How To Choose An Airline Miles Rewards Credit Card?

What Is An Airline Miles Credit Card?

Many airlines and/or credit card companies offer loyalty programs to their customers that include the privilege to earn airline miles, frequent flyer miles or travel points.

Customers must accumulate a set amount of miles by flying with a particular airline or by spending through their credit cards.

Every time you use your airline miles credit card to make a purchase, you’ll earn a certain number of miles. Once you have enough miles, you can use them to buy airline tickets.

In the airline miles universe, there are two ways to get points.

First, by signing up for a service through the airline itself or by using a credit card that offers rewards miles. Take note that some credit cards have tie-ups with specific airlines while other cards work on any airline.

If your credit card company tied up their miles program with your airline’s frequent flyer program, you may qualify for seat upgrades, priority boarding, free companion tickets or other benefits by using your rewards.

Are You A Good Fit For An Airline Credit Card?

The frequent flyers are the ones that benefit most from an airline card. They get more opportunities to earn extra miles when they buy tickets with the card.

The rewards are more suitable for their lifestyle so they get more opportunities to redeem them. Plus, they are the customers who have more opportunities to avail of the perks that come with the card.

Airline cards also come with bonuses that are large enough for a cardholder to get a free trip.

Factors to Consider When Choosing An Airline Credit Card?

Here are the top considerations when choosing airline miles rewards card:

Rewards Program

Airline and credit card rewards programs are not always similar.

They would have different redemption methods for the miles you earn so the way to earn them will differ in terms of value. The basic valuation is $0.01 for each airline mile.

However, you will find some credit card miles are worth more while other cards’ miles don’t even match up. What you should look out for are opportunities.

If you can find a rate of $0.02/mile, that’s okay.

However, if you can redeem them at a higher rate – around $0.03 or more per mile – that’s even better. You’re moving into the serious travel hacker level.

Perks, Discounts & Benefits

Sophisticated travel hackers have been making a killing with credit cards with air miles programs. They know how easy it is to score free plane tickets, hotel rooms, and travel first class by getting upgrades.

Look out for the additional benefits that you can get such as priority boarding, free use of exclusive lounges, seat upgrades, discounts on in-flight refreshments and a waiver of some restrictions on a budget or promotional fares.

Fees

Each credit card comes with its own set of fees. The good thing is, you don’t have to read each line and paragraph of the terms and conditions to find the fees of each card.

Most card companies list their most common fees prominently in their marketing materials. These are some of the fees that you may find:

  • Annual Fee. The annual fee is what you have to pay every year. This takes care of the convenience to use the company’s credit card. Some airline credit cards do not collect annual fees. But for most of them, expect an annual fee from them.
  • Foreign Transaction Fee. When you purchase something in foreign currency, the card company may charge you with a foreign transaction fee. This fee can come regardless of your physical location for as long as the transaction is in a currency other than U.S. dollars. Frequent flyers, who often make purchases abroad, find this very important. For them, aside from the annual fee, this is equally relevant.
  • Balance Transfer Fee. A balance transfer involves moving your existing balance on one credit card to your new card. For this convenience, the card issuer will charge a balance transfer fee. The fee is a percentage of the balance that you have transferred and it runs from 3% of the transaction amount of $5, whichever is bigger. The higher the balance you are transferring, the higher the transfer fee that you have to pay.
  • Cash Advance Fee. The card company will charge you a cash advance fee whenever you make a cash advance or an equivalent transaction. Equivalent transactions could be overdraft protection or credit card convenience checks.

Annual Percentage Rate

The annual percentage rate (APR) is the total interest rate that you’ll pay each year (or monthly rate X 12 months).

But don’t forget to account for the introductory rates or rates that change depending on the amount of balance you keep and the different rates that vary on what you use the card for.

When you use the APR to shop for a credit card, you want the lower number because it means less interest to pay.

These days, comparing interest rates is much more difficult. Many banks use the customer’s credit score to determine the interest rate.

So, unless you have excellent credit, it may best to get a card that has a single, fixed interest rate.

Pros and Cons of Airline Miles Cards

A word of caution: these pros and cons aren’t valid for all the miles credit cards.

Since they differ from card to card and each card has its own unique feature, make sure that you read and understand the specs of your mile credit card.

Great For Flyers

Airline cardholders can earn rewards points they can redeem for future flights, free stays in hotels, car rentals, and other unique rewards for using the airline card.

Offer Discounts And Perks

Because of their relationship with airline companies, airline credit cards offer carrier-specific perks that you won’t find in a general travel card.

They would be different for each card but they may include priority boarding, seat upgrades, discounts on in-flight meals and a waiver of certain restrictions on discount fares.

Free Checked Bags

This appears to be a uniform feature such that no matter which airline credit card you use, you can check a bag for free when you’re traveling with that airline.

Some airlines offer this exclusively for the cardholder but there are airlines that extend this privilege to a certain number of travelers found on the same reservation.

Airport Lounges

Your premium airline card can come with a high annual fee but it also comes with unlimited free access to airport lounges.

It provides you with a place to rest and refresh yourself in style before your flight during a layover.

Aside from comfortable couches and chairs, lounges have free Wi-Fi, food, drinks and some even offer premium wines and beers among other amenities.

Annual Fee

Airline credit cards come with an annual fee.

If you spend enough on the card every year such that you can offset the fee, then it doesn’t matter. When it comes to annual fees, compute for any perks that translate into a dollar amount so you can calculate if it will compensate for the fee.

Examples would be an annual credit or higher rewards rate for the mile that you travel.

Higher Interest Rates

Two things that set airline cards apart from a regular card is that they have a higher interest rate and an annual fee.

The question to ask is:

Would you be getting back more in the rewards program than what you will be paying for in interest and annual fee?

Points Expiration

You must redeem the points in a certain amount of time – generally within one year.

So, if you don’t travel enough, you won’t have the opportunity to accumulate sufficient points to claim some rewards.

It could also happen that you keep spending to accumulate points for a larger reward just to have your points lapse on you.

Limits Your Flexibility

Flexibility could be something that you might have to give up when it comes to airline cards. It could be a big disadvantage for a traveler.

Because your is airline-specific, you forfeit the opportunity to compare flights to get a better price, a more efficient route or a specific destination.

Your card and airline might limit your choices.

How Do You Redeem Your Credit Card Miles?

Once you have enough credit card miles, you can redeem them to get a free flight. If you are using points to claim a free ticket, make sure your schedule is flexible.

Airlines allocate only a certain number of award seats on each flight. Or there may be a different number of miles for the flights depending on the flight’s date and time.

Although you can redeem your miles for free or discounted flights, your airline still reserves the right to impose blackout dates and restrictions on destinations.

Some miles program will allow you to combine credit card miles or transfer between airlines.

But check the fine print when combining or transferring miles. You could lose miles in the conversion between programs.

Your credit card company will define the exact method for redeeming credit card miles.

Airline Credit Card Requirements

Like any credit card, an airline credit card would require you to have good or excellent credit.

Card companies make the best miles credit cards available only for a “prime” credit score of not less than 600 points.

If you’re looking to improve your credit through a credit card, you can try to get a co-branded airline credit card.

As you consistently make on-time payments to hike your score, you will also earn miles that can give you free flights in the future.

If your credit score is very low and you have trouble paying your bills on time, don’t apply for a credit card at all.

How Do You Maximize Your Airline Credit Card?

The basic rule in earning points and airline miles with a credit card is still the same: the more amount you spend, the more points you earn.

However, there are other ways to earn airline miles through your airline credit card. The good news is, they don’t always require that you spend money.

Get The Right Airline Credit Card For You

The most important step is to get an airline card that is most appropriate for your spending habits.

If you’ve been flying one particular airline for your travels, it’s a good move to get that airline’s credit card.

But if you’re not particular about one airline and use different companies when you travel, it pays more to get a generic travel credit card.

Consolidate And Trade Points

If you have several cards and each of them has your airline miles, consolidating them can increase their redemption value.

Look for services that help you manage your air miles and rewards – they may also help you trade, transfer and purchase points between your programs.

Look For Sign-Up Bonuses

Some cards front load a ton of bonus miles during the first few months of opening a new credit card if you spend a certain amount during that period.

Sign-up bonuses are a great way to jump-start your airline miles hoarding.

For example, some cards will immediately give you 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months after activating your card.

Try to Get An “Elite” Status

Attaining elite status by building your loyalty to a brand is the key to your successful points strategy.

As an elite member, you can receive enhanced customer service and upgrades. But the best part is those card companies give you bonuses on points and miles that you’ve earned on a regular basis.

Couple Up Your Cards

If you use your credit card extensively, it might be practical to get another travel credit card.

For example, you can have a combination of an airline credit card and a generic travel credit card that will allow you to transfer your points to that airline.

Then, you can decide which card to use for certain transactions to maximize your points earning.

Airline Credit Card Mistakes You Should Avoid

Credit card miles can be very beneficial and tempting. However, you should always make sure to avoid some common mistakes of credit card airline holders:

Spend More Just To Get Additional Rewards

Credit card companies hire think-tanks to come up with ways to pump up their airline rewards program.

This is why they dangle all sorts of offers for people to sign up – free flights, discounts, car rental deals, priority boarding privileges, seat upgrade rewards, etc.

Remember that if you have many credit cards, you may have a hard time keeping track of how much you are spending.

One other thing you should be aware of is that credit card companies structure their programs to push people to spend.

This is why they put an expiration date on your reward points. At first glance, this looks okay. But if your credit card rewards cause you to go deeper into debt, it’s never worth it.

Losing Value On Rewards Transfers

There are travel cards that offer 1:1 transfers to hotel and airline loyalty programs. But if you do the math, you might be transferring points or miles for a lesser value.

The Card Doesn’t Work With Your Favorite Hotel Or Airlines

Know how a card will fit your specific situation not just in terms of rewards per se. The rewards should be the right one for you in a sense that you can benefit from them.

Check how much value you are getting from your rewards. And always check for hidden costs that may offset the value of your rewards.

Paying Interest On Credit Card Debt

For the majority of Americans, credit card debt isn’t their only debt but it’s the most common one.

And in a situation where you have to pay off several debts (including big ones such as a mortgage), airline credit cards often go to the bottom of the list.

You should remember that airline credit cards have higher interest rates than ordinary cards.

The longer you put off settling this debt, the more interest you are accruing over time (which you still have to pay someday).

Bottom Line

Airline credit cards of different issuers are never identical so compare products before you make your final choice.

Get the card whose rewards are most appropriate for your travel and spending style.

As you shop around, learn everything about their point system, what and how you can earn, what flights are eligible for points, how many points you earn per flight, when the points expire, interest rates, annual fees, and other charges.

When you have all this information, it’s easier to pick the best card for your needs.

On average, you need to spend about $1,000 per month on the card to get some value out of it.

If at present, your present spending doesn’t come close to this benchmark, consider getting an annual fee-free credit card.

And if you expect to carry a balance from month to month, it’s wiser to go with a low-interest credit card rather than stick it out with an airline miles card.