Signing up for an airline-branded credit card may not be the best way to score travel rewards. In a new study called "Card-Carrying Generosity," Wisconsin-based IdeaWorksCompany found that for casual fliers, a bank travel reward card probably provides better value than an airline card.
Among the 4 bank travel reward cards reviewed, the average return per dollar spent was approximately $0.02. Though co-branded airline cards essentially deliver two round-trip tickets after annual spending of $18,000, the higher thresholds on American, Delta, US Airways, and United cards render them less beneficial than American Express, Barclays, Chase, Citibank, and Southwest cards.
The Barclaycard Arrival card proved the most rewarding of the bank cards, with a return of $0.022 return per dollar. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card will win you nearly $800 of rewards after $18,000 of spending in the first year, and it comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points; for a few hundred dollars more on US Airways, you'll get only one free domestic ticket, but you will enjoy a 5,0000 mile discount on reward redemptions.
Airline co-branded cards still come out on top for frequent fliers on premium long-haul flights, but bank travel reward cards offer the opportunity to earn rewards across airlines, and that flexibility can be a huge draw.
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