Credit cards from Delta, United, and other airlines offer discounts on in-flight purchases, so you can save on drinks, Wi-Fi, and more

Delta One Business Class 767 400 IMG_4602David Slotnick/Business Insider

  • The best airline credit cards offer money-saving benefits like free checked bags and annual companion tickets.
  • Many airline cards can also help you save each time you fly by offering discount on purchases of in-flight food and Wi-Fi.
  • The savings can vary by card and airline, so be sure to check the terms of your specific product before using it on board.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

Although many airline credit cards charge annual fees of $95 or more, they usually offer travelers money-saving perks that more than make up for it. Along with sign-up bonuses potentially worth thousands of dollars, benefits like free checked bags and annual companion tickets can save you hundreds each year.

One of the most common yet overlooked benefits airline credit cards offer are discounts on in-flight purchases such as food, beverages, Wi-Fi, and even audio headsets. Unfortunately, the reason many airline credit cards offer such a benefit is that airlines have begun charging for more and more of these amenities. That makes carrying a rewards credit card a good way to deal with nickel-and-diming by airlines.

While the concept is relatively simple, as with all things related to travel rewards cards, there is a lot of fine print that can affect how much you save, and on what. Before using your card for in-flight impulse buys, be sure you know what purchases your discount applies to and how much you can expect to save.

Here are the best credit cards that offer discounts on in-flight purchases, listed by associated airline.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

Alaska Airlines

With the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card are eligible for 20% rebates on in-flight food, beverages and Wi-Fi purchases. The discount manifests as a statement credit refund within seven days of the transaction posting date.

Even if you only use this perk a few times a year, your savings can add up and more than compensate for the personal card's $75 annual fee or the business one's $50 fee. Both cards currently offer a welcome bonus of 40,000 miles and a $121 companion fare when you spend $2,000 or more in purchases within 90 days of account opening.

American Airlines

American Airlines fields credit cards with both Citibank and Barclaycard, nearly all of which offer in-flight savings.

The most impressive, not only of American Airlines' cards, but of any airline card, is the recently revamped AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®. While it's not available to new applicants, if you have the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, you might be able upgrade to it.

The Aviator Silver card does have an annual fee of $149, but one of the reasons you might still want it is that, as a cardholder, you'll be eligible for up to $25 back per day as a statement credit toward in-flight food and beverage purchases. Yes, you read that correctly - cardholders can get up to $25 per day on purchases. If you maxed out this benefit, you could save an eye-popping $9,125 per year. That's a lot of airline cheese plates. Cardholders also get up to $50 back per account year on Wi-Fi purchases on American Airlines flights.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard cardholders receive 25% savings on in-flight purchases of food and beverages, and up to $25 back in the form of statement credits toward Wi-Fi on American Airlines flights each year. The card is currently offering new applicants up to 60,000 bonus miles plus a $99 companion ticket after making their first purchase within 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee.

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® also includes 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases and is offering up to 75,000 bonus miles as a welcome offer - 65,000 after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and an additional 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card. Its annual fee is $95.

The following Citi co-branded American Airlines credit cards all offer 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases:

Aside from that, the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select card is currently offering new applicants 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months of account opening, and its $99 annual fee is waived the first year.

The higher-end Citi/AAdvantage Executive card is offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening and includes Admirals Club access and the ability to earn elite-qualifying miles through spending among other benefits like up to $100 to cover the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. The annual fee is $450.

Citi's no-annual-fee AAdvantage MileUp card comes with 10,000 bonus miles plus a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Finally, the CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® has a $99 annual fee that's waived the first 12 months, and it's offering 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on the card within the first four months. It also proffers a 25% rebate on in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.

Delta

All seven of Delta's American Express co-branded credit cards offer consistent in-flight savings - 20% off in the form of statement credits after you use your card to pay for in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets. Unfortunately, this benefit does not apply to Wi-Fi.

Both the Gold Delta SkyMiles card and the Gold Delta SkyMiles Business card are offering new cardmembers up to 30,000 bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening, and a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with your new card within the first three months.

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card and the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business card currently offer 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months, plus a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card in your first three months. Each also comes with an annual companion certificate that can be redeemed for domestic round-trip travel. Their annual fees are increasing from $195 to $250 after January 30, 2020.

The Delta Reserve card and Delta Reserve Business card both bestow access to Delta Sky Clubs and a companion certificate good for round-trip domestic flights in any class. Their current welcome offers are 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Their annual fees will be increasing from $450 to $550 January 30, 2020.

Finally, the no-fee Blue Delta SkyMiles card is offering 10,000 bonus miles for new applicants who spend $500 on purchases in the first three months. It earns 2x miles on Delta purchases and at US restaurants.

Hawaiian Airlines

You need to be a HawaiianMiles Pualani Gold or Platinum elite member to take advantage of the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard's annual perk of up to $100 in statement credits toward in-flight purchases including premium meals, beverages, and onboard entertainment. There is a daily maximum rebate of $10.

The Hawiian Airlines Mastercard is currently offering 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Its annual fee is $99.

JetBlue

All three of JetBlue's co-branded credit cards offer an impressive 50% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases including cocktails, wine, and beer on JetBlue flights. You will notice that it doesn't apply to Wi-Fi, because JetBlue offers free Wi-Fi.

The JetBlue Plus Card costs $99 per year, and offers benefits like a 10% refund on redeemed points and Mosaic elite status when you hit $50,000 in spending on the card annually. It is currently offering 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and pay of the annual fee.

The JetBlue Business Card's current sign-up bonus is an impressive 60,000 points - earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn 10,000 points when a purchase is made on an employee card. Its annual fee is also $99.

Finally, the no-annual-fee JetBlue Card is offering 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

Southwest Airlines

Interestingly, not all of Southwest's credit cards include in-flight purchase discounts and they can vary widely.

For instance, the relatively new Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card offers cardholders up to $8 toward onboard Wi-Fi purchases per day up to 365 days per year. That's potentially $2,920 in savings per year, though only if you fly and surf (the web) every day.

By contrast, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card refunds 20% back in in-flight purchases of drinks and Wi-Fi on Southwest flights. You might just have to wait one or two billing cycles for them to appear on your account as statement credits.

The Southwest Priority card carries a $149 annual fee and includes perks like a $75 annual Southwest travel credit and four upgraded boardings per year. Its current welcome offer is 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.

The Southwest Performance business card costs $199 per year, but offers benefits like four upgraded boardings per year, up to $100 as a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee refund, and 9,000 bonus points each account anniversary. It is currently offering 70,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 in your first three months.

United

Only United's personal co-branded credit cards offer in-flight purchase discounts.

The United Explorer Card, United Club Card, and United TravelBank Card all come with 25% savings in the form of statement credits for purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi aboard United flights.

The Explorer's $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and the card is currently offering 65,000 bonus miles - 40,000 after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first the months and an additional 25,000 miles if you spend $10,000 total in the first six months. It offers a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee refund once every four years, two United Club one-time passes, and bonus earning opportunities at restaurants and hotels.

The United Club Card costs $450 per year, but will get you into United Clubs when traveling, and offers slightly enhanced checked bag and Premier Access day-of-travel benefits. Its sign-up bonus is currently 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

For its part, the TravelBank earns TravelBank cash instead of United MileagePlus miles, which can be redeemed for airfare on United flights. It is currently offering $150 in United TravelBank cash after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Bottom line

While nothing seems to be free on airlines any more - from checked bags to seat assignments to a simple snack - carrying the right co-branded credit card could help you save hundreds of dollars each year depending how much you fly and spend.

Even infrequent flyer can find some value in the in-flight purchase discounts offered by many airline credit cards. Just be sure you know how much you will be saving and on what specific purchases - like food but not Wi-Fi, or vice versa - before committing to a card and using it on board.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

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