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Travelers who fly often may benefit from using airline credit cards. If you're considering one, you'll want to know the benefits of airline credit cards so you can determine if this is the right type of rewards card for you. Let’s take a look at the top airline credit card benefits that you can expect.
Common airline credit card benefits
While not all airline cards are the same, they typically have similar features. By taking advantage of the perks included with an airline credit card, you may be able to improve your travel experience.
1. Bonus miles offer
For starters, most airline credit cards have a bonus miles offer, which is available to new cardmembers. You'll need to meet the minimum spend requirements within the required timeline to earn the bonus miles.
2. Bonus earning categories
With bonus earning categories, you’ll earn more miles if you spend in specific purchase categories, such as buying tickets directly with the airline. Some cards even offer additional bonus earning categories such as dining or grocery spending. These bonus categories help make it easier for you to earn miles faster.
For example, with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, you'll earn 2x miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets. Conversely, other purchases will earn 1 mile per dollar spent. Terms apply.
3. Free checked bags
While not all airline cards offer free checked bags, many do. Some cards with a lower annual fee might only offer one free checked bag, while cards with higher annual fees may offer two or more free checked bags.
Sometimes these perks are only available to the cardholder, but often, free bag perks extend to one or more additional companions traveling on the same reservation. While airline bag fees vary, most airlines charge $30 or more each way for one checked bag, so this is a valuable perk.
4. Priority boarding
Another one of the many benefits of airline credit cards is priority boarding. Airline cardholders can expect to board the plane before most economy ticket travelers. This perk may also extend to one or more companions traveling on the same reservation.
5. Lounge access
If you have a premium airline credit card — the kind that typically charges a higher annual fee — you may also get lounge access. Some cards offer one-time-use lounge passes while others provide unlimited lounge access.
» Learn more: Reasons you should be using airport lounges
6. In-flight purchase discounts
Some airline credit cards also offer savings on eligible in-flight purchases, which may include purchases like food, drinks and Wi-Fi. If this is a perk included with your airline credit card, you can make eligible purchases during your flight and use your card to pay. You'll typically receive the savings in the form of a statement credit.
» Learn more: How to get free Wi-Fi on the plane
7. Travel protections
Most airline credit cards also include travel protections. While exact travel protections vary from one card to another, here are some examples of possible travel protections:
» Learn more: Top credit cards with travel insurance
8. Anniversary bonus
Some airline credit cards offer an anniversary bonus. If you continue to carry your card and pay the annual fee, you may earn extra points or miles at every card anniversary. For some travelers, this perk helps to justify paying the annual fee.
» Learn more: Is it worth paying an annual fee on a credit card?
9. Discounted companion ticket
Many airline credit cards also include a discounted companion ticket so you can affordably fly with a companion. Typically, cards with this benefit will include an annual companion voucher, allowing you to take advantage of a one-time discount on one round-trip companion flight per year
This is a popular and highly sought after perk. Example airline loyalty programs that offer it include the Southwest Rapid Rewards Companion Pass and the Alaska Airlines Companion Fare for Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card holders (requires $6,000 in annual spend for new cardholders).
10. TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit
Your next airline credit card might also include a credit for either the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees. These government-regulated Trusted Traveler programs can make your airport experience less stressful and help you spend less time in line.
You'll need to apply and pay the application fee to use these services, and approval is not guaranteed. If your card offers a credit, you'll need to pay the application fee for one of these programs using your eligible card and then receive a statement credit as reimbursement.
» Learn more: Credit cards that bypass airport security
11. Airline credits
Yet another one of the common benefits of airline credit cards is credit for airline-related purchases. These credits are airline-specific and typically can only be used to cover the cost of specific qualifying purchases, such as flight tickets, seat upgrades and in-flight beverages.
Often, airline credits are made available on an annual basis.
12. Elite status
With an airline credit card, you may also be able to achieve elite status faster. Many airline credit cards allow cardholders to earn elite status by spending with their card. There are usually spending requirements, so being a high spender could benefit you. Some cards may also reward you with loyalty points for spending with your card, which can also lead to elite status.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Final thoughts on airline credit card benefits
Now that you know the typical benefits of airline credit cards, you can make a more informed decision when choosing a travel rewards card. It's important to remember that not all airline credit cards are created equal and exact benefits can vary. Be sure to consider your travel and spending habits when looking at card options.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card