3 Situations When You Should Get an Airline Credit Card

by Lyle Daly | Feb. 22, 2019

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Airplane on runway.

Image source: Getty Images

Airline credit cards usually aren't the first recommendation among travel cards. For the typical traveler, the best credit cards tend to be those tied to a major rewards program, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program or the American Express Membership Rewards® program.

That's not always the case, however, and for some travelers, the right airline credit card will be worth its weight in gold. These are the situations when an airline card would be your best bet.

1. You always fly with the same airline

When you're a loyal flyer with one airline, whether by choice or just because you live near one of its hubs, then a credit card with that airline is a good way to go.

For one, it will be the simplest option. You just use your card, earn your miles, and then you can redeem them with your preferred airline. Some airline credit cards will even give you some extra miles every account anniversary.

More importantly, your airline credit card will include extra perks with that specific airline that you wouldn't get with a more general travel card. These perks can include:

  • Priority boarding
  • Free checked bags
  • Discounted in-flight services, such as Wi-Fi and food and beverage purchases
  • Airport lounge passes or a membership that provides unlimited access to all the airline's lounges
  • None of these are perks you absolutely need, but they can improve your traveling experience and reduce your stress at no cost to you.

2. You check a bag every time you fly

An airline credit card is a no-brainer if you check a bag when you fly, because free checked luggage is a perk that almost every airline credit card has. Southwest is the rare exception, and that's only because Southwest already lets all travelers check two bags for free.

On a round-trip ticket with checked baggage charges of $25 to $30 each way, an airline credit card would save you $50 to $60. You can save even more if you're flying with somebody who is on the same reservation as you, because airline credit cards also typically offer a free checked bag for one or more companions. Depending on the card, as many as eight companions could check a bag free of charge.

3. You fly with a companion

We already went over one reason airline credit cards help out when you're traveling with a companion, as your card can get you and your companion free checked bags.

Several airlines also have cards that offer a companion pass, which is an extremely valuable benefit any time you're booking travel for yourself and another person.

Rules regarding companion passes vary a bit depending on the airline, but here's the general idea -- you purchase a ticket for yourself, and then you get a second ticket for your companion while only paying taxes and fees. These passes usually apply for a round-trip ticket, so you don't need to worry about buying a return ticket for your companion or abandoning them in another city.

The following domestic airlines have credit cards offering a companion pass:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta
  • Southwest

A companion pass can easily save you $300 to $500, far outweighing your airline credit card's annual fee.

Flying high with an airline credit card

Although airline credit cards aren't the most versatile travel cards on the market, they do come with plenty of airline-specific features that are perfect for frequent flyers who prefer one carrier.

If you're going to be flying predominantly with one airline, see what its credit cards have to offer. You may find that one of its cards can save you quite a bit of money through free checked bags, lounge access, and possibly even a companion pass, all while earning you miles to redeem for free flights.

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As long as you pay them off each month, credit cards are a no-brainer for savvy Americans. They protect against fraud far better than debit cards, help raise your credit score, and can put hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars in rewards back in your pocket each year.

But with so many cards out there, you need to choose wisely. This top-rated card offers the ability to pay 0% interest on purchases until late 2021, has some of the most generous cash back rewards we’ve ever seen (up to 5%!), and somehow still sports a $0 annual fee.

That’s why our expert – who has reviewed hundreds of cards – signed up for this one personally. Click here to get free access to our expert’s top pick.

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