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Advertisements for airline credit cards are plastered everywhere when researching flight options, walking through the airport terminal, or waiting to take off. Cardholders can receive special perks with the most prominent being free checked bags, priority boarding, and in-flight savings. If you love to travel, it’s fair to ask, “Are airline credit cards worth it?”
When Airline Credit Cards Are Worth It
Getting a co-brand airline credit card can help you save money and earn more travel rewards in these situations.
Want Free Checked Bags
A credit card offering a free first checked bag for you and at least one travel companion is well worth it if you check a bag for at least one or two flights per year. Your cost savings offset the annual fee and any money saved after that is a bonus.
Ammm72 says, “For my Delta Gold Card, 2 round trips with checked bags make up the annual fee and then some. Or, 1 round trip with 2+ people checking bags. Really a no-brainer for even semi-frequent flying.”
Which credit card has the best flight benefits?
The Delta SkyMiles credit cards and the American Airlines credit cards have the most generous free checked bag benefits, as the primary cardholder and up to 8 companions can check a bag for free. At $30 per bag, that’s a potential savings of $270 for a one-way flight and $540 round-trip.
Tip: It’s important to note that authorized users do not have standalone free checked bag benefits as they may have other card perks. Only the primary cardholder and companions listed on the same itinerary do. If you travel separately from the primary account, it’s better to apply for your own credit card to enjoy this benefit at all times.
Dive Deeper: The Best Credit Cards With Checked Bag Fee Credits
Loyal to One Airline
Another reason why airline credit cards are worth it is when you are loyal to one particular airline or its partners. Co-branded airline credit cards are also worth it when you fly constantly with one airline so you can enjoy more benefits without having airline elite status.
Common incentives include:
- Earn airline miles on every purchase
- Flight credits after reaching annual spending challenges
- In-flight discounts
- Priority boarding
- Free or discounted airline lounge access
- Free checked bags
- Award flight credits after each card anniversary
Airline miles tend to be the most valuable type of credit card point/mile. Accumulating points/miles with one carrier can make sense if you live near a major hub. You can easily use your miles for carrier-operated short domestic flights or use an alliance partner for international trips.
Earn Airline Elite Status
You can also have an easier time qualifying for airline elite status. Several co-branded rewards credit cards let you gain elite-qualifying points with each dollar you spend.
For instance, American Airlines credit cards can earn 1 Loyalty Point per mile earned on purchases.
The incentives differ by airline and card option. The ones with a higher annual fee are more likely to offer elite status multipliers as these cards cater to the most loyal passengers.
Valuable Signup Bonus
Airline credit cards usually have valuable signup bonuses with slightly lower spending requirements than flexible travel credit cards. As a caveat, the most valuable credit card offers can have a high spending minimum, but you also have more miles to pay for an expensive trip.
It’s common to earn from 50,000 miles with entry-level cards and up to 100,000 miles with premium cards or during limited-time promotions. Miles are usually worth 1 cent or more, making the above signup bonus value worth between $500 and $1,000.
Downsides To An Airline Credit Card
So, are airline credit cards worth it? Skipping the airline-exclusive benefits may feel like a hard decision to make. Still, it can be the better choice due to the reasons below.
You Have Many Airline Options
You may have more latitude with which airline you fly if you live near a major airport offering several legacy carriers and discount airlines. Additionally, you may need wide flexibility if you fly to many destinations as certain airlines have better flight options and prices for select routes, including from alternate airports.
In these cases, a flexible rewards credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, or a premium product like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card can be the better choice. You will earn bonus points on travel purchases and can redeem your points with nearly any airline.
Many of the best credit cards for travel also offer 1:1 point transfers that can help you book directly from the airline instead of through a third-party booking site.
Card Comparison: Capital One Venture X vs Chase Sapphire Preferred
There’s An Expensive Annual Fee
The annual fee for the airline credit card you want can be too expensive in relation to your desired air travel benefits. Cards with higher fees typically offer more benefits, but you may choose a cheaper offering if you want to not use the luxury benefits.
You may agree with the candid opinion of Maxpowr9, “If you’re mostly a domestic traveler, spending any more than $95 AF on an airline credit card is likely a waste.” While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all annual fee, it’s an accurate assessment that a flexible travel credit card with an annual fee below $100 is a good fit for most travelers, including those who make frequent trips.
The major domestic airlines offer a handful of cards with different annual fees that can be as low as $0. Compare the card benefits and decide if they are worth the fee.
No Ongoing Value
You may have signed up for an airline credit card to earn a signup bonus and save money on a trip or two. However, now that the card anniversary date is approaching, it’s time to decide if it’s worth paying the renewal fee.
In this case, you may decide to cancel or downgrade after the first year. To avoid potential penalties or signup bonus clawback, it’s common to pay the renewal fee and have the card open for at least 12 months before changing your account details. Alternatively, you can try the $0 annual fee travel cards.
Is Now A Good Time To Try For An Airline Credit Card?
So, now that you’ve decided that yes, airline credit cards are worth it, should you get one now? As with any credit card application, you should be strategic about which airline credit cards you try. There are several exciting credit card signup bonus offers you can qualify for.
Below are several suggestions to help you decide if now is the best time to show your airline loyalty.
Focus On Major Airlines At Your Home Airport
To make sure you don’t earn airline miles that can become worthless, you might get a card from a major carrier. That might be:
You Want To Earn Airline Miles
Getting a card now lets you earn airline miles on each purchase. Many frequent flyer programs no longer have mileage expiration dates. But if your preferred airline does (for instance, American Airlines points do expire), each purchase renews your balance.
You Have A Flexible Travel Schedule
A flexible travel schedule makes it easy to find the best award flight prices. An airline credit card may help you avoid close-in booking fees or qualify for complimentary upgrades.
It may take several months before you start redeeming your miles for award flights. For example, you may pay cash for flights if you find a good deal. A good strategy may be to save your miles for when flight prices increase but continue earning miles on daily purchases as you wait.
Is it worth it to get an airline credit card?
An airline credit card can be worth it if you’re loyal to a particular airline. The card can help you earn miles or use benefits like lounge access or free checked bags. The purchase rewards and benefits should be worth more than the annual fee.
Also, make sure you try when you can qualify for the signup bonus. Most bonuses require you to spend between $1,000 and $5,000 in the first 3 months.
If the rewards are worth less than the annual fee, you should consider a flexible travel rewards credit card instead. This card lets you redeem points for multiple airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies. You may also earn bonus points on all travel purchases instead of only for that airline.
What credit score do you need to get an airline credit card?
In most cases, you can qualify for an airline credit card with a credit score of 650 or above. Cards with no annual fee have the easiest approval odds. Premium cards with a higher annual fee require an “excellent score” to get instant approval.
Most banks offer free credit card pre-approval. This soft credit check doesn’t hurt your credit score and lets you see which cards you most likely qualify for. However, you will still need to submit an official application. This application results in a hard inquiry.
How do you get approved for an airline credit card?
You will need to try for an airline credit card from the issuing bank’s website. Seeking pre-approval can help determine your approval odds. Pre-approval is free and takes less than five minutes to request.
Another option is using a credit card comparison tool like CardMatch™. Once you find a card you like, you will try for your desired card on the bank website.
Most banks provide an application decision within one minute. If your approval odds are questionable, the bank may take several days to perform a manual review. This is possible if you have a relatively low credit score, low income, or high monthly expenses.
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An airline credit card is worth it when you can use the card benefits several times per year. Typically, you can offset the annual fee after one or two trips with checked bags. A rewards credit card with flexible redemption options can be better when you’re not loyal to a particular airline or won’t benefit from elite-level perks like free checked bags or priority boarding.
Now can still be a good time to try for an airline credit card if you plan on flying regularly with an airline and can earn the signup bonus. However, you may also choose a flexible travel rewards card that lets you redeem your credit card points for multiple travel brands.