Airline Credit Cards For Frequent Flyers

For those who have a great handle on your finances and who are also frequent travelers, owning an airline miles credit card can give you several benefits, including a much better experience during your travels, as well as money saving opportunities. In particular, these cards allow you to accumulate and earn rewards points that can be redeemed for flight upgrades and even free flights! Airline miles credit cards allow you to collect reward points and miles which you can use towards free flights that are served by many major airlines.

But you may want to check out other options in the following locations:
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

John DeFlumeri Jr December 14, 2009 at 9:16 am

You’re not kidding. Airline credit cards are full of perks, like free tickets.

John DeFlumeri Jr

Live for Improvement December 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

My wife and I also earn Alaskan miles shopping at Safeway. Groceries are a huge part of most peoples expenses, and if you shop at Safeway, they will contribute in addition to your regular earnings.

Check this link about this.

Jon December 14, 2009 at 9:50 pm

I appreciate these options — I’m looking to travel to Peru soon, so I need to take advantage of programs and cards like the ones above!

Goran Web Design December 15, 2009 at 1:03 am

With my family scattered all across the globe, my mom especially racks up the frequent flyer miles, and puts them to good use.

Caleb December 15, 2009 at 8:17 am

These card offers are full of perks and can be greatly beneficial, but they’re also deals to make money off of you. I would suggest that you don’t just jump into the offer because you want to get a free ticket… you have to spend A LOT of money before you ever get something for free. I’m glad that The Digerati Life listed the terms and fees for the cards presented, and this info will prove to be very important in making a decision as to the cost benefit analysis of utilizing one of the above deals. Great list.

Broke by Choice December 21, 2009 at 10:23 pm

I once worked for an airline with a loyalty program. If you are going to use airline miles to be frugal then you have to be diligent with it. I have seen the stats on the % of earned miles that go unused. Most people will never use their miles.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 21, 2009 at 11:34 pm

It would be very unwise to carry and use a rewards credit card for airline miles if you aren’t planning to travel much or use your miles in the first place. That would be be very foolish, in fact. Why not choose a rewards card that paid you well? If airline miles are not your thing, then there are cash back credit cards and other types of cards you can apply for.

Spruce Goose January 18, 2010 at 11:47 am

I had 10,000(ish) BA points revoked because I hadn’t used them within 2 years of gaining them. I may not have flown with them for that period of time as well so that too may have contributed.

R5W3 February 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

On the whole I think airline mileage credit cards are a good deal and do cut your travel costs, especially if you travel longer distances. I’m disappointed in United’s Mileage Plus credit card, though. I fell for a promotion offering me 45,000 bonus miles for signing up for their card in 2008, but have only ever gotten the initial 20,000 miles promised despite several phone calls.

Also with United, you have to book very far in advance to get decent free flights; I end up using most of the miles for upgrades to first class (not so frugal). I’ve had a better experience with my British Airways credit card and am using miles for free flights to London this summer. As long as you keep using the credit card, your miles don’t expire. The BA card is no good for domestic travel though; very limited reward flight availability on partner airlines.

Emily Cohen July 23, 2010 at 11:14 am

Learn more about our frequent flyer program “Matmid” at our blog about El Al at skywordswithelal.com and learn about special offers for our Matmid members. El Al is Israel’s national airline. I hope you enjoy our blog!

KD December 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Tracking all your frequent flyer miles can be time-consuming. I’ve been using awardwallet.com to track my progress towards free tickets for 14 separate FF accounts. Works great!

One Young Lad December 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I used up all of my frequent flier points on one trip to Europe. Being in school and studying for a grad school exam over the last five years, I haven’t had time to fly and accumulate more points. So I am starting over. I am flying twice in the next month, so I will get my balances started again.

Darrel January 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I prefer regular rewards cards because they are more flexible. These cards can be very specific about what you can get for a bonus.

The Digerati Life January 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

@Everyone,
Thanks for all your tips and comments!

@KD,
Thanks for the tip on how you’re tracking frequent flyer points. I’ll check it out.

@Darrel,
These cards are specifically for avid frequent flyers — many, if not most are business travelers who really want to rack up the miles/points. These cards are great for earning frequent flyer miles that you accumulate in your account. If you’re particular about using a specific airline or group of airlines, then you can get a lot out of using a card that targets rewards for those flights. It’s pretty much like getting a retail rewards card for a specific store if you shop there very often.

You can also expect frequent flyer cards to promote free miles bonus offers as an introductory perk for new customers. For example, on your first card purchase, you may immediately accrue between 10,000 to 30,000 miles (or 50,000 points in some cases), which can, for instance, be redeemed for a free roundtrip ticket. So your miles can go a long way but only if you’re a jet setter.

You can use a general rewards card for general expenses but use an airline miles card for specific travel expenditures.

Jonathan January 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

One of my favorite budget travel tips: maximize your mileage points!

I actually liken myself to the main protagonist in the movie “Up In The Air” where George Clooney plays a man who, in addition to flying around the country firing people, has an obsession to earn ten million frequent flier points and to become a member of an elite, small group that has done so.

Getting into that elite group may not be that easy, but I can identify with the desire to collect points. In any year, I only fly four or five times, but over the course of 15 years I’ve earned enough points to fly overseas four times (three trips to Spain and one to The Czech Republic) in addition to getting a free rental car on one of the trips. Got to love those miles!

The Digerati Life January 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm

For frequent travelers out there, check out this resource: frequentflier.com discusses all aspects of frequent flying and how to get points.

Frequentflier.com has a newsletter that can tell you about the latest promotions that are available, and they also have a forum, where like-minded frequent fliers can talk to each other.

Will @ CardExperts March 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

You may think that by being loyal to a specific frequent flyer program, that you’ll get better deals. The truth is, that lack of flexibility can actually cost you in terms of higher fares and inconvenient flights (with forced connections). I would suggest using a combination of cards to get the most out of miles. You CAN get as close as possible to traveling for free. Also, know that there is a learning curve here. Learn the system for building miles with cards and you can drive down your travel costs. My tips:

- Be flexible about the cards and programs you use. Combine rewards where you can.
- Stay with programs that help you accumulate miles that don’t expire.
- Go for the big sign up bonuses but don’t maintain a balance on your cards.
- Be flexible about your flight route and schedule as well.
- Book early to minimize any redemption fees.
- Remember that if you don’t use the miles, then it’s not worth earning them. You must redeem!
- Watch out for any fees charged by frequent flyer programs. Be aware that your miles or points may not be applied towards taxes and surcharges you do incur.
- Be aware of diminishing returns with miles. Because they can cost you more than they are worth!

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Airline Miles Credit Cards vs Other Travel Cards

There are many types of travel cards available. We actually have three separate card categories that we've put together to showcase various cards that are in the travel space. The different categories include "travel & hotel rewards", "airline miles cards" and "frequent flyer credit cards". How do they differ?

Travel & Hotel Credit Cards are a mix of airline miles, frequent flyer and hotel rewards credit cards. They're a great choice for any traveler who wants to get breaks for spending on travel. This is a general category for rewards cards that help you enjoy better hotel accommodations or help you earn miles or points when you use your card.

Airline Miles Credit Cards are those you can use to help you earn and redeem points or miles towards a variety of things, including cash, travel or gift cards. In many cases, you can immediately earn bonus miles or points after your first purchase.

Frequent Flyer Credit Cards are used to let you earn miles which you can turn around and apply towards airfare or airline tickets.

So which card should you select? It depends on what you're after. The more flexible cards would be for those that are general travel cards or airline miles credit cards. These cards can help you earn points that can be applied towards "stuff", general merchandise, cash as well as for travel-related items. Hotel credit cards and frequent flyer cards are far more specific.

Some airline miles credit cards will reward you much more when you spend on airfare and travel. For example, you can earn 5 points for every dollar spent on airfare, and 3 points for each dollar spent on dining and hotel stays. Other cards will grant you one mile per dollar spent, while others will offer hefty rewards points or miles upon sign up.

Frequent Flyer Credit Card Benefits

Carrying a rewards credit card has it privileges. One of those privileges, at least for those who carry air miles cards, is free travel. Here’s how it works. Borrowers with good or excellent credit can apply for what’s known as a rewards credit card. There are many types of rewards credit cards, but the most common is one associated with air miles. When you use your frequent flyer credit card, you earn free flyer (or flier) miles. Usually the exchange rate is 1 mile per dollar spent, unless you use your card in certain venues like when purchasing airline tickets, rent a car or book a hotel. Those dollars are usually worth two air miles each. These miles accumulate, ultimately resulting in an air miles balance that is high enough to redeem for a free airline ticket.

Many frequent business travelers use such cards to rack up free miles by booking their airline tickets and other travel expenses on their personal rewards credit card and then use the miles they earn for free travel, but they do have drawbacks. Some of these include:

  • Expiration. Air miles, just like points you earn in some rewards based programs, expire after a certain time limit has been exceeded. This means that you either use your miles or lose them. If you know that you won't be needing your air miles and would like to make sure they are well used, then you can opt to gift the miles (and do a transfer). This way, your miles will be put to good use while also doing someone else a big favor.
  • Canceled flights. If you use your miles but your flight is canceled or you miss your connection or you just generally receive bad service, there is no getting those miles back.
  • Canceling your account may eliminate your accrued miles. Some programs, though not all, will dump your points if you cancel your account. Citi’s AAdvantage program is one of the few exceptions that does not do this. Miles earned while using this card are automatically transferred to American Airlines and are ready for use whether you keep your Citi card or not.

But, there are a few good things that can come about by earning air miles:

  • The IRS does not consider air miles as taxable income. This means that you don’t have to claim them anywhere on your tax return. However, you can claim a flight in which you redeemed air miles as a deduction on your business taxes as long as you figure fair market value accurately.
  • Free gifts. As mentioned before, you can freely and legally gift your air miles to others, which makes using them before they expire and giving great gifts, a snap.
  • You can redeem your air miles for things other than airline tickets. While you get your best bang for your buck by trading your miles for tickets, you also have access to catalogs full of things you can “buy” with your miles, keeping more of your money in your pocket.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you use your frequent flier rewards credit card is to spend wisely. Even though you are getting perks for using your card, you are still responsible for paying the bill when it comes in. Note that the amount of money you spend in interest may actually cover the cost of your “free” ticket several times over.