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FAQs about airline frequent flier credit cards

By Ben Woolsey

Cashing in points for a free airline ticket from your frequent flier credit card can be fraught with red tape, unless you know the rules of game. Listed below are some of the more common frequently asked questions concerning airline frequent flier credit cards:

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Q: Is there an annual fee for all airline frequent flier credit cards and, if so, why?
A: Typically there is an annual fee charged for airline frequent flier credit cards, especially if it is issued in partnership between a credit card issuer and one of the major airlines. While most other types of credit cards, even rewards and cash back credit cards, do not have an annual fee, the cost of airline frequent flier programs is such that an annual fee must be charged for it to be profitable for the credit card issuing bank.

Q: How are miles earned on airline frequent flier credit cards?
A: Miles are generally earned at a rate of one mile per dollar spent on the credit card. There are notable exceptions, especially among new cards that want to make a splash, so comparison shopping is important.

Q: What happens to the miles once they are earned on the credit card?
A: The credit card issuer will transfer the miles to your frequent flier account once per month where they will be added to miles earned from flying or using other airline partner services, such as car rental or hotel charges.

Q: Do miles earned on airline frequent flier credit cards expire?
A: They can, so read the fine print. Once you get a card, don't assume the rules will remain the same, because they may change. Check with your specific airline frequent flier program to make sure its mileage account policies remain favorable. Commonly, airline frequent flier program allow miles in your account to not expire if you have account activity (purchase a ticket or redeem miles) at certain intervals (such as once every three years).

Q: Are airline-specific rewards credit cards better than generic mileage credit cards?
A: Airline reward credit cards issued in partnership with specific airlines are not better or worse than "generic" mileage rewards credit cards.  Both types of frequent flier rewards program generally earn at the same rate of 1 mile per dollar spent on the card. They differ in that the airline-specific cards provide more avenues for earning miles, with special incentives often given for charging the cost of hotel and rental car companies with whom the airlines has included in its frequent flier loyalty program. Airline-specific programs normally have an annual fee, however, where most generic programs do not. But, if you have a strong preference for a certain carrier it is probably best to choose their card over a generic. Some of the generic programs require a ticket redemption fee once you have reached the award threshold and wish to reserve a flight, so be sure to inquire with the issuing bank.

Published: July 21, 2005



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