If you are a frequent flier, there's a good chance you own or at least have been offered an airline credit card. Airline-specific credit cards are tailored to that airline, however, most people assume that they're only useful for booking flights. This assumption results in many travelers straying away from these cards.
But what most people don't realize is that they can also use an airline card for other aspects of travel like booking hotels or even rental cars while using their points. You can use them to choose from thousands of hotels around the country, anywhere from big name brands to small cozy Inns.
If you like to use your points to cover your travel expenses and have been considering signing up for an airline-specific credit card, then here are some steps you can take to do just that.
1. Sign up for a credit card.
If you're looking for an airline-specific credit card, sign up for a credit that that best fits your needs. Although airline credit cards have the same perks, each card usually has at least one perk that's uniquely it's own.
For instance, the Southwest Rapid Reward Priority Card will reimburse you for up to 4 upgraded boardings (when available) each year. This perk is unavailable on Southwest Premier or Plus cards. Another example is the United Explorer Card. You get 25 percent back on any in-flight purchases that you make on a United carrier, up to $100 Global Entry or TSA credit, and a free first checked bag.
You'll also want to consider how you'll be able to earn your points. Going back to our example, the United Explorer Card lets you earn 2x the rewards with purchases at restaurants, hotels, and United purchases and 1x on all other purchases. If you know that you eat out frequently or if you'll want to earn twice the points on some of your travel expenses, then you'll benefit from the Explorer card.
Make sure to research each card that your desired airline provides and determine which one offers more perks that you value. Be sure to note annual fees and foreign transaction fees if you frequently travel internationally.
2. Earn points.
Once you're approved for your airline card, you can start earning points towards flights, hotels, and other purchases you might want to make through the airline's partners and portals. Oftentimes, credit cards have special sign-up bonuses for new cardholders. Usually, cardholders must meet a minimum spend within 3 months to earn the exclusive offer.
If you signed up for a credit card that's best aligned with your life (such as earning points for grocery, gasoline, advertising services, etc.), earning points that you can later redeem should be effortless.
3. Books hotel with points.
When you have enough points that you want to redeem, it's good to know your options. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines both offer credit card perks that include redeeming points for hotel stays with their hotel partners.
Depending on your credit card, you can either book your hotel directly on their site or through your credit card's redemption portal. Instead of paying for the trip, choose the option to pay with points. Again, the process varies by credit card.
4. Note that airline credit cards don't always have the best value.
If you're a frequent flier with a favorite airline that is also available near to you, then an airline credit card makes sense. However, if you don't fly too often, aren't married to a particular carrier or don't live near a specific airline hub, you may want to consider another credit card with perks and rewards that make more sense for your purchases. Alternatively, if you are looking for more rewards for hotel stays than for flights, consider a hotel credit card.
Ultimately, using points for hotel stays often doesn't provide the best value. Unless you are loyal to one airline or one hotel, you're likely better off having a travel rewards credit card that earns points for flights and hotels and can be redeemed for a broader network of options. You can use your card to transfer the points you've earned over to one of the partners in their program.