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Airline Credit Cards vs General Travel Cards

Airline Credit Cards vs General Travel Cards
Airline Credit Cards vs General Travel Cards

Airline Credit Cards vs General Travel Cards

If you fly frequently, airline co-branded credit cards can unlock valuable perks and rewards with your preferred carrier. But general travel cards that allow flexible redemptions across brands also offer advantages.

So how do you choose between these options? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare pros and cons of airline cards and general travel cards across factors like rewards earnings, redemptions, fees, and benefits. Read on to determine which type makes more sense for your needs.

Airline Card Overview

Airline credit cards directly partner with specific carriers to offer branded benefits:

  • Earn more miles on flights and purchases with that carrier
  • Redeem miles for award seats on the partner airline
  • Provide discounted companion fares
  • Offer free checked bags and priority boarding
  • Provide elite status upgrades and lounge access
  • May earn bonus miles on other purchase categories too

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

Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards

Delta cards from American Express offer perks like:

  • Earn 2-4X miles on Delta purchases
  • First class companion certificates
  • Free checked bags
  • Discounted Sky Club lounge access
  • Priority boarding
  • Signup bonuses up to 100,000 miles

United MileagePlus Credit Cards

United cards from Chase provide benefits like:

  • Earn 2-4X miles on United purchases
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets
  • United Club one-time passes
  • Priority boarding
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credits
  • Signup bonuses up to 100,000 miles

American AAdvantage Credit Cards

Citi AA cards offer:

  • 2-3X miles on American Airlines purchases
  • First checked bag free
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% savings on in-flight purchases
  • Reduced mileage award flights
  • Signup bonuses up to 75,000 miles
See also  Getting Airport Lounge Access with Credit Cards

General Travel Card Overview

In contrast, general travel rewards cards offer flexible redemptions:

  • Points or miles redeemable for any brand of travel
  • Earn 2-5X on broad travel categories, not just one airline
  • Transfer points to various airline/hotel partners
  • Luxury card benefits like lounge access and credits
  • Large signup bonuses, 50,000+ points

Here are some leading flexible travel cards:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • 60,000 point signup bonus
  • 5X points on travel booked through Chase
  • Points transfer 1:1 to airline and hotel partners
  • $50 annual hotel credit

Capital One Venture Rewards

  • 75,000 mile signup bonus
  • 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel
  • Redeem miles as statement credits toward any travel purchase

Citi Premier Card

  • 80,000 point signup bonus
  • 3X points on travel, gas stations, restaurants, etc
  • Points transfer to 16 airline partners

Platinum Card from American Express

  • 100,000+ point signup bonus
  • 10X points on hotels and flights booked through AmexTravel.com
  • Transfer points to 21 airline and hotel partners
  • Up to $200 airline fee credit annually

Comparing Mileage Earning Rates

Earning structures favor airline cards for purchases with that airline, while general travel cards offer broader bonuses:

Airline Card Earning

  • 3-5X miles per $1 spent with the partner airline
  • 2X miles on other categories like dining, groceries, etc
  • High bonuses promote loyalty for brand purchases

General Travel Card Earning

  • 2-5X miles on all travel booked through issuer portal
  • 2-3X miles at gas stations, restaurants, etc
  • Bonuses across wider merchants, not just one airline

This means you’ll earn more miles for flights with your chosen airline card. But a general travel card can earn better rewards for purchases with other brands.

See also  Top Airline Miles Credit Cards Compared

Comparing Redemption Options

Redemption differences include:

Airline Card Redemptions

  • Miles redeem for award flights on that airline
  • Limited flexibility – branded miles remain in program
  • Prices set by award charts with mileage levels

General Travel Card Redemptions

  • Points/miles redeemable toward any brand travel
  • Transfer points to airline/hotel partners for more efficiency
  • Can redeem for cash-back, gift cards, etc
  • More redemption angles with flexible currencies

Airline cards limit redemptions to one carrier. But programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards offer more options to maximize value.

Evaluating Fees and Perks

Typical fees and benefits for each card type include:

Airline Card Fees/Perks

  • Priority boarding, bag discounts, airport lounge access
  • Qualify for elite status through sign-up bonuses and spending
  • No foreign transaction fees common
  • Annual fees around $95+ often waived first year

General Travel Card Fees/Perks

  • Luxury benefits like lounge access, elite status, travel credits
  • Valuable travel protections – rental coverage, trip delay insurance
  • High annual fees around $250+, but offset with statement credits
  • May charge foreign transaction fees

Both offer airport lounge access. But general travel cards provide additional high-end benefits that compensate for heftier fees.

Best Signup Bonus Offers

Current examples of lucrative new cardholder bonuses include:

Airline Card Bonuses

  • Delta SkyMiles Gold Card – 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 Citi Advantage Card – 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in 3 months

General Travel Card Bonuses

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in 3 months
  • Capital One Venture X – 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in 3 months
  • Amex Platinum Card – 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in 6 months
See also  Using Credit Card Travel Credits Efficiently

Bonuses frequently change but often carry values between $500 – $1,000. Meet spending requirements to earn.

Is an Airline or General Travel Card Right for You?

Frequent flyers who are loyal to one airline may get more benefit from a branded airline credit card for perks like:

  • Free checked bags – Valuable for heavy packers
  • Priority boarding – Ensures overhead space and less wait time
  • Discounted companion fares – Save money when flying with family/friends
  • Lounge access – Rest and refresh during connections with free food/drinks

However, flexible travel spenders who shop sales across different airlines and hotels can maximize value from a general travel card’s:

  • Broad bonus categories – Earn more points on spending with any supplier
  • Better signup bonuses – Lucrative offers incentivize new applications
  • Transferable currencies – Move points between multiple programs as needed

Either card type can provide huge travel savings if matched with your habits and redeemed efficiently.

Final Thoughts on Airline Cards vs General Travel Cards

The choice between an airline co-branded card or general travel card ultimately depends on your loyalty. Frequent flyers who stick to one airline most trips get the most benefit from branded airline card perks and airline-specific mileage bonuses.

But flexible travelers who shop sales and deals across carriers and hotels can maximize rewards with a card that accelerates earning across spending.

Either option can unlock free trips and vacations with a sound points strategy. The best card aligns with where you spend the most on flights, hotels, rental cars, and other transportation expenses.

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