In the past, most cobranded airline-bank credit cards offered a simple concept of earning air carrier frequent flyer program miles. After collecting enough miles, a customer could redeem those miles for a free ticket.
This model had its limitations and drawbacks: blackout dates and seat restrictions. Moreover, recent frequent flyer program terms changes dropped a shadow on the idea of air miles rewards.
In recent years, the game has changed. Now airline cards are competing with general travel cards that offer flexible reward points that can be either transferred to one of many frequent travelers programs or used as a statement credit to offset travel expenses.
In this competition, airline cards are still attractive for some customers, with many of them offering airline specific perks like a free first bag checked in, companion fare coupons, in-flight discounts, and priority boarding.
Let’s have a look at the best airline credit cards:
$25 annual fee
$0 first-year fee
reports to credit agencies
24 days grace period
unsecured card offer after 12 months
|intro purchase APR||regular APR|
|intro BT APR|
$450 annual fee
$300 annual travel credit
$100 credit on Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check
50,000 intro bonus for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
50% bonus on redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
$99 annual fee
2x on Southwest purchases
60,000 miles bonus
$95 annual fee, waived for the first year
first checked bag free
30,000 miles intro bonus
Mostly, airline cards charge you an annual fee ranging from $19 on a Spirit cobranded card to a $450 for a luxury pack of benefits on Delta SkyMiles Reserve. In return, you get a sign-up bonus after a first purchase or upon spending a qualifying sum on the card in the first month of the account. It is wise to consider if you are willing to qualify for the bonus before applying for the card.
Airline specific perks can be useful, with some of them offering really nice packages with free VIP lounge access around the world, companion ticket certificates, and additional benefits.
However, if you do not travel one preferred airline but would rather shop around for the best prices and connections, most of these benefits will be not relevant to you. Many airline frequent programs allow you to transfer your frequent flier miles to partner airlines, so sometimes it is useful to check all available options before redeeming miles for tickets. More opportunities to save arise when you consider that different airlines calculate fees and tax portions of the ticket (which you pay even if you use miles) differently.
It is always wise to mention that if you carry a balance on the card, you’d better find a low APR card instead. The interest you pay to the bank on your debt is much more than all the rewards and benefits games.
If you have an imperfect credit score or are new to credit and it is difficult for you to get approved for a credit card, there are also secured cards with good airlines rewards - Aero Mexico secured card is a good example.