Are in-flight airline credit card sign-up offers worth it?
Some on-plane offers come with extra bonuses, but don't feel pressured into applying for a card that's not right for you
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.
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Are in-flight credit card offers worth it?
Airline credit card sign-up offers promoted on planes come with pros and cons, but if you fly regularly on a particular airline, they might offer your a good deal.
However, don't feel pressured into applying in-situ before doing some research to establish whether the card is right for you.
Dear Cashing In,
On a recent American Airlines flight the flight attendants were promoting a sign-up offer on one of AAdvantage Aviator credit cards. There was even an extra bonus if you applied for the card right there. Are these in-flight promotions worth it? – Lee.
Airplane passengers endure plenty of annoyances while traveling, from the lack of legroom to the chatty person next to you to the pilot who keeps interrupting over the intercom.
But what about credit card offers in the air: Are they just another annoyance, or are they the great deal that flight attendants claim?
See related: Best credit card sign-up bonuses of 2019
In-flight sign-up offers: Pitching to captive audiences
Sometimes the advertisements are subtle, like the full-page ads in the in-flight magazines. But other times, there is no way to avoid the full sales pitch from a flight attendant who drones on about the virtues of a card.
On a plane, they know you are a captive audience. You can’t just walk away. It is tough to fly on American Airlines these days without hearing the pitch for a AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.
Airline cards can be a good deal for the right people. Here’s what you need to know for the next time you are on a plane and encounter a sales pitch for an airline’s credit card:
Pros of in-flight sign-up offers
They are legitimately a good deal
Regardless of the airline, airline-affiliated credit cards are structured similarly. They have annual fees but tend to come with generous sign-up bonuses of frequent flyer miles and unlock perks such as priority boarding and free checked bags.
If you fly more than occasionally on that particular airline, or you are interested in receiving frequent flyer miles as a reward, then an airline card might be right for you.
They might possibly present a better offer
Sometimes, the sign-up bonuses you receive for applying for a card while on a plane are superior to those you receive applying online.
This isn’t always the case, but American occasionally offers 5,000 more frequent flyer miles in a sign-up bonus from applications filled out on planes.
They are easy to apply for
You’re on a plane. You might not have internet access. What else are you going to do? Filling out the form by hand takes just a few minutes.
Cons of in-flight sign-up offers
They can be annoying
Make no mistake about it but hearing the pitch for a card can be annoying, especially if you travel a lot and have to hear it on every flight – even if you already have the card or have decided against it.
The pitch on American flights isn’t quick either: It seems to go on for several minutes and is tough to ignore.
They might present identity theft risk
I don’t know about you, but I always get a little nervous filling out a form on paper that requests personal data such as income and Social Security number.
It feels less safe applying this way than on a secure website, and who knows how many other people have access to your written information as it gets processed? Applying for credit cards online doesn’t involve humans seeing your personal information, since the process is handled all by computer.
Their benefits might be exaggerated
The part I love about the in-air credit card pitch is hearing how the flight attendant couches the benefits of the card.
The process of redeeming award miles sounds straightforward, seamless, and free.
In reality, you can’t always redeem the frequent flyer miles for when you want to travel, or the airline might suggest odd or inconvenient routing if nonstops are unavailable.
The award flights are not always free, either: In some cases, fees can amount to hundreds of dollars, such as when you redeem American miles on British Airways flights.
Or if you want to book a flight on American or United within 21 days of departure, the airline will charge you $75.
Tip: Airline credit cards come with perks like priority boarding or airport lounge access, but they’re not created equal. Don’t feel pressured into applying before comparing the best airline credit cards in the market and finding the right one for you.
In-flight sign-up offers: Odds of approval
Whether you apply online or on a plane, your odds of being approved for the airline’s card are probably the same.
Generally, you need very good credit to be approved for the best rewards cards. That means a credit score in the 700s or 800s, though you might get approved if you are in the high 600s.
The best advice is not to feel pressured into a decision on a card application because you happen to be on an airplane.
Instead, evaluate your card options when you can compare cards and find out more information, and make an informed decision.
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