Should you get an airline credit card or a travel rewards card?

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Airline credit cards vs. travel rewards credit cards

These two categories of credit cards may seem interchangeable, but they are actually quite different.

The airline credit card is a A co-branded credit card of a particular airline, the rewards of which can only be redeemed with that airline and its airline alliance partners. For example, the miles you earn with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card can only be redeemed through Delta or SkyTeam airline alliance partners, such as Air France or Aeroméxico.

Although airline credit cards are less flexible in terms of reward redemption opportunities, they do provide customized benefits for those loyal to a particular airline, including access to the airline lounge, free checked bags, waivers of foreign transaction fees and tailored benefits. To help you earn Elite Mode faster.

For example, if you hold a Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, you’ll get access to Delta Sky Club® lounges and free checked bags when you fly to Delta.

On the other hand, a Travel Rewards credit card is not tied to a specific travel brand, so the points earned are transferable and can be redeemed for all types of travel booked directly through the card’s travel portal or by transferring the points to any number of hotel or airline partners.

For example, the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card allows you to earn Capital One miles, which can be redeemed through the Capital One travel portal for various travel purchases including flights, car rentals, and hotels. You can also choose to transfer your Capital One miles to one of our airline and hotel partners.

3 questions to ask yourself when choosing between airline or travel credit cards

Both types of credit cards offer great opportunities to save money on an upcoming trip, and one is not inherently better than the other. Everyone has different needs, travel habits and preferences, so it is best to analyze your travel style and find the one that works best for you.

For starters, ask yourself the following three questions:

1. How do you usually travel?

If you tend to travel more than three times a year, an airline credit card may be a perfect fit, especially if you live in a city that serves as a hub for a particular airline. Delta has a center in Atlanta, for example, so a co-branded credit card like The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card would probably be a good addition.

If your travel style is diverse – a mix of cruises, road trips, train rides, etc. – a Travel Rewards credit card may suit you better, as you’ll be able to accumulate points and redeem more than just an airline ticket on one airline.

2. Do you have an expensive trip in the future?

With a particularly expensive trip, you can work backwards to figure out which credit card will be the best.

If you’re planning to travel around Europe in the next few months, for example, and anticipate traveling with more than one airline, using other transportation and staying in multiple hotels, consider convertible points earned via travel rewards cards such as Amex Membership Rewards® Points or Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. They can be redeemed through the card’s travel portals or transferred to dozens of airlines and hotel partners.

On the other hand, if United Airlines is flying everywhere you want to go and you’re staying with friends, the United Club℠ Infinite Card is a great option where you can earn United miles, access the United Club lounge and get free checked bags for your flights.

3. What is your budget for annual fees?

Keep in mind that many airline credit cards and travel rewards cards come with annual fees. Some cards offer very strong benefits for a fee of less than $100, but for cards that allow you to earn more points and miles and come with a variety of benefits, the annual fee can be close to $700.

While paying the annual fee isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to remember to stay within your budget and not pay for a new card when you can’t maximize all of its benefits.

Best airline credit cards

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards


For American Express® Gold Card rates and fees, click here.

To find out the rates and fees for the Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

To find out about Discover it® Miles rates and fees, click here.

Information about the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ card, the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card, and the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card was collected independently by Select and was not reviewed or provided by the card issuer prior to publication.

Editorial note: The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations contained in this article are those of the editorial board alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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