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Summer Churn-i-versity Part 4: Airline Credit Cards

Still with me? Maybe? Good.

If you’re a newbie and you’re actually reading through these, it can seem overwhelming, but the point of this is just to be a resource when you need to come back and search for some info – there’s more detail in all of this then you’ll (likely) ever need.

So, let’s spend today talking (high level) about airline credit cards. There’s a tremendous amount of minutia behind airline frequent flyer programs (how many stops and open jaws can you have on an international itinerary? Can you fly to Asia via Australia? Etc…) and I’m not going to get into that. I’m just going to share quick pros/cons of the major airline cards for when you’re thinking of grabbing some points in your next churn.

AirTran A+ Rewards Visa (Chase)

Pro: 32 credits (2 free roundtrip tickets) after you spend $2,000 in 3 months.
Cons: Limited network; $69 annual fee not waived
Churnable: No
Overall thought: Meh

Alaska Airlines Visa (Bank of America)

Pro: 25,000 miles after first purchase; you can use Alaska miles on Delta, American, British Airways and others. $99 coach companion ticket that you can actually use because it’s good on any fare. It’s a really underrated program with lots of airline partners to help with redemption.
Cons: $75 annual fee is not waived.
Churnable: Yessiree, Bob!
Overall thought: I’ve never bothered with it, but lots of people love it because points can be used on so many partners.

American Airlines (Citi)

Pro: They offer several cards – a Platinum Visa, a Platinum Mastercard, a Gold Visa, and a Citi American Express (this is not a regular Amex card). Plus there’s a Business Mastercard and a Business Visa. Although the “official” offers for the card are generally for 30,000 bonus miles, you can almost always get 50,000 miles – check out this ever-changing Flyertalk thread for the latest links.
Cons: The biggest con is that they charge a ridiculous fuel surcharge when you redeem on British Airways.
Churnable: Oh yeah. You can get 2 cards every 65 days or so as long as you wait a week between opening the cards. It’s the granddaddy of all churnable cards.
Overall thought: These cards are the gifts that keep on giving.

British Airways Visa (Chase)

Pros: 50,000 Avios points after $1,000 spend. Avios has some great redemptions (4500 miles for a short-haul redemption, for example – you can find an enormous amount of information about Avios searching this site – it’s too much to write here. Just know that it’s worth grabbing the points, though not to use on British Airways because they charge absurd fuel surcharges. But you can use the points on AA in North and South America, as well as on LAN and there are no fuel surcharges). Also there’s no foreign transaction fee.
Cons: $95 fee is not waived. The fuel surcharges on British Airways redemptions are ridiculous.
Churnable: No
Overall thought: British Airways Avios is both one of the best programs out there and one of the worst. Stick with smart redemptions and you’ll love it.

Delta (American Express) – there’s a Gold and Platinum version

Pros: 30,000 miles after $500 spend.
Cons: Delta’s miles are so worthless that I’m not even going to bother writing anymore here.
Churnable: Yes, after you haven’t had it for a year.
Overall thought: Unless you are captive to Delta (or want to go to Australia, where they have pretty good redemption options through V Australia), I would just avoid it and move on with your life.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier (Chase)

Pros: It’s 50,000 points (2 roundtrip flights) after $2,000 spend (though this is sometimes only 25,000 points).
Cons: $99 annual fee not waived. If you don’t live in a Southwest city it’s pretty worthless.
Churnable: No
Overall thought: If you live in a Southwest city, people love it. If not, you could just get the card and redeem the 50,000 points for $500 worth of gift cards at one of their retail partners.

United Explorer (Chase)

Pros: 30,000 points after $1,000 spend in 3 months. Annual fee ($95) waived the first year.
Cons: Hm….are there cons?
Churnable: No
Overall thought: In my book, United has the best frequent flyer program — great redemption rules, lots of availability (usually), tons of partners. You basically can’t go wrong.

US Airways Dividend Miles Visa (Barclays)

Pros: 35,000 miles after first purchase (the only airline credit card offering a bonus on first purchase). Annual fee waived first year when you apply through this link. Great redemption opportunities on Star Alliance partners. For some reason they charge fewer miles (90k) to go to Japan in business class than to go to Europe in business class (100k). And for the same 90k miles, you can go via Europe and do a stopover. Go figure.
Cons: The biggest is that US Airways doesn’t allow one-way redemptions. Oh, and their online redemption tool is worthless.
Churnable: Yep, once a year (possibly more – but why take the risk?)
Overall thought: Everyone should get this card once a year.

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12 Comments.

  1. I thought the Alaska Airlines Visa (Bank of America) provided 25,000 miles upon approval with no minimum spend? That’s what the normal landing page says — see here.

  2. The Flyertalk thread link is missing the leading “h” in http.

  3. what’s wrong with selling these miles for cash?

  4. I have to disagree about the airtran card. There is nothing meh about it. Two trips to Aruba for $69 plus $75 taxes each time. They have great availability and no close in booking fees. Their planes are cramped but its still two very cheap rides to Aruba…. coming back is another story because preclerance there is terrible but still two cheap trips to Aruba.

  5. For citi:
    Platinum Visa, a Platinum Mastercard and a Gold Visa, plus a business Mastercard
    Isnt it plat amex, plat visa, gold master and then biz visa and biz master?

    50,000 avios after $1,00 spend? where do I sign up?

    • (This will teach me not to write posts on a plane at 11pm).

      Close: It’s a Platinum Visa, Platinum Mastercard, Citi Amex, and Gold Mastercard. Plus a Biz visa and Biz MC. I’ve updated, thanks for letting me know…

  6. One minor clarification, the Alaska Airlines $99 companion certificates can only be used for coach tickets. That’s still a good deal, but a significant downgrade from the ability to use them for first class (essentially halving the price of a first class trip for two), that ended last year.

    http://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/frequently-asked-questions/faq-companion-certificate.aspx

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