credit & debt

Airline Rewards Cards Without the Fee

You can take advantage of new no-fee card offerings from Delta and United to buy plane tickets with miles or credits.

Frequent fliers can now sign up for a dedicated airline credit card from a major airline without paying up front. Delta and United have introduced no-fee cards that offer miles or credits that cardholders can redeem for flight purchases. The American Express Blue Delta SkyMiles card (16.74% to 25.74% annual percentage rate; 2.7% foreign-transaction fee) offers two SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and at U.S. restaurants; other purchases earn one mile per dollar. Cardholders also get a 20% discount on in-flight purchases. By contrast, Delta’s Gold Delta SkyMiles card ($95 annual fee) pays out only one mile per dollar on dining, but it offers perks such as free baggage and priority boarding, and it charges no fee for foreign transactions.

Rather than rewarding you with United MileagePlus miles, the no-fee Chase United TravelBank card (16.99% to 23.99%; no foreign-transaction fee) offers cash back that you can use to purchase United flights. You’ll earn 2% back on United ticket purchases and 1.5% on all other spending. Plus, cardholders get 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases.

Even if your preferred carrier doesn’t advertise a no-fee credit card, you may be able to bypass the fee. “It never hurts to ask if there’s a no-fee or low-fee alternative,” says Brian Karimzad, analyst for MileCards.com. For example, the no-fee Citi/AAdvantage Bronze MasterCard from American Airlines is generally not available to new applicants. But the issuer may be willing to give the card to customers who ask—especially those who already hold another of the airline’s cards. If your airline card has an annual fee, the issuer may waive it for a year on request instead of downgrading you to a no-fee version.

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