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What are the benefits of an airline credit card?

An airline credit card is a card that offers benefits geared towards frequent flyers. Some of these cards are co-branded with an airline and they can offer significant rewards for those who have an affinity for one airline.

A travel credit card will offer similar perks, but is a bit more flexible — you can usually get benefits across airlines that can be earned through everyday spending. However, a travel credit card may not offer the same levels of miles and perks for one specific airline.

When choosing an airline credit card, you want to make sure you get the most out of your card and are able to maximize the rewards. Here are some factors you can consider that will help you choose the best airline credit card for you:

Benefits of an airline mileage credit card

Frequent flyer perks

If you want to fly in comfort during your travels, then a co-branded airline credit card may be right for you. Common perks include flight upgrades, priority boarding and access to airport lounges.

In-flight discounts

Small savings add up quickly when it comes to earning perks on an airline credit card. A card that offers free checked luggage may save you $60 per person round trip. Additional savings can come from in-flight discounts on internet access and purchases, deals on in-flight food and drinks, discounted companion passes and, of course, bonus miles when flying with your branded airline.

Travel protection​

Traveling comes with certain built-in risks, but an airline credit card can help reduce stress abroad. Some credit card perks to look for include protection against delayed or canceled flights and even reimbursement for lost luggage.

Lost or damaged baggage, flight delay or cancellation and accidents while abroad are just some mishaps that can worry travelers. 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 your card has the most valuable rewards for you. Here are some common rewards that you can weigh when choosing a card, depending on what type of flyer you are.

Elite membership statuses

While traveling, you might have noticed that exclusive lounges, early boarding and other perks for flyers come with an elite membership. While cards don't often 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 with reservations and car rentals to make travel planning simple.

Welcome offer

Look for new cardmember bonuses, often called welcome offers or sign-up bonuses, that are popular perks that airline credit cards offer. Many cards give you the chance to earn 30,000 to 60,000 bonus points for spending a certain amount of money within the first few months of signing up. If you have any big purchases coming up, these bonuses can easily make an airline credit card worth signing up for, as these bonuses can be redeemed for great travel deals and discounts.

What to watch out for with airline credit cards

While an airline credit card can make flying more enjoyable, it might not be the best card to use for day-to-day expenses. Make sure you're using your airline card to its full benefit and watch out for these common pitfalls.

Annual fees

Many airline credit cards come with an annual fee. If you fly several times a year, these cards can easily be worth the cost due to discounts on in-flight purchases, checked luggage and other perks — but if you fly less frequently, a general travel rewards credit card with no annual fee may make more sense.

Annual fees might seem scary, but you can definitely make them worth your while. However, these fees are only worth it if you consistently use your card and take advantage of its benefits, especially those related to travel.

High interest rates

It's best not to maintain a balance on a credit card, including an airline card, to avoid any interest charges. The interest can quickly cancel out any savings from the travel perks. Instead, it's best to use these cards when making travel-related purchases to earn bonuses for spending within the travel categories, and if you need to carry over a balance, do so on a lower APR card.

Overspending for rewards

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: Be sure to choose an airline credit card with spending requirements that match your budget.

Low return on everyday spending

One of the major weaknesses of airline credit cards, especially co-branded cards, is that they may not offer good mileage benefits on everyday purchases. Travel credit cards can be a good alternative to airline credit cards, as many have more generous categories for bonus points, such as purchases at grocery stores, gas stations, local transit and commuting and dining at restaurants.

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, signing up for an airline credit card is a great way to gain extra comfort, convenience and security while abroad.

Comparing an airline credit card to a general travel credit card will allow you to see the differences between these two products. While both can appeal to people that travel more than twice a year in the air, you'll see bigger branded perks with an airline card, but more ability to earn points with a general travel card. Which is best for you? Look at your spending, your airline preferences and the specific travel perks to pick your best credit card.

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