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Airline credit cards let you rack up frequent-flier miles on everyday purchases and then redeem them for flights instead of paying cash. Although many airline credit cards charge annual fees, a lot of them offer perks that make them worthwhile, such as free checked bags, priority boarding and even companion certificates that can save you a lot of money on flights.
Choosing the right airline credit card will depend on which carriers you fly the most, the perks you want to enjoy, and how you plan to redeem your miles. Some of the best credit cards for airline miles include products from American Airlines, Delta, United and a few options you might not have considered.
Here are some of the best airline credit cards thanks to the bonus miles they can earn and the excellent benefits they include.
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|Our Picks for the Best Cards for Airline Miles or Rewards|
How Do Airline Mile Rewards Cards Work?
Airline miles rewards cards work by earning points or miles with a specific frequent-flier program when you use them to make everyday purchases. Many airline credit cards also offer day-of-travel perks. These might include advantages like reduced fees on checked bags or priority boarding. Other offerings may include discounts on in-flight purchases of food and drinks, or even access to an airline's lounge with some cards that charge higher annual fees.
In addition to credit cards that are co-branded with a specific airline, you might also want to consider a credit card which earns points that you can then transfer, or convert, into points or miles with several different frequent-flier programs.
How Many Airline Miles Do You Need to Get a Free Flight?
Each airline mileage program is unique, with its own rates for earning and redeeming points or miles. Because of that, how many miles you need to get a complimentary flight will vary from airline to airline, as well as by route and whether you want to fly in economy or first class.
Don't get too bogged down in the numbers. To get a sense of how many miles you might need for the flights you want, you might have to research your options. Go to your preferred airline's website and search for various award tickets you might be interested in to get a feel for the range of mileage prices.
The Delta SkyMiles program, for instance, has award sales with tickets as cheap as 2,000 miles each way on short flights in coach. At the other end of the spectrum, international flights in business class on the airline and its partners can cost hundreds of thousands of miles.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to get at least 1 cent per mile in value with most airline frequent-flier programs. Just make sure that you're only redeeming about 100 miles per dollar of airfare. For example, if your ticket would cost $80, you should be redeeming about 8,000 miles for it. And if it's closer to $500, you will probably have to spend around 50,000 miles. While this is not always the case, it's a good benchmark to have in the back of your mind.
How to Maximize Airline Mile Rewards
There are a few simple strategies to help you maximize airline mile rewards and the credit cards that go along with them.
- Sign up for an airline mile rewards credit card. Opening a new airline credit card can be the quickest and easiest way to rack up airline miles quickly. Just make sure that you can meet the spending requirement of any credit cards you are considering, otherwise you might not earn the full bonus.
- Use airline mileage credit cards for everyday purchases. After earning the introductory bonus on a new airline credit card, you'll want to use it to make everyday purchases so you continue to rack up rewards on your spending. Focus on bonus categories, such as dining or groceries, to earn even more miles. Just be sure to pay off your purchases each month, or the value of your rewards could be eaten up by interest charges.
- Take advantage of airline credit card benefits. Aside from accruing miles, be sure you're getting value from an airline card's other perks, like free checked bags, companion certificates, and even Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credits. If you're not actually using these benefits, it might not be worth keeping the card.
- Choose your redemptions carefully. You get the most solid returns redeeming your airline miles or points for rewards travel. However, it's also possible to blow through far too many of them at once. Always check the cash price of any ticket you're thinking of booking to make sure you're getting a good value for the miles the airline is charging for it. If you're getting less than 1 cent per mile in value, you might want to purchase the airfare yourself and save your miles for another trip. Avoid other types of non-travel redemptions, such as magazine subscriptions and charitable donations, since miles cashed in this way tend to be worth a lot less.
The best credit cards for airline miles offer folks the opportunity to earn rewards through introductory bonuses and everyday spending. Many airline credit cards also include benefits and discounts that passengers can maximize while flying. The key to making the most of an airline rewards credit card is to pick one that earns extra miles in spending categories where you make a lot of purchases, and that offers perks you will actually take advantage of during trips. For more information on travel credit cards and to see current offers, you can pull up personalized options through Experian CreditMatchTM.