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One of the big questions that came up both days at the New York Times Travel Show, was how airline credit cards play into an overall points and miles strategy. While I personally spend more on credit cards that accrue transferable points like the Sapphire Preferred, or the Premier Rewards Gold, since transferable points give me the flexibility I value to top up various airline and hotel accounts, many airline co-branded credit cards include valuable perks like free checked bags, the ability to earn bonus points, and even to spend your way to elite-qualifying miles. Here are some of the best current airline credit cards on the market right now and my thoughts on each. And remember the 50,000-point Southwest offers disappear tomorrow, so if interested, apply today.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
Current Bonus: 40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases40,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in 6 months (there’s also another offer for 30,000 miles with no spending requirement)
Benefits: Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchasesEarn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Coach Companion Fare every year from $118 (USD) ($99, plus taxes and fees from $19). No mileage cap. There’s no limit to the number of miles you can earn with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card
Earn 3 miles for every qualifying dollar in purchases of Alaska Airlines tickets, Vacation packages and Cargo purchases
Annual Fee: $75 annual fee not waived
Why Get It? Given all of Delta’s recent negative changes Alaska’s MileagePlan program is looking like a better and better option since it partners with both American and Delta, and its elites enjoy benefits on both. The airline also has an array of other valuable airline partners including British Airways, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Emirates and more.
American has several interesting credit cards offers out there at the moment that offer everything from mileage refunds to lounge access to earning elite-qualifying miles, so here are those you should be considering.
Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard
Current Bonus: 100,000 miles with $10,000 spend in 3 months
Benefits: Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Admirals Club membership privileges; 10,000 elite miles when you spend $40,000 on eligible within a calendar year; your first eligible checked bag is free, priority boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases; SmartChip technology; no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $450
Why Get It? Yes, the annual fee is steep, but if you’d be paying for Admirals Club membership anyway (and now you get access to US Airways Clubs as well), you might as well get this card’s extra benefits like the ability to spend your way to elite miles, plus a sign-up bonus that’s as high as we’ve ever seen it on this card. For more, see my post on the offer.
Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard
Current Bonus: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles and 2 Admirals Club one day passes after $3000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership
Benefits: Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Your first eligible checked bag is free, priority boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage miles back, reduced mileage awards, up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year, earn a $100 American Airlines flight discount every cardmembership year when you spend $30,000 or more on eligible purchases
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year.
Why Get It? Pretty much your standard airline card, this one is currently offering public bonuses of 50,000 miles and up to 60,000 miles to targeted individuals. Some of the specific perks that might make this card worth it to you is getting up to 10,000 redeemed award miles back each year and the elite-mimicking perks like free checked bags and priority boarding.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 American AAdvantage miles and 2 Admirals Club one day passes after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership
Benefits: Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and on purchases in select business categories including office supply, telecommunications and car rental merchants; 1 mile per $1 on everything else. Earn 5% AAdvantage mileage bonus with renewal of annual cardmembership; earn a domestic economy American Airlines Companion Certificate each year of cardmembership when you spend $30,000 or more in purchases and renew your cardmembership – redeeming certificate costs $120.60-$142.20; your first eligible checked bag is free, priority boarding with Group 1 privileges* and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases.
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year.
Why Get It? The bonus on this card is usually closer to 30,000-40,000, so this is as high as we’ve seen it for a while, and if you’re looking for a business credit card that accrues American Airlines miles, this could make a good companion to one of the personal AA cards.
British Airways Visa
Current Bonus: 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in 3 months.
Benefits: Earn 1.25 Avios per $1 on all purchases, 2.5 Avios per $1 on all British Airways purchases, earn a“Travel Together” companion ticket with $30,000 spend per calendar year; 10% discount on British Airways purchases; Chip & Signature technology; no foreign transaction fees. British Airways is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase and Starwood as well.
Annual Fee: $95
Why Get It? British Airways Avios can be tremendously useful for expensive short-haul redemptions, and this card’s other valuable benefits like the ability to earn a companion ticket that you can apply to awards in any class, the 10% flight discount and its 1.25X earning ratio all make it a good choice for Oneworld flyers.
Delta offers three personal and three business co-branded cards through American Express – the Gold SkyMiles Amex, the Platinum SkyMiles Amex and the Delta Reserve. All three will waive foreign transaction fees and come with EMV chips starting after May 1, but what’s important to know about each is that spending $25,000 on any of them in a calendar year exempts cardholders from having to meet Delta’s new Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements for elite status, and that the Platinum and the Reserve both come with the opportunity to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles if you hit certain spend thresholds. Note that you might be targeted for higher offers through the Card Match Tool, so be sure to check there first before applying, and though past offers on these cards have been higher, there’s no guarantee they’ll return. Here are the current details on each.
Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: 30,000 miles when you spend $1,000 in 3 months, and earn a $50 statement credit after your first Delta purchase for both cards. However you might find a higher bonus available through the Card Match Tool.
Benefits: 2X miles per $1 on Delta purchases, 1X miles on everything else. Check your first bag free for you and up to 8 people on your reservation – on every Delta flight, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings. On the Business version, save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings.
Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95, no annual fee for additional card.
Why Get It? The bonus on this card can get much higher, so I might hold off on signing up for this card for now.
Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: Get 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 35,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months and a $100 statement credit when you make your first Delta purchase within 3 months.
Benefits: 2X miles on Delta purchases, 1X on other purchases. First checked bag free for you and up to 8 people on your reservation. Earn up to 10,000 MQM’s a year (10,000 for $25,000 in calendar year spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for a total of $50,000 in calendar year spending, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings. On the business version, save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings, annual Companion Certificate for one roundtrip economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States.
Annual Fee: $150 before May 1, 2014, $195 after.
Why Get It? The bonus on this card can also get much higher, so check the Card Match Tool to see if you are targeted for one. It also holds value for those looking to boost their MQM’s through spending. The companion ticket might also be worth it for the Delta flyers out there and can easily offset the annual fee of the card if you maximize it.
Type: Personal or Business
Current Bonus: 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles and 10,000 bonus miles with the first purchase.
Benefits: 2X miles per $1 on Delta purchases, 1X miles on everything else. Delta SkyClub access for cardholder only, up to 30,000 MQM’s per calendar year with spend (15,000 at $30,000 and another 15,000 at $60,000). Free checked bag for you and up to 8 people on your reservation, Priority Boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings. On the business version, save 3% to 10% automatically on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax, and more with OPEN Savings, annual Reserve Companion Certificate for first/business (or economy) travel within the
Annual Fee: $450
Why Get It? The two major benefits of this card are membership in Delta SkyClub (though that benefit has been reduced to just the cardholder recently) and the ability to earn up to 30,000 MQM’s on it through spending, so if the spending threshold bonus is in your wheelhouse and Delta elite status is your goald.
So they’re interesting cards and are going to have some new perks like no forex fees, but the spending thresholds can be high.
The New Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus miles when you make $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: Enjoy a Complimentary Checked Bag for the primary cardholder when you use your card to purchase tickets directly from Hawaiian Airlines; receive a one-time 50% Off Companion Discount for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii & North America on Hawaiian Airlines; discounted award travel (5,000 miles off roundtrip award fares from North America to Hawaii); 2X miles per $1 on direct purchases from Hawaiian Airlines, 1X miles on everything else; earn up to 10X miles per $1 with participating partners; every membership year you spend $10,000 or more on the card, you get 5,000 bonus miles; primary Cardholders are eligible to earn a $100 discount off one coach companion ticket for roundtrip travel between Hawaii and North America on each credit card account anniversary; Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard cardholders can receive HawaiianMiles from friends and family online at HawaiianAirlines.com up to 10 times per calendar year; no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology.
Annual Fee: $89
Why Get It? Barclaycard just launched these products following the termination of BofA’s partnership with Hawaiian, so these cards are all-new and designed to entice cardholders with a slew of value-added perks like companion tickets, calendar year spending bonus miles, discounted awards and more. Plus, if you’re maxed out on Amex, Chase and/or Citi travel cards, or you’re looking for alternatives to get to Hawaii and beyond, you might consider taking a look at HawaiianMiles (and the program is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, so it’s easy to top up your account using those points. Not being a member of any of the three major alliances, Hawaiian Airlines also has some interesting partner redemption options. They are currently not part of any of the three major alliances but they partner with several different airlines including non-alliance partners such as: American, ANA, Korean Air, JetBlue, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, and in some cases, Hawaiian offers better redemption options.
Are you traveling mostly domestic or on limited international routes where Southwest flies? Now might be a great time to try the no-frills airline that throws in services like checked bags and ticket changes for free. Especially if you can leverage its credit cards to earn that super-valuable Companion Pass. Just be sure to apply by tomorrow while this bonus is still available.
Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa
Limited-Time Current Bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months – ends March 5.
Benefits: With this card you will earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways purchases as well as Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. This offer comes and goes, but the best time to apply is between October and December so that you hit the $2,000 spend requirement as early in the new year as possible if you’re gunning for the holy grail of travel rewards – the Companion Pass.
Annual Fee: $99
Why Get It? Chase periodically runs this bonus, but you never know if it will come back again. The sign-up bonus is worth almost $900 in Wanna Get Away fares until the devaluation March 31, 2014 after which it will be worth closer to $750 – so you might just be able to squeak in under the buzzer. Not only that, but these bonus points count towards Southwest’s Companion Pass qualification, which is one of the best frequent flyer program benefits out there, and if you get it now, it will be good through 2015 – nearly two years!
United currently offers two main credit cards through its banking partner, Chase. Unfortunately, neither of them will get you elite-qualifying miles (and United discontinued its MileagePlus Choices option to let cardholders redeem award miles for Premier-qualifying miles). They will, however, get you perks like free checked bags, lounge access and if you spend $25,000 on either of them in a calendar year, you’re exempted from United’s new Premier Qualifying Dollars elite spending requirements (except for 1K’s, who must spend $10,000 or more each year on tickets).
Here are the details on each and the other benefits they include.
Sign-up Bonus: The public offer is 30,000 miles with $1,000 spend in 3 months; but you might be able to apply for an offer of 50,000 miles with $2,000 spend in 3 months by walking into a Chase branch.
Benefits: Earn 2 miles per $1 on United, 1 mile per $1 on everything else. First checked bag free, priority boarding, two annual United Cllub passes, primary auto rental coverage and purchase protection, no forex fees.
Annual Fee: $95 waived for first year
Why Get It? United just devalued its award chart, so you’re going to need more miles than ever to redeem for some of those valuable awards like international business class both on United and partners. This card could be a good, quick way to pull in the bonus points you need for that redemption, and it comes with other great benefits like priority boarding and a free checked bag which can save you money if you’re flying a lot but not enough for elite status.
United MileagePlus Club Card
Sign-up Bonus: $100 statement credit after first purchase.
Benefits: 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, 1.5 United miles on all other purchases.First and second checked bags free, no foreign transaction fees, Hyatt Platinum status, priority check in, security, boarding and baggage as if you were an elite flyer, United Club access, no close-in booking fees on award tickets saving you $75 per booking.
Annual Fee: $395
Why Get It? Currently this is the only card that offers United Club membership, so if you’re interested in joining, you might as well get this card and the ability it gives you to earn 1.5 miles on every non-United dollar you spend (a 50% premium above most airline credit cards).
US Airways will be merging with American, but for now, the airline’s mileage program is separate from that of American and the airline’s co-branded credit card from Barclaycard is still available, so why not get in on it while it’s still around? Especially since it includes perks like a companion ticket and earning Preferred-qualifying miles?
US Airways Premier World MasterCard
Current Bonus: 40,000 miles after first purchase or balance transfer in the first 90 days.
Benefits: Receive an annual companion certificate good for up to 2 companion tickets upon approval and every year, 5,000-mile discounts on awards, 2X miles per $1 on US Airways purchases. Also receive 1 complimentary US Airways Club day pass and get first class check in and Zone 2 boarding. When a cardholder spends $25,000 or more in a calendar year, 10,000 of those miles will become Preferred-qualifying miles.
Annual Fee: $89
Why Get It? This card will stick around for a while, but they won’t be accepting new cardholders after mid-2015. So it’s a good idea to get this one at some point (but wait a little bit) and save some of the Citi AAdvantage cards for after the airlines have completed their merger. This has some great features including that calendar year spending bonus of Preferred-qualifying miles, a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus, priority check-in and boarding, and an annual companion ticket. All in all, it’s a great credit card product and a lot of potential bonus miles.
If you’re a transcon flyer or one who is mostly interested in domestic flights where Virgin America is present, now might be a good time to take their Elevate program out for a test drive. The airline also just partnered with Comenity Bank to offer a new set of credit cards including this one that can help you achieve elite status faster.
Virgin America Premium Visa Signature
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 15,000 Elevate bonus reward points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Other Benefits: Earn 3 points per $1 spent with Virgin America. Earn up to 15,000 status points every calendar year and carry forward any additional status points – 5,000 points per $10,000 you spend. No change or cancel fees on non-refundable fares. First checked bag free for you and a companion. $150 off a companion ticket every cardmember year. 20% discount on in-flight entertainment.
Annual Fee: $145
Why Get It? Virgin America ended its partnership with Barclaycard and introduced two new co-branded credit cards with a new partner called Comenity Bank in January. These cards are very much like the old versions including the Companion ticket (which if you max out compensates for the $149 annual fee), but you can earn 15,000 status points with $15,000 in spend rather than just 10,000 points with $10,000 in spend like on the old cards. That’s three quarters of the way to Elevate Silver status (earned at 20,000 status points per year). Virgin will charge you $100 to change or cancel a non-refundable Main Cabin ticket, so if your plans tend to change and you max out this benefit, you could also save hundreds of dollars. The points you earn also rollover, which can be a valuable benefit for Virgin flyers that’s sort of like Delta’s Medallion Qualifying Miles rollover benefit where any status points you earn above and beyond an elite status tier qualification are rolled over toward your qualification for the following year. So if you earned 30,000 status points in 2014, you’d qualify for Silver status and start 2015 with 10,000 status points already in your account toward 2015 status qualification – it’s a nice little head start. Finally, if you’re maxed out on Chase and Amex cards, or you already have the Barclaycard Arrival (the old issuer of the Virgin America cards), this might be a good opportunity to get a card from a new issuer.
For more information, check out the following posts: