Choosing Your Credit Card: Do Airline Or Bank Cards Yield Better Deals For Travelers?

Who doesn’t love free flights? We sure do. ShopSmart magazine, a Consumer Reports publication, has tracked the best credit cards and methods to accrue points towards free flights in its latest issue, and some of these tips are extremely relevant for readers.

While choosing a loyalty carrier or airline credit card is often a personal matter – if your home city is a hub for American Airlines, it might not make sense to choose a United card, for example – these tips are relevant to most travelers and first-time card activators.

“You’ve got more options than ever for credit cards that let you rack up points for free travel,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart in a release. “But finding one that will score you free tickets the fastest can be tricky. Depending on your travel and spending patterns, sometimes airline cards are best but sometimes you’re better off with bank cards.”Choosing Your Card

Choose an airline card if:
· You’re loyal to a particular airline
· You travel a lot
· You want a free trip fast
· You like to wheel and deal

Airline cards usually aren’t as generous with points, but may be worth it for those who can score a decent up-front bonus. Airline card users should check offers listed on an airline’s website and use them as a starting bid when calling the airline directly to negotiate a deal or to ask for double points. A notable caveat: blackout dates and other restrictions can be an issue with airline cards.

Choose a bank card if:
· You fly based on price
· You don’t want to deal with blackout dates
· You are enrolled in several frequent flier programs

Users can earn points on purchases and spend them on any airline they choose – points are usually tied to the price of the ticket, so the lower the price, the fewer the points needed. Bank cards are a better option for those concerned about when they can fly and how much time they have to use their points. Some cards allow users to transfer earned points to a variety of airline programs.

ShopSmart suggests the following as particularly worthy card selections:

1.) American Express Premier Rewards Gold. This bank card rewards shoppers with three points per $1 spent for airfare; two points per $1 spent on gas and groceries; one point per $1 spent elsewhere. Users who spend $2,000 in the first three months can earn 25,000 bonus points. There’s no interest charge; users pay balances in full every month. No annual fee is charged for the first year, then $175.

2.) Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa or MasterCard. These bank cards reward shoppers with two points per $1 spent for travel and dining; one point per $1 elsewhere and a seven percent yearly bonus on points. Users who spend $3,000 in the first three months earn 40,000 bonus points (worth $500 on travel booked through Chase). APR for purchases is 15.24%; the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

3.) Delta SkyMiles American Express Gold. This airline card rewards shoppers with two miles per $1 spent on Delta; one mile per $1 spent elsewhere. Users get a free checked bag for up to 9 people in a reservation; 20% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases. APR for purchases is 15.24%, 17.24%, or 19.24%; the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Do you have a bank card or an airline card? Both? Neither? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Tell us why you love your card or why you chose what you chose.

[Image Credit: Flickr user 401 (k) 2013]