An AirlineReporter ongoing series. Unsolicited travel advice from David. What is the best airline credit card?What do you get when you combine writing about airline travel since 2008, with a few decades of being a sarcastic chap? Unsolicited Travel Advice from David (the Editor-in-Chief of this dog and pony show) — that’s what! There are way too many travel-related click-bait stories out there that give you boring and questionable information from “experts.” This series will be different — I will give you entertaining, possibly less questionable information, while not caring about any sort of clicks or bait. Let me set the mood. Imagine that you and I are hanging out (before all the COVID-19 stuff ), when we have just hit upon an interesting airline/travel topic (what is the best airline credit card) and I am fired up and ready to spew my thoughts and opinions. When I wrap up, I am hoping that you won’t just awkwardly stare at me, but instead continue the conversation in the comments. Let’s do this…

Our very own AirlineReporter airline credit card with rewards like being able to read fun stories like these.

Our very own AirlineReporter credit card with rewards like being able to read fun stories like these.

WHAT IS THE BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARD?

Heck if I know.

Which airline do you fly the most? Pick that credit card. Done!

Since all my friends and family know I write about airlines, I get asked about this a lot… too much. I say that because I am bad at the airline miles / credit card “game.” A game that can be played with-in the rules and ethically, or it can be done by trying to scam (or some might say “work”) the system.

In a recent AR story comment, my friend, and AR Managing Correspondent, JL Johnson stated how passengers can just, “open up a personal and business ChargeMart Plutonium Card, and max them out a time or two over a 90 day window that I might get enough points to buy a FREE one-way first class ticket from Lampasas, TX to Fargo, ND.” Sign me up… three times over again!!!

(This would probably be a good time to tell you that AR gets ZERO kickbacks from any real, or fake credit cards that I talk about or make fun of in this story. Not that I am against it. If anyone from ChargeMart Plutonium Card is reading… let’s make a deal!)

Keep on reading to find out the 5 BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS THAT WILL GET YOU FREE FLIGHTS TODAY

 

Using your credit card miles for a sweet Dreamliner trip somewhere? Sweet! Using them to fly an hour to go somewhere you don't want to? Not sweet.

Using your credit card miles for a Dreamliner trip somewhere? Sweet! Using them to fly an hour to go somewhere you don’t want to? Not so sweet.

Hmm… you know what? My conscience just won’t let me do it. I am instead going to give you FIVE REASONS TO THINK TWICE ABOUT NOT GETTING AN AIRLINE CREDIT CARD. Not as sexy sounding, but it might actually be more helpful.

BONUS ADVICE: How to get a free first class airline ticket 

Although I am not an airline credit card expert, I like to think I am pretty responsible with my credit. Over the last 20yrs, I have had a near perfect credit score and I currently have five credit cards (each for their own purpose & only one of those is airline branded). I am not trying to brag, but just want to show that I have some knowledge to back up the personal advice that I am about to give…

5 REASONS WHY GETTING AN AIRLINE / POINTS CREDIT CARD CAN BITE YOU IN THE BUTT

  1. Getting your credit checked for a new credit card; having too many open credit cards; and/or having a young average history credit can hurt your credit score. So, you might open a bunch of cards to get “free” trips, but now that loan you needed is 15% vs 5% and that extra interest will mean you lose over time.
  2. Before you get anything “free” with most cards, you need to spend $X in Y days. If you are not confident that you can pay off your credit card each month, you will end up paying interest and normally these cards don’t give you a great rate.
  3. Check for any yearly card fees… those can quickly eat into your “free” ticket
  4. Watch those reward values over time. You might sign up for the ChargeMart Plutonium because they are offering five miles per dollar spent. But then slowly over time, they might reduce the rewards and soon you are only getting 1 mile per dollar.
  5. Remember you are still paying those taxes and fees when you fly. Sure that is way cheaper than the full ticket price + the fees, but if you and your family are planning a trip, those fees can quickly burn into your budget, if you weren’t planning on them.
Even though a good chunk of our stories involve sweet business or first class reviews, 99% of the time I am using my miles are for boring, yet pricey, economy domestic flights.

Even though a good chunk of our stories involve sweet business or first class reviews, 99% of the time I am using my miles are for boring, yet pricey, economy domestic flights.

DAVID’S LEGIT ADVICE FOR GETTING AN AIRLINE CREDIT CARD:

  • Do your research. Check out multiple websites, read reviews, view the credit card’s policies, and be aware of potential changes. Also, review your own credit history and score before jumping into this.
  • Most card review sites get paid if you sign up for a card. I don’t have a problem with that, but take any “this is the best of the best of the best” sort of rankings with a grain of salt.
  • Many airline credit cards offer ways to earn extra miles. For example, my airline card offers an online shopping portal where I can earn more miles per dollar that I spend at certain stores. Just be aware, because it is easy to only shop at those places to get those miles, but you have to shop around and do the math. I know that each of my airline’s miles is worth roughly $0.02. So, before I hit “buy” I make sure that I am getting the best overall deal.
  • Know how much time you want to put into this. It can almost turn into an addiction – trying to get the most miles possible. Just don’t let things get out of control; especially knowing that airlines can change their mileage program, devaluing your miles, and then you are a bit out of luck.
  • Don’t be a jerk. There is passively getting miles. There is playing the game. There is working the system. Then there is totally abusing the system for your own personal gain. And typically when you get enough people who abuse something for their own personal gain, then the majority of people (who are just trying to earn miles like good little passengers) suffer. And that just sucks.

ADVICE BONUS: Where is the safest place to sit in an airliner?

Continental 737-7 (N13716) Lands into the Sunset at IAH in late 2010. - Photo: JL Johnson

Photo: JL Johnson

TIME TO WRAP IT UP DAVID:

After hearing me out, you might think that I am against people getting credit cards or that all those websites that talk about them are bad. Not true at all… I am totally for people getting a card. I just want to make sure that is the right fit for them, and to go about it in a smart way.

Back to the actual question at hand: “What is the best airline credit card?” There is no right answer to this (nor five “best” credit cards answers either). It is about choosing the right card for you and your situation.

When I finally got my airline credit card (which was only a few years ago), I went into it knowing it wasn’t the best bang for the buck.  However, it is pretty close, it is low maintenance, it is the best card for me right now, and most importantly I am really happy with it.

Alrighty… I am hoping to actually get some good advice (or criticism) on this one. I know many people take this sort of thing pretty personal and I am wondering if I am making sense or am I off base? Are there other issues people should think about or pieces of advice that you would give? Let’s start a conversation in the comments! 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com
6 Comments

Great write up David! I’m in a very similar boat with you. Perfect credit, four cards, carry zero balance and only one is an airline card (although, another from a credit union does give miles too). I piced it because at the time I was flying one particular airline a lot and the priority boarding and free checked bags made sense. These days I really don’t fly that airline, but when I do it they are nice perks to have. It is also good as a travel card, as it has lots of travel benefits too (rental car insurance, no overseas transaction fees, etc.). I have a TON of miles on the damn card, but to be honest I haven’t cashed any of them in yet. I actually though this would be the year I would do it. Cash them in and take the wife to Europe. Well, that’s not happening any time soon. So, I guess I’ll just keep racking them up slowly. Your advice is spot on, better to just pick a card that fits your needs and go from there.

Dave, Enjoyed the article. So much truth to it. I am a retired airline employee, from one of America’s legacy carriers, so I do enjoy free and discounted airline trips, including on other airlines. However, I do have one airline credit card. It is the one from my former employer. Yes, it has a yearly fee, but it is very reasonable. Not the high dollar annual fee for all the extra premier perks. If my wife and I want to take a special trip and don’t or can’t afford to be traveling stand-by, (as in have to be there) than this card is well worth it to us. I might add that as a retired employee I also get a decent discount off the published fare, along with the miles earned. I may eventually go to the higher priced card for the extras that can pay for themselves. i.e. lounge access, transportation, etc. If I go this route, I will use the card for all my purchases, in place of my debit card, just be sure to pay off the balance when it comes due. Otherwise, you can get yourself in big financial trouble. Are there better cards out there? I’m sure there is, but like you said, do your research, and get the one that best suits your needs.

Hello Robert,

Thanks for commenting. I never knew that some cards offer special benefits to retired employees — that is very cool. And I know before COVID, flying stand-by was pretty risky since planes were full, so always good to have the card/miles as a back up!

David

MARK JUNGERS

Great and amusing article, but I think another thing to consider about WHICH airline co-branded credit card to get, IF you’re going to get one, is…not just the “master” airline with whom the card is actually co-branded, but which airlines are mileage partners with that airline, i.e. you might fly a lot on Podunk Airlines, and/or live in one of their hub cities, etc., but if their only mileage partners are Air South Dakota and Bolivian AeroBus, then to my mind that rather diminishes the potential reward value, unless Podunk Airlines is a truly global, huge blue-chip airline that flies everywhere you’d want to go.

Hey Mark,

Great points. Although I don’t mention which airline’s credit card that I have, most would probably guess Alaska Airlines (and they’d be right). Even before the news with Oneworld, Alaska offers so many different mileage partners, that I have been very satisfied.

Also… I am now wondering if I should do a story someday where we all just make up names of airlines. That could get pretty interesting! Although Podunk Airlines would be hard to beat :).

David

Rob Young

Hi David – great article, and great advice, especially about paying off (I do it every two weeks) so as to not accrue interest. My advise about a credit card that pays for travel is to get a non-airline credit card. We obtained one of those cards a few years ago and it was free the 1st year, then it’s been $59/year for us since (and we are grandfathered into that rate, because now it’s $95/year!).

We use it for just about everything (except Target, gas, warehouse club shopping, and dining out), so it accumulates a lot at 2%. And by everything, I mean cell phone, Internet, city utility, and garbage collection bills, plus medical bills, groceries, travel (obviously, though we’re likely to switch travel to a card that pays 3%), etc.

I just redeemed $139 in rewards for $165 hotel bill! And we can now redeem those $ to pay off a number of new categories, not just travel.

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