Guide to Airline Credit Cards?

By Jackie Lam · March 15, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Airline Credit Cards?

An airline credit card is a category of credit card that allows you to rack up airline miles, among other cardholder benefits. These cards are usually co-branded with a particular airline. You can reap the perks of an airline credit card through purchases made on your card.

Airline credit cards are designed with the enduring and frequent flyer in mind. However, no two cards are alike. They can vary widely in terms of perks, restrictions, and perks, which you’ll need to consider when deciding if an airline credit card is worth it.

What Is An Airline Credit Card?

As mentioned, an airline credit card is a type of credit card designed for those who hop on planes frequently, such as avid travelers and those who fly a lot for work. Major network credit card networks and banks partner with airlines to offer co-branded airline credit cards.

They usually feature a rewards program, where you can earn points or credit card miles to redeem for flights, luggage fees, in-flight wifi, food and beverages, or upgrades to first class. Other perks might include reimbursement for canceled flights, insurance for lost baggage, and hotel room upgrades.

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How Does An Airline Credit Card Work?

When you put purchases on your airline credit card, you’ll earn points. You can later use these points for travel-related perks, such as flights, hotel stays, and free upgrades. Beyond a rewards program, an airline credit card might also feature benefits like free upgrades to first class, invitations to airport lounges, and an annual travel credit.

To redeem your points, you usually can book directly through the card issuer’s portal. Sometimes, you can transfer your points to one of the card network’s hotel or airline partners.

Unlike private label credit cards, where you can only use the card at one specific store or group of stores, airline credit cards can be used anywhere the credit card network is accepted.

Examples of Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards are a type of loyalty program for a particular type of airline, where you earn miles for making purchases with the card. However, there are several different kinds of airline credit cards:

•   General airline credit card: With a general airline credit card, you earn credit card points or milyoes for purchases, and you can redeem them for flights, upgrades, free wifi or in-flight food or beverage, and priority boarding or free checked bags. Some cards feature a sign-up promotion where you automatically get a certain number or miles or built-in travel perks.

•   Premium airline credit card: These have the gold cadillac version of airline card perks — think more points earned for each purchase, annual bonuses and travel credits, and access to exclusive airport lounges. As it goes, the greater the perks, the higher the annual fee. Premium airline credit cards tend to have higher annual fees than other types of airline credit cards. However, they generally aren’t quite as exclusive as, say, a black credit card.

•   Business airline credit card: This type of airline credit card is designed with the frequent business traveler in mind. Perks might include additional ways to earn higher points on business-related expenses, free upgrades to business class, a companion pass, and cards for you and your employees, which can help you earn miles more quickly.

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What to Consider Before Choosing an Airline Credit Card

The perks of an airline credit card are alluring. You’ll want to mull over these factors when shopping around for an airline credit card:

•   Fees: The more robust and attractive the perks, the higher the annual fee for a card likely is. That being said, there are a number of no annual fee credit cards in the airline credit card category that still offer perks.

•   Sign-up bonuses: Some cards will offer a sign-up bonus, such as a number of points for simply opening an account, or for spending a certain amount within a specified time frame.

•   Rewards: As you research cards, look at how you earn rewards as well as how many points you can earn for certain types of purchases. Also consider what types of rewards you’ll earn and if that’s a good fit for your spending. For instance, some people may prefer credit card miles vs. cashback.

Airline Credit Cards vs Travel Rewards Credit Cards

They might sound strikingly similar, and while airline and travel rewards credit cards both allow you to rack up credit card miles or points in return for rewards, an airline credit card is specific to an airline. In turn, you can only enjoy, say, free checked bags or flights with that specific airline.

Travel rewards cards, on the other hand, are more broad in how you can redeem miles earned. You typically use these more general rewards credit cards for any airline, hotels, and rental cars.

Both airline credit cards and travel rewards cards can come with added perks, such as credit card travel insurance. Additionally, both allow you to use them for any type of purchase. They also might feature no foreign transaction fees, like the credit card offered by SoFi.

When to Consider a General Purpose Travel Credit Card

A general travel credit card could be a good idea if you travel enough to make the most of the offered travel-related perks and rewards. It can also be a stronger choice than an airline credit card if you aren’t loyal to any particular airline carrier, or you don’t have a preference.

As usual, you’ll want to review the rewards program in addition to the perks, fees, rates, and restrictions on a card before making a decision.

Benefits of Airline Credit Cards

Unsure what the upsides are of an airline credit card? Here’s a look at the main benefits of having one:

•   Travel perks: If you hop on planes quite often, you can take advantage of an airline credit card’s rewards program. In turn, you can scoop up free flights, priority boarding, free checked bags, access to airport lounges, travel protection, and upgrades.

•   Discounts on the flight: Common in-flight discounts include money saved on wifi, meals and drinks, and on entertainment.

•   Sign-up bonuses: Some airline credit cards offer a generous sign-up bonus where you can scoop up points if you spend a certain amount within the first several months after opening an account. The exact terms will vary by card.

Airline Credit Card Cost

The cost of an airline credit card varies. Some have zero annual fees, while others can have an annual fee of several hundred dollars and upwards.

The annual percentage rate (APR) of an airline card also can vary. A particular credit card may advertise an APR range, though your rate will depend on your credit and financial situation.

Is an Airline Credit Card Right for You?

An airline credit card could be a good fit for you if you are a frequent flyer and love traveling on a particular airline. It’s important to carefully look over the perks, sign-up bonuses, and fees before moving forward with any particular airline credit card.

The Takeaway

An airline credit card could be a solid choice if you travel frequently and prefer to fly on one airline. Benefits can include travel perks, discounts, and sign-up bonuses, with rewards earned in the form of credit card points or miles. Before deciding if an airline credit card is a good idea, carefully research the perks and rewards and compare those against the fees, interest rates, and other travel cards.

In some cases, a more general rewards credit card might make more sense. With the SoFi Credit Card, for instance, you can earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases. You can then choose how to redeem those rewards, including using them to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


Is an airline credit card worth it?

Wondering if an airline card is a good idea? An airline credit card could be worth it if you are a frequent flyer and like to travel on a particular airline. However, it might not be worth it if you won’t end up using the rewards often enough to justify any annual fees on the card.

What are the benefits of booking a flight with an airline credit card?

Perks of booking a flight with an airline credit card might include free checked bags, bonus offers on miles, priority boarding, and lounge access. The perks vary depending on the card.

Do you lose airline miles if you cancel a credit card?

Typically no. Points or miles earned on an airline credit card usually will be transferred to the specific airline’s loyalty program account shortly after you cancel and close out your account.

Must airline credit card rewards be used all at once?

Usually, you can use your rewards points or miles at your leisure and discretion. You do not have to use them in one fell swoop. However, points on an airline credit card might expire after a period of inactivity.

Photo credit: iStock/Choreograph

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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