Photo: Joe Loong/Flickr
By now you’ve probably seen your fair share of television commercials and magazine ads that recite the endless benefits of owning an airline credit card, such as free flights, bountiful rewards and VIP access to exclusive lounges.What the ads fail to mention, though, is that these perks really only benefit frequent travellers.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that most airline credit cards require you to fly several times a month in order to rack up the points needed for a free flight.
They’ll give you discounts – but usually just on airline food and items in the Sky Mall catalogue.
On top of that, these cards carry an annual fee of between $60-$100. Oh, and those VIP passes that United and Continental offer?
They’re only good for two visits to the “executive lounge” in a few airport terminals – just enough to give you a taste of what you’re missing out on by not paying $400 a year for their ultra-premium executive flyer cards.
So what about the rest of us? Are there any airline credit cards out there for those of us who only take to the skies for holidays, weddings and that occasional seminar in Reno that we can’t talk our way out of?
Well, the short answer is no – there aren’t. If you want a card to just hold on to, one that will earn you bonus air miles and has no fees, you won’t find one at any airline. However, there are several strategies that even the most infrequent flyers can use to save money on airfare with credit cards. Here are two to consider:
- Get a Generic Rewards Card. While all airline credit cards charge a fee for membership, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card gives you a chance to earn air miles for free. At only 1.25 miles per dollar, you won’t be racking up free flights any time soon, but at least you won’t be paying for those miles, either. On top of that, the card isn’t airline-exclusive, so you’re free to search different carriers for the cheapest flights and use your points there. Also, since the miles don’t expire, you can take as long as you’d like to save up for those free tickets.
- Pull a Subscribe-and-Switch. If you know what day you’re flying a few months in advance and have a good credit rating, you can actually sign up for a card like the United Mileage Plus Explorer, rack up rewards points with their promotional offers, redeem them and then cancel your account. Credit card issuers offer such amazing promotions – 25,000 bonus miles and a two-miles-per-dollar reward rate for the first year – because cardholders often forget to cancel the account after the promotional period lapses. But if you’re smart about it, you can reap the rewards without getting stuck with standard cardholder bonuses and fees.
Occasional travellers should also be on the lookout for miles promotions by different airline partners and affiliates. While a generic air miles reward card or even just a standard cash-back credit card are the best tools for earning discounts at no additional cost, you can score free miles just by booking a night at a specific hotel or even test-watching ads for several companies. If you plan in advance and stay smart about maximizing your miles before booking, you might actually save some money on that yearly flight or two.