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How to choose a airline rewards / frequent flier credit card

By Ben Woolsey

If you are in the market for an airline credit card, you may be a bit confused as to which one would best suit your needs.  You're not alone. Banks and credit card issuers spend millions of dollars each year trumpeting their particular co-branded frequent flier credit cards. But this doesn't help the average consumer determine which credit card provides the most bang for the buck.

The first thing you should probably ask yourself is what are you going to do with all the miles that you will earn with a new airline credit card. Do you want to use the miles for free travel to see relatives during the holidays? It can be a great cost savings to shuttle the family cross country at no out of pocket expense. Or, perhaps you want to go someplace a little exotic for vacation. Well, these two desires can point to completely different airline frequent flier card products.

Domestic airline flights are much more attainable in terms of mileage reward redemptions, both on the major carriers and on discount carriers. Airline seats within the contiguous United States are also attainable through generic airline reward credit cards such as those offered by Citi, Chase and Discover. These types of cards (like the Chase Travel Plus Platinum Visa Card) allow you to earn one mile per purchase dollar and provides the option of redeeming miles for a free ticket on any major airline.

For travel rewards that involve overseas flights you will probably want to consider an airline rewards card issued in partnership with one of the largest airlines, such as American, United or Continental. These three carriers fly almost everywhere in the world, including Europe, Asia, South America, Hawaii and the Caribbean.

But airline reward card members need to understand that vacations to far-flung locales will cost much more in terms of the miles required. While domestic flights can be earned with around 25,000 frequent flier miles, overseas flights typically require 45,000 to 60,000 miles to book a free coach ticket. Each major airline's frequent flier program is different, so you will need to review the terms and conditions of each type of offer before deciding which suits your needs best.

If you own a small business, the decision can be a little easier. This is because there are slightly fewer choices available that provide business credit card features along with frequent flier rewards. But, these products are no less rewarding. An added benefit involves being able to leverage everyday business expenditures to earn free airline travel. The average consumer can't generate the same spending capacity as a small business, so the free travel can be earned that much faster.

So what's the best choice on an airline rewards / frequent flier credit card? The answer remains "It depends." As always, compare interest rates and annual fees. But ultimately, the best choice in airline credit cards depends on how you want to use your miles, which destinations you find most appealing, which airlines service your city and how much you plan to use your card.

Published: January 21, 2006


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