An airline credit card is a card that offers benefits geared towards frequent flyers. Many of these cards are co-branded with an airline and can offer significant rewards. That usually means your purchases on flights and services with the airline will be particularly rewarding for you.
General travel credit cards are similar, but you may find them to be more flexible. In general, compared to an airline credit card, a travel card may not offer the same levels of miles and perks for using a specific airline.
As with any credit card, learning about the benefits will help you decide which card is the right choice for you.
What are the benefits of airline credit cards?
Specific benefits will vary from card to card, but the coveted rewards are in a few common categories.
- Frequent flyer perks: If you fly often and want to fly in comfort, an airline credit card may be right for you. Common perks include flight upgrades, priority boarding and access to airport lounges. Many airlines have membership programs that may reward you with status levels based on the amount you fly with the airline.
- In-flight discounts: Small savings add up quickly when it comes to traveling. A card that offers free checked luggage, for example, could offer significant savings for one companion. Additional savings may come from discounts on in-flight purchases: wi-fi upgrades, entertainment, food and drinks.
- Travel protection: An airline card can reduce stress before and during your trip by alleviating potential travel mishaps. Some very useful benefits of airline credit cards include protection against delayed or canceled flights and reimbursement for lost luggage. Airline credit cards can come equipped with insurance to help protect you against these unexpected costs.
How to compare airline credit cards
When looking for the right airline card, you want to make sure it will deliver the most valuable rewards for your activity. Here are some common rewards that you can weigh when choosing a card:
- Elite membership statuses: You might have noticed that exclusive lounges, early boarding and other perks for flyers are available at airports. Some of those perks may be exclusive to an elite membership status with the airline. While airline credit cards may not grant elite membership right away, they can make it easier to obtain this exclusive status, so you can travel like a VIP.
- Concierge services: Some cards offer deluxe concierge services, which can help you with reservations and car rentals, simplifying your travel plans. These perks aren't just for mishaps, either. Renting a car, for example, might be a key part of a long trip down the coast.
- Welcome offer: Look for new cardmember bonuses, often called welcome offers or sign-up offers. They're very popular with airline credit cards and can usually be redeemed for significant travel deals and discounts. You may not want to miss out on the chance to earn thousands of bonus points or miles for spending a certain amount of money within the first few months the account is open.
Other aspects of airline credit cards to consider
An airline credit card can make flying more enjoyable, and it's easy to focus on the benefits of airline credit cards. Besides some of the primary benefits, consider some these common aspects of airline credit cards.
Many travel credit cards come with annual fees, which might seem scary, but you can definitely make them worth your while. If you fly several times a year, an annual fee can be recouped after factoring in the discounts on in-flight purchases, checked luggage and other card perks. However, if you fly less frequently, a general travel rewards credit card with no annual fee may make more sense.
As many airline credit cards offer an attractive new cardmember bonus and the chance to earn future rewards, cardmembers may be tempted to overspend to get the perks. While miles or points are valuable, they're not worth the debt you would accumulate if you spend more than your budget allows.
When you choose an airline credit card, the spending requirements should match your budget. Also think about using airline credit cards for your travel-related purchases to earn bonuses; besides earning miles for many purchases, this type of card usually rewards you for spending within its travel categories.
Rewards on everyday spending
With an airline credit card, you can usually earn miles on all your purchases, not just travel-related ones. The rate you'll earn on purchase categories like gas stations and grocery stores can vary from card to card. When you compare airline credit cards, it's worthwhile to review the rewards you'll earn on your everyday spending.
The bottom line: Should you get an airline credit card?
An airline credit card may be the right choice for you if you enjoy traveling and want to get discounts on flights. If you can easily meet the spending requirements and make the most of your rewards, applying for an airline credit card is a great way to gain extra comfort, convenience and security for your travel.
Comparing an airline credit card to a general travel card will allow you to see the differences between these two products. The benefits of airline credit cards are pretty distinct, though. Look at your spending, your airline preferences and the specific travel perks to pick the card that fits your needs and lifestyle. If you'd like help, consider comparing all rewards credit cards.