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One thing that looks sure to continue year-on-year is the continued rise in airline fees and charges. In 2015 U.S. airlines took in a touch over $11 billion in fees and charges, almost 25% more than 2014, and it’s passengers wearing the expense.

Credit cards that offer airline and travel credits have become a popular method of counteracting ever rising airline fees and charges, with everything from carry-on bags to bottled water now costing on some airlines.

First adopted by Amex for its Platinum card pair, followed closely by the Citi Prestige® Card. Chase has now taken the annual travel credit to a whole new level, offering up to $300 on the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which covers everything from airline tickets, hotel stays, and seat upgrades to in-flight entertainment and excess baggage fees.

Passengers in airport
With airline fees and charges at an all-time high, credit cards with travel credits are a great way of reducing costs.

The art of rewards travel is to reduce costs as much as possible, but the rise in taxes, fees, and incidental charges means frequent flyers need to adapt their redemption strategies.

So, how can we keep costs to a minimum on award redemptions, and pay the lowest possible price on cash fares when all these ancillary charges can add around 30% to the cost of a ticket, expenses often not covered by award fares? By using credit cards that offer travel credits for expenses like airline incidentals, taxes, and upgrades!

Credit Cards That Offer an Airline or Travel Credit

It’s worth noting that not all travel credits are created equal. Some have a number of restrictions on what cardholders can claim and require cardholders to request the credit, whereas others cover almost any travel related expense and will credit automatically. While we cover the basics for each card, reading the T&C's will give you a much greater understanding, possibly saving hundreds of dollars over the life of the card.

Credit CardAnnual CreditEligible Purchases Cover Airline Change/Cancellation FeesAnnual Fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve®$300 travel creditAlmost any travel purchasesYes$450
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card$325 travel creditAirlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains, and cruise linesYes$400
Citi Prestige® Card$250 travel creditAirlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, and bus linesYes$490
HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard® credit card$100 air travel creditTicket purchases, seat upgrades, baggage fees or in-flight purchasesYes$395
Crystal® Visa Infinite® Credit Card$250 airline incidentals credit on U.S. domestic airlines onlyTicket change/cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, inflight entertainment, onboard food and beverage charges, airport lounge membership fees and day passes, onboard wireless charges (excluding Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi), and TSA Pre✓® membership application fee purchased from qualifying U.S. domestic airlinesYes - U.S. domestic airlines only $400
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card$300 airline incidentals credit (Isn't applied automatically - must call charges in)Non-ticket airline purchases including baggage fees, in-flight entertainment, food, upgrades, and lounge passes and membershipsNo$450
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card$250 airline incidentals credit on one airline - chosen annuallyBaggage fees, booking fees, in-flight food, and lounge admissionYes - On chosen airline$450
The Platinum Card® from American Express$200 airline incidentals credit on one airline - chosen annuallyBaggage fees, booking fees, in-flight food, and lounge admissionYes - On chosen airline$550 - Rates & Fees
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express$200 airline incidentals credit on one airline - chosen annuallyBaggage fees, booking fees, in-flight food, and lounge admissionYes - On chosen airline$595 - Rates & Fees
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card$100 airline incidentals credit on U.S. headquartered airlinesBaggage fees, flight-change fees, in-flight food and beverage purchases, airport lounge day-passes, pet-kennel fee, and phone reservation feesYes - U.S. headquartered airlines only No annual fee
American Express® Gold Card$100 airline incidentals credit on one airline - chosen annuallyBaggage fees, booking fees, in-flight food, and lounge admissionYes - On chosen airline$250 - Rates & Fees
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card$100 airline incidentals credit on U.S. domestic airlines onlySeating upgrades, ticket change/cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, in-flight entertainment, onboard food and beverage charges, and airport lounge feesYes - U.S. domestic airlines only $95
EXPEDIA®+ VOYAGER CARD from Citi$100 airline incidentals credit on qualifying U.S. domestic airlines onlyChecked bags, inflight entertainment or refreshments, inflight Wi-Fi, and Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®No$95
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card$75 Southwest Airlines Annual Travel CreditAll Southwest purchases (excluding Upgraded Boardings and inflight purchases)N/A - Southwest doesn't charge change/cancellation fees$149
U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Gold American Express® Card$25 airline incidentals credit with each redeemed airline awardBaggage fees or in-flight food and drinksNo$85

The last four cards we’ve grouped together. While they don’t offer travel or airline credits, they earn points that can be redeemed for statement credits towards travel expenses. Because it works as a statement credit, any payment that codes as travel from the merchant qualifies — just make sure you watch the minimum redemption thresholds for these of these cards.

Final Thoughts

Airline and travel credits are a great way of reducing your out of pocket expense for traveling. Yes, most cards charge a hefty fee for the privilege, but they also offer a huge range of benefits for the annual fee which can include lounge access, elite status with hotel chains, and travel insurance that will drop your travel expenses over the long term.

Which travel credit is best? All things considered, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has the most valuable travel credit. At $300 as opposed to $250 for the Prestige Card and $200 on the Amex Platinum, it also has the widest definition of claimable expenses, covering anything from a train ticket to road tolls, and online travel agencies.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees), The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (Rates & Fees), The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees), and Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)

Best Credit Cards with Travel and Airline Credits for Incidentals [2019]
4.8 (96.67%) 6 votes
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Did you know that you can group different travel segments into a single travel plan? You can then share this trip with anyone. To do this use the Create Travel Plan link.  You can move the beginning and end sections of the travel plan by dragging and dropping.
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