Airline credit cards allow you to earn and redeem airline miles on purchases made with your card. Offering rewards such as miles, airline credit cards give cardholders the opportunity to maximize their mile earnings as they make purchases.
What is an airline credit card?
An airline credit card is a rewards card that allows you to earn miles or reward points from purchases you make. Over time, cardholders can save up miles to redeem their miles or reward points towards flights, hotel stays, and other travel rewards. Airline credit cards allow you to earn points at a higher rate for travel expenses and offer more perks related to travel and airfare when compared to general credit cards.
How an airline credit card works
Airline credit cards may award you bonus points for the purchases you make while traveling, such as booking a hotel stay, renting a car, and going out to eat at restaurants. Certain cards also allow you to earn points or miles for everyday spending categories, such as groceries, gas, or dining expenses.
Many airline credit cards have sign-up offers in which you can earn miles at an accelerated rate by meeting the spending requirements over a period of time. For example, if you spend $3,000 on your airline credit card within the first 3 months of signing up, some airline credit cards can reward you with 50,000 bonus miles.
Types of airline credit cards
Co-branded airline credit card
Co-branded airline cards are affiliated with a specific airline chain in partnership with a credit card company. These cards offer rewards and benefits related to the airline brand. In addition to earning points from spending, cardholders can earn bonus points and miles on purchases made with the airline company, such as plane tickets. When flying with that airline, you can also receive extra perks and benefits such as free checked bags, club access, or priority boarding.
General airline credit card
A general airline card is not affiliated with a specific airline, and rewards can be redeemed through multiple airlines. These cards can allow you to earn points on the purchases you make throughout your travels, such as booking a hotel room, renting a car, and even going out to eat on vacation. General airline cards allow you to earn rewards from booking flights with various airline chains, and some offer methods of converting miles into cash back.
Difference between co-branded and general airline cards
General airline cards offer more flexibility than partner cards, as they allow you to earn points and redeem your rewards with multiple airlines. Co-branded cards offer a higher mileage earning per purchase, but limit cardholders to redeeming with a specific airline chain. If you have an airline preference you should consider getting a co-branded airline card, but if you are not loyal to any particular airline but travel often, a general airline card may make the most sense.
The pros and cons of airline credit cards
Earn points and miles faster
Airline credit cards allow you to earn points and miles at an accelerated rate. If you are using a co-branded card, you will be able to get more points for making purchases from the airline affiliated with the card. And if you have a general airline card, you can get points from booking flights and from the various purchases you make throughout your travels.
You can earn additional perks and benefits from airline credit cards that you wouldn't typically get with a traditional credit card. For instance, a co-branded airline card might offer you brand-specific perks including complimentary flights, free checked bags, and lounge access. And general airline cards allow you to redeem your points or miles for a wide variety of rewards. If you aren't planning to go away in the near future, some cards may allow you to redeem your miles for cash back or trade them in for non-travel rewards.
Pay back your balance on time
When using your airline credit card, make sure to always pay off your balance on time. If you allow your debt to accumulate, you may have to pay higher interest rates and late fees. Even if you earn some great rewards from spending on your card, they might not be worth it if you are not able to pay back what you owe. To avoid this, choose an airline credit card with spending requirements and rewards that align with your spending habits, and keep track of when the payments are due.
Although some airline credit cards have no annual fee, others with bigger perks can have pricier fees. When choosing your airline credit card, compare annual fees and decide whether the rewards are worth how much you will be paying per year. If you are not sure if your budget can support paying an annual fee, you may want to get an airline credit card with no yearly fee. But if you typically spend enough on travel to earn bigger rewards and will easily be able to pay the fees, then an airline credit card may help you get value despite the fees.
How to choose the best airline credit card for you
Airline brand loyalty
When choosing between a general airline credit card and a co-branded card, you should decide whether or not you prefer a specific airline. If you only fly with one airline chain, you should consider a co-branded airline credit card. Co-branded airline cards offer a higher mileage earning per purchase and many rewards and perks within that airline chain. Certain cards offer added benefits such as priority boarding and lounge access.
If you want to compare airline prices for every trip or simply don't have a preference, you may want the flexibility of flying with multiple airline chains. In this case, you should stick with a general airline card to redeem miles and points with the airline you choose.
If you are a frequent traveler, you should find an airline credit card that will allow you to maximize the miles and points you can earn from your spending, while also providing benefits that make your travels simpler. Look for a card that gives you bonus points for purchases you make while traveling, along with other perks such as priority booking, a TSA pre-check waiver, and annual travel credits. If you are not loyal to any particular airline, consider a general airline credit card that allows you to book travel through reward portals.
If you have an airline preference, choose a partner card that will allow you to earn at a higher rate through the loyalty program. Co-branded airline credit cards can offer brand-specific perks, a higher rewards rate, and a generous sign-up bonus. You can also receive complimentary flights, elite status with the airline, and rewards on purchases in other spending categories.
Families should look for an airline credit card that allows you to earn points from everyday purchases along with your travel-related spending. Certain co-branded airline credit cards offer a higher points rate from purchases in spending categories such as dining, groceries, and gas stations. You should also consider getting a card that offers perks for your family during travel, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and savings on in-flight purchases.
If you recently started your travels and don't have an airline or hotel brand preference yet, consider getting a general airline credit card. This card will allow you to earn and redeem points across multiple airline chains. Find a general airline card with a wide range of redeeming options and a low annual fee.
If you or your employees frequently travel for business, you should consider getting a co-branded airline credit card. Having a card with a loyalty program will allow you to maximize your earnings by booking with the same airline. You can also receive benefits including elite membership status, access to airport lounges, and free checked bags, among other perks. A co-branded airline card will allow you to earn at a higher rate on business trips, and offers benefits that will make travel easy and convenient for you and your employees.
If you don't go on vacation often, you should consider getting an airline credit card that offers rewards for everyday spending and a low annual fee. You can earn points and miles for purchases on groceries, dining, and gas in addition to travel purchases. Some general airline credit cards also allow you to redeem your miles for cash back and other options if you aren't going to use them for travel right away.
You should choose your airline credit card based on whether the rewards and spending requirements match your lifestyle, spending habits, and preferences. Once you choose the right card, you can start earning rewards and save up for your next trip.