Travel cards fall into two categories they can be a Branded card or a non-branded credit card.
Branded cards such as the American Airlines AAdvantage cards and the Barclay Choice hotel card are designed to foster brand loyalty. These cards will almost always have loyalty tiers that offer greater benefits to customers that use their brand frequently. If you use these brands frequently a Branded card is great for you.
When Charlene and I lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands the primary airline we flew on was American Airlines because American offered most of the flights to St. Croix. The advantages of free checked bags, American Airline lounge passes and possible upgrades based on our card membership made the AAdvantage card an excellent choice for us.
Airlines branded cards can be great if you fly an airline often enough but there are also branded cards for hotel chains, retailers and even restaurant chains that can under the right circumstances make sense.
The basic concept of most Branded credit cards is almost always the same. First, you build points in their system and then you can use those points on the Branded companies website to redeem your travel. For Delta, United and American you go directly to their reservation web sites and fill in their standard reservation form with your desired flight and date. In all these sites they offer the option of paying with rewards, money or a combination of both. If you click the rewards option your flights will be priced in rewards points or miles instead of dollars. When you get your flight your rewards account will be debited.
The disadvantage of many of the Branded cards is they want to channel you to use their brand so they may lack the flexibility of a non-branded card. In part five of my article on the travel credit card as a tool for free travel I go into more depth about branded credit cards.
The second category of travel credit card is the non-branded credit card.Examples of non-branded cards would be the American Express Platinum card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
These cards can offer amazing flexibility allowing you to shop between multiple brands of travel. For example the American Express Platinum card partners with airlines from the three major airline alliances so you can shop most major airlines for the best mileage point deals. With most non-branded credit cards the same card can be used to transfer points to travel vendors such as hotels and car rental partners or even cruise lines making it possible to use one card for all your travel needs. When looking at a non-branded card it is wise to consider what partnership the non-branded card has negotiated. An example of this would be that American Express has failed to negotiate a point transfer agreement with American Airlines. Because no transfer was possible directly into American Airlines from American Express when we lived in the Caribbean we had to be a little more creative when we wanted to use American Express points to fly.
As I mentioned, in my first blog on travel credit cards it is a good idea to find the card that is best tailored to your specific needs.
There are three basic redemption schemes used by non-branded credit cards.
The American Express card offers two of these three plans for redeeming points. It allows it’s customers to either book flight on their mileage site or to transfer their points to partners and then book travel on the partners site. If you choose to book your flight on the American Express web site your reward cost will be based on the dollar value of the flight and paid in rewards at a rate set by American Express. In my experience this is a mixed blessing and can range from very expensive use of points to a very reasonable use of points depending on the cards offered deals and the cost of the flight you find. If you choose to transfer your American Express points to a partner you will have your flight point cost set my the partners website.
The first scheme, I mentioned above, is for the credit card company to partner with various brands and then allow their members to transfer their rewards to the branded rewards programs. An example would be the American Express Platinum or Chase Saphire card allowing a transfer of points to one of it’s partners such as an airline or hotel program.
The second scheme would be where you go on the non-branded cards reservation site pick a flight and the dollar cost of the flight is converted in to a payment by points. As I mentioned above certain non-branded cards offer both of these methods to redeem your accumulated points.
The final scheme is where you actually buy the ticket with your non-branded card and then take the purchase off your card statement. This scheme allows the most flexibility because you are actually buying the ticket with cash. Barclay offers this scheme with its Barclay Arrival Plus card. I will talk more about the Barclay Arrival Plus card in the third part of this credit card series.
So in closing you have branded and non-branded cards.
Branded cards card allow redemption on their specific web sites and often offer the best fringe benefits like free bags and priority boarding.
Non-branded credit cards have three basic redemption schemes; point transfers to partners, point for penny internal site redemptions and statement credit redemptions.
Often a combination of these five basic types of cards can give a traveler the best bang for his buck because each type of card has advantages in certain circumstances.
I’m kind of a Geezer so I tend to be willing to travel anywhere if the price is right. I’m retired so I keep my bags packed and when a good last minute deal pops up I snag it. My, I don’t care where I go as long as it’s cheap, attitude works well with a non-branded card that uses a statement credit system of redemption because I can fly discount carriers at the last minute and get the most bang for my buck.