Whether you’re getting your first travel rewards credit card or adding a new card to your wallet, there are many things you need to consider before applying.
Which airline or rewards program is best for you? How big is the sign-up bonus? Is there an annual fee? What perks come with the card?
While these are important considerations, Let’s look at one specific aspect of rewards cards: their earning potential. By that we simply mean the number of points or miles you earn per dollar spent on the card. Most cards give you one point or mile per dollar for most purchases, but many will also offer extra points for purchases that fall into certain categories.
To take full advantage of those bonus categories, you’ll want to figure out which card best fits your personal spending habits. If you spend a lot on airfare, for example, you’ll want a card that offers a lot of points or miles per dollar spent on plane tickets. And if you usually fly on one carrier, you may want to go with that airline’s co-branded credit card.
On the other hand, if you’re saving for a special vacation and you’re not a frequent flyer, you should consider a card that earns a lot on everyday purchases, like groceries or gas. Bonus points or miles for recurring bills, like phone bills or cable, can add up fast, too.
There are many options out there. This post focuses on co-branded airline cards that have the best earning potential. We tackle cards that are part of credit card rewards programs, particularly those that allow you to transfer points to various airlines, in another post.
Co-Branded Airline Cards
If you’re considering a co-branded credit card, you’ll probably want a card that’s associated with the carrier you most frequently fly on. But if you fly on several carriers with equal regularity, or if you could change your flying habits, you’ll want to take a closer look at what various cards have to offer. Whatever your circumstance, here’s a rundown of the earning potential of many of the co-branded airline credit cards that are available to U.S. residents.
All three of the major U.S. legacy airlines—Delta, United and American—offer different levels of cards, as well as at least one business card. Generally speaking, the more you spend on annual fees, the more perks you get, such as companion tickets and lounge access. All of the cards offered by these carriers give you double miles per dollar spent on their respective airlines and one dollar for non-bonus categories.
Delta’s cards, including the Gold and Platinum SkyMiles personal and business cards, as well as the top-of-the-line Reserve personal and business cards, offer no other bonus categories. Delta purchases get two miles per dollar, and all other purchases get the standard one mile per dollar.
That’s typical for many co-branded cards, including the Lufthansa Miles & More World Elite MasterCard, Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, LAN LANPASS Visa Signature, Avianca LifeMiles Visa Signature and Air Canada’s TD Aeroplan Visa Signature, among others.
All of American’s personal cards, including the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, Citi AAdvantage Gold MasterCard and Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, also offer the basic earning scheme of double miles on American purchases and one mile for everything else.
If you qualify for a business card, though, you can earn more with the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard. Not only will you earn double miles with American, but you’ll also get two miles for telecommunications, car rentals and gas. Recurring bills, like your cell phone, can add up fast and really boost your miles balance.
Like American and Delta, United’s base card, the personal MileagePlus Explorer card, gives you the standard double miles on United and one mile on other purchases. But United also has a business card with an earning scheme similar to American’s. The MileagePlus Explorer Business card gives you double miles for United purchases, as well as on gas, office supplies and dining out.
United’s premium cards, the MileagePlus Club personal and business cards, are good earners too. They are unique among co-branded airline cards because they offer 1.5 miles on all non-United purchases. They also come with many great perks, like free lounge access, and a steep $450 annual fee.
|Bonus Earning Categories||Sign-Up Bonus||Annual Fee|
|United MileagePlus Club personal and business cards||2x United; 1.5x all other purchases||None||$450|
There are a few co-branded cards out there that offer very little. The ANA Card U.S.A. Visa and the JAL U.S.A. MasterCard, for example, offer only one mile per dollar spent on all purchases, including airfare.
There are also a few cards that give you more. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature and Visa Business cards, as well as British Airways Visa Signature, give you a generous three miles per dollar spent on their respective airlines. That’s the most you can earn on airfare with a co-branded airline card.
Bonus Earning Categories Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature 3x Alaska Airlines 30,000 miles $75
British Airways Visa Signature 3x British Airways 50,000 Avios $95
The Cards That Earn the Most
If you can justify the hefty annual fee, it’s hard to beat the solid 1.5 miles per dollar you earn on every purchase with United’s premium cards. With Alaska and British Airlines you get triple miles for airfare only, which means you’d have to spend a lot on plane tickets to earn a decent number of miles.
|Bonus Earning Categories||Sign-Up Bonus||Annual Fee|
|CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard||2x American, telecommunications, car rentals and gas||30,000 miles||$95, waived the first year|
|United MileagePlus Explorer Business||2x United, restaurants, gas and office supplies||30,000 miles||$95, waived the first year|
If you’re a small business owner or an independent contractor, both United’s MileagePlus Explorer Business and American’s CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select are excellent and come with much smaller annual fees. Those cards give you double miles in several categories, some of which include recurring costs, such as gas and phone bills, that can add up fast.