Travel Credit Cards: Airline Cards vs. Travel Rewards Cards

Thinking about a travel credit card? Here are some key differences between airline cards and travel rewards cards


If you’re interested in travel—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. Both types of travel credit cards can get you back in the window seat (and often help you avoid 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:

One Airline vs. Multiple Options

The first thing to think about when comparing travel credit cards is how you travel. If you usually fly with the same carrier, an airline credit card could earn you miles to use with your favorite airline and its partners. On the other hand, a travel rewards card may give you the flexibility to use points or miles on a range of different airlines and travel purchases. Some may even let you transfer miles to participating airline partners.

Because travel rewards cards offer the flexibility of more choices, you can book what you want, when you want it. This can help make flight schedules more accommodating and get you in and out of more airports.

Earning Higher Rewards on Travel vs. Earning Rewards on All Purchases

Next, look at what you charge to your travel credit card. If you travel frequently, airline credit cards may offer a higher rewards earn rate for travel spending, like booking a ticket or making in-flight purchases. But if more of your charges come from everyday items (like restaurants, gas, groceries, the occasional mocha latte), a travel rewards card may earn you more points or miles with a flat rewards rate across all categories.

Free Checked Bags vs. Other Travel Rewards

Finally, figure out what other travel credit card perks 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. Some may even offer lounge access.

Like the idea of an upgraded travel experience? Travel rewards cards can also come with added perks. For example, some travel rewards cards provide a credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. These programs can help you skip long lines at security or customs and may make travel that much easier. TSA Precheck provides expedited security screenings at more than 200 U.S. airports, and Global Entry can speed up the customs process when you’re returning to the U.S. from international destinations. (Keep in mind that Global Entry includes TSA Precheck.)

Another perk of travel rewards cards? The points or miles you earn can often be used more broadly, allowing you to redeem rewards for other aspects of your trip, such as hotels, rental cars and taxis.

Either Way, You Win

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


We hope that you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.