What are affinity credit cards?
Banks and credit card companies have moved to the forefront of the frequent flyer loyalty game. Most major airline programs now have their own credit cards -- called affinity cards -- or are partnered with Diners Club or American Express. These cards generally earn the owner one mile in the corresponding frequent flyer program for every dollar that they spend using the card.
If you're one of the increasing minority of frequent travelers who does not yet use an affinity credit card, you are missing out on one of the most popular and valuable trends in the mileage earning industry.
Why are they so popular?
Affinity cards can be an important source of extra miles. Consider this example: If the average family charged their rent, gasoline, groceries, clothing, sundries, medical bills, business expenses, travel, utilities, tuition, car repair, phone calls, charitable contributions, and gifts to an affinity credit card, being rewarded each year with one or two free coach tickets would not be out of the question.
When credit card miles are combined with the miles earned through partners and actual flight mileage, you may even earn enough miles to fly the entire family for free. If these tickets are used for destinations that normally cost a bundle, you can easily get a decent return on the right affinity credit card.
What are the drawbacks, if any?
The rates for affinity credit cards do tend to be higher than other no-fee cards, and this can be a concern if you carry a monthly balance.
Affinity cards are extremely valuable to people who carry cards with an annual fee and who pay off their monthly balances. Cardholders who carry monthly balances can still reap substantial benefits, depending on their particular situation. For some, the free airline tickets might be worth the extra money spent.
How do I choose one that's right for me?
When choosing an affinity credit card, it's important to consider your unique circumstances, and the types of awards that are most valuable to you.
If you are a very frequent flyer, you might benefit most from selecting a card that is associated with a program offering a destination not available through your primary program? Or, if you are a member of several programs, the Diners Club card -- which allows for flexibility in transferring miles between programs and provides access to airport lounges around the world -- might be the best choice for your particular situation.
If you're not a frequent, frequent flyer, consider an affinity card associated with an airline that serves a city close to where you live. For instance, if you reside on the Eastern seaboard, carrying an America West Visa because it offers a lower annual fee simply would not be practical when cashing in awards.
Finally, if your intention is to use accumulated miles at your leisure, or save them for a retirement jaunt, we recommend carrying either an affinity card with an expiration-free mileage program, or a Diners Club or American Express card. Both options avoid expiring miles, and the American Express and Diners Club programs allow you to redeem miles for awards in the program of your choice, whenever you want.