Airline credit cards can help you accrue airline reward miles and achieve higher status in airline loyalty programs when you make purchases using the credit card. In addition, airline credit cards allow customers to earn miles and points through purchases that can be redeemed for exciting travel perks including air travel, hotel stays, vacation packages or merchandise, and may also offer perks like seat upgrades and early boarding.
If you travel often, an airline credit card can be a useful tool for increasing your airline reward miles. But be sure to do the math on how different airline mileage credit cards work to make sure you pick the card that matches your travel needs.
What is an airline credit card?
An airline credit card is a kind of rewards credit card tied to a specific airline. While many credit cards with airline miles allow mileage to be accrued from making different purchases, those miles can typically be redeemed only with one airline.
If you don't travel often, don't value travel perks like seat upgrades and priority boarding, or don't generally travel on a single airline, an airline credit card may not be cost-effective, especially given annual fees.
Still, if you are a travel enthusiast or road warrior and want to put your travel to work, an airline credit card can help you get more airline miles and accelerate your climb to a higher reward status.
What rewards do airline credit cards offer?
Airline credit card rewards can be generous — particularly if you are a frequent traveler or have a premium airline mileage credit card.
Credit cards with airline miles can offer the following rewards:
- Faster mileage accrual. Rewards miles are the cornerstone of airline credit card reward programs. When you make purchases with your airline card, even on non-travel-related expenses, you can earn miles that you can redeem for travel. Certain spending categories, like restaurants or hotels, may earn you bonus earnings, like additional miles per dollar spent — and you can often redeem your points for miles at a 1:1 ratio with a particular airline.
- In-flight perks. It's common for airline credit cards to offer perks like complimentary seat upgrades, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight services such as food.
- Higher status in airline loyalty programs. Some premium airline credit cards help you move up the ranks in airline loyalty programs. The higher your loyalty status, the more likely you'll enjoy additional perks that may include getting off the standby list or securing more space when you fly.
- Credits or reimbursements for travel activities. Many airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags, TSA PreCheck® reimbursement, or complimentary lounge access.
- Travel assistance services. If the unexpected should strike when you're traveling, your airline credit card may be able to help you access medical care, roadside assistance or other kinds of travel assistance. Some cards even offer concierge services to help you plan and book activities.
While these perks can be extremely valuable, airline credit cards may have an annual fee to take into consideration. It's essential to find out which rewards are included with your card, outline what perks you value, and identify whether the card is worth the annual fee.
Is an airline credit card worth it?
An airline credit card can help you accrue valuable rewards on your every day — and especially your travel-related — spending. Still, airline cards aren't the best option for everybody. Consider the following points as you shop for an airline credit card:
- Airline cards earn additional miles or rewards for purchases made directly with the airline. Airline credit cards generally offer miles for all kinds of spending activity — but you'll get the most rewards miles from your spending with the card's linked airline or its partners. If only a small portion of your annual spending goes to air travel, you may get more from a different type of rewards credit card.
- Airline cards often charge annual fees. The annual fee on airline credit cards can be steep: up to $450 annually for a premium card. Some premium airline credit cards may grant you many travel perks, with benefits like lounge access and complimentary companion travel — but depending on your situation, the perks may not be worth the card's annual cost.
- Airline cards reward your travel activities only on a single airline. General travel rewards cards let you earn and redeem miles from different air carriers, but airline credit cards are typically tied to a single carrier. If you generally shop around for the lowest airfare and aren't loyal to one airline, a general travel card may be a better fit for you than an airline card.
Weighing the benefits of an airline credit card
Airline mileage credit cards can help you accrue rewards miles quickly and enjoy many in-flight perks. Frequent travelers or big spenders can benefit — but many airline cards charge steep annual fees. Understand your spending patterns and rewards needs before committing to an airline credit card.