Exclusive Airline Credit Cards: Which Ones Rule?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Gone are the days when your airline-branded credit card simply netted you a slew of frequent flier miles and a free bag of peanuts.

In an effort to attract high-end travelers and the credit elite, issuers and airlines are including perks like priority boarding, skipped baggage fees and access to their first-class airport lounges, among other things. Both American Airlines (Stock Quote: AMR) and United Airlines (Stock Quote: UAL) debuted new cards this year, while Continental and Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) beefed up the rewards associated with their existing offerings.

How do these cards stack up to one another? MainStreet breaks down everything you need to know about the elite cards associated with the major airlines to help you decide which one is right for you, and takes a look at some alternatives for the everyman.

Continental Presidential Plus Master Card from Chase

If you want full-time access to the United Club, you might consider springing for an elite card offered by Continental, which merged with United last year.  Its Presidential Plus card entitles cardholders to premier access check-in and security screening, as well as priority boarding. Your first and second checked bags, which are both free, will also be among the first delivered at the baggage claim when you’re holding on to this particular piece of plastic.

The card’s rewards are fairly standard, at two miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased directly from Continental and on eligible car and hotel purchases with one mile per dollar on everything else. Like other elite airline cards, Continental boasts that cardholders are entitled to special upgrades on tickets and at partnering hotels.

The card carries a $395 fee, but Chase is currently offering a $95 statement credit upon first use, so at least you can bypass a bit of that your first year. It also ditched the foreign transaction fee associated with the card back in February. The card’s annual percentage rate is around 14.24%.

Everyman alternative: Continental’s OnePass Plus, also from Chase, offers virtually identical terms and conditions as the United MileagePlus Explorer, with priority boarding, free first checked bag and a $95 annual fee.