If you work for an airline or have a buddy pass, which credit card should you get?
A lot of our articles about credit card strategies discuss earning miles that you can use for free flights to get where you want to go — the beach, a family reunion or even a cruise port. But what if you already get free flights and don't care about this aspect?
Anyone who works for an airline or has a buddy pass falls into this segment, and we admittedly haven't covered this topic previously. TPG reader Kenzie reached out to us asking about credit cards for people who already have free flights at their disposal, and it deserves coverage.
Let's look at how to build a credit card strategy if you work in or are connected to the airline industry and regularly fly for free.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Master the basics first
Before we talk about the unique credit card strategy for people who already receive free flights, there are some basic concepts from our beginners guide to keep top of mind:
- Starting with getting Chase credit cards is typically best due to the issuer's 5/24 rule.
- Transferable points are more valuable than fixed-value points or points that only work in one loyalty program.
- You should always pay your credit card bill in full each month to avoid interest and protect your credit score.
- It's useful to have a long-term credit card strategy to help you amass as many points and miles as possible while meeting your travel goals.
Once you've got a good grasp of the above, you can start mapping out your credit card strategy.
What should your credit card strategy be if you fly for free?
With the above general advice in mind, the next step in your credit card journey should be to consider what travel categories you'd like to use your credit cards for. While you won't need to focus on airlines because you fly for free, you'll want to have credit cards that cover other aspects of travel, such as hotels, cruises, trains, taxis and buses. You'll also want credit cards that provide important travel protections for things like trip cancellations, trip delays and lost and delayed luggage.
To map out your credit card strategy, start by thinking about these questions:
- What are your travel goals? Do you want to backpack across Southeast Asia, stay in an overwater bungalow on a remote island, rent an Airbnb with friends in a European capital, take a cruise to Antarctica or something else? Look at how credit card points and miles can help you accomplish these goals and ensure that your earning strategy aligns with your redemption goals.
- What is your travel style? This is similar to the above question, but consider whether you want to spend a few nights at an ultra-luxury property or prefer to stretch your points by staying at cheaper hotels, backpacker hostels or vacation rentals.
- Who will go on these trips with you and how will they contribute? If your travel is primarily with co-workers — who also get free flights thanks to working for an airline — your strategies will probably align well. You could all chip in some points for a hotel together or take turns redeeming points for different aspects of an upcoming trip together. However, if your travel partner is someone who doesn't qualify for free flights, this will change your earning strategy. This person may need to earn some airline miles while you earn points for the hotel.
Then, look at what points can help you achieve your goals. More often than not, transferable points will help you the most since these offer terrific value and the greatest range of redemption options. For travel expenses that require paying with cash, a fixed-value card or a card with a "purchase eraser" feature can help you out. Hotel credit cards may be of use, too, if you find yourself favoring a particular hotel brand.
Transferable-points credit cards
Transferable points are points that you can transfer (hence the name) to travel partners. Rather than simply use these points like cash in a booking portal or as a statement credit, you can transfer them to airline and hotel partners for high-value redemptions. But since you're getting free flights already, the other ways to use these points (think: covering past purchases via statement credits and booking hotels, activities and cruises) will likely be of more interest to you.
Several credit cards offer transferable points, including:
|Card name||Welcome offer||Key benefits||Earning rates||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||$95.|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||$550.|
|American Express® Green Card||Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. Plus, 20% back on eligible travel and transit purchases in the first six months, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit.||$150 (see rates and fees).|
|American Express® Gold Card||Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in your first six months of cardmembership.||$250 (see rates and fees).|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership.||$695 (see rates and fees).|
|Citi Rewards+® Card||Earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.|
|Citi Premier® Card (see rates and fees)||Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on your card within the first three months of account opening.||$95.|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.||$95.|
|Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card||Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.||$395.|
*Upon enrollment, accessible through the Capital One website or mobile app, eligible cardholders will remain at upgraded status level through December 31, 2024. Please note, enrolling through the normal Hertz Gold Plus Rewards enrollment process (e.g. at Hertz.com) will not automatically detect a cardholder as being eligible for the program and cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the applicable status tier. Additional terms apply.
The above may seem like a confusing list of numbers, but that's where we can help.
Here's what each of these welcome bonuses could be worth, according to TPG's latest valuations:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: $1,200.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: $1,200.
- American Express Green Card: $1,400 (including statement credit).
- American Express Gold Card: $1,200.
- The Platinum Card from American Express: $1,600.
- Citi Rewards+ Card: $450.
- Citi Premier Card: $1,080.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: $1,387.50.
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: $1,387.50.
While some welcome bonuses are better than others, the best option for you will ultimately come down to which card best fits your lifestyle and travel habits, so be sure to weigh all factors before deciding on a card. If you won't get as much use out of transferable points, perhaps a fixed-value card is the better way to go.
Fixed-value-points credit cards
There are unfortunately travel expenses that you can't cover in advance with points, such as seaplane transfers to an island resort in the Maldives, rail passes in Europe and daily subway tickets needed to explore a major city. As a result, you'll need to fork over real money, not points, to pay for them.
Luckily, several cards can reimburse you for these kinds of purchases with fixed-value points. While you won't be able to transfer these points to travel partners for outsize redemption value, you can use them to pay yourself back for purchases in the form of credit card statement credits.
The following are some examples of credit cards that offer fixed-value points:
|Card name||Welcome offer||Key benefits||Earning rates||Annual fee|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||Earn 25,000 bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.||$0.|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card||Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.||$95.|
|U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card (see rates and fees)||Earn 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on the card in the first 90 days.||$0.|
|U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card (see rates and fees)||Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first 120 days.||$0 introductory annual fee, then $95.|
|U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card||Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,500 on the card in the first 90 days.||$400.|
The information for the Altitude Reserve card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
With Bank of America and U.S. Bank, options for transferring your points to partner programs and obtaining 2, 3 or 4 cents per point in value on redemptions don't exist. Instead, you can redeem your points from Bank of America against travel purchases within the past 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per point. Meanwhile, U.S. Bank enables cardholders to net a value of 1 cent per point for non-travel redemptions and 1.5 cents per point when redeeming against travel spending.
Next, if most of your trips include stays at hotels, there's a third type of card that you may find more useful than a fixed-value option: hotel credit cards.
Related: Why you should get a fixed-rate rewards credit card
Hotel credit cards
The good news about a hotel room is that unlike a seat on an airplane, the room can be shared by you and a friend, spouse or significant other. Because of this, your hotel points and free night certificates can go further when you're both earning points and free nights.
Adding hotel credit cards to your wallet is also a great way to garner extra perks, such as upgrades or shortcuts to elite status.
Here are some of the currently available hotel credit cards worth considering:
|Card name||Welcome offer||Key benefits||Earning rates||Annual fee|
|World of Hyatt Credit Card||Earn up to 60,000 bonus points: Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening. Plus, earn up to 30,000 additional bonus points by earning 2 points per dollar spent in the first six months of account opening (on purchases that normally earn 1 point per dollar, limited to $15,000 in spending).||$95.|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months of account opening.||$95.|
|IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card||Earn 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.||$99.|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card||Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points and a Free Night Reward after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership||$95 annual fee (see rates and fees).|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card||Earn 95,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on your card within the first three months of card membership.||$650 (see rates and fees).|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.||$450 (see rates and fees).|
|Best Western Rewards® Premium Mastercard®||Earn 80,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first three billing cycles after the account is opened.||$89.|
The information for the Hilton Aspire card and Best Western Premium card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you have a preferred hotel brand, you're likely leaning toward a certain credit card already. That said, all of the above cards have their positives and negatives.
Related: My top 3 picks for the best cobranded hotel credit card
In order to determine which card you should get, it's important to understand your priorities. Are you looking for a card with a low fee and moderate perks? Or, do you want top-tier elite status to enjoy suite upgrades upon arrival at the hotel?
It's also important to consider where you intend to travel and which hotels are available in those locations. If you're visiting Paris and London, for example, you'll have every hotel brand at your disposal. However, if you're traveling to the interior parts of South America or Africa, options will be far fewer.
Consider the lodging options for your intended destinations before committing yourself to a particular hotel program — or to international hotel chains at all — to ensure that your travel goals are aligned with the points you're pursuing.
Should you get other credit cards for specific types of travel?
You may be wondering whether you should get credit cards specific to certain types of travel, such as Amtrak trains or cruise lines. While the answer to the Amtrak question is a simple one, as Amtrak's credit cards closed to new applicants at the end of 2021, the cruise line one may surprise you.
In nearly every case, you're better off paying for a cruise with a general travel credit card than a cruise-specific card. That's because the cards we highlighted above — those that earn transferable points — will earn much greater value in rewards when paying for your cruise.
Additionally, some transferable-points credit cards provide protections like trip cancellation insurance and trip delay insurance — perks that you won't receive with cards affiliated with particular cruise lines — and can help you pay for other parts of your trip, such as flights and dining.
Related: Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation
Whether your goal is to live the life of luxury or stretch your points as far as they will go at inexpensive lodging options, points and miles can help you accomplish your travel goals. If you get free flights already, you've already eliminated the most expensive part of travel for most people and the largest drain on points and miles for those of us who collect them.
Most advice on using credit cards to earn points for free travel includes strategies for those who must pay for flights. If you work for an airline or have a buddy pass and get free flights, a tailored credit card strategy is needed for your particular situation. By considering your travel goals and then earning the points that will help you accomplish them, you should be able to combine your access to complimentary flights with free travel in multiple other forms.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.