There are a lot of benefits to having an airline credit card or travel rewards card, especially when trying to consolidate debt. Many people compare personal loans for their debt reduction and rarely consider travel or airline cards, even though their rewards and membership perks far outweigh what a loan can get.
But whether or not you’re looking for a new card to transfer balances or just maximize your spending power, there are a few things to consider about travel-related credit cards. Here’s what you need to know.
Benefits of an airline credit card
Airline-based credit cards are typically major brands (Visa, American Express, Mastercard, and Discover) that partner with specific airlines to co-brand a card. If you’re a frequent flier, some of these cards have great perks, such as:
- Complimentary access to their airport lounges (typically seen in the premier version of a co-branded card)
- $0 checked bag fees
- Easier to ascend in their loyalty programs, which can provide valuable rewards (points, miles, or dollars)
- Extended warranty and travel insurance policies
- Zero liability for unauthorized card use should you lose your luggage while traveling.
- Many airlines partner with hotels, so you can transfer points over if you’re a little short.
The most significant drawbacks to airline credit cards are that they often have higher interest rates than personal loans, and if you change your preferred carrier, your points won’t transfer. However, paying your balances in full each month can be a good option if you’re looking for luxury travel or big-ticket purchases such as a new car.
Benefits of a travel rewards card
A travel rewards card could be a better option if you’re not an air traveler but often spend on hotels and rental cars. These cards are also branded with major card companies so they’re accepted worldwide.
Travel cards typically offer signup bonuses (often worth $500 or more), which can be redeemed for free stays at select hotels, free car rentals from certain companies, or even cash back. In addition, many travel rewards cards have:
- Multiple travel partnerships with airlines and hotels so your points are more flexible
- Included premium-tier membership levels at some hotels or airlines
- $0 international currency fees meaning you won’t be charged conversion fees for using your card in another country
The drawbacks of travel rewards cards are that they often have lower rewards rates than specific co-branded cards, and their partnerships can change anytime.
How to choose the right card for you
Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of both types of cards, it’s time to figure out which one is best for your situation.
The most essential aspect to consider is how you like to travel. Do you often rely on the same airline carrier for flights, or do you prefer to find the best rate possible? Do you live near an airport that’s a major hub for one brand (for example, Delta considers Atlanta, GA to be its hub while United uses O’Hare in Chicago, IL), or are you closer to a smaller airport that has a variety of airlines supporting it?
Another consideration is how much you’re willing to spend for utilizing the card. Many premium-tier co-branded cards come with hefty annual fees in exchange for top-tier membership levels and exclusive lounge access. If you’re a frequent traveler then those annual fees are usually money well spent. However, if you’re only someone who takes a trip every few years, paying over $500 a year for your credit card might not be worth it in the long run.
The bottom line
Both airline credit cards and travel rewards cards have their benefits and disadvantages. It all depends on your needs and preferences.
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