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I have excellent credit, and pay off my balances in full every month. I also do a lot of international traveling (5 to 6 times a year) but always fly different airlines (I look for the best value).

Is it worth it to get an airline mileage card? If so, which ones are pretty decent?

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Possible duplicate: money.stackexchange.com/questions/115/… .. Perhaps change the question to Which airline reward miles credit card is best if I travel frequently and pay off my balance in full each month? Would be different. –  Chris W. Rea Sep 29 '10 at 18:17
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7 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

As a longtime hoarder of frequent flier miles and owner of one such card, I am increasingly thinking they are NOT worth it. I've started to shift over to a card that does cash-back into my investment account.

My reasoning:
The airlines are still scrapping for ways to stay profitable. Tweaking FF mile programs is an easy way for them to pull back benefits in non-obvious ways. For example over the last few years I've seen airlines erode the value of FF miles in the following ways.

  • Increase the number of miles you need for free tickets.
  • Add fees and surcharges to redeem FF miles.
  • Reduce the number of available seats for FF award tickets (You did know that just because there is a flight and you have the miles, you aren't guaranteed to be able to get a FF ticket, right?)

It just makes sense to go with a program that gives you cash back. They can't monkey with the value of x% of your purchases without it being obvious, and the flexibility of money makes it much more valuable than FF miles. That is, you can buy a ticket with your awards cash on any airline, or spend it on something completely different. Plus you can get interest on cash in a bank account, but not for FF miles in your account.

Counterpoint:
If you fly a lot, the perks like VIP lounges, free upgrades, priority boarding, etc. may make it worth it. However, most of these perks have some caveat that you earn them through FLYING and not random credit card purchases. So you can probably get these just in the course of flying anyway.

Also, even though I still feel ripped off. It is pretty much insanely expensive to pay for an upgrade on a transatlantic flight. Miles are pretty much the only way to make it only slightly overpriced.

One other thing:
Paying an annual fee (which many of these cards carry) really makes these cards not worth it unless you are charging a ton of stuff on them and redeeming the rewards. Keep that in mind.

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One perk that some cards have is that they'll waive the checked-in baggage fee. Well, at least my Delta Amex does, so as long as I fly Delta more than a couple of times a year (which I tend to because my wife pretty much insists on flying Delta) I'd be ahead when it comes to the annual fee. –  Timo Geusch Sep 29 '10 at 16:48
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+1 for cash back card. Cash is king - its the ultimate fungible good. Why restrict yourself to just getting airline miles/tickets thru a credit card when its just about as good to get cash? check out Amex blue cash credit card: www201.americanexpress.com/getthecard/learn-about/BlueCash –  CrimsonX Sep 29 '10 at 17:02
    
Blue Cash? Check it out, but make sure you notice the tiered reward structure. It's a little odd. Works great for me, but your spending patterns may differ. –  fennec Sep 30 '10 at 16:44
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Annual fee can often be waived by calling customer service (if you are a good customer and pay on time) –  Vitalik Feb 6 '13 at 15:10
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I have a Capital One "No Hassle" rewards card. It earns points that never expire, which I can redeem for cash, gift cards & plane tickets. Redemption works out roughly to:

  • 100 points per dollar for airline tickets
  • 125 points per dollar for gift cards
  • 150 points per dollar for cash

In this case, I currently get the most bang for my buck by redeeming airline tickets. Any time I consider redeeming my points, I search around for the best point-to-dollar ratio.

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+1 for researching the best point-to-dollar ratio at time of redemption. –  Alex B Nov 12 '10 at 22:02
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They're worth it if you do a lot of flying and a lot of buying. Otherwise, no.

You may get bonus miles for signing up for the card. Beyond that, it boils down to two things:

  • What is the equivalent percentage rebate for the card? This is a big hard to figure out because you're buying a ticket with the miles, not $XXX worth of a ticket with the miles. I'd use as an estimate the typical places you'd want to fly, then see how many miles you'd need for that ticket, which dictates how much you'd need to put on the card to earn the miles.
  • Will you be able to use the free tickets when you need them? The fine print taketh away. The miles are no good if you can't use them.

As for which one, I'd start with cards for the airline you like the most.

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IMO, airline cards suck. Hotel cards, on the other hand are awesome. Why?

  • You earn rewards quicker.
  • Hotels sort of care about customers, and they treat their cardholders well.
  • You'll get room upgrades if you focus on one of the major brands and build up enough points.
  • You can usually transfer airline miles into the programs.

If you travel a lot and value the airport club thing, AMEX Platinum Card is the way to go.

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I think they are worth it. For years i thought it was just a scam but now start using airline credit cards. Here are my reasons:

  • Sign up bonuses! I got an American Airline card with 100K signup bonus. Enough to take a family of 4 for a round trip vacation within US. You can later cancel if you want it and then sign up for a new card in 18 month (not 100% on the time frame)
  • Annual fee can usually be waived by calling customer service and threatening to leave.
  • Comparing to 1% cash back cards, you usually can travel within US for 25,000 miles, it's not easy to buy a round trip ticket for $250. I flew a family of four from US to Europe for 160K miles (+$100 in fees) in April when a cash value of those tickets was $4000.
  • In additional you get more miles when you sign up for dining programs, when spend on travel.

This is the blog that i read to find out how to get the most out of airline miles and hear about the latest promotions. People find ways to get sometimes up to 4 miles per dollar. Which means you only have to spend $6K on your card to get round trip ticket (normally $60 in cash back cards) http://millionmilesecrets.com/

But if you take this route you have to be consistent to follow those strategies, otherwise stick to cash back.

So my approach right now is the following, if i have a card that gives more than 1% in cash for some purchases (gas, groceries, etc) i use the cash back card, for everything else i collect miles.

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I favor cash-back credit cards. Easy to see how much you get back and compare that with the annual fee and interest charges (if any), and I can spend the cash anywhere.

However, if you do multiple airlines and do want an airline-mile-reward card, see whether American Express has a credit card (or charge card) that meets your needs: they have a reputation for having good relationships with many airlines, and the quality of this relationship is something they rely upon to drive customers to their business and maintain customer loyalty.

Last I checked, Blue Sky had no annual fees. They also have BlueSky Preferred and their regular series of cards (starting with the green card) that do have annual fees, as well as many airline-branded cards (which I assume offer airline-specific benefits that are of limited interest to you). Anyway, I'm not going to play salesman for them; you'll have to figure out what you want specifically yourself and figure out if it's worth whatever fees.

(Disclosure. I have an AmEx Blue Cash card. I own some shares or fractional shares of AmEx, as well as other credit card providers, as part of one or more ETFs or mutual funds. I have no other relationship with American Express and I anticipate no reward for advertising their products.)

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It really depends on what you want to do. The initial promo deals are great, like 30,000 miles. It equals a free domestic ticket and they waive the fee for the first year. You also get the perks like priority check-in and free checked bags, even airport club access from time to time.

I fly overseas and I've gotten one free ticket so far (about a $1,200 value) and I have another one waiting for me, so I've saved about $2,400, minimum. I also used the miles for a one-way ticket once and that saved me a ton. Only 25,000 miles for Tokyo to LA instead of the head scratching "round trip price for one-way" that airlines do.

One big selling point is the specials you can sometimes get. If you sign up for Direct TV you get 25,000 miles, or a free ticket. I rented a car from two rental car companies for 15 days and got 15,000 miles. You can end up getting 40,000 miles for things you were planning on doing anyway. I don't have any point cards so maybe others can make better comments about these situations, but for me the extra perks really made it worth the time.

The bad news is that for American Airlines the routing options are quite horrible unless you book well in advance. Like LA-New York-Tokyo instead of one of the many LA-Tokyo direct flights they offer. United seems to have better options.

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