Editor's Note: The Blue Sky Preferred offer mentioned in this article is no longer available.
The cost of air travel has been climbing over the past year and not just because ticket prices are on the rise. Consumers have had to give up perks like free luggage and in-flight snacks, things we took for granted in the past. Nowadays, taking two bags on a trip can add as much as $50 to the cost of a trip. For frequent travelers or people traveling with their family, that quickly adds up.
If you're one of those consumers for whom the airline baggage fees and other new fees are eating up your insides as well as the content of your wallet, take a look at the new perks introduced by many travel rewards cards. As airlines have been jacking up fees, many rewards card issuers have jumped on the opportunity to spruce up rewards—in many cases by offering free checked baggage and other perks for premium cardholders.
Cards like American Express Delta Skymiles and Continental Airlines OnePass Plus Card from Chase, for example, offer the first checked bag free for cardholders flying on the affiliated airline. Cardholders earning elite standing on e.g. the Delta Skymiles card enjoy even greater perks, like the ability to check up to three bags without charge. These services aren't exactly free, however, both cards come with an annual fee of $150 for the Amex Platinum Delta Skymiles and $85 Continental Airlines OnePass Plus Card.
American Express recently launched a new travel rewards card that may offer an attractive alternative for rewards cards aficionados: the Blue Sky Preferred Credit Card. The most recent addition to the Amex Blue series of cards, the Blue Sky Preferred gives cardholders a $100 annual Airline Allowance, which reimburses them for such costs as checked baggage fees, in-flight meal or Wi-Fi purchases. To use the $100 Airline Allowance, cardholders must charge the flight, as well as baggage fees and other reimbursable purchases to their Blue Sky Preferred Card. Cardholders have 60 days after those charges are billed to their card to contact American Express to get those fees reimbursed.
Is the Blue Sky Preferred worth the $75 annual fee the card comes with? Well, for the first year the annual fee is basically waived, since new cardholders currently receive 7,500 bonus points, redeemable for a $100 statement credit on any travel purchase. After that, the fee means that you essentially net only $25 on the annual Airline Allowance—not exactly an earth-shattering deal.
However, the Blue Sky Preferred is still worth a look on the merit of its other benefits. Unlike the standard Amex Blue Sky, which features only single rewards points on all purchases, the Blue Sky Preferred features double rewards points on dining, hotel, or car rentals, and one point per dollar on other purchases.
Most significantly, the redemption value of points is higher than the one cent per point typical for standard rewards cards. 7,500 points earns a $100 award, which can be used as a statement credit for travel purchases, gift cards, or cash back. Translated into cash back earnings, that amounts to a 1.33 percent rewards earnings on regular purchases, and 2.66 percent cash back earnings on travel-related, double-points purchases.
Another significant benefit is that rewards are not tied to a specific airline, and you don't have to pass a specific threshold in credit card charges or travel miles to receive the best rewards benefits. Finally, like other American Express cards, the Blue Sky Preferred features additional benefits like emergency assistance for travel 100 miles or more away from home, access to the Global Assist Amex hotline, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance, as well as extended warranty, purchase and return protection on purchases.