Free Flights More Abundant with New Credit Card Offers

Beware the Fine Print

Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.
Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.
  • Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.
    Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.
    Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.
    Credit card issuers offering attractive offers on airline miles, but beware the fine print.

Summer vacation is just around the corner, and generous credit card reward
programs can help you earn a free plane ticket for that upcoming trip. But
consumers need to pay attention to the fine print of these credit card
offers since many come with higher rates, annual fees and spending
requirements.

"Credit card issuers currently have very attractive offers on airline miles,
but these 'free' tickets can often come with many strings attached," says
Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com and author of The Credit Card
Guidebook. "Airline points are good bait to generate new applications,
but credit card issuers find subtle ways to help pay for this generosity,
like higher rates and fees. Consumers need to check the card's terms
and conditions to see all the details of the offer."

Here are some consumer tips for comparing and using airline rewards cards:

* Airline rewards cards typically charge higher interest rates than other
credit cards, so only apply for an airline reward card if you completely pay
off your balance each month. If you carry a balance from one month to the
next, the miles are not worth the extra money you will pay in interest
penalties.

* Pay attention to the annual fee. Many airline credit cards come
with an annual fee of $59 to $95. Some issuers may waive the annual fee
during the first year, which can make the card financially attractive for at
least a year.

* Many cards now have minimum spending requirements that must be reached
to earn your bonus points. Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus
points, but you must spend $3,000 with the card in the first three months.
Consumers need to keep track of your spending because if you do not reach
the spending threshold, you miss out on the points.

* Pay attention to the perks. Some cards now waive bag fees for cardholders,
saving up to $50 per bag. The United Mileage Plus Explorer card and the
Continental Airline OnePass allow the cardholder and a companion to check
the first bag free. The Delta Platinum Skymiles card allows the cardholder
and eight companions on the reservation check the first bag free.

* You might lose miles with a late payment, if your account is closed for
any reason or if your account has been inactive for 18 months.

* The ticket may be free, but you will probably still be responsible for the
taxes and fees. These can include federal excise taxes, passenger facility
charges, September 11th security fees and international air transportation
taxes. Check the carrier's fine print to see what these fees may cost.

* If you book over the phone, many airlines charge a $25 reward booking
fee for each ticket.

Here are some cards that offer attractive airline bonuses:

Capital One is currently running its "Venture Double Miles Challenge." For
a limited time, new applicants for the Capital One Venture Card can get up
to 100,000 bonus miles--two miles per dollar for up to $50,000 spent on
purchases in 2011 on a single major U.S. consumer travel credit card. The
promotion will end when one billion miles have been given away, or May 1,
whichever comes first. You must spend $1,000 in the first three months of
having the card. This card also has one of the most generous reward offers
available: 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. The APR is 13.9%-20.9%.
The $59 annual fee is waived the first year. There is no fee for foreign transactions.

Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card gives 50,000 bonus points, which is
$625 toward airfare or hotel accommodations, but you must spend $3,000
with the card during the first three months. Earn two points per $1 spent on
travel, dining (including fast food), and one point per $1 spent on all other
purchases. Receive 7% annual points dividend on all new points earned.
The APR is 15.24%  and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. There
is no fee for foreign transactions.

Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World MasterCard. This card gives 30,000
bonus miles after you make $750 in purchases within the first four months of
card membership plus an additional 10,000 bonus miles after $5,000 in
purchases during the first 6 months of card membership. 40,000 bonus miles
can be enough for two free tickets for some flights in the continental U.S.
Earn two miles $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and one for
every $1 spent on other purchases within the first 12 months of card
membership. After that, you'll continue to earn one mile per $1 you spend on
purchases. The APR is 15.24% and $85 annual fee is waived the first year.
There is a 3% fee for foreign transactions.

United Plus Explorer Card. This card give 25,000 bonus miles (enough
for one round-trip ticket in the continental US) within the first two months
of card membership. Earn 10,000 bonus miles every year if you spend
$25,000 on your card within that calendar year. Earn two miles for every
$1 spent on United Airways airfare, and one mile per $1 spent on
everything else. First bag is checked free. Priority Seating service which
allows you to take your seat before general boarding. The APR is 15.24%
and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. The card charges a 3% fee
for foreign transactions.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card. This card gives 25,000
bonus points after your first purchase plus 3,000 points every year on
your Cardmember anniversary. First and second checked bags fly free.
The APR is 15.24% and there is a $99 annual fee. There is a 3% fee
for foreign transactions.

LowCards.com simplifies the confusion of shopping
for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers
easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates,
rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also
gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card. The LowCards.com
Complete Credit Card Index is the most objective and comprehensive resource on the Internet which allows consumers to compare rates for over 1000 credit cards offered in this country. Created by Hampton & Associates, the company has been analyzing the credit card industry and supplying objective websites on various
consumer expenses for twelve years.

For more information, contact Bill Hardekopf at 1-800-388-1910 or
billh@LowCards.com.