Are Airline Credit Cards Worth It?

Airline credit cards are often put on the back burner in favor of cards with transferable rewards currencies. After all, cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Not only do they offer flexibility when it comes to redeeming points, but they also tend to offer lucrative welcome bonuses. These cards allow cardholders to transfer points to various airline or hotel rewards programs, or even redeem them for cash back.

So why would anyone have a airline credit card? Because they still have some perks that may be worth it. Here are some of the pros and cons of airline credit cards.

The airline credit card case

The main negative aspect of airline credit cards is the lack of repayment options. Since you will only earn one frequent flyer currency, you can only redeem miles with that specific airline and its partners. The availability of airline awards can be unpredictable, and if you can’t find award space in the program and have no flexibility in terms of travel dates, you may get stuck.

Another reason that airline credit cards might not be ideal is that airlines reserve the right to downgrade their programs at any time, without notice. In the past, several airlines have made substantial changes to their pricing tables (before eliminating them altogether in some cases) without warning. If a frequent flyer program suddenly devalues ​​its currency, you could end up with an airline credit card that isn’t as appealing or useful anymore.

Cards offering flexible rewards currencies protect against this threat, because if a partner airline devalues ​​their points, you can always transfer points to another partner airline.

The case of airline credit cards

Despite all the potential drawbacks, airline credit cards have some positive attributes and advantages over cards that provide transferable reward currency. For starters, sometimes airline credit cards offer big welcome bonuses that can give your frequent flyer account a boost. Here is the current offer on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the annual fee of $ 99 in full within the first 90 days. This is a great deal if you want to give your AAdvantage miles balance a quick increase with an easy spending requirement.

Airline credit cards also offer benefits that flexible rewards programs do not, such as the ability to earn elite miles with the airline of your choice. Delta, American Airlines, and Southwest all have credit cards that allow you to get closer to elite status through credit card spending:

American Airlines

Delta Airlines

  • American Express Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQM) after spending $ 3,000 on purchases on your new card in the first 3 months. Plus, get up to $ 100 in statement credits for qualifying purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of enrollment. Conditions apply.

  • American Express Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQM) after spending $ 2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first 3 months. Plus, get up to $ 100 in statement credits for qualifying purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of enrollment. Conditions apply.

Southwest Airlines

The following Southwest credit cards offer new cardholders a substantial welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 points after spending $ 1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on meals, including take out and qualifying delivery services, in year one.

While the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® does not come with a companion pass, per se, it offers an annual flight discount of $ 125 when you spend $ 20,000 per year. Frequent solo travelers can get even more value from this $ 125 flight discount than from a companion ticket. (Annual subscription: $ 0 intro for the first year, then $ 99.)

Airline credit cards are also helpful in reducing travel costs, if you agree to stick to a specific schedule. Another useful benefit? Free checked baggage, which come standard with most airline credit cards. (This is why the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® repeatedly earns its place in my portfolio. I take at least one trip a year with my family and save over $ 240 on round-trip checked baggage fees. This more than offsets the annual card fee.)

Are Airline Credit Cards Worth It?

Airline credit cards can be absolutely good if you use more than the miles earned. If you can take advantage of the extra card perks like free checked baggage, priority boarding, and companion tickets, you’ll likely get your money’s worth.

When evaluating the merits of an airline credit card, it’s also important to think about your travel goals and choose an airline that helps you get to where you need to go. If you live in the hub city of a specific airline, getting a co-branded credit card can be a big savings.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our choices for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those that are best suited:


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