At a Glance

Co-branded cards are very popular among consumers who are particularly loyal to certain brands, including retailers, airlines, and hotels. These cards often provide higher rewards rates, exclusive rewards, discounts, and other benefits that make carrying these cards in your wallet worth it, especially if you have brand loyalty. Knowing what they are, how they work, the pros and cons, where to use one, and how to get one can all help decide whether a co-branded card is right for you.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is a co-branded credit card?

Co-branded credit cards are cards issued by a credit card company in partnership with a specific brand or organization, such as hotels, airlines, or retailers. Typically, the logos of both the credit card company and retailer are on the card, and they allow consumers to earn merchandise discounts, points, or other rewards when used with the sponsoring merchant.

Key things to know about co-branded credit cards

  • Most cards work like regular credit cards and can be used anywhere for any purchase.
  • Rewards and rates are tailored specifically to services offered by the affiliated merchant. For example, you receive higher reward rates for purchases you make directly with the affiliated merchant vs. others.
  • Most co-branded cards charge annual fees, but this can be balanced by taking advantage of the rewards and other perks that come with the card.

How do co-branded credit cards work?

Co-branded cards are typically when a merchant (such as a store, airline, hotel, or other organization) partners with a financial institution that provides the actual credit. There are two types of co-branded credit cards:

  • Open-loop: These cards can be used just as a regular credit card for any purchase that cards from that network (like Visa or Mastercard) are accepted.
  • Closed-loop: Some co-branded cards restrict purchases to a specific retailer. This means these cards can’t be used anywhere except with the affiliated merchant. These cards tend to have higher APRs than standard cards but may offer better rewards for that merchant.

Typically, you’ll receive the highest rewards rate for purchases you make directly with the affiliated merchant, though you’ll also receive rewards for other purchases. The cards may come with other perks like merchandise discounts, free upgrades, and more.

Note that co-branded credit cards typically come with annual fees and higher interest rates, so be sure to read the terms and conditions before applying for the card.

Types of co-branded credit cards

There are several types of co-branded credit cards, but the three most common include:

1. Store credit card

Store credit cards, also called retail credit cards, are tied to a specific brand and may come in closed-loop or open-loop forms. These cards are great for frequent shoppers because they offer perks and rewards like special discounts or free shipping, but they also tend to have higher APRs, fewer redemption offers, and lower credit limits. And, if it’s a closed-loop card, it won’t offer rewards for use outside of the partner retailer.

Consider a store credit card if:

  • You’re looking to improve or build credit because they are typically easier to qualify for.
  • You frequently shop at the partner retailer and would benefit from the special perks.
  • You can pay off the balance each month to avoid the high-interest charges.

Compare: Best Store Credit Cards

2. Airline credit card

Airline credit cards are credit cards partnered with a specific airline brand, such as Southwest, American Airlines, or Delta. When you use the credit card, you’ll earn miles that you can then redeem for flights, transportation, or travel packages with that particular airline. While these cards can be more difficult to qualify for and usually have an annual fee, they also come with additional perks like inflight discounts, priority boarding, TSA Precheck, free checked bags, airport lounge access, and more.

Consider an airline credit card if:

  • You are a frequent flyer.
  • You often travel with the same airline.
  • You will take advantage of additional travel perks and benefits the card offers.
  • You can pay off the balance each month to avoid the high-interest charges.

Compare:Best Airline Credit Cards

3. Hotel credit card

Hotel credit cards are cards tied to a particular hotel brand, such as Hilton or Marriott Bonvoy. Like an airline credit card, you can earn points and rewards on purchases that can be redeemed for hotel stays. Again, while most have an annual fee, you’ll get access to other amenities like elite memberships, extra points, and exclusive hotel perks.

Consider a hotel credit card if:

  • You regularly stay in hotels.
  • You often stay in the same hotel chain.
  • You will take advantage of other amenities and perks the card offers.
  • You can pay off the balance each month to avoid the high-interest charges.

Compare: Best Hotel Credit Cards

How to get a co-branded credit card

Getting qualified and applying for a co-branded credit card is relatively simple, and the same as any standard credit card:

1. Check your options

Research cards available from merchant partners you’re interested in, whether it’s a retailer, airline, or hotel. Compare the cards:

  • Rewards
  • Benefits and perks
  • Annual fees (and other fees)
  • Interest rates

Most co-branded credit cards require good to excellent credit for approval, so also check your credit score and only compare cards that you meet the requirements for.

2. Apply for the card

Once you’ve chosen the card that works for you, you can apply for it either online or by mail (though online is the fastest and easiest way). The application will ask for some personal and financial information such as your name, address, date of birth, income, employment status, and others. Be sure to answer each question as honestly as possible and provide all information requested to improve your chances of approval.

3. Wait for approval

Once you apply, the credit card issuer will review your application, credit history, and credit score, and determine whether you’re approved. This process may happen immediately, or it may take a few days.

4. Activate the card to start using it

If you’re approved, the issuer will mail you your new credit card. Activate it either online or by calling the number on the card, and then you can start using it to make purchases and earn rewards.

Pros and cons of co-branded credit cards


  • Better, personalized rewards. Co-branded credit cards offer rewards specific to their partner organization. For example, a store credit card may offer exclusive discounts while an airline card may offer higher rewards rates when you use the card to purchase flights.
  • Additional perks. Plus, these cards often come with additional perks and benefits like extended warranties, travel insurance, fraud protection, access to exclusive events or experiences, and others.
  • Build credit. Use a co-branded credit card to build credit through on-time monthly payments and responsible use.


  • Higher interest rates. Most co-branded credit cards have higher interest rates, which could mean more debt if you carry a balance from month to month.
  • Annual fees. Co-branded cards also typically come with higher annual and other fees. For those who use the card and take advantage of the perks and benefits, the annual and other fees may be outweighed For those who spend little with their partner, the fees may not be worth it.
  • Limited rewards. In some cases, rewards and benefits earned with a co-branded card are only applicable to the partner organization, so someone looking for a more diverse range of rewards may not benefit. Additionally, companies can choose to devalue their rewards at any time, and this often happens without warning.
  • Not as accepted. Not all merchants accept co-branded cards, so you may have to carry multiple cards to ensure you always have a form of payment.
  • Temptation. Cardholders may be tempted to overpay to earn or redeem more rewards, which can lead to more debt.

Where to use a co-branded credit card?

This depends on whether the card is open-loop or closed-loop.

If you have an open-loop card, you can use it anywhere the card issuer is accepted. A closed-loop card can only be used with the partner retailer.

For example, the Amazon Store Card and Amazon Prime Store Card can only be used to make purchases on and through select “Pay with Amazon” merchants, but the Amazon Visa and Prime Visa can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.

Typically, an open-loop card gives a lot more flexibility with the same perks as a closed-loop card.

Should you get a co-branded credit card?

Whether you should get a co-branded credit card depends on your spending habits and financial goals. There are some situations when it makes sense to get one, particularly if you’re a loyal customer of a particular brand and can take advantage of the rewards offered. Consider the following factors:

1. Your daily expenses

Take a look at your spending habits to determine if you’ll be able to take advantage of the rewards and benefits of a co-branded card. For example, if you don’t shop at a particular store very often, it won’t make sense to get that store’s card. Or, if you don’t travel often, an airline or hotel card may not make sense. On the other hand, if you are a frequent flyer and tend to stick with one brand, that airline’s card may be a good option.

2. Redemption options

How are you able to redeem the rewards you earn? Make sure redemption options are flexible enough and suit your needs. For example, if you can only earn miles and you don’t fly often, this may not be suitable. However, if you can also transfer those rewards to cash back, you may want to consider it.

3. Interest rates

Most of the time, co-branded cards have higher interest rates than traditional credit cards. If you typically carry a balance from month to month, a co-branded card may not be the best option for you.

4. Annual fees

Co-branded cards also usually come with annual fees. If you plan to take advantage of the rewards and benefits the card offers, they may outweigh the annual fee. However, if not, paying the annual fee may not be worth it.

5. Loyalty partner

If you’re not a frequent customer of the partner organization, a co-branded card may not make sense because you may not be able to maximize the rewards and benefits the card offers as you would if you were a loyal customer. In that case, a different credit card may make more sense.


Consider getting a business credit card, which involves registering your business and building your business credit. If you want your company name on a card, research business credit card options, apply for the card, wait for approval, and activate the card.

A co-branded credit card is essentially the same thing as a regular credit card, but the card is issued in partnership with a specific brand or organization and allows consumers to earn specific rewards and perks.

Co-branded cards may be easier to get than some other cards, but you typically need a score of at least 670 or higher. These cards can be a good way to build credit.

Typically, a store card can only be used at a particular store or chain of stores, and rewards and benefits earned with that card are only available within that brand. On the other hand, co-branded cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted and rewards/benefits can be used beyond the associated brand or partner.

Yes, co-branded cards may come with a variety of benefits and rewards such as higher cash back or earning rates, discounts, loyalty status, travel insurance or benefits, and more.