Are ultra-low-cost airlines’ credit cards worth having?

Nov 15, 2019

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Having the right credit card can make a big difference when you’re flying a traditional airline — you can check bags for free, save money on inflight purchases, and enjoy perks like priority boarding. The right card can even defeat most of the restrictions of basic economy. But when you’re flying the ultra-low-cost airlines that inspired those basic economy fares, does the same principle hold true? Inspired by the recently introduced Norwegian Reward Card — the first U.S. credit card offered by a European low-cost airline — we decided to do a rundown of all the credit cards offered to customers of ultra-low-cost carriers.

Allegiant World Mastercard®

(Photo courtesy of Allegiant)
(Photo courtesy of Allegiant)

Sign-up bonus: 15,000 bonus points — worth $150 off your next Allegiant trip — after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $59

Earning rate: 3x on Allegiant purchases; 2x on dining; 1x on all other purchases. Points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for airfare, hotels, and car rentals on Allegiant.com.

Benefits: “Buy One, Get One Free” on airfare when you book a qualifying vacation package (must include four or more hotel nights, or a car rental of seven days or more); priority boarding; one free beverage each time you fly Allegiant; points don’t expire as long as your card account is open; no foreign transaction fees.

Takeaway: The main benefit for most cardholders will be the buy-one-get-one-free airfare on select vacation packages. If qualifying packages are part of your travel plans, this can certainly save you more than the $59 annual fee. Plus there are no limit to the points you can earn and your points don’t expire.

FRONTIER Airlines World Mastercard®

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 28, 2014: A Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 taxis toward the runway at Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee (the miles are worth $440 based on TPG’s current valuations).

Annual fee: $79

Earning rate: 5x on purchases at flyfrontier.com; 3x at restaurants; 1x on all other purchases.

Benefits: Earn 1 Qualifying Mile toward elite status with every $1 spent on purchases; unlock Family Pooling to share miles; earn a $100 flight voucher after every account anniversary if you spend $2,500 or more in the previous cardmember year; waiver of award redemption fee when you book an award ticket and pay the taxes and fees with the card; Priority Zone 2 boarding for the primary cardmember; no foreign transaction fees.

Takeaway: If you’re a frequent Frontier traveler, this card can actually be pretty useful. It makes earning elite status much easier — including Frontier’s top-tier Elite 100k status, which secures Frontier’s full-service “the WORKS” bundle for you and up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation. Family Pooling and the award redemption fee waiver both make it easier to redeem the miles you’ve earned. And if you’re planning to spend money on the card to help reach elite status, the $100 flight voucher you’ll earn for spending $2,500 on the card more than offsets the annual fee. But read the card’s fine print: You must make at least one purchase on it every six months to keep your miles from expiring. 

Norwegian Reward Card

A Norwegian Air 787-9 at Denver International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport)
Norwegian is the first European low cost carrier to launch a credit card in the United States. (Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport)

Sign-up bonus: Earn $50 in CashPoints when you open an account and spend $500 in the first 90 days.

Annual fee: $0

Earning rate: 2% on Norwegian purchases, dining, and grocery; 1% everywhere else.

Benefits: Doubles the expiration period of CashPoints in your account (from two to four years); priority boarding; $100 bonus CashPoints when you spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year; no foreign transaction fees.

Takeaway: A weak signup bonus and low earnings rate mean this card is probably not worth it unless you’re a frequent-enough Norwegian flyer that extending the expiration of your CashPoints — and getting priority boarding — would be helpful to you. No-annual-fee cards with no foreign transaction fees are fairly rare, though, so that’s a point in this card’s favor.

Related reading: Norwegian Air unveils new no-annual-fee cobranded credit card

Spirit Airlines World Mastercard

Spirit Airlines
(Photo courtesy of Airbus)

Sign-up bonus: 15,000 bonus miles after your first purchase, plus 15,000 bonus miles after you make at least $500 in purchases within 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $59

Earning rate: 2x on all purchases.

Benefits: Access to Spirit’s lowest flight-redemption levels (starting at 2,500 miles for off-peak flights under 1,250 miles); 5,000 anniversary bonus miles when you spend at least $10,000 in purchases annually; prevents your miles from expiring; no foreign transaction fees.

Takeaway: This card does nothing to change your onboard experience, and the earning rate is abysmal, based on TPG’s valuation of Spirit miles at 0.4 cents each. But as Mommy Points notes, you can earn a one-way flight with just $1,250 in spending, and get up to 12 off-peak flights from the sign-up bonus. It’s also helpful for keeping your miles from expiring, since Spirit miles would otherwise expire if you go just three months without activity in your account. If you can take advantage of Spirit’s off-peak flights, this card can make sense — but for most travelers, it will likely be difficult to justify the $59 annual fee.

Related: Everything you should know before flying Spirit Airlines

Sun Country Airlines Visa Signature Card

(Photo courtesy of Sun Country Airlines)
(Photo courtesy of Sun Country Airlines)

Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points — worth $250 in travel with Sun Country — when you spend $1,500 or more in the first three billing cycles, plus a $50 statement credit after your first purchase.

Annual fee: $69

Earning rate: 3x on Sun Country purchases; 2x on gas and groceries; 1x on everything else.

Benefits: 50% off seat selection fee and first bag fee for you and any companions on the same itinerary; priority boarding; one free premium drink per flight; 10,000 point bonus (worth $100) when you spend $10,000 or more during your anniversary year; points don’t expire as long as your card account is active; no foreign transaction fees

Takeaway: Your first checked bag or a carry-on bag normally costs $30 — although it may be cheaper if you purchase it while booking your ticket — so this card can make sense if you fly Sun Country enough to save more than $69 a year on bag fees and seat assignments.

Bottom line

Although each of these credit cards offers some unique benefits specific to the quirks of that airline’s rewards program, they aren’t particularly rewarding to use for spending, and they don’t offer the same kind of reliable value that you’ll find with our top airline rewards cards or top travel credit cards. If you’re a frequent traveler with an ultra-low-cost airline though, it might be worth holding their card to get the extra perks and keep your account active — especially with Frontier, since you can spend your way to elite status with that card. For everyone else, check out our list of the best credit cards to use for low-cost carriers.

Featured photo courtesy of Airbus.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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