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We all hear a lot about airlines miles and points and how vivid a life you're going to have once you start collecting miles. And while this frequent flyer miles science may seem confusing and complicated, in fact it's a piece of cake and everyone can learn how to earn for travel using credit cards. So, here we are to explain how travel credit cards work.

Co-branded credit cards

The first thing you need to know is that there are actually two types of travel credit cards - general and co-branded cards. Co-branded cards are those that are tied to a particular airline, for example, United Airlines, American Airlines or Delta. All of these airlines have a loyalty program that lets you collect miles every time you fly. They also have credit cards associated with them, and those credit cards let you earn miles too, and miles are added to your account. Such credit cards usually have increased rewards on this airline purchases and standard rewards on all other purchases. For example, the (expired offer) credit card offers miles per dollar on eligible American purchases. Besides, such cards often have sign-up bonuses, which grant you additional miles if you spend a certain amount with this card. Co-branded cards typically have airline-specific perks, for example, a free access to a certain lounge or free checked bags.

However, there are certain drawbacks to these cards that you need to know about. First of all, they are linked to certain airlines, meaning that you are rather limited in how you spend the miles. Some airlines let you transfer earned miles to partner airlines, but you may lose some value mid-course and generally it is far from convenient. Besides, airlines often impose restrictions on miles redemption. There can be blackout dates and no available seats, which is, admit it, just not good. And finally, the miles value may be different depending on what system the loyalty program operates. There are airlines that grant you a number of miles based on the distance you've flown, there are airlines that give more miles for more expensive tickets - i.e. revenue-based programs, and there are programs with fixed value. Ticket prices also vary depending on the class and status, and thus the value of one miles can vary quite a lot.

Generally, loyalty programs tend to be overcomplicated, and it often makes no sense to work out the details.

General travel cards

As for general travel cards, the situation is quite different. They are more like typical rewards programs, meaning that you can redeem your miles on travel purchases regardless of what airlines you prefer and plan to use. Basically, general travel card miles are more like cash back, only named differently. They tend to have a fixed value - somewhere around 1 miles per dollar - and they are easily redeemable. There are no restrictions on seat availability or blackout dates. The earning system is more general - you earn more miles not only on particular airline purchases, but on all other purchases. For example, the Citi Premier® Card allows you to earn 3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel, and hotels, 1x points on all purchases.

In addition to this, general travel cards also have sign-up bonuses. The Discover it® Miles card gives you an unusual sign-up bonus: at the end of the first year all the miles you've earned are matched, meaning that you'll get twice as many miles. Thus, if you earn 35,000 miles, you'll get 70,000 miles at the end of the year. Basically, you can become the master of your sign-up bonus.

All in all, it's up to you which type of travel card to choose. Evaluate your options carefully and come up with the one that will let you maximize your rewards and travel freely.