Loyalty is dead, at least when it comes to airline miles. American Airlines, Delta and United now reward miles based on the cost of your ticket rather than the length of your trip. They’re also cutting back on perks for frequent fliers - perks like airport lounge access and fee waivers.
That’s why some consumers are opting to get their travel rewards from credit cards that offer greater flexibility, letting cardholders pick the best travel deal, regardless of airline. A rewards card that offers points you can redeem for airfare on any airline can be a user-friendly alternative to a single-airline card.
Different rewards cards offer different point schemes, but the principle is the same. Unlike cards that offer cash back as you swipe, rewards cards let you accrue points as you spend. Cardholders who travel frequently for business or pleasure can redeem those points for airfare.
But not all point schemes offer a straight one-for-one conversion between points and dollars. Some cards give you a rewards boost when you use your points for travel spending. For example, the MasterCard® Titanium Card™, MasterCard® Black Card™ and MasterCard® Gold Card™ all double your point value when you redeem points for airfare.
All three cards come with an annual fee, so crunch the numbers before you apply. If you only fly once or twice each year you might not break even, but frequent fliers should benefit from the double points on airfare.
Saving on the Extras
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average fare on a round-trip domestic flight is $361. While only around 10% of U.S. consumers buy a plane ticket in a given quarter, those of us who do fly want to find the best deals we can, particularly if our travel dollars are coming out of our own accounts and not our employer’s coffers.
Travel spending is more than just airfare, though. If you’re a frequent traveler, you can easily rack up hundreds of dollars each year between Global Entry fees, airport lounge fees and airline fees for baggage, food, entertainment and more.
If you pay for those fees on any rewards credit card you’ll earn points for your spending, of course. But the MasterCard® Black Card™ and the MasterCard® Gold Card™ help frequent fliers avoid some travel-related fees altogether. Both the Black and the Gold cards come with free VIP Airport Lounge access via the Priority Pass Select program. That means free access to over 950 airport lounges in over 400 cities around the world.
Another way the cards save frequent travelers money on airport fees is by offering credits. The Black card comes with a $100 Annual Airline Credit for qualifying airline purchases, plus a $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Taken together, those two credits knock $200 off the Black card’s $495 annual fee. Customers who level up to the Gold card will get the same $100 Global Entry application fee credit, plus a $200 Annual Airline Credit, for a total credit of $300.
For some people, the hassle of booking travel is more of a concern than the cost. Those consumers may want to consider one of the several rewards card that come with concierge service to help make travel booking less of a headache. The MasterCard® Titanium Card™, MasterCard® Black Card™ and MasterCard® Gold Card™ all come with a Luxury Card Concierge™ service that can help you book your flights, rental cars, hotels, tours and more. Even high rollers who don’t need a rewards card for its money-saving potential could find such a card useful for the built-in personal assistant services.
New Rules for Frequent Travelers
The days of picking a single airline, logging miles and using those miles to score free tickets may be behind us. Airlines are increasingly offering the best deals to business travelers who spring for expensive tickets, leaving the rest of the market struggling to score deals on airfare. A 2015 American Bankers Association® survey found that only 13% of respondents favor airline mile credit cards, behind cash-back cards and general points cards.
If committing to a single frequent flier program is out, what’s in? Opting for a rewards card that fits your lifestyle, budget and spending habits.