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TravelHow to choose an airline credit card

How to choose an airline credit card

Airline credit cards offer carrier-focused benefits and the ability to earn points and miles with a specific airline.

But the right card for you will depend on several factors, such as your preferred airline, credit score, spending level and the benefits you value the most. With that in mind, here’s what you need to consider when choosing an airline credit card.

How to choose the right airline credit card for me

To find the airline card that best fits your travel lifestyle, we recommend that you start by asking yourself the following questions.

Do you have a preferred airline?

Airline credit cards offer the best earning rates and benefits for specific airlines and sometimes their partners. However, not everyone can stick to one particular airline when booking their flights.

Look at your flights over the past year to see which airline you fly with most often, or narrow it down to your top three. If the airlines vary and you’re more concerned with getting the cheapest fare regardless of the airline, you may want to bypass the airline card and consider a travel credit card with more flexible reward options instead.

However, if you always fly with the same airline because you live in a hub city or are working toward elite status (or you just like the airline), then you will benefit from an airline credit card. You just need to find the right card for that airline.

What’s your credit score?

Airline credit cards fall within the travel credit card category. Travel credit cards require a good to excellent credit score, anywhere from 690 or higher. You may be approved for an airline credit card with a lower score, but know that your options may be more limited.

Do you check bags?

One of the best perks airline credit cards offer is the ability to check one or two bags for free, depending on the airline credit card. This benefit applies to the cardholder flying and sometimes their companions booked under the same reservation.


U.S. carriers charge for checked bags when you fly economy on domestic and select international flights. In fact, several major U.S. airlines recently increased their checked-bag fees. So, having an airline credit card that can save you up to $40 per bag per flight is a major win for frequent flyers who check bags often.

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Related: These 26 credit cards can get you free checked bags

How much will you spend on the card?

Understanding your spending habits can help you choose the right airline credit card. All airline credit cards allow you to earn miles for their frequent flyer program. For example, suppose you hold an American Airlines credit card, such as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (see rates and fees).

You will earn 1 Loyalty Point per dollar spent on all purchases. The more you spend, the more Loyalty Points you earn, helping you achieve elite status with the airline faster.


Some issuers have several cards for the same airline, such as American Express and its cobranded Delta cards. If you’re not a high spender, you may be better off with the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which offers no benefits for high spend but has no annual fee (see rates and fees).

On the other hand, if your spending is high and you want to be rewarded, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card may be the better choice. You’ll earn a boost of 1 Medallion Qualification Dollar for every $10 you spend, which will help you achieve Delta elite status faster.

What are the card benefits?

In addition to miles, you want to consider the other benefits a card offers. If you’re satisfied with basic benefits such as a free checked bag and priority boarding, aim for an airline card with a low annual fee.

However, if you want to earn bonus points toward elite status, statement credits, airport lounge access and complimentary upgrades, then go for the airline credit card with higher annual fees. They tend to offer those additional perks.

Should I use an airline card for everyday spending?

If you’re loyal to an airline, striving for elite status or looking to boost your miles balance with a specific airline, using an airline card for everyday spending makes sense. However, many airline credit cards lack the benefits that are geared to everyday spending.


For example, not all airline credit cards offer purchase protections or extended warranty. So, although you are earning airline miles on your purchases, you may be out of luck if you’ve purchased a big-ticket item, like a television or a laptop, and need to file a claim.


You also may want to avoid using an airline credit card for everyday spending if the earning rates are low.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card earns 2 miles per dollar (worth 1.2 cents per mile, according to TPG valuations) at restaurants, whereas the Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3 points per dollar (worth 2.05 cents per point).

In this scenario, putting dining purchases on the Sapphire Reserve would benefit you as you earn more per dollar spent than with the Delta SkyMiles card. Plus, you earn transferable points, which can provide value far beyond Chase’s and TPG’s valuation if you transfer points to partner airlines.

Bottom line

Airline credit cards are your best bet for earning miles with a specific airline, not to mention the additional perks you can enjoy every time you fly. Picking the right airline credit card comes down to your ability to stick to one airline, your travel needs and your spending habits.

It’s always worth the extra time researching which airline and its credit card will benefit you as well as how you can leverage the miles, perks and benefits to enhance your travel experience.


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