Using an airline credit card to earn travel rewards? Smart move! But before you start planning your next big trip, you need to know the limitations of your card. Unlike other reward programs, airline and frequent flyer miles have many restrictions you need to look into before cashing-in on rewards. Here are some factors you should consider when choosing an airline / travel credit card:
Limits on Seat Availability
Airlines that offer frequent flyer programs limit the number of seats available on each flight for point redemption. You will need a sizeable ‘lead time’ when using your frequent flyer miles. Lead time is the time between booking your travel arrangements and receiving the approval or confirmation. International or exotic locations require a longer lead time than a trip to Boston or Pittsburgh. Regardless of the destination, its always a good idea to plan as early as possible.
You won’t have to deal with seat limitations if you use a generic airline card like the Capital One® Venture Rewards Card or U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Card. Points earned may be redeemed for flights on any major US airline. When you redeem your points, your tickets will be purchased through a travel agency just as you would if you were to buy a seat direct.
Expiration Dates or Cancellations
Although many frequent flyer offers boast that the miles will never expire, accounts can be canceled due to inactivity. If there is no account activity over three consecutive years, your account is subject to termination by most major airlines and you will lose all of the miles you have earned through their program. For now, some carriers are sticking with the three-year rule, but the trend is to lower the time limit.
For example, beginning on January 31, 2007, U.S. Airways said you must earn or redeem your miles within a consecutive 18-month period in order to keep your frequent flyer account active and prevent the forfeiture of your airline miles. Delta Sky Miles accounts that have not been touched over a two year period will expire.
So be sure to read the ‘use it or lose it’ policy. You’ll want to make sure you can accumulate enough points over a specific period of time before you choose one of these offers.
The Dreaded Blackout Date
Many programs DO NOT incorporate blackout dates, but other airlines will prevent you from redeeming your miles during specific times. These normally include peak travel periods such as Holidays. If you plan on using your frequent flyer miles for next years big Thanksgiving get together, you might want to find a card with no blackout dates.
Watch out for caps or limits on the number of points you can earn annually. Some companies enforce an annual cap, while others allow you to rack up unlimited rewards. Annual earning limits on airline rewards range from 25,000 to 150,000 points.
Membership Dues & Annual Fees
The annual fees on airline specific miles cards can be quite high, up to $120 for a platinum card. After the initial 0% introductory membership fee, you may be charged $50 – $90 annually thereafter. Always look for credit cards that offer No Annual Fee.
* See a complete list of airline mile credit cards →