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These days, most airline amenities, like lounge access, in-air meals and, even, extra personal space, require flyers to pay a fee or spring for higher airfare. Thankfully, the airlines are willing to offer many of these benefits back to their most frequent travelers, as well as those who hold their co-branded credit cards.

So, if you are tired of paying fees, waiting in long lines and/or being crammed into the back of plane, consider these six ways to make the most of an airline credit card.

1. Choose the Right Cards

Many airlines offer more than one credit card. For example, American Express offers three different versions of its Delta SkyMiles card for consumers, and three different business versions. The most basic card has a $95 annual fee, but offers less rewards and ancillary benefits than the higher-cost versions. The key to choosing the right card is to weigh all of the benefits you are able to use against the cost of the annual fee.

2. Avoid Interest Charges 

As with any rewards credit card, airline cards will have higher standard interest rates than no-frills cards. And unfortunately, any frequent flyer miles you earn aren’t likely to be worth more than the interest charges you must pay when you carry a balance. That’s why if you are opting for an airline card, it’s always in your best interest to pay your balance off in full at the end of each month. (You can see how your credit card balances may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) 

3. Understand the Benefits

Airline credit cards can offer travelers plenty of benefits, but only when you know how to use them. For example, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card offers a free checked bag to the cardholder and one other companion, but only when the ticket is paid for with this card. And although the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card from American Express offers access to the SkyClub airport lounges, this membership only offers complimentary admission to the primary cardholder, with two additional guests for $29 each. On the other hand, the American Airlines AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard from Citi (see full review here) offers lounge access to the both primary and secondary cardholders as well as up to two guests or their immediate family members. (Full Disclosure: Citibank, Chase and American Express advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.) You can find more about the best airline miles credit cards in America here

4. Earn Elite Status

Not only do airline credit cards offer direct benefits to travelers, but they can also offer perks indirectly when they are used to help you earn elite status. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card from Chase (see full review here) offers cardholders 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year. Earning these Tier-Qualifying Points allows cardholders receive A-List or A-List Preferred status, which features priority check-in, priority boarding, additional bonus points, and even free inflight Wifi.

5. Use Your Miles Wisely

Spending your miles wisely can often be as hard as earning your miles. Many airlines now charge double miles for most flights, and travelers have to look extra hard to find award seats at the lowest mileage levels, often called “saver awards”. A good trick to finding the lowest priced awards for international flights is to look for partner awards. Although airlines will show some of the partner awards online, there will always be some times when you will need to call the airline to book these partner awards. Before you give up on redeeming your miles for an award flight at the lowest levels, see if there are partner airlines that don’t appear online and call your airline and call to book them.

6. Watch Out for Annual Fees

It can make sense to apply for an airline credit card based on how much money you can save on baggage fees for just a single flight. But if you haven’t used that benefit in a while, it may not be worth paying the annual fee any longer. If you are being billed a large annual fee for an airline credit card that you aren’t utilizing as much, call the card issuer. In some cases, you may be offered a similar card with a less expensive annual fee. And occasionally, the card issuer might offer to waive the annual fee or give you bonus miles that offsets its cost.

At publishing time, the AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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