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Airline credit cards come with lots of great perks, but many folks don’t know exactly what they’re entitled to. TPG reader Cuong tweeted me and asked if it’s necessary to use his United Club Card to purchase the airline ticket in order to get the card’s benefits when traveling. Here was his question:
“@thepointsguy, Is it true that you don’t get premier access level if you don’t use United MileagePlus Club card to purchase tickets?”
The good news is, you can still get the card’s benefits even if you purchase your ticket without using the United MileagePlus Club card. Here’s how it works:
Once you apply and get a co-branded card for an airline, they attach that profile to your frequent flyer account. Anytime that frequent flyer membership number is associated with a ticket, you get most of the benefits of the card you carry – whether you purchase your ticket with the card or not. Therefore, it’s not purchasing the ticket with this card that gives you the benefits, it’s simply having the account open that will allow you to take advantage of these perks. The one exception with the club card is the free checked bag waiver. Per the card’s terms, “To receive first and second checked bags free, the primary cardmember must include their MileagePlus number in their reservation and use their MileagePlus Club Card to purchase their ticket(s).” So be sure you do. You also wouldn’t earn extra miles that you would by purchasing United tickets using the card, which is 2 miles per $1 (and 1.5 miles per $1 on everything else).
For example, having a Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card will give you the option to pay with miles that only Delta cardholders can get. Once you get approved for the card it will automatically be linked to your SkyMiles account. Now that the new Medallion Qualifying Dollars program is in effect, your account information will also show you how much you spend throughout the year since you can spend $25,000 on a co-branded Delta Amex instead of meeting the tier-based spending requirements on Delta tickets.
You can take advantage of the benefits like a free checked bag and priority boarding even if the ticket wasn’t purchased with your Delta Gold American Express card.
So, to put it simply, just having the co-branded credit card open will usually allow you exercise a card’s extra benefits whether you use it to purchase your ticket or not. In fact, in many instances, it might be better to use another card to make those ticket purchases anyway. For instance, in Cliff’s case, he might want to use a Sapphire Preferred instead since that gives him 2.14X points per $1 (including the 7% annual points dividend) on travel purchases including airline tickets, and he can then transfer those to his United MileagePlus account if he so chooses, and he’ll still get the premium access he wants, though not hte baggage fee waiver.
If you’re a Delta flyer and have the Amex Premier Rewards Gold, you earn 3X points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines and can transfer those to your Delta account, so that’s an extra mile per $1 right there compared to the Delta Gold SkyMiles Amex. For more information, check out my post on the best sites and credit cards to maximize points on airfare purchases.