Card offers on planes – are they worth it?

Sometimes you can find more generous rewards by shopping around


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I have been thinking about getting an American Airlines credit card. I was on one of their flights recently and they handed out credit card applications. As far as rewards go, does it matter whether I apply online or on the plane? – Roger

Answer Dear Roger,
When you are on an airplane, you are a captive audience. You cannot escape the marketing pitches, whether they are for tiny-bottle liquor, food or credit cards.

You know for sure the food and liquor are more expensive than what you can find on the ground. But don't dismiss the offers for airline credit cards. You might find a better deal in the air.

Keep in mind that advertised reward terms differ. What you  initially see may not be the best one available. Banks commonly send out targeted offers to certain potential customers through the mail, or sometimes online affiliates have links with more generous reward terms than what is available on the bank’s website. And what could be a better target audience than a plane full of people who are already using your service?

In the case of the Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum card (annual fee: $95, waived first year), the current offer on Citi’s website shows that you earn a sign-up bonus of 30,000 American frequent flier miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. That’s a pretty standard offer for an airline card. It also allows you to check one bag for free on domestic flights, board early, receive a 25 percent discount on in-flight purchases and, in some cases, use fewer miles for trips. 

The offer in the air, though, is more generous. Billed as an “exclusive in-flight offer,” it offers a 40,000-mile sign-up bonus plus two one-day passes to American airport clubs, with the same minimum spending level ($1,000 in three months).

So in this case, it would make more sense to apply for the card using the application from the flight attendant that it would to simply go online and apply. You would receive an additional 10,000 miles plus two club passes. 

More generally, if you are thinking about applying for a certain reward card, it could make sense to scope out other application options besides the bank’s website. Sometimes the bank’s physical branches can have superior offers. In addition, the CardMatch tool from sometimes offers better reward terms.

It’s similar to the question of whether you should apply for a retailer’s credit card at the store or online. Many retailers offer a discount on merchandise the first time you use the card or within a certain period of time. The terms are probably identical, but you’re more likely to remember to use the discount if you apply at the store. 

Of course, most of the time, the reward terms will be the same, no matter how you apply for a new credit card. The best advice would be if you are considering a particular card, look in a few different places besides the bank’s website to see if there are superior offers available.

Good luck!

See related: Weighing rewards cards in aftermath of airline changes

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The rewards seem to be sweeter if you take one of those applications and fill it out on the spot. 

Published: June 21, 2016

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Updated: 10-24-2016

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