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Rewards cards on smaller, budget airlines: Are they worth it?

Credit cards for Spirit, Frontier and other smaller, budget airlines offer miles but tend to be low on perks

Summary

Credit cards from smaller carriers such as Spirit Airlines tend to be no-frills while offering fewer perks. It’s best to take an in-depth look at the frequent flyer programs to make sure they work for you and your lifestyle.

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Dear Cashing In,

I recently started flying Spirit Airlines because its flights are so cheap. I just learned that there is a Spirit Airlines credit card. Should I get it? – Anne

Dear Anne,

The conversation about airline credit cards often centers around the big ones: American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines. Each of these big carriers has rewards cards that are aimed at frequent flyers or toward people who want to earn free trips. When combined, the “big four” carry more than 60 percent of U.S. passengers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Stacking them up against smaller airline credit cards depends a lot on how often you fly and who you fly with.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Tony a question.

See related: Are in-flight airline credit card sign-up offers worth it?

The competition

Airline credit cards typically offer perks such as priority boarding, a free checked bag, bonus points for charging tickets and discounts on in-flight snacks. Some of the cards also have premium versions with annual fees of up to $500 that get you into airport lounges.

With Southwest, for example, you can earn a companion pass through their Rapid Rewards programs. Each of their credit cards has an annual fee but the companion pass benefit allows you to bring a friend or family member with you for free on every Southwest flight for up to two years – all you have to pay out of pocket is taxes.

However, a lot of people don’t realize smaller airlines also offer rewards cards in partnership with banks. JetBlue and Frontier offer cards in conjunction with Barclaycard. Alaska and Spirit offer rewards cards with Bank of America.

Generally, if you fly regularly on a particular airline, it makes sense to take a hard look at the credit cards associated with that airline. That’s because the perks that come with the card can be more valuable to you than to other people — and your frequent flyer miles multiply as you earn miles both from flying and charging on the card.

No frills and fewer perks

Budget airlines, though, tend to be more no-frills than the bigger carriers. And their cards tend to have fewer perks, too.

For instance, even though Spirit is widely known for charging fees for just about everything — including checked bags and assigned seats — having the Bank of America Spirit Airlines World Mastercard won’t wipe out any of those fees.

What the card does offer is 15,000 miles after your first purchase and another 15,000 when you spend $500 in the first 90 days. It also comes with an annual fee of $59, which is waived the first year.

Most of the other rewards cards on the smaller carriers are structured similarly: They will give you a bunch of miles that you can use for free flights, but that is the main value.

Look into frequent flyer programs

Before signing up for one of these cards, you should familiarize yourself with the airline’s frequent flyer program and attempt to determine how you would actually use the miles.

In some cases, you might find that the number of miles required for a free flight is high compared with the cost of a purchased ticket. Since smaller airlines tend to be low-cost carriers, the actual costs of buying a ticket might not be too burdensome. Redeeming frequent flyer miles might not have the same value as it does on larger airlines.

But examine your options, review your plans to use miles and make an informed choice.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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