbus, Air Lease CEO John Plueger pulled out a credit card, his company Business Platinum® Card from American Express.

“Actually Christian, my CFO authorized me to give you the American Express,’’ Plueger said, pulling out his platinum card and triggering flashes of photographers and camera phones from the roomful of journalists.

“We had to increase the limits quite a bit,’’ he quipped, with Scherer holding up another corner of the card as they posed for a photo.

It wasn’t really a $13 billion deal as reported, new planes buyers usually pay about half of list price. It’s incredible to contemplate even 9.75 billion Membership Rewards points (the Business Platinum® Card from American Express earns 1.5x on purchases of $5000 or more) however.

American Airlines Boeing 787-9 in Los Angeles

While they most certainly won’t settle the transaction with a swipe of the company American Express card, when Air Lease picked up picked up five Boeing 787-9 aircraft the next day he reported that he had to cancel his company Business Platinum® Card from American Express because photos of his previous appearance with Airbus captured his card number. Steven Udvar-Hazy then suggested that Boeing accept cash.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.



  1. It’s better to negotiate a discount than to get miles or cash back by using a credit card.

    Banks are generous with cash back and miles because they require the small business merchant (or any merchant) to pay for it. The hold merchants hostage by charging high fees and higher fees if you use a reward card.

    In other words, they tell merchants “if you accept credit cards, you must accept reward cards AND pay more than the reward that the cardholder earns”. It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money.

    For that reason, I sometimes use cash. If you buy only $2-3, the commission on the sale can be very high, like 75 cents.

  2. Remember, this strategy only works if you pay the card off in full before the late charge cut off time.
    But, the typical strategy is to show the credit card, in this case the one that costs the merchant the most, and then ask for a cash discount. If it happens to be a bonus month for some obscure category like… aircraft parts and leases… they may have to offer a 5% discount.
    If it happens to be a new card with 18 months at 0%, plus a 5% points bonus based on merchant category… I can’t even do the math. That would be like a 10-12% discount.
    And they still get an extra year of manufacturers warranty. Or, if it crashes within 90 days (like a truck hitting it on the tarmac, not a major crash), accidental damage protection has them covered. Free comprehensive insurance for about 3 months, right?

  3. @derek: you overestimate the interchange fee. Visa Infinity (the card with the highest interchange out there) gets 2.1%+$0.10 interchange (paid to the card’s bank; merchants with travel MCCs pay 2.4%+$0.10), +0.14% brand fee (paid to Visa), +the merchant’s payment processor’s fees (~0.25%). That’s if you have an interchange+ fee structure, but many processors charge a flat % (e.g. Square charges 2.75%, or 2.5%+$0.10 with chip reader)

    Total 2.5-3%. For $2, the total fees are less than $0.16

  4. I used to work in a franchise organization. Because individual franchisees had to pay for their marketing materials and, because when we billed them, their payments were slow and unreliable, we required them to pay via card or direct bank transfer. The vast majority would run their transactions on a rewards card. The operators with 100+ stores would, over the course of the year, run close to a million bucks a year. One of those franchisees turned me on to the Starwood AMEX back when it was introduced.

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