What to do with a grounded airline card
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Co-branded airline credit cards can be great when you’re a frequent traveler and prefer to fly with one specific brand. Maybe you live in that airline’s hub city, or it has the most frequent flights to where you often travel.
But not every card is a perfect fit forever. And given the somewhat-limiting rewards structures these cards can have, you might not get a great value from them if you cut down on your flight spending with the airline.
So, what can you do when your airline card is grounded? Here are a few steps to take:
Assess the annual fee
Some co-branded airline credit cards, such as the JetBlue Card* and American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card* don’t have annual fees. Others do, though, and they can range dramatically. For example:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: $69
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®*: $99 (waived first 12 months)
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: $250
- United Club℠ Infinite Card*: $525
Often, the higher the annual fee, the more extensive the benefits a card offers. If you’re no longer flying often with the airline and can’t take advantage of benefits like free checked bags or in-flight discounts, you’re probably not getting enough value to outpace the fee.
But it may still be worthwhile to avoid the temptation to close the account strictly based on that fee, says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of the Debt Escape Plan. “Get on the phone and ask if they will waive it for a year. That’ll give you more time to decide if you really want to shut it down.”
Review the rewards
Many of your co-branded airline card’s rewards and benefits will be tailored to trips you take with the airline. However, some co-branded cards can also add a lot of value to your everyday spending, Harzog says. In that case, the points and miles may be worth hanging onto.
For example, the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®* has a $99 annual fee and earns 2X miles on gas, dining and groceries (excluding Target and Walmart purchases), then 1X miles on all other eligible purchases. That’s in addition to the 3X miles on Hawaiian Airlines spending.
Even if you only fly with Hawaiian once or twice per year, you can get a lot of value by racking up rewards in those regular spending categories, then redeeming them for your occasional trips.
Consider a product change
If you still enjoy flying with the airline but you’re not getting enough value from your card to outweigh the annual fee, the best solution might be a product change.
Your issuer will likely have limitations, such as a minimum time you’ll need to have held the account. And you’ll generally be limited to other cards within the same co-branded family.
With a product change, you would maintain the age of your account, which can help protect your credit rating — unlike if you close your account altogether.
How to permanently ground your airline card
If your co-branded airline card is simply no longer working for you, you may decide the best option is to simply close your account.
Before you do, know that closing a credit card can have a negative impact on your credit scores. If you are holding onto revolving debt, it can affect your credit utilization — the amount you owe on revolving credit products compared to the amount you can borrow, both per card and overall. For credit scoring purposes, you will want to have a low credit utilization ratio.
To keep your credit scores elevated when closing an account, consider opening another credit card that better fits your needs first. A travel credit card that’s not co-branded with an airline can offer more flexibility, for example. “If the credit limit at least replaces the one you have with the airline card, the impact will be minimal,” says Harzog.
To close your card, you will need to zero out the balance. Then, use the issuer’s online messaging center to close your account or call the number on the back of the card to make the request. Your card is now permanently grounded, and you can move on to rewards that will help you go further in the future.
*The information about these cards has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.