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- Co-branded credit cards are issued by a financial institution (usually a bank or credit union) in partnership with a company, organization or brand
- Some examples of co-branded credit cards include airline, hotel and retail credit cards
- A co-branded credit card might be right for you if you're loyal to a particular brand and want to earn and redeem rewards with that brand
Co-branded credit cards are a relatively young phenomenon, first appearing in the 1980s. Since then, many global airlines, hotel chains and retailers have partnered with banks to issue co-branded credit cards. These types of credit cards are extremely popular among consumers who are loyal to certain brands for a reason — co-branded cards can provide cardholders with exclusive rewards, discounts and benefits with their favorite brand.
Nowadays, co-branded credit cards tend to get more niche. Along with major travel and retail brands like Delta Air Lines, Walmart and Amazon — all of which have their own co-branded credit cards — there are relative newcomers like Instacart and DoorDash who also want you to place their cards in your wallet. So, let’s explore what you might want to look for in a co-branded credit card and, more importantly, whether you need one or not.
What is a co-branded credit card?
Co-branded credit cards are issued by a financial institution (usually a bank, but it can also be a credit union or FinTech company) along with another company, organization or brand. These credit cards usually offer specific rewards and benefits associated with a brand. For example, you might earn rewards with a brand or receive exclusive discounts, free shipping and other perks.
To a consumer, there are no apparent differences between regular credit cards and co-branded credit cards. They work exactly the same, with cardmembers making purchases and paying for those purchases every billing cycle or over time (if carrying a balance). And, of course, consumers can use co-branded credit cards anywhere credit cards are accepted.
Pros and cons of co-branded credit cards
- Exclusive rewards, discounts and other valuable benefits with a particular brand
- Some co-branded credit cards, like airline or hotel credit cards, can help cardmembers achieve elite status, which comes with more perks
- Some co-branded credit cards may provide slightly better chances of approval
- Cardholders may be limited in where and how they can earn and spend rewards (if it’s brand-specific)
- Cardholders may be tempted to overpay to earn or redeem rewards
- Companies may devalue their rewards at any time and often do so without a warning
Best co-branded credit cards for 2023
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card: Best for Amazon Prime members
The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card* comes with an Amazon gift card of up to $150 upon approval. For rewards, you’ll earn 5 percent back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market; 2 percent back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; and 1 percent back on all other purchases.
There’s no annual fee with this card, but you must be an Amazon Prime member (currently $139 per year). To be clear, you probably won’t buy the Prime membership because of the card, but if you’re already a Prime member, having this card can be beneficial.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for Hilton loyalists
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card* is often considered to be one of the best co-branded hotel credit cards, despite its high annual fee of $450. It offers Diamond status, the highest level of elite status, which includes a daily food and beverage credit or continental breakfast (varies by brand and region) and Executive lounge access (where available), among numerous other elite status perks.
As for a welcome bonus, new cardmembers can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of card membership. Cardmembers will also earn 14X points at participating Hilton hotels or resorts; 7X points on flights booked directly with airlines or via American Express Travel and on car rentals booked directly with select car rental companies; 7X points at U.S. restaurants; and 3X points on all other purchases.
If you’re a Hilton fan, you will appreciate how tightly this card is packed with valuable goodies that make the annual fee more manageable. Some of the perks you’ll get include one annual free night reward after renewing your card each year, up to $250 in statement credits for eligible purchases made directly with participating Hilton resorts, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and more.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines flyers
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®* is one of the best — if not the best — co-branded airline credit cards thanks to all that it offers, but you’d need to fly American Airlines fairly often to take full advantage of it. It comes with a $0 intro annual fee for the first year (then a $99 annual fee after that), plus a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after spending $3,500 within the first four months of card membership.
For rewards, you’ll earn 2X miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, 2X miles at gas stations and restaurants and 1X miles on all other purchases. As for some of this card’s benefits, you’ll get your first checked bag free on domestic flights (for you and up to four companions traveling together on the same reservation), preferred boarding and 25 percent off in-flight food and beverage purchases.
Should you get a co-branded credit card?
Maybe, if you’re loyal to a particular brand
Do you have a favorite store (or three), a preferred hotel chain or an airline you always fly with? If so, then a co-branded credit card with your preferred brand could save you money, provide you with valuable perks and get you closer to your next goal, whether it’s a big-ticket purchase or pampering yourself at a five-star resort.
It’s OK to be picky
Don’t forget to check a co-branded credit card’s benefits. Some co-branded credit card issuers may offer several cards with different terms and benefits. For example, American Express offers several credit cards in partnership with Marriott Bonvoy. So, pick the card that works better for you.
Pay off your bills in full and on time
Make sure you pay off your balances in full every billing cycle. Many co-branded credit cards tend to have higher APRs, so carrying a balance and paying interest month after month will negate any rewards, benefits and savings you’re hoping to gain from the card. Strictly speaking, this rule applies to all types of credit cards, co-branded or otherwise.
Don’t work for your credit card — make it work for you
Avoiding interest is not all, however. There are other potential costs to consider. Having a co-branded credit card may sometimes nudge you into making a bad financial decision. For example, there might be a cheaper flight available with another airline, but you feel pressure to earn miles with your chosen airline card despite the price difference. It’s not a big deal when you have this dilemma only now and then, but if you face a choice like this fairly often, then using a flexible travel rewards credit card might be a better option.
Typically, you can only use a store credit card at that particular store or chain of stores, and whatever rewards and benefits you get are only available within the brand. A co-branded credit card, on the other hand, can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted and may offer rewards and benefits beyond its associated brand or company.
Some co-branded credit cards may be easier to get approved for, but approval is never guaranteed. Whether you apply for a regular credit card or a co-branded credit card, your credit score and credit history will be taken into account. That said, each issuer has its own application requirements and approval process, so make sure you’re aware of any requirements for the card you’re applying for ahead of time.
Yes, co-branded credit cards offer a range of special benefits and rewards associated with a particular company or brand. These benefits can include cash back, higher earning rates, discounts on purchases, loyalty status or other exclusive perks. Co-branded travel credit cards may also offer benefits like travel insurance, elite status, airport lounge access or concierge services.
The bottom line
Co-branded credit cards can offer a great way to save money and earn rewards and perks, but only if you’re loyal to a particular brand (such as a store, airline or hotel chain). Even then, it’s important to carefully consider any annual fees, interest rates and other associated costs with a co-branded card before applying. If you decide to get a co-branded credit card, make sure to use it responsibly and pay off the balance in full each month to avoid fees and interest.
*The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by Bankrate.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.