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Best Airline Credit Cards

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by Eric Rosenberg | Updated Jul. 18, 2017
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Overview

Airline credit cards are meant to take the stress out of flying so the fun can begin sooner. Among the best features for airline credit cards available today, you can find free checked bags, priority boarding, miles towards elite status qualification, and of course, free flights. Do you tend to fly domestically or internationally with your preferred airline? Or do you simply go on Kayak to find the most affordable way to get where you're going? Either way, you can find your next travel companion below. Using available fare and mileage data, we did the math to find the airline credit cards that can help get you where you need to go. We've also included the dollar value in rewards you can expect to get from each of the cards. Keep reading to find out how you can make your air travel more comfortable. See More


Best Credit Card for a Major American Airline

More Details

  • Special offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don t expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United-operated flight at the MileagePlus Standard Award level
  • $95 annual fee

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Benefits

World travelers can only get where they’re going with an international airline. United Airlines has one of the biggest networks of any airline. Booking with Star Alliance partners, United miles can take you virtually anywhere in the world. Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months you have the card. Then earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else. Get your first bag checked free (up to $100 per roundtrip) on any United flight booked with the card. Cardholders get other travel benefits too. The card charges no foreign transaction fees. It comes with an EMV chip for use worldwide.

Things to Consider

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card has a $95 annual fee. Although United is one of the biggest airlines in the world, it does not have the best customer service ratings. Recently, United miles went through devaluation, which could consequently lead to miles being less valuable in the future.

Our Verdict

United can take travelers around the world. The airline serves 108 international destinations in 73 countries. Miles can be used with any Star Alliance partner. The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card can take you virtually anywhere. The lucrative bonus offers enough miles for a free roundtrip flight. Award flights to Europe start at 60,000 miles roundtrip. Miles add up quickly, and this is the best card to use to earn miles for international air travel.

Best Airline Credit Card with No Annual Fee

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  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking.
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don't expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food on JetBlue-operated flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology & $0 Fraud Liability protection

Annual Fee

$0

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles (for transfers completed within first 45 days)

Regular APR

12.99%, 20.99% or 25.99% Variable

Benefits

Airline rewards cards can offer great benefits, but usually with an annual fee. The JetBlue Card® offers valuable travel rewards with no annual fee. Earn 5,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days you have the card. Then earn 3x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x everywhere else. Redeem points for any seat on JetBlue flights with no blackout dates. Points do not expire and can be pooled with other family members for even better redemption options. The card has no foreign transaction fees.

Things to Consider

While the card has no annual fee, miles and points earned from this card are not as compelling as some others. The sign-up bonus is only 5,000 points, not nearly enough for a free flight. If you live in a JetBlue hub, you have some decent travel options. However, JetBlue does have a more limited network than competing airlines.

Our Verdict

If you live in a JetBlue hub city and want to earn airline points for free travel with no annual fee, this is the card for you. JetBlue receives high customer service ratings and has many loyal fans. Earning a compelling 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores helps you build up miles quickly towards your next free flight. Where will your next adventure take you? The JetBlue Card® can help you get there.

Best Airline Credit Card for International Travelers

More Details

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios.
  • Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.
  • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you'll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years
  • In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
  • Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.99%-23.99% Variable

Benefits

If you love flying around the world for free, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is an excellent choice. This card offers the opportunity to earn a huge 50,000-Avios (the name for British Airways miles) sign-up bonus, enough for a round-trip flight to Europe! You only have to spend just $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account to earn the bonus. Also, earn 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar spent everywhere else. We value 1 Avios at $0.022, so the sign-up bonus is worth roughly $1,075 in free travel. This card charges no foreign transaction fees, offers travel and purchase benefits and a free companion ticket each year you spend $30,000 or more on the card.

Things to Consider

This card comes with a $95 annual fee, with no introductory rate. Cardholder APRs range from 16.99%-23.99% Variable based on your credit history. Also, keep in mind that British Airways does charge taxes, fees, and carrier charges, which can be quite expensive for overseas travel.

Our Verdict

If you love travel, this is a great card for you. With a big enough bonus for a free trip to Europe, the $95 annual fee is easily justified. British Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines and many others so you can reach destinations in the United States and abroad with your Avios. This is our favorite airline-specific credit card available today, and could be a great addition to your wallet.

Best Airline Credit Card for Domestic Travelers

More Details

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days
  • Earn 6 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don't expire
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food & the primary cardmember's first checked bag is free on JetBlue-operated flights
  • Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
  • Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card

Annual Fee

$99

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

0% introductory APR for the first twelve billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening

Regular APR

12.99%, 20.99% or 25.99% Variable

Benefits

Do you love exploring the country? Do you love flying off for your next adventure? The JetBlue Plus Card can help you get there faster, and for free. Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 the first 90 days you have the card. Then earn 6x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x everywhere else. Cardholders also get a first bag checked free. Book flights using points with no blackout dates for any seat on a JetBlue-operated flight. Points never expire and can be pooled with other family members for even better redemption options.

Things to Consider

Unlike the regular The JetBlue Card, the The JetBlue Plus Card has a $99 annual fee from the first year itself. JetBlue is a great airline with good customer service ratings but a limited network of flight options. If you live in a JetBlue hub city, these points can take you many places. Many cities, however, are not serviced by JetBlue.

Our Verdict

If you love traveling around the United States or regularly visit family by plane, this is a great card. 30,000 bonus points is enough for about three flights if you book early and choose the lowest cost seat. If you are a loyal JetBlue traveler or just love jetting around the country, this is the best card for you.

Methodology SmartAsset has developed a quantitative and independent system for evaluating the relative value of a credit card offer versus other offers in the marketplace. Our system evaluates cards based exclusively on their features, such as their rewards earning rate (if applicable), fees, perks, and rewards program redemption options. The annual rewards values on this page are calculated using annual spending assumptions in various categories such as, but not limited to, gas, restaurants, airfare, and US supermarkets. These spending assumptions are built on research that SmartAsset has conducted on existing airline credit cardholders. Our promise with our credit card recommendations is that we will always strive to have the most comprehensive, accurate, and objective method of evaluating credit card offers. Any recommendations are solely determined by the result of this research and model, and is never influenced by any fees, commissions, or other forms of compensation that SmartAsset may receive from credit card issuers for leads generated on our website.

Airline Credit Cards:
Everything You Need to Know


The Basics


Airline credit cards offer frequent travelers the chance to earn rewards for their loyalty to a specific airline. Many airline credit cards also include their partner airlines and hotels in the deal, as well.

Of course, not everyone flies with the same airline every time. Most of us are looking for the best prices and bundles when it comes time to buy plane tickets. But for those who are loyal to a certain airline, you may want to consider getting an airline credit card. Not only will it help you save money, but they can help you snag some great travel perks. You can even hop on a free flight when you earn enough miles. If you’re a frequent flyer on a specific airline, you should have no trouble spending enough money to get a free flight in no time. As a frequent flyer, you’re not really making any big changes to your spending. The credit card just helps you earn rewards from your normal spending.

Each airline card is going to be different from the next. Some cards will earn miles only through airline and hotel purchases, while others can earn through everyday purchases, too. Redeeming your miles for rewards can also vary from card to card in terms of rewards options and miles valuation. As airline specific cards, these are meant to get you the most bang for your buck when you use it toward travel. They’re also there to make your travel experiences more comfortable and special.


The Difference Between Airline Credit Cards and Travel Credit Cards


Generally when looking around for a travel rewards credit card, you’ll stumble upon either a co-branded card or a general travel credit card. A co-branded card means that an airline and a credit card issuer have teamed up to provide airline customers with a specialty credit card. With this kind of card, you earn rewards from purchases made with that specific and their partners, if they have any.

On the other hand, you might find that a general travel rewards card would be better for you. These cards aren’t specific to any airline. However, they do tend to have partnerships with a number of airlines and hotels. Having this kind of card gives you access to rewards and perks with all of these airlines and hotels, rather than one specific group. This kind of card would better suit travelers who may not stick to one airline, but bounce around instead. Not only that, but these general travel rewards cards can make it easier to earn points. They often have special categories like restaurants and groceries that will earn extra points. An airline credit card most often offers extra miles/points only on flights or hotel purchases.


The Benefits of Airline Credit Card Rewards


Frequent flyers on a specific airline certainly stand to gain a ton of benefits by having an airline-affiliated credit card. Airline credit cards earn a certain number of miles for purchases you make with the airline and its partners. In turn, you can use those miles to book a free flight or hotel stay or sometimes even cash back, although the return for cash back isn’t as rewarding. This system rewards you for spending on purchases you already would have made, especially huge expenses since you’re a frequent traveler.

You may also have the chance to upgrade to elite status, depending on the airline, by spending high amounts. Elite members gain access to even further travel comforts like luxury lounges and first class upgrades.

While an airline credit card is affiliated with one specific airline, that doesn’t always mean you’re fully tied to that line. Many airlines have partnerships with other airlines and hotels. Through these partnerships, you can transfer your frequent flyer miles from your airline credit card to another airline, should you choose to. Or you could use those miles for a comfortable hotel stay.

An airline credit card can also provide you with a much more comfortable travel experience. Airline credit cards often come with automatic perks like free checked bags, access to airport lounges and priority boarding. You could also snag a seat upgrade to first class or a bigger hotel room, depending on the card. Some airlines may even offer companion passes, making traveling with a buddy that much easier.

You could potentially see more benefits if you’re a high spender. Many cards offer bonus rewards for those who spend thousands of dollars on the card per year. Big spending also means you earn miles faster, thus getting access to a free flight faster, too. Not a big spender? You could find a card that offers an anniversary bonus. On the anniversary of your card opening, you could see thousands of bonus miles.


How an Airline Credit Card Could Save You Money


Traveling isn’t cheap, that’s for sure. Luckily, airline credit cards exist, in part, to help you travel more comfortably and save money. If you’re looking into an airline specific credit card, we’re assuming you’re already a frequent traveler. If you use the card often enough on qualifying purchases like those airline’s flights, you’ll rack up those frequent flyer miles in no time. Then, with those miles, you get to treat yourself to another trip. Without an airline rewards program, you would have still bought those flights, but not gained an extra vacation out of it.

Many of the automatic perks and rewards of airline credit cards allow you to forgo certain costs, like checked baggage fees. Other covered costs could include in-flight meals and lounge access. Not only that, but sometimes you can even extend your perks to a travel companion. Some cards will automatically cover these costs just for your membership. Others will provide you with an airline credit that you can use at your discretion.

You may also want to look for a card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. That way you can carry and use your card around the world and not be limited to purchases only within the United States. Otherwise, you could get hit with a nasty fee for treating yourself to a fancy dinner in Italy. Many travel credit cards also provide a number of insurance policies so that you don’t have to pay for those entirely out of pocket. These kind of insurance coverages only apply if you use your credit card for the purchase. Some cards offer trip cancellation insurance, so if you need to cancel a flight due to conditions out of your control, your trip will be covered by the card issuer.

Your airline credit card could also save you some money when it comes to rental car insurance. If the card doesn’t provide total coverage, it will at least lessen the burden on your wallet. Just be sure to check whether your card issuer provides primary or secondary rental car insurance and how much it would cover. Lastly, your airline credit card could provide you with lost luggage insurance should you ever find yourself luggage-less. If an airline loses your luggage and barely covers the cost, your credit card issuer could cover the rest. They may also help you out in the meantime by covering costs like lost toiletries and clothes.


The Drawbacks of Airline Credit Cards


Right off the bat, an airline credit card won’t be quite right for you if you’re not beholden to a certain airline. Sure an airline credit card offers a ton of benefits, but that applies only to those who are sticking to the airline and their partners. It would also apply only to people who travel enough to earn the rewards and make the card worth it. This means traveling much more than just two or three times a year. Further, airline credit cards don’t provide much flexibility when it comes to choosing which airlines and hotels you can use. If that kind of freedom is important to you, you may want to go with an unaffiliated travel rewards card.

If you do decide that an airline credit card is right for you, it helps to know the drawbacks as well as the perks. For starters, airline credit cards tend to have high credit expectations in terms of qualification. You’ll need good or excellent credit to even think about your potential rewards. Along with high credit scores, airline credit cards often come with high rates and fees. As a rewards card, it’s not uncommon that they should carry a high variable APR. Issuers do want to make sure they’re not losing money with such benefit-heavy credit cards. Most airline credit cards will come with an annual fee, too. The fee will vary between cards, but it usually lands around $95. You’ll have to figure out whether your spending and rewards will outweigh the cost of an annual fee.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the card’s redemption values and methods. Airline credit cards tend to offer low values for your miles when you redeem for anything other than travel. So if you want cash back or gift certificates from this card, your miles will often be worth less than 1 cent. You won’t want to waste your well-earned miles on a low returning reward. Even when you do redeem your miles for flights or hotel stays, you’ll have to check for blackout dates. Some airlines and their frequent flyer programs offer solid returns, but not enough flexibility when it comes time to use them.

You may want to delve a little deeper into an airline’s frequent flyer program before committing. Read reviews to see how other customers have liked the program and the airline. If you ever have problems or questions, you’ll want to be with an airline that offers great customer service. Also check to see if the airline has made changes to their program within the past few years. If they have, that could be a sign that they may change the program’s terms again in the near future. It helps to have a card with a reliable airline and frequent flyer program so you know your miles and rewards are safe.


How an Airline Credit Card Could Affect Your Credit Score


Like with any credit card, you need to be mindful of how you use an airline credit card. It might be easy to overspend since you’re looking at flights and hotels, which aren’t cheap expenses. However, you have to be sure to spend only what you can afford to pay back. If you end up making late payments or owing too much, you could find yourself in serious trouble. For one, you could lose all the miles you’ve racked up previously. You usually have a little over a year to spend your rewards miles, but if your account falls out of favor, you could lose those points even faster.

More dangerously, bad credit card habits could really damage your credit score. Since airline credit cards tend to have higher rates and fees, you’ll want to be aware of exactly what you’re buying and paying back. You won’t want to be surprised by a hefty penalty APR that sends your funds and credit in a downward spiral. If you’re looking into getting multiple airline credit cards or credit card churning, that’s when you should be careful with your credit score. Each credit card application will require an inquiry into your credit history. Each inquiry will then cause a dip in your score. If your repayment habits are solid enough to recover your score, then you may not have to worry. But too many applications and cards to juggle becomes risky when you’re not paying attention.


Who Should Apply for an Airline Credit Card


You should only really apply for an airline credit card if you are a frequent flyer with a specific airline. It doesn’t matter if you’re constantly visiting family, going on vacation or flying for work. As long as you’re flying a few times a year on the same airline, you should be good to go. If it makes sense for you to own an airline credit card, you then have to make sure you have good to excellent credit before applying. Most airline credit cards require high credit scores to ensure borrowers are trustworthy and responsible. If your score isn’t so hot, you might want to work on responsibly improving it before chasing frequent flyer miles.

You should only apply for an airline credit card if you and your finances can handle it. You only earn miles when you pay off your purchases made on the card. If you know you’re not good at paying off credit card purchases, you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, you can rack up a ton of interest and debt and lose your rewards miles. You’ll also want to make sure you can handle the card’s annual fee. An annual fee of $95 may seem like a small price to pay for travel perks. But with the high cost of travel, you want to make sure you can take on another expense.


What Matters Most When Applying for an Airline Credit Card


When looking for an airline card, what matters most is your personal and financial habits and needs. Pay attention to your travel habits, too, to better decide which card fits for you. For one, make sure you travel enough to actually reap the benefits of having an airline credit card. Depending on what card you’re looking at, you may not even travel enough to earn more than you spend.

You may want to avoid going straight for the card with the biggest rewards. A card could have incredible-sounding rewards, but if you can’t meet the requirements to earn them, applying for and getting the card would be useless. Do your best to match the card and its features to your existing habits. That way, you won’t be stuck with a card that’s supposed to earn you a lot, but doesn’t. What you actually get out of a card matters more than the label of a “bigger and better” card.

In terms of qualifying for an airline credit card, you’re going to need a stellar credit score. Most airline credit cards require an excellent score and others may allow a good credit score to pass. This allows airlines and credit card issuers to feel more comfortable lending to you.


Assessing the Value of Airline Credit Card Rewards


The value of a mile is going to vary between cards. Most airline credit cards tend to value a mile between 1 and 2 cents. Let’s take a look at some numbers. For example, if you had 10,000 miles that were each worth 1 cent, you could redeem them for a $100 value. If those miles were worth 2 cents, you could redeem them for a $200 value. Miles usually value higher when used for travel. This is especially true when it comes to airline credit cards. This means that if the highest your miles will value is 1 cent, that will most likely apply to travel redemption options.

If you wanted to redeem your miles for cash back or a gift certificate, your miles will often be worth less than 1 cent. Definitely be sure to check your card’s miles valuation to get the most out of your rewards.


Which Airline Credit Card Should You Choose?


You should certainly go with an airline credit card that best suits your travel needs. For example, if you fly with American Airlines most often, you should choose an American Airlines credit card. Some airlines, like JetBlue, may have more than one affiliated credit card. In that case, you should check out the pros and cons of each card. Look at the annual fees, foreign transaction fees and the perks each card offers.


What to Do After Choosing an Airline Credit Card


Once you’ve found the right airline card for you, it’s time to apply for it. Usually you can apply directly online, which might be the easiest and fastest way to go about it. You could also choose to mail in an application. As with any credit card application, you will have to provide personal information like your Social Security number, your household income and your credit history.

If you’re approved for the card, you should receive it in the mail within 10 business days. Once your new card arrives, you will want to activate it as soon as possible. Make sure the card’s offerings are what you signed up for and that you’re ready to go.

If you didn’t get approved for an airline credit card, not to worry. You should try to find out exactly why you were denied. That way you can fix the issue and increase your chances of approval for future cards. Often the issue lies with your credit history. It may not have been solid enough for the credit card issuer to feel comfortable approving you. Or your debt-to-income ratio may be too high for the issuer’s liking. Being denied for a credit card may seem like a huge hit. However, it could be better for you in the long run if your credit isn’t doing so great. That way, you won’t run the risk of racking up even more debt with your airline credit card. So once you find out why your application was denied, it’s best to start working on improving for your next application.


Should You Apply for More Than One Airline Credit Card?


The main purpose of an airline credit card is to stick with one airline (and its partners) in order to earn a bunch of rewards. However, this may not make sense for everyone. For one, if you’re not flying at least a few times a year, a frequent flyer program likely wouldn't make sense for you. Or maybe you do travel a lot, but you just don’t use the same airline often enough. Luckily, you have the option of getting a travel credit card that's not affiliated with a specific airline.

You might also be thinking about applying for more than one airline credit card. That option is appealing because there’s the chance to earn a ton of rewards across multiple airline loyalty programs. By having more than one airline card, you could potentially end up earning thousands of miles on each card and earn free flights from a few different airlines. However, in order to achieve this, you would have to be spending a lot on each card to earn the miles in the first place. This means a lot of travel purchases on each card you have. Otherwise, the fees and rates of a card could really weigh you down. If that were to happen, you could end up in more credit trouble instead of on yearly reward flights to Hawaii.

There are always dangers to applying for too many lines of credit. Credit card or loan lenders will look at how many applications you've sent in recently. If you're applying to a few at the same time, lenders could see that as irresponsible and then deny your application. Too many inquiries into your credit history will also affect your credit score, further hurting your chances at other credit cards or loans.

If you’re super determined to have more than one airline card, it may be best to do so slowly. Try out having one card first to see how your spending goes. Once you’re comfortably using that card, then you can try adding another.

If you’re looking into credit card churning (opening and closing credit cards to get the sign-up bonuses), take it slowly and carefully as well. Again, you’ll want to avoid hurting your credit score by applying for multiple credit cards within a short amount of time. Churning requires a lot of attention on your part so you don’t end up with high fees or missed payments. If that sounds like too much work for you, don’t push your luck. The last thing you want is to be overwhelmed from the start and lose out on rewards completely.


How to Maximize Your Airline Credit Card


You’re probably already thinking about how to get the most out of your airline credit card, which is a good thing. To do this with an airline credit card, you have to be a frequent flyer with a certain airline and its partners. This means more than just flying home twice a year to see your family. Flying more than a few times a year means you have more opportunities to use your card on those airline purchases. The more flights you purchase, the more miles you earn.

Depending on the airline you want to affiliate with, you may want to get a card that offers extra miles for airline/hotel purchases, plus a solid one mile for everything else. That way, you can still use your card for non-affiliated airline or hotel purchases. That being said, you probably still want to have a traditional credit card in addition to your airline credit card. A cash back or rewards card can get you higher rewards for purchases at places like restaurants and gas stations. You don’t have to settle for the one mile return with an airline credit card.

A huge part of maximizing your airline credit card rewards is using the card responsibly. Yes, you will get the most out of it if you travel and spend a lot. However, only do so if you can afford it. You shouldn’t rely on future reward flights to make up for your spending. Using your card responsibly means paying back your purchases on time. It also helps immensely to pay each bill in full. When you pay it in full, you avoid racking up more costs in interest, saving yourself money in the long run.

You should also pay attention to the terms and conditions surrounding your frequent flyer miles. Make sure you know exactly what purchases will earn you miles and how many miles you will earn. Check to see whether your miles will ever expire. It certainly helps to know when your points will expire as early as possible, instead of a month before you have to use them. You could lose your miles if you keep defaulting on payments. Keep an eye out, or you could lose a ton of earned miles before having used them.

When it comes to fees, it doesn’t hurt to see if you can find a card without an annual fee and especially one without a foreign transaction fee. An airline credit card without an annual fee is somewhat rare. Even if you find one, it may not be the most useful for you. So you definitely have to make sure you can budget in the cost of an annual fee. An airline credit card without a foreign transaction fee could really boost your savings, though. As a travel card, you’re going to want to take this with you when you travel, whether domestically or internationally. If you’re often flying abroad, a foreign transaction fee can really hit your wallet hard since the fee is usually 3% of the transaction amount.

One way to combat the annual fee, at least for the first year, is getting a card with a sign-up bonus. A sign-up bonus means you get a certain amount of miles for spending a few thousand dollars usually. Earning that sign-up bonus could be a good way to earn some extra miles or cash to cover the first year’s annual fee. Even without worrying about the annual fee, snagging that sign-up bonus would be a great way to start off your card earnings.


How to Earn as Many Airline Rewards as Possible


Kick off your airline credit card earnings with a bang by snagging the card’s sign-up bonus. Each card will have a different bonus, so make sure you know exactly what your card’s requirements are. With a sign-up bonus, you have to spend a specific amount on the card to earn thousands of bonus miles. The bonus usually ends up valuing at a few hundred dollars, which could then cover a vacation flight!

Most cards will earn two miles per dollar spent on purchases from that specific airline and its partners. This is why it is so important to get an airline credit card only if you will be spending money with mostly one airline. That way you can get the most out of the card by buying flights from that airline and its partners. It will help to have a comprehensive list of the airline’s partners. They could include hotels in their partnerships, too, which would help you earn more miles.

Many airline credit cards also earn one mile per dollar spent on everything else. This is a pretty standard return and while it’s not much, it can definitely come in handy if you don’t have another, better-earning credit card on hand. You also want to look out for whether your airline credit card has any other special categories that will earn miles. For example, some cards could earn you double miles on restaurant purchases. If that’s the case, you should definitely be using your card at restaurants to quickly rack up miles. Some cards may even match a certain percentage of the miles you’ve earned in a calendar year. You’ll want to keep an eye out for deals like that so you can take advantage of easy earnings.

You could also earn thousands of airline rewards through credit card churning, which we mentioned above. This is the practice of opening and closing multiple credit cards in quick succession in order to earn the sign-up bonus before interest and fees kick in. This could be a great way to earn a ton of miles without big spending. It’s not easy, however, since it requires strategy, planning and careful attention. With credit card churning, you’ll need to pay attention to payment and bonus deadlines in order to avoid spending more or missing out on the bonus. If you don’t think you can keep up with the churning strategy, it’s best to steer clear of it and earn your miles in a more straightforward manner.


Redeeming Airline Credit Card Rewards


The method of redemption can vary from card to card. Redeeming your airline credit card rewards is usually no different than any other rewards credit card. Note that you won’t see your miles in your account until you have actually paid off your purchases. That’s why it’s crucial to pay off your credit card bills, or else risk losing your chance at rewards miles. Most rewards credit cards have a minimum amount of points or miles you’ll need to start redeeming. Once you rack up enough miles on your card, you can redeem them for flights, hotel stays or seat upgrades.

Often, miles redemption is as easy as going to your card’s online account and clicking redeem. Most credit card issuers, especially travel cards, will have an easily accessible online portal where you can manage and redeem your miles. Luckily, many airlines offer frequent flyer customers access to dozens of other airline and hotel partners. You may use your miles toward flights and stays with those partners as well as the card’s affiliated airline.

The worth of each mile will vary between cards. Some airline credit cards will value a mile (point) at 1 cent. In that case, 10,000 miles would get you $100 in rewards. But sometimes redeeming your miles for a more expensive flight, like an international business class seat, can get you more bang for your buck. Once you get your airline credit card, it helps to look at their specific redemption rates and options. It’ll help you strategize and time your miles redemption just right to get the best valued flight.

A good rule to follow is to simply redeem your airline rewards miles for travel purchases. Some programs may offer the option of redeeming miles for cash or gift certificates. However, the value of a mile when redeemed for these choices is often pretty low, making them less worth your time and miles.


Frequently Asked Questions:


1. Do airline credit cards always offer rewards?

Yes, they do! An airline credit card’s purpose is to provide the frequent flyer customer with rewards for using the airline. Of course, every airline and every card is going to be different. Some cards may offer better rewards than others. However, it’s important to choose the card that’s best for you.

2. Can I redeem miles for cash or statement credits?

You can redeem your frequent flyer miles for cash or statement credits, depending on the airline and its program. However, it would very likely be a waste of your miles. You typically get the best value for your miles when you redeem them for travel purchases, usually with a mile valued between 1 and 2 cents. For example, 10,000 miles each worth 1 cent would be redeemed for $100 worth of travel. When you redeem for cash or statement credits, those miles will be worth less than 1 cent. Using the example above, 10,000 miles valued at half a cent would only get you $50 in cash. If you’re more interested in cash rewards like statement credits and gift certificates, you should probably look into a cash back credit card or another rewards card.

3. Can I donate my airline credit card rewards to charity?

Depending on which airline your card is affiliated with, you do have the option to donate your credit card rewards to charity. If donations are a big part of how you plan to spend your rewards, you’ll want to check whether an airline’s rewards program includes charitable donations in its redemption options before committing.

To donate your miles to a charity, you can usually just go to your online credit card account as though you were about to redeem your miles for rewards. If your airline rewards program includes this feature, there will be a donation option on your account. You could also call your rewards program to inquire about and make a charitable donation. You will usually need to meet a minimum amount of miles in order to make a donation. Some airline programs will allow you to donate as little as a penny, though. You do get to choose the amount you donate, as long as you meet the minimum if there is one.

It’s also good to know how the charity of your choice will receive your donation. Sometimes charities will receive the donation as travel credit, and sometimes they receive cash. Knowing how your miles will be converted and how much they will be worth can help your decision of how many miles you would like to donate. Most donations are final, too, so it helps to be sure before you send them. Some people may use charitable donations to keep their accounts active. So if you’re not really using the card anymore but you still have miles, you can go ahead and donate those.

These donations will not be tax-deductible. This is because the IRS views your airline rewards miles as discounts or gifts and not income.

4. How can I evaluate airline credit card offers?

Before diving too deeply into specific airline credit card offers, you should first determine whether an airline-specific card is the best choice for you. If you don’t have any sort of loyalty to a certain airline already, you might want to consider an unaffiliated travel rewards credit card. That way, you won’t be tied to one airline, or a small group of airlines.

Deciding which airline credit card you need will be pretty easy for you if you already fly with an airline more often than others. If not, you’ll need to decide which airline(s) you’ll feel the most comfortable flying with many times a year. It helps to look for the airlines with solid customer service reviews and views and offerings that most align with you and your plans. If an airline offers great rewards returns, but their company has a bad reputation, you probably won’t want to bother applying for the card.

You should weigh the value of each card’s rewards to better understand how much you’ll be getting out of the card. This goes further than knowing you’ll earn double miles for a flight purchase. Once you want to redeem those miles, how much will each mile be worth? Earning miles that are worth 2 cents instead of 1 cent could make all the difference in your travel experiences. It could also help to estimate how many miles you can see yourself earning in a year. Will your spending be worth the earnings and rewards? Will it be worth the possible annual fee? You may even want to forget about a potential sign-up bonus. This will leave some room in your budget, especially since the bonus only happens once.

Of course, you’ll also want to check out the other perks that would come with an airline credit card. These perks often include things like free checked bags, companion passes and complimentary flight and hotel upgrades. Check to see which perks are automatic and which you have to work for. For one, some cards may have access to elite status, but only after you spend a certain amount of money each year.

Try to figure out whether you’ll actually be using the provided perks. Some may sound very impressive, but if you’re not going to directly benefit, you could probably find a card that better fits your current and future travel needs.

You should also look for a possible foreign transaction fee. If you only really travel domestically, a foreign transaction fee shouldn’t often affect you. You just have to make sure you don’t use the card for foreign purchases. If you do travel internationally, though, you’ll want to check out the cards that don’t have a foreign transaction fee.

5. What’s the typical rewards rate for airline credit cards?

Airline credit cards will usually earn two miles per dollar spent on purchases from that specific airline and its partners. Some may even offer more than two miles per dollar. Many cards also earn one mile per dollar spent on everything else. There are airline credit cards out there that do offer a special category that earns more than the base level of one mile per dollar. That’s not super common, though.

6. Do airline credit cards come with sign-up bonuses?

Many airline credit cards do offer a sign-up bonus. The exact amounts will vary between cards, but you can usually expect a bonus of thousands of miles. Of course, the bonus won’t come free. You usually have to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a given amount of time. The amount of money can range from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. The amount of time will also vary, but you’re usually given a few months to meet the dollar requirement. For example, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles by spending $500 within the first three months of having the card.

7. Do I have to shop at specific stores to earn airline credit card rewards?

The main way you can earn airline credit card rewards is by buying flights from that airline and their partners if they have any. Some airlines may have an online shopping portal, though, where you can buy merchandise. You could either use your credit card to pay for the purchases, or you may be able to use your miles for purchases. The programs will vary between airlines. Not all airlines will have this option either.

8. Do I need to pay my airline credit card bill in full every month to earn rewards?

Technically you do not need to pay your bill in full every month to earn rewards. However, you will only earn miles for what you pay off. For example, if you make a $1,000 purchase but only pay off $500 in that payment period, you’ll earn miles on that $500. So if you make that $1,000 purchase, you can’t expect $1,000 worth of points until you pay it all back.

Even without rewards, you should still be paying off your credit card bills on time and in full each month. That way, you can save yourself the trouble of owing more and more money due to accrued interest. This is generally the best practice to any rewards card. Otherwise, your interest payments could end up outweighing any benefits you gain from having the card.

9. How soon can I cash in on my airline credit card rewards?

The amount of time you’re given before you can redeem your airline credit card miles depends on the card. Most often, you will need to wait until you have a few thousand miles in the bank before you can redeem them. However, there are some cards that don’t have a minimum redemption limit.

10. Do airline credit card rewards ever expire?

Yes, they do! While general rewards credit card points don’t expire unless you default on your account, airline credit card rewards are different. Airline credit card miles do expire after a certain amount of time, varying between cards. Generally you’re given between 18 and 36 months to redeem your miles. Some cards may give you more or less time and some cards don’t have an expiration date. You should find out your card’s exact expiration date, if there is one. That way you’re not left scrambling trying to book flights weeks before they expire.


Final Thoughts


Airline credit cards provide a great opportunity for frequent flyers to earn extra flights and travel perks. As a frequent flyer, you’re bound to be spending a lot of money on flights and hotel stays. An airline credit card makes that spending more rewarding by earning miles you can later redeem for a free flight or hotel stay. By earning around two miles per dollar spent with the card’s airline, you’ll look forward to racking up miles. Not only that, but you’ll look forward to traveling, even for business, with all the travel perks and benefits an airline credit card can give you.

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/martin-dm, ©iStock.com/Izabela Habur, ©iStock.com/MStudioImages

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