Airline cards vs. travel rewards cards

If you’re interested in traveling and trying to earn rewards for your next trip, you may be wondering whether you’re better off with an airline rewards credit card or a general travel rewards credit card. Depending on the card, both can come with travel-related benefits, like avoiding foreign transaction fees. But there are some key differences to consider when making your decision.

Here’s how these two types of travel credit cards stack up.

Key takeaways

  • Airline rewards credit cards are a type of branded credit card that lets you earn miles and rewards with your preferred airline. 
  • Airline rewards can often only be redeemed with a specific airline or its travel partners.
  • A general travel rewards card offers many of the same benefits as airline rewards cards with fewer restrictions on how you can use your miles and rewards.
  • Travel rewards cards may be a good choice for travelers who want the flexibility to fly with the airline of their choice and the ability to earn rewards on all their purchases.

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Types of travel credit cards

General travel rewards and airline rewards credit cards are two common types of travel rewards credit cards. You can use them just as you would any other credit card. And you can earn rewards, often in the form of points or miles.

Keep in mind that the rewards systems for airline and general travel cards may vary. For instance, one card might deliver a flat rewards rate on every purchase, while another card might give you a higher rate on your travel purchases like hotel reservations, airfare and rental cars.

What is a general travel rewards credit card?

A general travel rewards card can provide straightforward rewards and flexible redemption options. This type of card isn’t tied to a specific travel provider and may let you earn rewards on purchases even when they’re not related to travel. 

You may have greater flexibility for redeeming your rewards with a general travel rewards card. That could mean redeeming on rental cars and vacation homes. And it may give you the option to book your trip using any eligible website or app without blackout dates or other restrictions. Some general travel rewards cards may even let you redeem on more than just travel purchases. For example, with the Capital One Venture travel rewards card you can earn 2X miles on every purchase you make.

What is an airline rewards credit card?

An airline rewards or airline miles card lets you earn miles or rewards on a specific airline. Rewards from an airline credit card might allow you to buy plane tickets, check bags at no cost or board a plane early, for example. 

Earning elite status with an airline could make travel even more enjoyable with perks like free seat upgrades and access to airport lounges for more relaxing layovers. Reaching elite status may vary by airline. However, ways to earn it typically include using the card for purchases, amassing a set amount of rewards or spending a set amount of money with the airline.

It may help to keep in mind that the ability to earn and redeem rewards might be more limited with an airline rewards card than with a general travel card.

Travel rewards credit card vs. airline credit card: What are the major differences?

While both general travel rewards credit cards and airline credit cards appeal to frequent travelers, you could say they’re credit card cousins, not identical twins. 

One of the biggest differences is how the rewards are structured. If you’re considering these cards, it may be helpful to look at how you can earn and use the rewards—and any other benefits. 

Where you can use rewards

The first thing to think about when comparing travel credit cards is how you travel. If you usually fly with the same airline, an airline-specific credit card could earn you miles to use with them. 

On the other hand, a general travel rewards card may give you the flexibility to earn rewards from a variety of airlines, not to mention other travel-related purchases, such as car rentals, hotel stays and train tickets. Because general travel rewards cards may offer the flexibility of more choices, this may help make travel schedules more accommodating and provide access to more flight options. You might also be able to transfer your miles thanks to partnerships with certain airlines.

Where you earn rewards

Next, look at what you charge to your travel credit card. If you travel frequently and use the card for everyday items—like restaurants, gas, groceries, the occasional latte—a general travel rewards card may earn you more miles.

What types of rewards you want

Finally, figure out what other travel credit card rewards matter to you. With airline cards, these extras are often focused on the part of your trip that gets you from point A to point B, like free checked bags, priority boarding and seat upgrades. 

Consider whether potential rewards cards can also come with added benefits. For example, some travel cards provide a statement credit for TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry.* These programs can help you move through the airport more quickly and may make travel that much easier. 

TSA PreCheck® helps you skip the longer line and get through the airport a bit faster at more than 200 U.S. airports, and Global Entry can help you save time during the customs process at select airports when you’re returning to the U.S. from international destinations. Keep in mind that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck®.

Some airline cards and travel credit cards may also offer airport lounge access.

When should you choose an airline card?

Airline credit cards may be especially useful if you travel frequently with the same airline. But rewards may not be as flexible as a general travel card. 

Remember, loyalty and frequent flyer programs are usually free to join. You might consider signing up for that and using a general travel card to make purchases.

When should you choose a travel rewards credit card?

Travel rewards credit cards, like the Venture card, let you earn rewards miles for all your adventures. And you’re not limited to a specific airline provider. Plus, if you book through Capital One Travel, you may be able to earn rewards for some travel purchases at an even higher rate than everyday purchases.

Travel rewards cards may be ideal if you’re looking for more flexible redemption options to redeem your rewards with multiple airlines and earn rewards on non-travel purchases. 

Airline cards vs. travel cards in a nutshell

If you’re comparing airline reward credit cards and general travel rewards cards, consider which option works for you and your spending habits. Both types of travel credit cards have distinct advantages, so you should pick the program that matches your travel style and spending habits.

If you’re looking for a travel rewards card that will let you earn rewards on every purchase you make, whether you’re booking a flight or buying groceries, compare Capital One travel rewards cards today.

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