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How to Choose an Airline Rewards Credit Card

Travel credit cards are a great way to earn rewards for both travel and everyday purchases. Airline credit cards are especially great for those who frequently travel – either for work or play – and can help you get a free trip, travel-class upgrade, or even lounge access just for using the card! But what are the best airline cards, and how should you choose an airline rewards credit card that suits your needs?

Should You Get an Airline Rewards Credit Card?

First things first – is an airline rewards card the right option for you? Many people never stop to take into account if they qualify for an airline rewards card, but if you don’t need the additional hard inquiry on your credit score without the benefit of actually receiving a credit card at the end, applying may cause harm to your ability to get a card in the future. Typically, most airline rewards credit cards require either good or excellent credit to qualify. The reason behind this hurdle is that often these types of cards come with pretty great benefits and introductory perks, and credit issuers are wary of simply giving away free money to risky applicants. If you don’t have excellent credit, however, fear not: there are still rewards cards available. The Discover It Secured Card or the Aeromexico Visa® Secured Card are two such examples for reward cards that offer good perks and rewards for those who either have bad credit or no credit history at all.

What to Look for In an Airline Rewards Credit Card

Now that the nitty-gritty is out of the way, let’s dive in a look at what makes a great airline rewards card. When it comes to airline cards, there are dozens of things that could be considered, depending on the wants and needs of each individual. There are, however, a few key things that all travelers should be looking out for.

Airline Alliances and Codeshare Agreements

One of the main reasons people get airline rewards credit cards is that they frequently travel with an airline and want to get rewarded for their loyalty – and that makes total sense. One of the great things about many airline cards, that people often overlook however, is the ability to earn miles or points with several different carriers. Many of the biggest airlines in the world are members of global alliances. Delta, for example, is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance, which also includes Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, Korean Air, and others. United is a member of Star Alliance, which also includes Avianca, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and many more, while American Airlines is in the Oneworld Alliance, also featuring heavy hitters like Qantas and British Airways. These alliances allow people with co-branded credit cards from one carrier to earn – and redeem – miles with any other carrier in the alliance, which provides great value. What, though, if you don’t fly with one of these carriers, but someone like Alaska Airlines or JetBlue? While these carriers may not be a member of a global alliance, they do have what is called “codeshares” with other airlines which can help you out in a big way. Alaska, for example, has a codeshare agreement with British Airways (amongst others), which means Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card earn miles when flying with Alaska or British. It gets even better, as Alaska Airlines’ frequent flyers can rack up serious miles – Alaska is one of the few carriers that earns miles based on miles flown, not the price of a ticket – and use them towards a vacation airfare with British.

Flexibility of Rewards

Rewards flexibility is another key consideration when it comes to airline rewards credit cards. Many airline rewards cards – especially those tied to frequent flyer programs, such as Delta’s SkyMiles – have fairly strict terms of redemption, usually for flights with SkyTeam, seat upgrades, lounge access, or bookings with select hotel partners. General travel rewards cards, such as the Spark® Miles Select from Capital One® or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offer much more versatile earning and rewards, which can be spent with greatly reduced restrictions, or transferred to loyalty or frequent flyer programs as you please.

Perks

Before you apply for a rewards card – regardless of the type – always be sure to check out the benefits and perks cardholders can expect from membership. As a rule, the higher the annual fee, the better the perks. Cards with annual fees around $495 will usually offer lounge access, either unlimited or for a set number of visits; cards with an annual fee in the $$249 to 295 range will offer some lounge access (usually 1 or 2 trips per year); and cards with no annual fee will often provide no lounge access. The same rationale applies for other perks, such as frequent flyer tiers with airlines or alliance partners. By taking the time to consider what you want out of a credit card, such as lounge access, membership tiers, seat upgrades, etc. you can whittle down the list to find the ideal card for you.

Foreign Transaction Fees

Foreign transaction fees are something many people overlook when looking into a travel rewards credit card, but they shouldn’t. After all, what good is an airline card if you must pay to use it when you are traveling overseas? While many cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, some do, meaning it’s vital to at least peek at the “terms & conditions” before hitting the apply button.

Card Acceptance

One final thing you should always consider before applying for an airline rewards credit card – or any credit card for that matter – is whether you can use the card where you plan to travel. Many credit card types, such as Mastercard or Visa, have great acceptance worldwide, while other cards, such as American Express or Discover, have limited acceptance in different parts of the world.

Find Your Perfect Airline Rewards Credit Card

If you are looking for the best credit cards available today, make sure to check out some of the reviews on BestCards.com. We have a comprehensive collection of all the leading credit cards, including impartial reviews and a detailed run-down of all the key facts and figures you need to make an informed decision. Whether you are looking for a travel rewards card, a hotel rewards card, a cash back credit card, or even a secured credit card to help boost your poor credit, our expert team is here to help! And if you want a more detailed look at airline rewards credit cards, including the perks you can expect both every day and at the airport, in-depth looks on how to earn and redeem miles, and a balanced opinion on each card’s merits and weaknesses, check out AirlineCards.com. AirlineCards.com also offers an extensive – and constantly growing – resource guide to help you get the most out of your miles.

About: Cory

Cory is BestCards.com's resident rewards expert, covering all facets of the points game – especially travel, hotels, and airlines. In addition to credit cards, Cory finds that jogging, cats, and memes are essential parts of a balanced day.