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Airline Credit Cards vs Hotel Cards

Airline Credit Cards vs Hotel Cards
Airline Credit Cards vs Hotel Cards

Airline Credit Cards vs Hotel Cards

Travel rewards credit cards let you earn free flights, hotel nights, and other perks from spending. But is it better to focus on airline miles or free hotel nights?

In this guide, we’ll compare airline and hotel co-branded credit cards across factors like rewards structures, fees, elite status benefits, and redemptions. Read on for help choosing which travel card works best for your needs.

Airline Card Overview

Airline co-branded credit cards offer branded miles and perks with specific carriers, such as:

  • 2-5x miles per $1 spent on flights with the airline
  • Checked bag discounts and priority boarding
  • Airport lounge access, in some cases
  • Redeem miles for award seats on that airline
  • Transfer miles to hotel and other airline partners

Let’s explore some of the major airline card options in more detail.

Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards

Delta cards from American Express provide benefits like:

  • Earn 2-4x miles on Delta purchases
  • Discounted Sky Club lounge access
  • First checked bag free
  • Main cabin companion tickets from $99
  • Priority boarding and in-flight discounts

United MileagePlus Credit Cards

United cards from Chase include perks such as:

  • Earn 2-4x miles on United purchases
  • First and second checked bags free
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets
  • United Club lounge passes
  • Priority boarding and flight discounts
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credits

American Airlines AAdvantage Credit Cards

Citi AAdvantage cards offer:

  • 2-3x miles on American Airlines purchases
  • First checked bag free
  • Preferred boarding
  • Reduced mileage awards for domestic flights
  • Admirals Club lounge access on some cards
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Hotel Card Overview

In contrast, hotel co-branded credit cards focus on:

  • Earning points on hotel stays with a specific brand
  • Redeeming points for free night awards
  • Getting elite status perks like upgrades and late checkout
  • Anniversary free night certificates
  • Points transferable to airline partners

Here are some top hotel credit card options:

World of Hyatt Credit Card

  • Up to 9x points on Hyatt stays
  • 1 free night at Category 1-4 hotel annually
  • Automatic Hyatt Discoverist elite status
  • Points transfer 1:1 to airline partners

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

  • Up to 17x points at IHG hotels
  • Anniversary free night certificate
  • Platinum Elite status
  • Points transfer 1:1 to airlines

Hilton Honors American Express Cards

  • Up to 14x points at Hilton hotels
  • Weekend night reward certificates
  • Complimentary Hilton Gold or Diamond status
  • Points transfer 1:2 to select airline/rail partners

Comparing Rewards Structures

Let’s compare typical rewards rates you can earn with each card type:

Airline Card Earning

  • 3-5x miles per $1 on airfare with the affiliated airline
  • 2x miles at restaurants, gas stations, etc
  • 1x mile on non-bonus spending

Hotel Card Earning

  • 5-10x points per $1 on stays with the hotel brand
  • 2-3x points at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants
  • 1x point on non-bonus everyday spending

Airline cards accelerate miles earning on flights. Hotel cards do the same for hotel stays. For other purchases, rewards are similar.

Evaluating Fees and Perks

Here’s an overview of typical fees and benefits offered by each card type:

Airline Card Fees and Perks

  • Checked bags, lounge access, priority boarding
  • Qualify for elite status through spending
  • Airline fee credits – up to $100-$200 a year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fees of $95 – $99, sometimes waived first year
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Hotel Card Fees and Perks

  • Elite status for free room upgrades
  • Anniversary free night certificates
  • Resort credits – up to $250 per year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fees of $95 – $125

Both offer airline fee credits and lounge access in some cases. But hotel cards provide more credits at their affiliated properties.

Comparing Welcome Bonuses

Here are some current examples of new cardholder bonuses offered:

Airline Card Bonuses

  • Delta SkyMiles Gold – 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in 3 months
  • United Explorer Card – 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months
  • AA Advantage MileUp Card – 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in 3 months

Hotel Card Bonuses

  • IHG Rewards Club Premier – 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in 3 months
  • Hilton Honors Surpass Card – 150,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in 3 months
  • Hyatt Credit Card – 45,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in 3 months

Bonuses frequently change but often carry values between $500 – $900 in travel.

Travel Redemption Differences

Here are the key differences when it comes time to redeem your earned rewards:

Airline Card Redemptions

  • Redeem miles for flights on that airline
  • Use for airfare, seat upgrades, bag fees, etc
  • Prices set by loyalty program award charts

Hotel Card Redemptions

  • Redeem points for free night award stays
  • Room prices set by brand award charts
  • Select cash and gift card redemptions also available
  • Transfer points to airline partners to maximize

Airline cards offer fixed-value redemptions while hotel cards focus on free nights.

Who Does Each Type of Card Benefit Most?

Frequent flyers who are loyal to one airline get the most benefit from branded airline credit cards for perks like:

  • Free checked bags – big savings for families
  • Priority boarding – ensures overhead space
  • Lounge access – maximize layovers
  • Elite status – upgrades and discounts
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However, flexible travelers who shop sales and deals across multiple hotels may prefer a hotel card for:

  • Brand-agnostic rewards
  • Anniversary free night certificates
  • Elite status across all properties of a chain
  • Resort credits and bonuses

Analyze your habits to choose the card type providing you the most tangible value aligned to your spending.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Airline vs Hotel Cards

For committed brand devotees who always fly United or Delta and stay at Hiltons, the right co-branded airline and hotel card can unlock outstanding benefits and big travel savings.

But flexible travelers who spread their spending across multiple brands can also maximize value from general travel cards earning transferable rewards.

Assess your habits, run the numbers, and select the card providing the most value after accounting for fees. Focusing your spending strategically on the right card accelerates rewards.

Happy and lucrative travels! With the perfect card in your wallet, you’ll jet set and rest easy in no time.

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