When I first started flying for work, I had no status or priority which made travel fairly painful to start. Boarding last was always frustrating, by the time I got on board, the overhead bin space was all filled up and my bag would have to be checked. Yes, the bag would be checked for free, but I’d now have to wait for my bag at my destination which also tends to make flying a little more difficult.
I quickly realized opening a co-branded credit card would make traveling a little less painful. I chose the Citi Executive World Elite Mastercard. The card carried a $450 annual fee, but gave came with Admirals Club membership, Priority Boarding, Free Checked Bags, and an amazing 75,000 sign-up offer. The card is linked to your frequent flyer number and my account instantly carried the Priority Access benefits.
United, Delta, and American offer cards with high annual fees that grant access or membership to their airport lounges. From my experience, these cards are a trap. If you are flying enough to use the lounges, chances are you won’t really need the extra miles you earn from the high-end card. These cards usually only earn 1 mile per dollar spent anyway. There are plenty of credit cards out there that give Airport Lounge access such as the American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige, Ritz Carlton Club Card, and a few others, but these cards also give you flexibility for using miles that co-branded cards to not.
The better option would be to open the lower level credit card for a given airline. The Citi Advantage Platinum Select card for example only carries an annual fee of $95 (waived the first year) and still has a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus. The card doesn’t have Admirals Club access or membership, but still offers free checked bags, group 1 boarding, double miles on AA purchases, and 25% savings on in-flight purchases. The card is perfect for the casual traveler.
However, once a traveler earns even the lowest level or airline elite status, the value of a co-branded credit card is lost and I would no longer recommend holding one. A great strategy for a new traveler would be to open the lowest level card, earn the sign-up bonus, earn low-level elite status, close the card at the end of the first membership year when the annual fee comes due.
Lastly, often when you call the credit card company to close the card the credit card issuer may waive the annual fee for another year or grant some bonus miles.
Remember, only open credit cards if you are on top of your credit card payments. Please pay credit card balances in full each month and maintain a credit utilization of under 30% to maintain a high credit score!