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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressCiti Prestige CardCitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

While big welcome bonuses and earning opportunities often get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to discussing travel rewards cards, many of their benefits go beyond just the opportunity to rack up points and miles. In fact, some of the best reasons to carry an airline credit card are the perks it can get you when you are actually traveling, like free checked bags, priority boarding, lounge access, onboard discounts and more.

Here are seven places in the airport and on the plane where carrying the right card can save you time and money.

Shot of queue of passengers waiting at boarding gate at airport. Group of people standing in queue to board airplane.(Photo by izusek/Getty Images)
Having the right credit card can help you avoid lines like this at the airport. (Photo by izusek/Getty Images)

1. The Check-In Counter

There’s no more stressful way to start your travel experience than pulling up to the airport to see a huge line at the check-in counters snaking through the terminal. Luckily, several airline co-branded cards earn you the elite-like benefit of priority check-in so you can hop into a shorter line and get formalities over with faster.

Among the cards that confer this perk is the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, whose members can access priority check-in lines at the airport. The United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Club Business Card come with United’s Premier Access, which includes entry to designated priority check-in counters.

People waiting at baggage claim line terminal of the international airport. Airplane travelers waiting for luggage from a conveyor belt. (Photo by izusek/Getty Images)
So many airline credit cards can save you fees for checking luggage. (Photo by izusek/Getty Images)

2. The Baggage Check

If you have an airline credit card, you get a free checked bag, right? This benefit is not quite as simple as it sounds. The policy can vary widely depending on your card, and may include provisions such as having to actually use your card to purchase your ticket, rather than just being a cardholder. Here are a few major airline cards and the specific conditions under which their free checked bag benefit applies.

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card is fairly generous when it comes to checked bag fee waivers. The cardholder and up to six other passengers on the same reservation get a free checked bag on Alaska flights.

The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard also save cardholders at the baggage counter. The first two offer a free checked bag to cardholders and up to four companions on the same reservation on American and affiliate flights domestically. The Executive card benefit applies to as many as eight travel companions. Those with the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and AAdvantage Aviator Silver cards get their first checked bag for free along with up to four companions (eight with the Silver) on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.

American Express’s Delta co-branded cards have what is probably the most comprehensive checked baggage fee waiver. The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, and Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card all get cardholders a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation on a Delta or Delta Connection flight.

With the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, primary cardholders get one complimentary checked bag on domestic Hawaiian Airlines flights on tickets purchased directly from Hawaiian Airlines using their card.

If you have the JetBlue Plus Card, you and up to three travel companions on the same reservation are eligible to check one bag each for free on JetBlue-operated flights if your ticket purchases have been made with your card and include your TrueBlue member number.

The United Explorer Card and United MileagePlus Club cards, as well as their business versions, all come with free checked bags for the primary cardholder and one traveling companion on the same reservation (one bag per person with the Explorer, and two with the Club Card), but you must use your card to purchase the tickets.

3. The Security Line

Some cards that offer priority access, which might also include priority check-in and boarding, take it one step further and even let you access priority security lines — not counting cards that offer a TSA PreCheck application fee waiver, which we’ll discuss below.

Along with up to eight travel companions, Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard members can access priority check-in and security screening (where available).

Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve for Business cardholders and other travelers on the same reservation are entitled to enter the expedited Sky Priority security line with their printed boarding pass at participating airports.

As part of the Premier Access they confer, the United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Club Business Card let cardholders and companions on the same reservation use priority security lines. Just note that Premier Access is only available on United and United Express-operated flights, while codeshare partner-operated flights are not eligible.

Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve for Business cardholders are also given access to Sky Priority security lanes at participating airports.

Get a complimentary enrollment in the Boingo Preferred Plan. (Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images)
Several premium credit cards include access to airport lounges. (Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images)

4. The Lounge

All three US legacy carriers field premium credit cards that offer airline lounge access or outright club membership as one of their benefits.

The Citi / AAdvantage Executive Card is the most generous of these. Primary cardholders get full American Airlines Admirals Club membership while authorized users, of which you can add up to 10 for free, receive Admirals Club access. All can bring immediate family members or up to two other guests in along with them for free.

The Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve for Business come with complimentary Delta Sky Club access for the primary cardholder and two guests at a discounted rate of $29 each when traveling on a Delta flight.

The United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Club Business Card offer United Club membership (valued at up $550 per year for non-elites) and get the primary cardmember and eligible travel companions into United Club locations and participating Star Alliance lounges.

If your loyalty or travel is spread across several airlines, it might be worth getting a credit card with a more generalized lounge benefit. The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express will both get you into Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta, along with Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges and Airspace lounges. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card all come with some version Priority Pass membership and access to over 1,000 lounges worldwide.

Don’t lose out on overhead space if you have priority boarding privileges with your credit card.

5. The Boarding Gate

Even if your card gets you free checked bags, you might still want to carry on because of tight connections, or just not having to wait at the baggage claim when you get to your destination. In those instances, having an airline credit card that gets you onto the plane faster can mean the difference between scoring an overhead space for your bag, or having to gate check it.

While many airline cards offer this benefit, it has been downgraded by some of them lately from “priority boarding” to the innocuous-sounding “preferred boarding,” which comes after all the premium fliers, elites and folks needing extra time, but before the general hoi polloi. That should still be good enough to let you board the aircraft before those overhead bins fill up, though.

The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum World Mastercard, AAdvantage Aviator Red and AAdvantage Aviator Silver cardholders can board the plane after priority boarding but before the rest of economy boarding along with up to four companions on the same reservation (eight with the Aviator Silver), while Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard cardholders and up to eight travel companions get on at the same time as AAdvantage Gold and Oneworld Ruby elites.

All three Delta cards from American Express entitle cardholders and up to eight other passengers traveling in the same reservation to Zone 1 boarding (after first class and elites) on Delta flights.

The United Explorer Card and United MileagePlus Club Card, plus their business versions, get you on before general boarding but after Premier elites and those with Premier access.

Save on in-flight food and beverage purchases with your co-branded credit card.

6. Your Tray Table

Now that many airlines charge for onboard food and beverage service as well as entertainment, they also offer co-branded credit cardholders discounts on such purchases.

Both the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, its business version, and the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard come with a 25% savings benefit on in-flight purchases of food and beverages, as do Barclaycard’s AAdvantage Aviator cards.

All the Delta Amex cards offer a 20% discount in the form of a statement credit on pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets on Delta-operated flights.

The JetBlue Card and JetBlue Plus Card both offer the highest in-flight savings — a rate of 50% off eligible in-flight purchases including alcoholic beverages, meals and movies on JetBlue flights.

7. Customs and Immigration

Finally, several high-end travel rewards cards offer a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee waiver as part of their perks portfolios. This can save you time not only on the outbound portion of your itinerary, but also on your return if you have to go through customs and immigration.

Among the cards that offer a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee waiver are the Amex Platinum and Business Platinum cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card.

Bottom Line

Carrying the right airline credit card can not only earn you significant mileage bonuses, but also time- and money-saving benefits that make the airport experience that much easier. It pays to know your card’s specific benefits so that you can maximize them on your next trip through the airport.

Featured photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), up to a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at Marriott and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,200 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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