credit cards

Flying high on airline rewards credit card

 

Intro: Free baggage check, priority boarding, lounge access, up to 50,000 bonus miles, and no currency conversion fees on foreign purchases. All these airline perks could be yours just by opening one of a variety of airline reward credit cards.

With escalating fees and airfares, fewer flights and packed plane ... these credit card perks are looking more and more attractive. But before you open a rewards card, consider the costs of the card versus how often you travel, and what you'll have to spend on these cards to actually get the perks.

Take SOT: Greg McBride, Senior Financial Analyst

"Earning the bonus miles often means hitting a certain spending threshold soon after getting the card. These offers are designed not just to get you to open the card, but foster the type of loyalty that makes you keep using it."

Delta SkyMiles:
- 30k miles when you spend $500 in first 3 months
- $0 intro fee; $95 annually
- First checked-bag free - for up to 9 people on reservation
- Priority boarding

American Airlines Advantage:
- 30k miles when you spend 1,000 in first 3 months
- $0 intro fee; $95 annually
- First checked-bag free - for up to 4 on reservation
- Priority boarding

United MileagePlus:
- 25k miles after first use; an additional 10k miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year; another 5k miles for adding authorized user
- $0 intro fee; $95 annually
- 2 free checked-bags for cardholder and one companion
- Priority boarding

Continue VO:
Whether or not an airline rewards card is a good choice for you depends largely on how much you travel and what airline you travel the most.

The average annual fee on most airline rewards cars is $95 dollars - which isn't bad when you consider checked baggage fees can run anywhere from $20-$50 dollars per bag, per person. The card can pay for itself with just a few trips and checked bags.

Take SOT:
"Calibrate spending with the annual fee. If you charge $5,000 to the card, it could take 5 years to earn another free domestic ticket, but you paid an annual fee each additional year. So the free ticket ends up costing several hundred dollars."

Continue VO:
Most airline cards also require you to spend a specific amount of money within a certain amount of time. For example, Delta requires you to spend $500 dollars within 3 months, American airlines requires $1000 dollars within the same time frame. If you don't meet these requirements, you don't get the bonus miles.

Also, consider factors not related to the card, but related to the airline. It's easy to pile up bonus miles, but tough to redeem. Between capacity controls, blackout dates, and airlines scaling back the number of seats in the sky, redemption for your dream vacation may be tougher than you think.

Although you can't avoid annual fees on these types of rewards cards - some cards help you save in other areas - like the British Airways Visa credit card - that offers no foreign transaction fees, which is particularly appealing to executives or frequent global travelers.

Take SOT:
"In choosing the right card for you, think about redeeming the miles rather than earning them. Which airline do you fly and where do you want to go? Also, is there a particular program where those miles can put you over the hump to get business- or first-class seats?"

Tag: To find out exactly what you want or need in an airline rewards credit card, visit the credit card tables at Bankrate.com. I'm Kristin Arnold.

 

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