Are Airline Miles Credit Cards Worth For Frequent Travelers?

If you’re considering getting a rewards credit card, you may have wondered about an airline miles card. While there are some customers who can benefit greatly from the travel perks and rewards, in many cases airline miles cards simply aren’t worth it. If you’re wondering about whether an airline miles card would be a good fit for you, read on.

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Who Should Get an Airline Miles Card?

Airline miles cards can be a good option for very frequent travelers, particularly those who are already a member of an airline loyalty program. They can be a good way to boost your miles balance, as you charge travel and non travel purchases to your card.

As we touched on above, airline miles cards also tend to offer some nice travel perks. While these can vary from card to card, some of the common benefits include:

  • Priority Boarding: Many airline cards offer priority boarding when you’re flying with them. If you don’t like to be the last one to get to your seat and would rather be comfortably settled by the time the plane starts to taxi on to the runway, you’ll appreciate this perk.
  • Seat Upgrades: An airline rewards card could also be the key to getting a complimentary seat upgrade. Even if you book an economy seat, under certain conditions, some airlines will give airline miles cardholders a roomier seat.
  • Free Checked Bags: There are several airlines that waive the baggage fees for cardholders. Unless you already qualify for elite status, this has the potential to save you a decent amount each time you fly. For example, if you’re flying round trip with Delta, you could save at least $60 on your checked baggage fees. Some cards will even provide free checked bags for your travel companions, which could cover your card’s annual fee with only one group vacation.
  • In Flight Purchase Discounts: If you enjoy food and drink when you fly or need WiFi, you’ll appreciate this perk. Some cards offer discounts as high as 25% on all your in flight purchases.
  • Airport Perks: This category of special benefits can include things like lounge access, reimbursement for TSA PreCheck application fees and even free lounge food and drinks. All these perks can eliminate the stress of your airport stay and get you feeling relaxed and ready for your flight.
  • Companion Passes: There are several airline cards that offer discounted or free companion passes. This can be one of the most lucrative benefits, as you’ll only need to pay taxes and fees for a companion when you travel. There are cards that offer one free pass per year, while others require that you spend a certain amount to qualify.

Why Airline Miles Cards May Not Be Worth It:

If none of the above appeals to you, you may be starting to think that an airline miles card may not be the right choice for you. However, there are other reasons why an airline miles card may not be worth it.

  • Annual Fees: Although annual fees are not exclusively associated with airline miles cards, they can get into significant amounts. While the more basic cards have a $75 to $95 annual fee, if you want premium benefits you can expect to pay up to $550+ per year. This means that you’ll need to be very confident that the perks you receive from the card will more than outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
  • Potentially Restricting Your Airline Choices: If you have a general travel card, you can shop around for the best deal on flights from a variety of airlines. However, if you have an airline miles card, you are limited to flying with that one carrier. While it may be possible to use your miles to purchase flights with partner airlines, you need to be highly brand loyal to get the most out of your airline miles card.
  • Less Attractive Sign Up Bonuses: General cards tend to offer lucrative bonuses when compared to airline cards. If you want a generous sign up bonus if you hit the spending minimum, you may be disappointed with the offers with airline miles cards. While there are some exceptions, you may be better with a more general card.
  • Fewer Bonus Miles Opportunities: Many airlines have strict limits on what purchases will earn you bonus miles. For example, many airline miles cards only allow you to earn rewards on your airline purchases. There are some cards that offer limited miles for gas, groceries or other everyday purchases, but these tend to be quite meager compared to more general rewards cards.
  • Complicated Redemptions: One of the greatest drawbacks to airline credit cards is that the airline loyalty programs can make it difficult to book your rewards travel. Some have blackout dates or other restrictions on your travel plans. There are even some airlines that limit the number of available reward seats, which can make it difficult to find an open seat. Additionally, there are no guarantees the reward program will remain the same. Recently several airlines adjusted their programs which reduced the value of miles when booking a flight.

If you’re considering an airline miles credit card, you really do need to take some time to consider whether it is a good option for you. Airline miles cards can be a good option for frequent flyers, but they can be rather limited.

If you’re simply after a way to score some free flights or other travel perks, there are general travel credit cards that may represent better value. General travel cards tend to allow you to earn rewards on travel and everyday purchases, so you can accumulate points when you pay for groceries, dine out or buy gas. This means that you can use it as your go-to card in your wallet, to maximize your potential rewards.

General cards typically also offer more flexible redemption options. While purchasing flights or hotel stays does usually represent the best redemption value, if you’re unable to travel, such as during the 2020 Covid pandemic, you can claim your rewards as statement credit or gift cards.

So think carefully about whether an airline miles card is worth it to you.



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