Leisure travelers: don’t turn up your noses at airline credit cards without considering some benefits that can save you a lot of money. And don’t cut off that same nose to spite your face — or your wallet.
A Perfect Example
A family member really didn’t want to apply for a new credit card. She made that clear the other day while visiting our house.
“I have my Blue Cash Everyday®® Card from American Express and Bank of America rewards card,” she told me. “I’m happy with those. And I don’t like having so many credit cards.”
Happiness and comfort are paramount. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.
She’s very excited (as is our entire family!) for the arrival of her first grandchild, due this December. Her kids live in Salt Lake City — where the new grandma will travel at least twice a year.
“And I’m always checking a bag,” she said. “I don’t want to shlep my suitcase onto a plane and deal with all that. But baggage fees get expensive.”
Yep. They sure do.
She usually flies Delta from Southern California to SLC. Delta charges $30 for the first checked bag, one way. So that’s $60 a trip. We figured out that she’ll pay a minimum of $120 each year in checked bag fees. Those charges quickly add up for anyone who checks a bag a few times each year.
“Let me guess,” she said dryly. “There’s a Delta Amex or something that I should get.” (People seem to think that all I talk about are points, miles, credit cards, and travel. That’s not true. I also like sports. 🙂 )
I told her about the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, which gives the cardholder a free checked bag on Delta-operated and Delta-marketed flights. Plus, the benefit extends to eight other people traveling on the same itinerary/confirmation number. That is a huge saving.
“But the card probably has an annual fee,” she correctly pointed out.
I told her the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card has a $0 annual fee the first year and then $99 starting in year two. (See rates and fees.) But if she were to spend (at least) $120 in baggage fees each year, she’s actually saving $21 simply by taking advantage of the card’s free first checked bag benefit.
Once she realized that a credit card with an annual fee would save her money, she was on board.
And she really liked the $200 statement credit for making a Delta purchase within three months of card membership approval. (This is a special welcome offer expiring today, so jump on it now if you’re interested.)
Plus, she’s not afraid of Basic Economy tickets, so the Main Cabin 1 boarding benefit that comes with premium Delta Amexes will get her on board sooner than otherwise.
You Don’t Have to Use the Card Regularly
She expressed reluctance about using the card after she receives the promotional welcome bonus. (Right now, 70,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $2,000 in eligible purchases within three months of approval). I told her that’s fine. In fact, my wife and I hardly ever charge anything to our Delta Amexes. (We suggested she bring the card with her on Delta trips to get a 20% statement credit for onboard food and beverages purchases.)
Not Limited to Just Delta American Express Cards
Other major airlines have comparable credit cards featuring similar benefits.
The United Explorer Card features a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. And it packs a bunch of benefits, too.
- First checked bag free for the cardholder and one travel companion when using your card to purchase your ticket for United- and United Express-operated flights.
- Two one-time passes to the United Club each Year (starting the second year of card membership)
- Priority boarding privileges
- Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee Credit
For you occasional American Airlines travelers out there, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (learn more on this page) gives a free first checked bag to cardholders and up to four others traveling on the same American-operated and -marketed itinerary. That card features a waived annual fee the first year and then $99 starting the second year.
Some people are nervous about getting a credit card — especially one with an annual fee. That’s understandable.
But keep in mind if you travel on the same airline once or twice a year (especially with a companion) and check bags, you can end up saving money on some cards that carry annual fees.
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