If you have ever wondered if airline credit cards for frequent travelers are worth it, I’m about to let you in on my thoughts. After reviewing the many benefits of airline cards, I decided that it was time to get out from under my corporate credit card debt and to start making use of my airline miles instead. It is now just me, but I am telling you my story to help you decide whether airline cards are right for you, or if they are simply another rip off. Here goes.
Airline credit cards are usually co-branded or sold under two different brands: one being an airline reseller or network and the second a specific airline itself. You can typically use your card at virtually any organization in the network of the card issuer, and you’ll earn miles with the airline frequent-flyer program which you can use to purchase award flights with that airline as well as any others. This is excellent credit, because it means I don’t have to pay the annual fees and it is a lot easier to use than cash or traveler miles.
The problem I see with airline credit cards is that they are very limited in their reward programs. If you do earn enough miles per year, you may be able to get into a special travel program, such as the one Dining Club has, but you will be restricted to airfare rewards for that particular club only. Other benefits may be bonuses for hotels, rental cars, leisurely activities, etc, but again, you will only be able to redeem your points for those things. One great perk is that there are usually some sort of airline-related gift cards included in the reward package, however these can often only be used towards airline tickets. I can’t say that they’re worth the cost of the annual fee, but occasionally they do give you something you want anyway.
Another common complaint about airline credit cards is that they force you to earn airline miles through purchases and not just through cash transactions. I’m sure people aren’t forced to do it, but some people find that it’s inconvenient and annoying. In addition, some of these annual fees can increase your interest rate significantly and make it harder to pay off the balance, too. This is where my advice would differ from most people’s: Find a program that gives you the option to earn rewards without having to earn miles. If you’re a person who likes to earn rewards but doesn’t like the added hassle of earning them, this is definitely a program you should look into.
One complaint that often arises regarding airline credit cards is the hidden costs related to the cash advances, such as foreign transaction fees and other miscellaneous fees. Unfortunately, these fees are often much more than people realize, especially if they apply to purchases made using the credit card. Some companies even charge international shipping charges on purchases made using the cards! These hidden costs are annoying, but you can avoid them by reading the fine print and making sure the offer you’re considering offers everything you need to get the rewards you’re looking for.
The next complaint that tends to come up with airline credit cards is the fact that many of them require you to pay an annual fee and annual deposit before you can actually begin receiving any reward. These fees often serve to increase the cost of the entire balance. This is another area where you can save money by shopping around. Find the best cards out there and compare their offers in order to make an informed decision. Even though the annual fee may be high, if you transfer your balance to another introductory offer you’ll have absolutely no problem paying it off and eliminating your debt completely.
The other thing that often irks consumers about airline credit cards is the fact that many don’t allow you to charge items such as food, drinks, toiletries, snacks, movies, cigarettes or anything else that’s not a necessity. In addition to these stringent rules, some issuers even prohibit you from bringing your pet into the air lounge. Delta SkyMiles reserve the right to check bags, but Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines don’t. If you travel often and find yourself missing your connection because you have to wait in line for your bag, then this can be very inconvenient and cost you valuable time that you could otherwise use exploring the area you’re visiting or enjoying a leisurely flight. There are many other benefits to these types of cards besides simply having no junk fees attached.
For example, some airline credit card offers will give you a sign-up bonus. These bonuses may be used to purchase future plane tickets. This means you’ll be able to visit more places and spend more money! The same is true for any airline card that offers cash back bonuses. You can rack up points and use them to buy future tickets, gift cards for travel or any other item that has an annual fee attached. Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines offer the most attractive and beneficial deals, while American Airlines, US Airways and Caribbean airlines are slightly more reasonable.