Airline Credit Cards
Most of the Major Airlines, and many regional airlines offer credit cards with their logo. Other cards offer miles for their rewards program that can be used for any airline. These are serviced by different banks and offer an array for benefits for the cardholder. If you fly a particular airline on a regular basis there can be significant benefits offered by carrying their branded credit card.
For those who are not frequent flyer’s there are still ways to accumulate points and redeem them, that may make it worth carrying the card, even if you only fly occasionally.
Types of Airline Cards
Airlines credit cards offer miles to reward card holders for being loyal to their airline. Each purchase made with the card accrues a certain number of miles. Generally they offer 1 mile for every $1 spent and then have certain categories that pay bonus miles. These might include purchases through partners. For example buying a ticket directly from the airline, rental cars, hotels, cruises and other travel related expenses. Some airline cards will periodically offer bonus miles for things like restaurants and gas as they can help accumulate miles much faster.
Airline cards come in two forms, cards tied to a specific airline like American, US Airways, Delta or Alaska Airlines. Then there are cards that accumulate miles that are not tied directly with any specific airline. This can provide miles that can be used on your airline of choice.
Cards tied to the airline can be used for that carrier and any of their partner airlines. This may provide dozens of airlines to choose from when booking travel. The general cards are issued by a major bank like American Express or Barclays and offer miles that can be used with any airline as long as travel is booked through their reservation system.
Sign Up Bonuses
Airline cards have some of the most generous sign up bonuses in the industry. Often the bonus will provide enough points for a card holder to obtain a free domestic flight. These cards also run specials periodically which can double the number of points obtained.
With the sign up bonus the new cardholder must spend a certain amount of money within a certain time period. Generally the time frame is either 3 months or 90 days. Some cards offer the bonus with a single purchase to activate the card. The spending requirements can be anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 necessary spending to gain bonus miles ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 points.
How do you spend enough to get the bonus? One of the fastest ways to reach the required spending is to pay everything with that card for the first couple of months. The mortgages, utilities, cell phone bill. All of these bills will usually accept a credit card as payment. Then pay the credit card bill, as you would normally pay all of the essential bills. This provides you with the needed spending requirements without acquiring debt. Another strategy is for both the husband and wife (or significant other) to sign up for individual cards, this way the couple earns enough to take a trip together.
It is important to note that many cards define what a new cardholder is. Often it is 1 or 2 years without a card for that airline’s credit card to qualify for the sign up bonus. This prevents cardholders for getting the bonus, cancelling the card, and getting another bonus.
Annual Fees and Anniversary Bonuses
Nearly all airline cards charge an annual fee. Many cards will waive the fee for the first year. To entice customers to remain with the company most offer annual bonuses which soften the blow of the annual fee. This can be a bonus in additional miles or a free or discounted companion ticket. Evaluate which benefits you are most likely to use, when comparing cards.
Free Checked Bags. This has become a substantial benefit that can pay for the card’s annual fee in a single flight. Most cards offer one or two free checked bags for the card holder and often a guest. Some airlines allow as many as 6 passengers to get free bags. With bag charges ranging from $25 to $50 per ticket this can save customers from $50 to $100 per person for a single round trip flight. Add a few guests and the saving make the $89 annual fee seem inexpensive.
Airport Lounge Passes. Some cards offer passes to airport lounges. If you have ever had a plane delay or a long layover you know what a gem this can be. The downside is with so many people getting free passes sometimes the lounges have gotten very crowded. Lounges can provide basics like outlets to charge electronics to snacks and comfortable seating. Some airport lounges will provide fliers with showers and areas to freshen up, TV’s and other amenities which make flying much more pleasant.
Upgrades. Using the card can qualify you for free or discounted upgrades to business class or first class. This can be a huge benefit for those taking long trips.
Early Boarding. For those who like to get on the plane early and ensure there is enough overhead room for the carry on, early boarding is a real bonus.
Most airline credit cards require applicants to have excellent credit in order to qualify. Those with good or average credit look for a card that offers lower bonus miles and lower credit card limits. These will also typically have lower annual fees but fewer card benefits.
Many cards will offer promotional interest rates for the first few months. These teaser rates can last as much as 12 to 18 months. This might be 0% or a low rate to encourage balance transfers and usage of the card for an introductory period of time. From there the interest rates are typically in the mid to high teens, making these good cards for revolving purchases that are paid each month but not necessarily good cards for those carrying a balance from month to month.