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When you are considering frequent flyer credit cards, it is helpful to understand what the cards are and how they can help you. Knowing your options can help you save money.

Before You Apply

When you are searching for frequent flyer credit cards, you need to consider whether you travel enough to justify an application for the card, how you can financially afford the credit card, and if your credit score and history will allow you to have a frequent flyer credit card. When you apply for a credit card, the company that issues the credit card will use what is called a FICO score to determine if they can issue the card to you. 

frequent flyer credit cards

People who have an excellent FICO score of 720+ score or a good score of 680+ are more likely to receive frequent flyer credit cards. However, if you have a bad credit score or you have a bad credit score of 580 or below, you are less likely to receive a frequent flyer credit card, or the credit card you receive will have higher interest rates and/or lower benefits than someone who has a higher FICO score.

FICO Scores

A FICO score is the standard for creating a credit history score. There are five methods of determining a FICO score. The first is your payment history. Paying your bills on time is critical to having a good FICO score. Your credit history depends on whether your bills are late, you have non-payments or bankruptcies. The amounts you owe on various debts such as credit cards or other loans will affect your FICO score. 

How long you have had a credit history with the length of your oldest accounts and the average age of your accounts, and the last time you used your oldest account is significant to a FICO score. The mix of credit you have such as credit cards and loans is important. Just having a single credit card or debit shows that you have less of a credit card history. Last, whether you have any recently applied for accounts is important. Recently applied for cards can undermine your FICO score because it is a new credit score history that detracts from your longer credit score history.

Other Considerations for Frequent Flyer Credit Cards

Like other credit cards, you may consider there are basic things you must consider when you apply for frequent flyer credit cards. Some things you need to consider are your financial situation, your credit score, whether you can pay your monthly bill in full if you can afford to carry a balance each month, and how frequently you use a credit card. A person who can pay a credit card bill in full each month and won’t carry a balance into the month by paying off the bill each month will be able to have lower interest rates and possibly lower annual fees depending on the credit card. 

How often you use the card is important. Frequent flyer credit cards that you don’t use will not accumulate miles or points depending on the issuer’s program. The credit limit is how much the credit card issuer allows you to have to spend from the credit card is critical for your credit card choice. The interest rate you pay for using the card, any interest-free period that allows you to avoid interest for a certain time before paying interest on the credit card, and any rewards benefits should factor into what frequent flyer credit cards you apply for as a consumer. 

What Are Frequent Flyer Credit Cards?

Frequent flyer credit cards are cards that give you rewards either for flying on a specific airline or by making purchases elsewhere to get points, miles, or other rewards.

The frequent flyer aspect of the frequent flyer credit cards is just that: being rewarded for frequent flying on a specific airline. Some frequent flyer cards partner with other merchants or vendors to offer points for miles or other rewards and are called “co-branded” cards. These co-branded cards often give points in addition to or in place of miles.

Types of Frequent Flyer Credit Cards

Frequent flyer credit cards don’t always give you miles directly. Some give you points that you can exchange for miles or other rewards. Often, the credit cards that give you points have greater flexibility than those cards that simply give you miles. Not only can you redeem the points for miles, but you can also redeem the points for other things such as general purchases, hotel reservations, or for rental car reservations. 

It’s critical, if you have a points-based frequent flyer card, that you are aware of expiration dates or other restrictions and that you redeem the points before the expiration dates. Always check the terms of the frequent flyer card before you make an application for a card. Co-branded frequent flyer credit cards, cards that are specific to one airline carrier, are more limited than a general miles or points credit card.

Benefits of Frequent Flyer Credit Cards

The main benefit for frequent flyer credit cards is that you earn frequent flyer miles each time you fly. Usually, you can earn one mile per dollar, often earning extra miles for purchases from the specific airline, or from businesses that partner with the airplane carrier. When you earn these miles, you can redeem the miles for free or discounted flights. 

Some airline cards offer benefits like free checked bags, upgrading your seats, and priority boarding. Other benefits for this credit card may be hotel or car rental discounts, depending on the partnered vendors, and using the airline carrier’s lounge at the airport. Carrier-specific perks often include discounts on in-flight refreshments and waivers of restrictions on budget fares.

Downsides to Frequent Flyer Credit Cards

While frequent flyer credit cards are useful in helping you travel, the credit cards are often limited to one airplane carrier and to the vendors that partner with the airplane carrier. The flights you earn may be subject to blackout dates and restrictions on where you can travel. Not all frequent flyer credit cards offer seat upgrades, free checked bags, or priority boarding. Check the terms of the credit card before you apply. 

Another problem with these credit cards is that some airlines have high annual credit card fees for the cards, typically $95 for using the card. Frequent flyer credit cards can also have higher credit card interest rates than other cards.

Why You Should Apply

The decision to apply for frequent flyer credit cards should be based on how often you fly, whether you fly frequently with the same airplane carrier, the perks such as seat upgrades, and whether blackout dates and limited destinations are acceptable to you as a traveler. 

You should consider a frequent flyer card if you travel with a single carrier, are a traveler who usually checks bags or who wants other benefits such as using the airline carrier’s lounge at the airport or discounts on in-flight refreshments.

Alternatives to Frequent Flyer Credit Cards

Instead of frequent flyer credit cards, there are different types of credit cards you may want to try such as a travel card or reward credit cards that can help you earn cashback or points toward other travel expenses. Some options are cashback credit cards and travel credit cards.

Cash Back Credit Cards

There are three general cashback credit cards for the consumer to consider: points, statement credit, and cashback.

Points

Some cashback credit cards are based on points that you accumulate. Instead of immediately receiving cashback from the card, you would instead receive points to redeem for the money back. It’s necessary for you to redeem the points because the points are usually not redeemable automatically. These cards give you money to save for airline flights, but don’t directly buy airline miles or other travel benefits.

Credit

The cashback is rewarded to you in the form of a credit on your statement. Instead of a check, you would receive credit on your monthly credit card statement to help you pay off the credit card balance. This may help you save some money toward airline travel, but does not directly mean you have credit toward airline miles or other perks. Some cashback credit forms let you deposit into a savings or checking account, but these are rare.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Some cashback credit cards allow you to get actual cashback either in the form of a check or as deposits made into savings or checking accounts. Similar to points and credit cashback cards, the cash-based cards do not directly buy airline flights or other travel expenses. You have to save the cashback for any travel purchases.

When You Should Choose Cash Back Credit Cards

You should choose cash back credit cards if you do not fly with a specific airline carrier. A general cash back credit card will give you the flexibility to make purchases such as airline tickets or hotel reservations.

Travel Cards

Generalized travel credit cards don’t offer the same benefits as airline-specific perks such as miles, free checked bags, or seat upgrades. However, generalized travel credit cards offer more flexibility in the rewards you can redeem. With a generalized travel credit card, you can earn miles or points with the purchases you make. 

A travel credit card can allow you to book travel reservations and use points for general travel purchases. The best benefit is that you aren’t limited to one airline, rental car, or hotel company so you can use the rewards as you choose.

When You Should Choose Travel Cards

As a consumer, you should choose a generalized travel credit card over frequent flyer credit cards if you want cheaper fares and not be tied to one airline carrier’s program. A travel credit card will usually allow you to book flights or hotels wherever you want. Having a travel credit card doesn’t bar you from having frequent flyer credit cards. It is often advantageous for you if you often travel with one airline carrier to have both a frequent flyer credit card and a generalized travel card for miles as well as travel expenses.

Final Thoughts

Whatever frequent flyer credit cards you apply for, understand your financial situation before applying, your travel needs, and the interest rates you can afford for a credit card.

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