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 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.
|Airline||1st Bag||Bank Issuer||Credit Card||Baggage Fee Waiver|
|American Airlines||$30||Barclays||AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to four companions|
|Citibank||Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to four companions|
|Citibank||Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard||One for you and up to eight companions|
|Delta Airlines||$30||American Express||Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American Express||One for you and up to four companions|
|American Express||Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express||One for you and up to eight companions|
|American Express||Delta Reserve Credit Card From American Express||One for you and up to eight companions|
|Hawaiian Airlines||$30||Barclays||Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard||One bag for primary cardholder only|
|JetBlue Airways||$30||Barclays||JetBlue Plus||One for you and up to three companions|
|Southwest Airlines||$0||Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|Chase||Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Two bags free for each passenger|
|United Airlines||$30||Chase||United Explorer Card||One for you and one companion|
|Chase||United MileagePlus Club||Two bags free for you and one companion|
Remember that the free checked bag benefit for cardholders is generally limited to domestic flights. If you travel internationally, you'll often have to pay to check your bags.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Credit Card||Travel bonus||Transfer partners||Annual credit|
|The Platinum Card From American Express||5x flights and hotels||18 airlines||$200|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3x travel & dining||9 airlines; 4 hotels||$300|
|Citi Prestige Card||5x flights & dining; 3x hotels||15 airlines||$250|
|US Bank Altitude||3x travel & mobile payments||None||$325|
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.
|American Airlines||Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card; redeem for Marriott Flight & Hotel Packages|
|Delta Airlines||Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express||American Express Gold Card|
|Southwest Airlines||Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card||Chase Sapphire Reserve|
|United Airlines||United Explorer Business Card||Chase Sapphire Reserve|
No Blackout Dates
One of the main reasons why so many consumers have been turned off by airline miles is that they can be hard to use. The problem is that the flights they want to book are either blacked out or they are too expensive.
When you spend on a credit card that earns flexible rewards points, your options are much greater. You can book a flight using your points, transfer to an airline partner, or redeem for cash. These options virtually eliminate being blacked out for the date, destination, or departure time that you want to fly.
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?
Which Credit Card Gives The Best Air Miles?
To me, the best airline credit card is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card for two reasons. The signup bonus and spending on the credit card can earn the Southwest Companion Pass. And the benefits reduce the $149 annual fee close to zero.
Additionally, cardholders receive a $75 per year travel credit, four priority boarding passes each year, and 7500 Southwest points upon renewal.
Which Credit Card Gives The Best Travel Rewards?
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been the popular choice since its introduction a few years ago. However, I believe that frequent travelers will get more value out of the Citi Prestige Card. This travel credit card provides 5x points on flights and dining and 3x on hotels and cruises. The points are worth 1.25 cents towards travel, and there are 15 airlines that you can transfer points to.
Additionally, cardholders receive the 4th night free on paid hotel reservations and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. Each calendar year you'll also receive a $250 travel credit that can be used for any travel purchases on the Citi Prestige Card.
When booking a flight, it might seem, on the surface, like your co-branded airline credit card is the best choice to use. However, it's worth examining whether other cards offer more options like flexibility in flight times, no blackout dates, more points earned, and onboard perks. You want to get the best value for your dollar; you might as well start when you book your flight.
- Should You Pay An Annual Fee On A Credit Card
- How To Plan Your First Trip With Travel Rewards
- What Is The Best Credit Card For Your Family?
If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI's free travel rewards course.