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The Best Credit Card To Book Flights: Maximize Your Travel Rewards

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Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Disclosures.

When booking a flight, most people reach for their airline’s co-branded credit card to pay for the purchase. But is that really the right move? Are you giving up more benefits than you’re getting by using an airline’s credit card?

Co-branded airline credit card might not be the best credit card to book flights. There are other cards that offer perks airline cards don’t.

Benefits Of Using An Airline Credit Card

There are distinct advantages to purchasing your flight with an airline’s co-branded credit card. With most airline credit cards you’ll receive a free checked bag, priority boarding, and earn bonus miles for spending with the airline.

Resource: Learn more about Travel Rewards with the free ChooseFI Travel Rewards Course.

Free Checked Bag

Today’s travelers are conditioned to avoid checking a bag so they don’t have to pay the $30+ checked bag fee. However, if you’re a cardholder of the airline’s co-branded credit card and use it to pay for your flight, your checked bag is often free.

Depending upon the credit card benefits, multiple people on your itinerary may also receive a free checked bag as well. For a family of four, that’s a savings of $240 for a round-trip flight.

Priority Boarding

Without elite status for the airline you’re flying, you could be one of the last people on the plane. If you’re like me and don’t like to check bags, this spells trouble because all of the overhead bin space could be gone by the time you board.

One of my favorite airline credit card perks is priority boarding. There’s something special about being able to cut to the front of the line to board before others.

Keep in mind that you won’t board before first class passengers or those with elite status, but you will be able to zoom past a big chunk of the other travelers.

Here are the latest boarding orders for American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.

Earn Extra Miles

Airlines want to reward customers for using their credit cards, so cardholders receive additional airline miles whenever they use the credit card to buy tickets from them.

In most cases, the airline credit cards will only earn you one extra mile for every dollar that you spend. It’s not life-changing, but it is better than nothing.

Read: How To Plan Your First Trip With Travel Rewards

Discounted Food And Drinks 

You don’t have to pay for your flight to use this benefit, but if you buy food or drinks mid-flight, it can save you a lot of money.

Airline credit cards from American, Delta, JetBlue, and United save you 20% to 25% off when you get hungry or thirsty and buy a drink or food in-flight. The JetBlue Plus card goes even further by saving cardholders a whopping 50% on food and drinks during their flight.

Why You Shouldn’t Use An Airline Credit Card

As great as those airline credit card benefits are, there are several reasons why you shouldn’t use an airline credit card to buy your plane ticket.

Flexibility Of Airlines, Departure Times, And Routes

If you are focused on one airline, you’re missing out on other options that could get you to your destination faster, cheaper, or at a more convenient time.

Additionally, there are no benefits to buying a plane ticket on a different airline with your airline credit card. For example, if you find a better flight on American Airlines, buying your ticket with the United Explorer Card doesn’t offer any advantages.

For the ultimate in flexibility, you are better off buying a ticket with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard than using your points to eliminate the charge. Or you can use points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to buy the ticket.

New To Travel Rewards? This Card is For You!

If you are ready to unlock a world of free travel, start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Welcome bonus is worth $750 of travel, more if you transfer them to partners like Southwest Airlines or Hyatt hotels.
Details: $95 annual fee | $4k min spend in 3 months to earn 60k Chase UR Points.

Related: How Chase Ultimate Rewards Actually Work

Earn More Points Per Dollar Spent

Airline credit cards max out at 2 miles for every dollar that you spend with their airline. However, with the right credit card, you could be earning up to 5x points on that same flight!

Premium reward credit cards offer anywhere from 3x to 5x the points when you spend on travel. Those points can transfer to partner airlines, purchase travel like cash, or be cashed out to your bank.

Additional Benefits That Airline Credit Cards Don’t Offer

Although flexible points-earning credit cards don’t offer free checked bags and priority boarding, they have some great perks that airline cards do not.

Premium credit cards usually offer Priority Pass airport lounge access, multiple bonus point spend categories, and annual travel credits. See the chart above for examples of the annual travel credits offered by these premium credit cards.

Rewards Can Be Used For Other Airlines

When you use an airline credit card, the problem is that those miles can only be redeemed to fly on that airline or one of its partners. It is always better to have points that can be used in multiple ways, including transferring to your favorite airline.

Read: Travel Rewards Vs. Cash Back: How To Choose

The Best Credit Card To Buy Airplane Tickets

There are so many credit card options that it can be difficult to pick the one best credit card to book flights. When people ask me which credit card is the best one, I tell them it depends upon their goals. Where do they want to fly to and how do they want to fly?

Related Articles

If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI’s free travel rewards course.

Top Travel Rewards Offers

Top Travel Card

Ready to unlock a world of free travel? Start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Details: $95 annual fee | $4k min spend in 3 months to earn $750+ of travel.

Most Flexible Travel Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards can be used for almost any travel expenses.
Details: $95 AF | $3k spend in 3 months to earn $600 in travel.

Flexible Chase UR Points & Cashback Card

The Chase Freedom Flex has no Annual Fee (AF) and earns Chase UR points.
Details: No AF | $500 spend in 3 months to earn $200.

Best Card for Side Hustlers and Business Owners

Side hustlers! The Ink Business Preferred can earn you $1.25k+ of free travel!
Details: $95 annual fee | $15k spend in 3 months to earn $1,250+ of travel

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Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Disclosures.
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