A Breakdown Of Airline Credit Cards And When To Use Them; 3 Signup Bonuses Ending Soon

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Airline credit cards have great benefits and can have great signup bonuses that make them worth acquiring. However I cringe when I see people using them as you can usually do better spending on other cards.  Though there are exceptions.

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American’s cards are issued by Citibank. There is a standard Platinum level AA card and an Executive level AA card.
The Platinum level card offers 50,000 miles for spending $3,000 in 3 months and the Executive level card offers 50,000 miles for spending $5,000 3 months. The Executive was offering 100K for a while (and I netted a cool million miles thanks to that in the first half of this year) though that’s gone now. Once upon a time AA counted all miles, even credit card bonuses, towards lifetime elite status. Mimi and I got lifetime Platinum status that way, but those days are long gone.

The Platinum level card has no fee the first year and then a $95 fee.
The Executive level card has a $450 annual fee.

The Platinum level card offers group 1 boarding, a free checked bag just for having the card, and a 10% mileage rebate when you redeem up to 100K miles per year.
The Executive level card offers elite check-in, security, and boarding, a free checked bag, and an Admirals Club membership. Oddly it doesn’t offer the 10% rebate.

Both cards offer 1 mile per dollar and 2 miles per dollar for spending on AA tickets.
The Platinum level card offers a $100 AA flight discount for spending $30,000 per year.
The Executive card awards 10,000 elite qualifying miles for spending $40,000 per year.

If you want AA miles you’ll do better doing general spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express as 20,000 Starpoints can convert into 25,000 AA miles.

For AA flights you may want to spend on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You’ll get free baggage on AA flights even if you purchase the flights with another card as long as your AA mileage number that you supplied when you applied for the card is on your flight reservation.
You can use Royal Jordanian’s site to attach your AA mileage number to British Airways Avios bookings on AA flights.

The Premier Rewards Gold card gives 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare and while those points don’t transfer to American, they can transfer to partners like British Airways where a flight that American charges 17,500 miles for might cost only 4,500 with British Airways Avios.

The Sapphire Preferred card gives 2-2.14 points per dollar and also includes 10,000 of trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, $3,000 of lost luggage protection, $500 of trip delay protection, $100 per day of baggage delay protection, and travel accident insurance. Those points also can’t transfer to American, but they do transfer to partners like British Airways as well.

So when does it makes sense to spend on these cards?
-If you need those 10,000 elite miles to bump up to the next elite level.
-If you prefer getting 2 AA miles per dollar on AA flights as opposed to AMEX or Chase points.
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Delta’s cards are issued by American Express. There is a Gold Delta Card, a Platinum Delta Card, and a Reserve Delta Card.

On the Gold card you’ll also get a $50 statement credit for making a Delta purchase within 3 months of getting the card.
On the Platinum card you’ll get a $100 statement credit for making a Delta purchase within 3 months of getting the card.

The Platinum card awards you 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) for spending $1,000 within 3 months. It also awards 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $25,000 or more in purchases on your Card in a calendar year and an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $50,000 or more in purchases on your Card in a calendar year.

The Reserve card awards you 10,000 bonus MQMs for spending $1. It also awards 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 or more in purchases on your Card in a calendar year and an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $60,000 or more in purchases on your Card in a calendar year.

The Platinum and Reserve cards come with an annual domestic companion certificate for Delta flights.

The Reserve card comes with a Delta SkyClub membership.

The Gold card is free for the first year and is $95 afterward. The Platinum card is $195 per year and the first year is not waived on that card. The Reserve card is $450 per year and the first year is not waived on that card either.

All cards offer priority boarding and a free checked bag just for having the card.

All cards offer 1 mile per dollar and 2 miles per dollar for spending on Delta tickets.

If you want Delta miles you’ll do better doing general spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express as 20,000 Starpoints can convert into 25,000 Delta miles.

Or you can earn 1.5 miles per dollar (transferable to Delta) everywhere by making 30 transactions per month with The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express. Purchases like gas, Uber, and groceries will earn 3 or 4.5 miles per dollar.  The Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express earns 1.2 miles per dollar (transferable to Delta) by making 20 transactions per month. Purchases like gas, Uber, and groceries will earn 2.4 or 3 miles per dollar.

For Delta flights you may want to spend on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You’ll get free baggage on Delta flights even if you purchase the flights with another card as long as your Delta mileage number that you supplied when you applied for the card is on your flight reservation.

The Premier Rewards Gold card gives 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare and those points can transfer to Delta.

The Sapphire Preferred card gives 2-2.14 points per dollar and also includes 10,000 of trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, $3,000 of lost luggage protection, $500 of trip delay protection, $100 per day of baggage delay protection, and travel accident insurance. Those points also can’t transfer to Delta, but they do transfer to partners like Korean as well.

Of course Delta miles can be notoriously hard to use (though some routes like flying in business class to Australia on Virgin Australia are tailor made for Delta miles) which will probably mean you would do best to spend on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, where you can earn 2.11% back on everything.

So when does it makes sense to spend on the Delta cards?
-If you’re gunning for the MQMs offered on the Platinum and Reserve level cards.
-If you spend $25K on Delta cards in a year you’ll also waive the requirement to spend a minimum amount on Delta flights to get elite status. You’ll still need to fly 25K/50K/75K/125K for status but you won’t also need to spend $2.5K/$5K/$7.5K/12.5K on Delta flights.

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United’s cards are issued by Chase. There is the United Explorer card and the United Club card (for the Club card just click on the Club card on the right-hand side of the page).

Until 09/02 only, the Explorer card offers 50,000 miles for spending $2,000 in 3 months plus 5,000 bonus miles for adding a free additional user. Sometime on 09/02 the Explorer card will return to a 30K bonus.

The Explorer card has no fee the first year and then a $95 fee.
The Club card has a $395 annual fee with a $100 statement credit the first year.

The Explorer card offers priority boarding, 2 free Club passes per year, and a free checked bag if you purchase your United ticket on the card.
The Club card offers elite check-in, security, and boarding, 2 free checked bags, waived last minute award expedite fees, and a United Club membership which allows you to access the secured part of the airport to visit the Club even when not flying.

Both cards offer expanded saver class award availability as well as last seat standard award availability which is extremely valuable.  Both cards also have free primary car rental insurance worldwide.  As long as you have either card your United miles will never expire.  Both cards also make elite members eligible for upgrades on award tickets.

The Explorer card offers 1 miles per dollar and 2 miles per dollar on United purchases. It also offers a 10,000 mile bonus for $25,000 in a year, bumping the potential earning to 1.4 miles per dollar everywhere if you can spend $25K in a year.
The Club card offers 1.5 miles per dollar everywhere and 2 miles per dollar on United purchases.

If you want United miles you’ll come out way ahead by using an Ink Plus or Ink Bold to buy $200 gift cards from Staples which earn 5 points per dollar plus 1% cash back via visasavingsedge.com and then use those gift cards to make your general purchases.  Or if you have Chase checking and a Freedom Visa you can earn 1.1 miles per dollar everywhere (though the 10% bonus is ending 12/31/15)

So when does it makes sense to spend on the United cards?

-For United flights you’ll want to use the cards in order to get free baggage.
-The Club card offers a respectable 1.5 miles per dollar everywhere and the Explorer card can make sense if you can spend $25K in a year.
-If you spend $25K on United cards in a year you’ll also waive the requirement to spend a minimum amount on United flights to get elite status. You’ll still need to fly 25K/50K/75K for status but you won’t also need to spend $2.5K/$5K/$7.5K on United flights. Note that you need to spend $10K for 1K status regardless of credit card spending.
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Barclaycard issues The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®

This card will no longer be offered once the American and USAirways programs merge though an exact date is not yet known.

It offers 40,000 miles for spending $1 and the annual fee is $89.

The card offers a free checked bag just for having the card, priority boarding and a 5,000 mile discount on USAirways flights.

It earns 1 mile per dollar everywhere and 2 miles per dollar on USAirways flights.

For USAirways flights you may want to spend on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You’ll get free baggage on USAirways flights even if you purchase the flights with another card as long as your USAirways mileage number that you supplied when you applied for the card is on your flight reservation.

The Premier Rewards Gold card gives 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare and while those points don’t transfer to American, they can transfer to partners like British Airways where a flight that USAirways charges 35,000 miles for might cost only 9,000 with British Airways Avios.

The Sapphire Preferred card gives 2-2.14 points per dollar and also includes 10,000 of trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, $3,000 of lost luggage protection, $500 of trip delay protection, $100 per day of baggage delay protection, and travel accident insurance. Those points also can’t transfer to American, but they do transfer to partners like British Airways as well.

So when does it makes sense to spend on this card?
Pretty much only if you prefer getting 2 USAirways miles per dollar on USAirways flights as opposed to AMEX or Chase points.

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Chase issues the British Airways Visa Signature card.

It offers 50,000 Avios for spending $2,000 and the annual fee is $95.

It earns 1.25 Avios per dollar everywhere and 2.5 Avios per dollar on BA flights.

It also offers 10% off paid BA flights and awards a companion certificate if you spend $30K in a year that you can use when redeeming Avios for a BA flight in any class of service.

You can earn 1.5 miles per dollar (transferable to British Airways) everywhere by making 30 transactions per month with The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express. Purchases like gas, Uber, and groceries will earn 3 or 4.5 miles per dollar.  The Amex EveryDay Credit Card from American Express earns 1.2 miles per dollar (transferable to Delta) by making 20 transactions per month. Purchases like gas, Uber, and groceries will earn 2.4 or 3 miles per dollar.  The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express allows you to convert 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 BA Avios.

If you don’t mind tinkering with gift cards, you’ll come out way ahead by using an Ink Plus or Ink Bold to buy $200 gift cards from Staples which earn 5 points per dollar plus 1% cash back via visasavingsedge.com and then use those gift cards to make your general purchases. Those points also transfer to British Airways.

For British Airways flights you may want to spend on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The Premier Rewards Gold card gives 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare and those points transfer to British Airways.

The Sapphire Preferred card gives 2-2.14 points per dollar and also includes 10,000 of trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, $3,000 of lost luggage protection, $500 of trip delay protection, $100 per day of baggage delay protection, and travel accident insurance. Those points also transfer to British Airways.

So when does it makes sense to spend on this card?
If you have those other cards probably never unless you really want that companion certificate.

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Cards from revenue based programs like Southwest and JetBlue rarely makes sense for spending as you’ll do better earning 2.11% on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

Nor do those programs offer additional free baggage or other tangible benefits for cardholders.

An exception is that Southwest offers a free companion pass if you earn 110K miles on their cards in a calendar year which effectively doubles the value of their miles.  Though you’ll still do better earning Southwest points via transfers from other Chase that earn more miles per dollar spent.

JetBlue points will never be more valuable than the Arrival card, so using that card for spending isn’t worthwhile.

BOFA offers the Alaska Air card but you can transfer 20K Starpoints into 25K Alaska miles which means that you are better off spending on the Starwood card if you want Alaska miles.

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Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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46 Comments on "A Breakdown Of Airline Credit Cards And When To Use Them; 3 Signup Bonuses Ending Soon"

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Club card

I have the united club card if i downgrade it will i get the bonus points or i should close the club card and then apply?

Dan

@Club card:
You don’t get signup points for downgrading or upgrading a card.

There’s no need to close the Club card to get the Explorer card. You can apply for it and if they reject you then you can offer to allow them to close the Club card and move the credit line over to approve the new Explorer application.

Doing it that way also salvages your credit line which means you won’t lose points on your credit score for the closure.

Mendel

Please explain the British Airways card a bit more.

Dan

@Mendel:
Which part of it?
Great signup bonus, but you can do better for spending.

I have lots of posts on the Avios program like:

Knowledgebase:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/32467

22 things not to forget:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/43916

Avios flights from NYC and links to flights from other cities:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/32877

Anonymous

@Dan: thanks! if i call them and ask to open the explorer card by shifting my credit line will i avoid a credit pull ?

Mendel

Dan,
Thank you!
I would appreciate a post sometime about the best fee based credit cards to have. After first year free, it can be prohibitive to have so many cards. So if you had to choose 2-3 fee based cards, what’s the best value for everyday spending as well as perks like primary insurance for rental cars, double points, etc? Obviously people’s needs and airline preferences vary, but an overall value system would be appreciated. Also, please take into account whether a card pays for itself based on benefits. I. E. If I pay $195 a year for Delta Platinum does it pay for itself – on average – if I use the companion certificate? If yes, it may be worth carrying the card just for that.

Don

Is there anyway to get the annual fee waived in the us airways card

Eli R.

Excellent summary! Thank you Dan!!

Dan

@Anonymous:
No.
Just apply online for a new card (or 2 or 3 with different browsers) and go from there.
These may be helpful:
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/23410
http://www.dansdeals.com/archives/41582

@Mendel:
That would be a really tough post to make as it’s dependent on everyone’s personal needs.

Some people just close cards when fees come up while others call to try to get the fee waived while others don’t mind paying the fees.

Some people never want to pay fuel surcharges while others don’t mind paying them if they can save a lot of miles.

Some people like flying on a specific airline while others are happy with anything in business and others only fly coach.

Some people will use that companion cert every year while others won’t.

Some people rent cars, others don’t.

In general for coach travelers the Barclay Arrival makes sense. But if you book last-minute or one-way domestic coach then BA probably makes more sense and tons of cards offer BA miles.

For business I think United offers the best all-around but there are exceptions (like Delta to Australia)

For first AA probably has the best deals around for flights on airlines like Cathay but their fuel surcharges to fly on BA stink.

But it’s tough to pick just one or 2 good cards without really delving into someone’s situation.
So I lay out the facts in posts like this one (and the related posts at the top of the article) and hope people can make their own best decision based on their needs.

@Don:
Call and ask for a supervisor though they might make you close the card to get an annual fee refund. (Though once signup miles have been deposited by the airline they don’t take them back even if they say they will).

@Eli R.:
Thanks!

Mendel

Dan,
bottom line for the following cards:
is it worth the $195 on Delta if you will use companion cert annually?
If you already have Stanwood preferred, which is better card to carry – Chase Sapphire or United Explorer (I want car rental insurance benefit)?

HDS

Will you get a free bag on United with either card only if you bought the tickets with the card (what you seem to imply above for Explorer), or even for award flights, by showing the card at check in? Also, do any partners honor the free bag from United or that’s just crazy talk/wishful thinking?

HDS

Since you are using a cc for award flights too, to pay whatever fees, I think that’s what you meant, so I retract the first part of the question, sorry!

curious

does it make sense to sign up for the united just to get the bonus?? you said they dont have good value… is the signup worthwhile for the value.. thanx!

Yitzy

Dan, how about a Reccomendation on which is the best overall credit card to use.

hi

im having now a United mileage explorer got 55k is it possible to close it and reapply and get the points again ?

joetraveler

Do you happen to know how AA/Citibank calculates the 10k elite mile bonuses on multiple Exec Cards? My understanding is that they grant 10k elite qualifying miles for each card that spends $40k. Do they tally the combined $40k spends on two or more cards for the first 10k elite miles, and then when you reach $80k spend total, they give you the next 10k miles? Or is is strictly a per-card spend?

thanks

Dan

@Mendel:
If you will use it for flights that cost more than that, then yes.
You can get it for the first year with the signup bonus and see how that goes before deciding whether to renew.

United and Sapphire are both great cards.
Sapphire for double points on dining and travel, United for benefits when flying on United and redeeming for United awards.

I can’t tell you which will be more useful for you.

@HDS:
Works for awards if you pay taxes with the card.
Won’t work for partner flights.

@curious:
I never said United miles don’t have good value. The opposite is true, they have great values and of course it makes sense to get the card.
55,000 miles is worth somewhere between $700-$1,000.

The point of this post is generally the spend benefits on airline cards is pretty weak because other cards earn more miles per dollar.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the signup bonus.

@Yitzy:
Like I said earlier, there is no best card for everyone.

I get the question all the time and I just think of this Office clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsGnFExpup8

It all depends on your spending and redemption patterns.

See comment 9 for more.

@hi:
Officially you need to wait 24 months from when you previously got the bonus and you can’t have the same card open.

@joetraveler:
No, they will tally up spend from separate cards but an AAdvantage account can’t get more than 10K per year even if you spend more than $40K from different cards.

Novo

@joetraveler: 1) They do combine spending from several cards.
2) The 10k EQMs is only once per year, so you won’t get another 10 EQMs when you reach 80k.

Yaakov

Dan,
I’m surprised you’re still talking about 2.14 points/dollar with SP when Chase is cancelling the 7% dividend soon (and the 10% on Freedom).

Dan

@Yaakov:
Hence the 2-2.14 (as the 0.14 ends in 2016) and the end date for the Freedom bonus.

Still applicable for a while out though.

Mendel2

Dan,
What do you think of the new Citi Double Cash Card?

mkdoc

Dan:
Fantastic, informative and very useful info. as usual.
Question: Does it pay to reactivate expired 4700 United miles for the $50 fee (using United card would get an additional 50 miles)?
Thanks very much, as always.

Dan

@Mendel2:
No reason to settle for 2%.
2.22% should be the minimum for any purchase but you should be able to do far better than that.

@mkdoc:
When the miles expire?
You don’t have a current United card?

joetraveler

@Novo:
So should I hold off on reaching $80k spend this calendar year on my two cards, and achieve it after Jan. 1 2015 so I can get another 10k elite miles next year? Or does it not matter, and they’ll credit me the miles next year even if I spend it this year?

thx

Dan

@joetraveler:
The max you can earn is 10K EQM per year.

The spend counter resets on 01/01, so you need to spend a full 40K in 2015 to get 2015 EQMs.

Jb

@Dan: do u need to spend 40k on one card or is it also gonna qualify for 10k eqm
with 40k spread over multiple cards

mkdoc

Miles on my wife’s acct. expired last year with the continental/united merge (yes, I know, you gave fair warning)and we didn’t have a united card at that time. Now we do. So I was wondering if the miles (actually 4376) are worth the reactivation fee of $50 using my current United card. Thanks.

Dan

@Jb:
It can be spread across multiple cards.

@mkdoc:
What day did they expire exactly?
10/01/13?

mkdoc

That’s correct (9/30/13).

Dan G

In my opinion, these types of posts should have direct links to them, at the top of DansDeals.com. It would be nice if there were some more links on the side of the page, this could be one of them.

BA

How do you add your AA advantage number to your BA booking using royal Jordanian ?

Shmo

@Dan which 3 offers are ending?

Dan

@mkdoc:
I’ll make a post tomorrow, bl”n.

@Dan G:
There are!
Just click on the credit card posts tab.

@BA:
Just enter the BA record locator on their home page and you can change the mileage number.

@Shmo:
Delta, United, and USAirways.

mkdoc

Thanks very much, looking forward to it.

David

From the Amex Delta Plat offer T&C: “If we identify you as currently having an American Express® Card account, you may not be eligible for this welcome bonus offer. This offer is also not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”

So, has anyone who has had the delta platinum card in the past still received the miles using this offer? According to the T&C above, you’re out of luck not just if you’ve had the Delta Plat but if you’ve if you have any type of amex card!

Shani

Dan,
I’m pretty new to credit card miles. I never canceled any of the cards i opened (due to your recommendations 🙂 ) yet.
I’ve had the BA credit card for a year and now I want to cancel it (to avoid the $95 fee). How does it work? Do I keep my avios? Or do in need to transfer them first? How do I cancel it without lowering my credit score? This is important to me because the BA card was one of my first cards
Thanks for all your help.

jake

A”A declined my application for the platinum card stating that i have the executive card and you need to be a new account… any advice

Judah

@Dan:
That was a pretty obscure clip. Your mamesh holding shtark in The Office 🙂

shlome

Every how often can I sign up for the same chase card and receive the bonos?

Hjeko

@Dan: When you say “officially you need to wait 24 months” does that mean that they don’t enforce the rule? Thanks Dan!

Rochel

I like to fly El Al using American Airlines miles. What’s the best way to redeem Chase (saffire, ink business, freedom) rewards to end up with ElAl at the end (to join the other ElAl travelers in the family. Also, can the delta gold card ever get me AA miles to transfer to El Al or any other way? Thanks.

Rochel

How can I use delta skymiles to end up on ElAL?

IG

I have a Chase Sapphire (non-preferred) card. Can I apply for a Preferred card and get the sign-up bonus? Do I need to cancel the non-preferred card first? If so, how long would I need to wait before signing up again for the preferred card?

Jack

I have an American Express Platinum Card for Business and a Green Card for personal. I do some travelling – maybe once every two months. I usually fly Delta and JetBlue, and have been accumulating Membership Rewards points (through Amex). Would you recommend sticking with both of these cards, or switching to one of the airline (or Starwood) cards? Thanks, TL”M

Welder

@Dan your wrote that “Cards from revenue based programs like Southwest and JetBlue rarely makes sense for spending as you’ll do better earning 2.22% on the Barclaycard Arrival Plusâ„¢ World Elite MasterCard.”

But I see from the application form that one can “Earn up to 8x TrueBlue® points per dollar spent on eligible purchases of JetBlue flights and Getaways vacation packages on JetBlue.com.” I’m not sure how they reached that number but how is that less valuable than the Arrival for someone who flies JetBlue often?

Frank

Another reason to spend on the United Explorer card: Primary insurance on auto rentals – and this now includes “abroad” (except for a few countries.

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