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Best Airline Travel Reward Credit Cards

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If you fly one airline consistently, these cards can be a very good option. They are not for people who carry a balance, because interest rates tend to be quite high. Don't count on those rates falling to reasonable levels anytime soon.

Many budget travelers believe airline credit cards are a less than attractive option unless you live near an airport dominated by one airline or your company requires a particular carrier. Often it pays to also consider bank-based cards that can offer more reward options.

Before you look at specific cards, it is best to look at your finances and travel patterns. Ask yourself seven simple questions about travel reward credit cards.

Please take these recommendations as a starting point for a more personal and in-depth study focused on your individual travel needs. Here are a few selections worth consideration as you begin your research.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

British Airways offers travel options around the world that few others can match. The current offer is up to 50,000 avios (BA's frequent flyer miles) for signing up and charging at least $2,000 on the card within the first three months. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Signature card, you will earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.

Reward partners such as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines combine with British Airways to offer about 600 destinations to which you can fly. You'll get 2.5 miles for every dollar spent with British Airways, and 1.25 miles for every other dollar spent. Chase Bank USA is the issuing company. There is a 15.24 percent variable APR for unpaid balances.

The good news: A large choice of domestic and international flights, and an offer of a second, free companion ticket when you pay full price for the first fare. The card is equipped with a microchip for better security and more convenient use in Europe. The bad news: The high annual fee of $95.

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JetBlue Card from American Express

This card, for those who fly mostly within U.S. borders, is set up a little differently from most: Receive one point for every eligible dollar you spend, including gas, groceries, and household bills. One-way award flights start at 5,000 points and round trip award flights start at 10,000 points. The variable APR for purchases is 15.24 percent. You'll receive 20,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. There is an annual fee of $40, but it is waived for the first year.

The good news: Relatively short path to the first free ticket; lower annual fee than many other airline cards and no blackout dates from JetBlue for redemptions. The bad news: JetBlue only flies in the U.S., Caribbean and Bermuda. Other cards allow for more destination options.

Fine Print

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Delta's extensive network of cities and partners around the world makes anything they offer worth a look. American Express is welcomed in many fine outlets worldwide, but some budget travelers complain it skews upscale--and therefore is not as useful in their daily lives as other cards. Delta adds 30,000 SkyMiles if you charge $1,000 on the card in the first three months.

Holders of the card may check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, a nice perk in this age of ever-increasing baggage fees. You save up to $50 on a round-trip Delta flight. The annual fee is waived the first year, and $40 thereafter if you have a qualifying American Express Consumer Charge Card. If not, the annual fee is a rather steep $95. The APR for purchases is variable, between 15.24-19.24 percent, based on your credit score.

Miles do not expire as long as you do one of the following every two years: take a qualifying flight on any Delta service; earns Delta miles through one of its program partners; or redeem miles for any Delta miles award. Not available in Puerto Rico, Saipan and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can earn double miles for Delta purchases. Beware: Delta also offers an "options" card, with no annual fee, but it takes $2 to earn each mile.

The good news: SkyMiles are also accepted on 13 international carriers, including Air France, Air Jamaica and Singapore Airlines. Delta now awards 2,500 bonus miles when you make $10,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year. You also get the first checked bag at no charge on any Delta flight. The bad news: The annual fee that can hit $95.

Fine Print

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Visa Card

You'll receive 25,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of service.

You also receive 6,000 bonus points every year after your Card-member Anniversary, which can be redeemed for a $100 Wanna Get Away? Fare or applied to the hefty $99 annual fee. APR is 15.24 percent.

The good news: It's possible to get a free round-trip ticket fairly quickly. The bad news: The high annual fee of $99 annual fee applied immediately -- no one-year grace period as found with many other offers.

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