On an average day, more than 2.5 million people rely on planes to get them where they need to go. If you’re a frequent flyer, it’s wise to take advantage of the perks of an airline credit card. You can score tons of travel-related rewards if you use your card responsibly.
However, we realize it’s tricky to decide which airline card fits your lifestyle. And once you have a card, you may not know how to maximize its benefits.
That’s why we’ve created this info-packed guide that gives you the scoop on airline cards. Whether you travel for business or for leisure, the FAQs below will help you effectively choose - and use - an airline credit card. Let us know if we’re missing any vital details!
General Questions About Airline Credit Cards
What is an airline credit card?
An airline credit card is a credit card where cardholders earn rewards by paying for flights from participating airlines. Unlike a debit card or a secured credit card, a traditional airline credit card provides a line of credit funded by a financial establishment. You generally need good or excellent credit to get an airline card.
Can I only use an airline credit card for flights and other airport expenses?
No, unless the card lacks a logo from a financial institution like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Citi. If you have one of these logos on your card, you can use it at regular retailers rather than just the airport.
However, keep in mind that you may not earn points for regular expenses. Airline credit cards are primarily designed to reward flight-related costs, not everyday purchases.
Is an airline credit card the same as a travel credit card?
Technically speaking, no. Airline credit cards and travel credit cards are both excellent options for travelers, but they focus on different expenditures and rewards.
As the name implies, airline credit cards focus on rewarding airport-related costs. Travel credit cards often offer flight perks, but they also provide discounts and freebies for hotel rooms, rental cars, and similar travel-related expenses.
Is it really worth it to get an airline credit card?
Yes, if you travel frequently and prefer a particular airline. The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card lets you rack up rewards at an assortment of airlines, but most airline credit cards force you to pick a favorite.
Many airline credit cards have an annual fee. This fee is totally worth it if you rack up enough rewards, but it’s hard to do that if you don’t travel often or if you alternate between multiple airports.
If the above description sounds like you, consider a travel credit card or a hotel credit card instead of an airline card. You might benefit more from a flexible card.
What is the best airline credit card?
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is our favorite airline credit card (you can get all the details by scrolling to the review above), but we’ve also got a few other top picks:
- United MileagePlus Explorer Visa Card
- Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa Credit Card
- British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card
Here’s a quick rundown of why we chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card: You aren’t stuck with one airline. This is a flexible card that lets you rack up points at any participating airline instead of forcing you to commit to just one.
Oh, and we’re also impressed by the card’s generous signup bonus. You get 50,000 points if you spend at least $4,000 on qualifying purchases during your first 3 months as an account holder.
Application and Approval of Airline Credit Cards
How do I apply for an airline credit card?
Depending on your preferred card’s process, you can generally apply online, over the phone, or via a paper application that you return via fax or postal mail. Some airports also let you apply on site with a customer service agent.
Online applications often provide instant responses, so you’ll know within 30 to 60 seconds whether you’re approved or denied.
How do I know if I’ll get approved for an airline credit card?
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a guessing game. However, you can make an educated guess before you apply by reading reviews about the card or checking the card’s terms of service.
Also, look for words like “excellent credit,” “premier members,” or “high credit line” in the description. These are all signs that you need a high FICO score.
Cards with hefty APR fees and low credit limits are often more forgiving when it comes to applicants with credit blemishes.
If you’ve got bad credit, take some time to repair it before you try to get an airline card. You typically need good or excellent credit to get one, but sometimes you can squeak by with fair credit.
If I get rejected for one airline credit card, does that mean I’ll be rejected for all of them?
No, but it’s not a good sign. Each credit card company has different requirements, but many of them look for applicants with high FICO scores, few (if any) collection agency debts, and a low credit utilization ratio.
For example, if you currently have $50,000 in credit on your report but you’re utilizing $45,000 of it, a credit card company might not want to take a chance on you. You may also have a hard time getting approved for airline credit cards if you are unemployed or you have a recent and/or undischarged bankruptcy on your credit report.
Why didn’t I receive an instant approval for my airline credit card?
Sorry, but we can’t give a specific answer without reviewing your personal credit report (and we aren’t allowed to do that!). However, here are some common reasons why people don’t receive instant approvals:
- Mismatch of information (like if your credit report has one address but your application has another)
- A low FICO score with no recent collections or court judgments
- A previous bankruptcy
- A high credit score paired with low income
This is not an all-inclusive list of reasons why applications get delayed. A delay occurs when the computer can’t automatically approve your application, so your app requires manual review by a person.
Remember, a delay doesn’t always equal a rejection. There’s no harm in being proactive and contacting the credit card company about your app. You may be able to provide information that influences their decision to give you an airline credit card.
How many airline credit cards do I need?
We recommend following the one-and-done rule when it comes to airline credit cards. Many cards require you to commit to a specific airline if you want to earn rewards, so there’s no need for multiple cards.
You can still use any airline you want; you just won’t rack up as many rewards.
Airline Credit Card Fees
What are some common fees found on airline credit cards?
Many airline credit cards have an annual fee (more on that below). You can also expect to find cash advance fees, late payment fees, and returned payment fees on many airline credit cards.
What’s the APR for an airline credit card?
Airline credit cards have different APRs depending on which card you choose. You can find your desired card’s APR by reviewing its terms and conditions before you apply.
With that being said, we generally see variable APRs ranging from 16% to 26% for airline credit cards. Some of them also have penalty APRs that are around 30%, so do your best to pay your monthly statements on time.
Why does my friend have a lower APR than I do?
Does your friend have the same airline credit card as you? Different cards have different APRs.
If you have the same credit card, your friend might have better credit than you - at least in the opinion of the card issuer. Better credit doesn’t necessarily mean that your friend has a higher FICO, though. Your friend might have less debt than you or a low credit utilization ratio.
Will my airline credit card have an annual fee?
Probably, yes. The majority of the airline credit cards we’ve researched have an annual fee that’s around $100.
Some cards waive the annual fee for the first year so you have time to decide if you want to keep it or cancel it.
How do I get a late fee waived?
Call the credit card company ASAP! They won’t waive your first fee automatically unless it’s written in your contract, and we haven’t seen any airline cards that have that perk.
If you usually pay your bill on time, you might have success getting your first late fee waived. Some credit card companies waive multiple late fees if you can prove there was a serious event, such as an emergency hospitalization or a natural disaster, that caused you to fall behind on payments.
Can I get a lower APR?
Possibly, but it won’t happen unless you take action. If you’ve had a card for a long time - we’re talking years, not months - and never missed a payment, you might be able to score a lower APR. Your initial APR is almost always based on creditworthiness, and your credit can change significantly over the years.
Airline Credit Card Rewards
What are some types of airline credit card rewards?
Reduced-cost and complimentary flights are popular rewards associated with airline cards. Here are some other perks you might receive:
- Free Wi-Fi
- Free snacks or beverages
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free bag checks, at least for the first bag or two
- Free or cheap upgrades from coach to first class
- Skip-the-line boarding where you get on before other passengers
- Complimentary airline lounge passes
Keep in mind that restrictions may apply, and there may be blackout dates that affect reward redemptions.
Can I earn as many rewards as I want with my airline credit card?
Depends on the card. If you want lots of perks, get a card that offers unlimited rewards.
How do I earn rewards with my airline credit card?
Pay for flights and other airport-related expenses with your card and watch as the points accumulate! There are a handful of cards that require you to submit your receipts and request rewards manually, but many airline credit cards automatically credit points for qualifying purchases to your account.
Some cards, like the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, also offer points for everyday purchases (in smaller increments, though).
How do I redeem airline credit card rewards?
Your redemption method depends on your credit card. Some cards offer a convenient travel portal where members can log in and trade points for flights or other perks. Other cards require you to pay for your travel up front and then submit receipts for reimbursement.
Check the cardholder agreement (you can usually find this titled something like “Terms and Services” online if you’ve misplaced your paper copy) for specific information on your redemption process.
Do my airline credit card rewards expire?
Sometimes, but many credit cards offer expiration-free airline miles. If you receive miles with an expiration date, expect the airline credit card to still give you plenty of time - like a year or two - to redeem your miles.
You may be able to request an extension if you’re worried you won’t use your rewards in time. Talk to the credit card company about your concerns to see if you can work out a deal.
Why do different purchases have different reward values?
Airline credit cards are geared toward customers who make specific purchases. If you want rewards for everyday purchases, you might prefer a general rewards credit card.
In general, you can expect to find higher points/rewards for airline-related purchases when you use an airline credit card. You might still earn points for other purchases, but they will be for lower amounts because your card is specifically designed for airline expenses.
Can I trade reward points for cash?
Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the credit card company. You can generally redeem rewards for airline-related perks, even if you see a cash value listed in your account. The cash value is there to help you figure out how many points you can use toward purchases, not to encourage you to trade points for cash.
For example, your account might say “50,000 points - cash value $500.” That doesn’t mean you have $500 to spend on whatever you want. It means you can apply your rewards toward a flight that costs $500 or less if you want to fly for free.
Can I sell rewards I’ve earned with my airline credit card?
It’s unlikely that you can legally sell your airline rewards. However, you might be able to transfer them to another card or a different rewards program. Review your credit card guidelines to learn more about your options, or contact the company directly.
Potential Concerns Regarding Airline Credit Cards
What should I do if my rewards aren’t credited to my account?
Say something! Your credit card company may have mistakenly left the rewards off of your statement, or there might be another reason why you didn’t get them. We talk about that more in the question below.
Why is my airline credit card withholding my rewards?
Are they intentionally withholding your rewards? If so, it might be because you have fallen behind on your payments. Contact the company to make sure you haven’t had any missing or returned payments.
A credit card company can also withhold your rewards if you violated your cardholder agreement. For example, your credit card agreement may forbid customers from incurring gambling-related expenses with the card, so it’s a problem if you visit a casino.
Another potential reason you aren’t receiving your rewards is because you’re checking too soon. Sometimes it takes weeks - or even months - for a credit card company to credit your rewards. They have to wait for data from the airline and then review your account to make sure everything looks okay.
We can only provide estimated guesses regarding your lack of rewards. If you aren’t getting the rewards you deserve, we recommend that you contact your credit company to find out why.
What should I do if I lose my airline credit card
Call your credit card provider immediately and let them know what happened unless you’re 100% sure you lost it in your own home and can find it quickly.
Many cards offer fraud protection, but this benefit isn’t automatic. It takes time to dispute fraudulent charges, and your FICO might take a temporary hit while you dispute them. If you contact the card issuer right away, then can freeze or cancel your card so identity thieves can’t travel the world on your paycheck.
What if I can’t afford the monthly payments for my airline credit card?
Let’s identify the reason you can’t pay your bill. Is there an event, such as a serious illness of a job layoff, that caused you to fall behind? Talk to the credit card company and see if you can work out a flexible payment plan.
Is the problem that you live paycheck to paycheck and need a different due date? Many credit card companies give cardholders some control over when their bills are due. If yours falls just before payday, explain your situation and request a change.
Why did the credit card company lower my credit line?
Oh no! A credit limit decrease is frustrating, especially if you have no clue why it happened.
Have you recently missed some payments? That’s one reason why companies reduce your credit line. Here are some other reasons why a credit card issuer may lower your credit line:
- Account inactivity
- A history of small purchases that don’t utilize much of your credit line
- Paying off your bill in full each month (yes, unfortunately some companies hate this)
- A recent bankruptcy filing
If you think the decrease is unwarranted, express your concerns to the credit card company. They may offer to reinstate your credit line, either now or in the future.