Best Airline Credit Cards

Whether you want to go on a trip across Europe, or escape to a weekend getaway just a few hours from home, an airline credit card can help get you there. Explore our top picks for airline credit cards, some of which are from our partners. These cards offer truly incredible perks, points, or miles on every swipe, and new cardholder bonuses that can get you on the fast-track toward your next vacation.

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On Chase's Secure Website.

Our Bottom Line

One of the most popular travel cards for many reasons. This offer is practically a must-have for travelers seeking a big sign-up bonus and one of the best points programs available on the market

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What we Like:
  • 60,000 points sign-up bonus
  • 2 points per $1 for travel & dining
  • Flexible points transfer program
Key Scores:
4.5 5 Perks
5.0 5 Fees
1.5 5 APR
Perks 4.5/5
Fees 5.0/5
APR 1.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 18.24% - 25.24%, Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
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Our Bottom Line

The annual fee isn't cheap but the sign-up bonus, premium rewards for travel & dining, and wide array of valuable travel credits make this a compelling offer that will offset the cost of the annual fee for many

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What we Like:
  • 50,000 points sign-up bonus
  • $300 annual travel credits
  • 3 points per $1 on travel & dining
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Key Scores:
4.5 5 Perks
5.0 5 Fees
1.5 5 APR
Perks 4.5/5
Fees 5.0/5
APR 1.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Regular APR: 19.24%-26.24%, variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
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Our Bottom Line

No-annual-fee travel cards typically skimp on the sign-up bonus, but this card delivers with its market-leading intro bonus offer, unlimited rewards on spending, and other wallet-friendly perks.

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What we Like:
  • Unlimited 1.5 points per $1
  • Big intro bonus offer
  • No foreign transaction fees
Key Scores:
5.0 5 Perks
4.0 5 Fees
4.0 5 APR
Perks 5.0/5
Fees 4.0/5
APR 4.0/5
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 17.24% - 25.24% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 12 billing cycles Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases. After the intro APR ends, 17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR will apply
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more points on every purchase
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On Capital One's Secure Website.

Our Bottom Line

Strikes a nice balance of high rewards and a big sign-up bonus with low fees. With a base travel rewards rate of 2 miles per $1 and other perks on Hotels.com purchase and TSA Pre✓® credits, this is a no-fuss travel rewards card that's hard to ignore

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What we Like:
  • 50,000 miles sign-up bonus
  • 10 miles per $1 at Hotels.com
  • 2 miles per $1
  • No foreign transaction fees
Key Scores:
4.0 5 Perks
5.0 5 Fees
2.5 5 APR
Perks 4.0/5
Fees 5.0/5
APR 2.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Regular APR: 17.99% - 25.24% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
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On Discover's Secure Website.

Our Bottom Line

A fit for occasional travelers, this card's most valuable perks are unlimited 1.5 miles per $1, no foreign transaction fees, and double miles earned in the first year

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What we Like:
  • 1.5 Miles per $1
  • Double Miles in the first year
  • No annual fee
  • FICO® Score for free
Key Scores:
2.0 5 Perks
5.0 5 Fees
5.0 5 APR
Perks 2.0/5
Fees 5.0/5
APR 5.0/5
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 14.24% - 25.24% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 14 months Balance Transfers: 10.99%, 14 months
Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel!
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
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Rates & Fees
United Explorer Card
Our Bottom Line

With a big sign up bonus and 2 miles per $1 spent on restaurants and hotel stays, the miles will accumulate quickly if you're a frequent traveler.

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What we Like:
  • Big sign-up bonus
  • United, restaurant, and hotel rewards
  • $100 travel credit
Key Scores:
4.0 5 Perks
4.0 5 Fees
4.0 5 APR
Perks 4.0/5
Fees 4.0/5
APR 4.0/5
  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
  • Regular APR: 18.24% - 25.24% variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: NA Balance Transfers: NA
Highlights
  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • New! Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays.
  • New! Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit.
  • New! 25% back on United inflight purchases.
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket.
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Our Bottom Line

The sign-up bonus and premium earnings on Southwest travel make this a compelling offer, even with the modest annual fee.

What we Like:
  • 60,000 points sign-up bonus
  • Earn up to 2x points per $1
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 6,000 points each anniversary
Key Scores:
4.0 5 Perks
4.5 5 Fees
3.5 5 APR
Perks 4.0/5
Fees 4.5/5
APR 3.5/5
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Regular APR: 18.24% - 25.24%, variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more.
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Rates & Fees
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Our Bottom Line

The best card for most Delta travelers, given the balance of a premium rewards program and low annual fee.

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What we Like:
  • Big welcome bonus
  • Free first checked bag
Key Scores:
4.0 5 Perks
4.0 5 Fees
4.0 5 APR
Perks 4.0/5
Fees 4.0/5
APR 4.0/5
  • Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Regular APR: 17.99%-26.99% Variable
  • Intro APR: Purchases: N/A Balance Transfers: N/A
  • Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Highlights
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile for every eligible dollar you spend on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
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Rates & Fees
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The information related to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier and United Explorer credit cards has been collected by The Ascent and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

One of the best ways to travel more cheaply, and sometimes more luxuriously, is by taking advantage of airline miles credit cards. In addition to the miles you’ll earn by putting purchases on the card, these airline miles credit cards also offer generous sign-up bonuses and travel perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and premium airport lounge access. Airline miles can offer high value if you know where to pledge your loyalty, allowing you to book everything from one-way tickets to long-haul flights, business class tickets, and even round-the-world trips for next to nothing. We’ve researched the best airline miles credit cards and come up with this guide to help you maximize your airline perks and win some stellar deals.

How we picked the winners

We’re firm believers that two to three major factors ultimately matter when making any decision, including which credit cards to carry. Which is why our ratings methodologies focuses a few essentials, including:

  • Sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards -- We think big sign-up bonuses and high earn rates should be synonymous with airline credit cards.
  • Robust travel benefits -- Any pick on our list should roll out a red carpet of perks, from priority boarding and free checked bags to access to airport lounge access and an array of travel insurances.
  • Fees -- No foreign transaction fees are table stakes for inclusion. How we view annual fees differs. We mainly want to assess whether paying an annual fee is justifiable (hint: many times, the answer is “yes”!), given a cards sign-up bonus, rewards program, and compared to competing offers in the market.

Why you can trust us

To us, using the best credit cards isn’t just a way to pay, but a rewarding hobby. We’ve used travel cards to earn rewards to pay for everything from rental cars to stays in luxurious five-star hotels in world-class cities, and have never paid a dime in interest along the way. After studying the intricate details on hundreds of credit cards, and combining the hard data with our personal experience, we’ve boiled down the list to just a handful of the top offers we’ve come across.

What's an airline credit card?

General travel credit cards date all the way back to 1950, when the Diners Club Card was first introduced as a way to pay for travel and entertainment (restaurants, mostly). It caught on with traveling salesman, who enjoyed the ability to expense business purchases to a card, and the world of travel cards was born.

The airline cards of days gone by look nothing like the high-powered cards of today, however. Whereas the earliest offers simply allowed people to make a purchase without using cash or check, today’s cards offer rewards on every purchase, access to high-end lounges in airports, plus perks that can even help you move through airport security faster than the general public.

How airline credit cards work

Rewards are the key feature of any travel card. Airline cards typically earn “miles” or “points” based on how much you spend. Some offer a simple rewards program where you earn 1 or 2 points or miles on every $1 you spend, whereas others offer bonuses that give you more points or miles when you spend in certain categories. (Not surprisingly, airline cards often pay bonuses on spending with the associated airline.)

Airline cards can be broken down into categories based on how points or miles you earn are redeemed:

  • Statement credits -- Many cards allow you to redeem points or miles for statement credits, which erase travel purchases from your card. For example, if you have 100,000 miles worth $0.01 each, you’d be able to make a $1,000 travel purchase on the card, and then redeem your miles to have the $1,000 purchase erased from your statement. The big advantage with statement credits is that you can book travel how you want to, whether it’s through an online travel agency, or directly with the hotel or airline. You aren’t limited to the card issuer’s travel portal.
  • Travel portals and points transfers -- Many card issuers operate their own online travel portals where you redeem points directly for airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and more. Think of this as something like Expedia, where prices are denominated in points or miles rather than cash. Travel portals can be convenient, and they also eliminate the risk that a travel purchase you make isn’t treated as travel for the purposes of a statement credit. Many of these same cards offer the flexibility of transferring points to an airline or hotel loyalty program. If you’re savvy, this is an easy strategy to stretch the value of each point.
  • Airline loyalty -- These cards offer premium miles for purchases made directly with a carrier. The miles programs vary in redemption value, but you can consistently count on receiving premium perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and lounge access. As “loyalty” implies, these offers are shoe-ins for cardholders sticking to one carrier.

You can find die hard fans for all three types of rewards programs. Travelers who like to shop around for last-minute or special travel deals tend to prefer cards that offer statement credits. That’s because bargain shoppers can shop around for the absolute best deal wherever they find it, book it, and request a statement credit redemption to pay for it.

In contrast, travel portals can be more restrictive than cards that offer statement credits, and it isn’t certain that the price you see in a card issuer’s travel portal is really the best possible price for an airline ticket, hotel room, or rental car. But they’re easy and convenient to use, and you never have to worry that a purchase you make won’t qualify as travel for a statement credit-based program. (A quick Google search or phone call to a card issuer is a good way to confirm a purchase on your card will qualify as travel for statement credit redemptions.)

The major benefits offered

Rewards cards are a dime a dozen, and card users can always opt for a simple and easy cash back card instead. So why are airline cards so popular? It really comes down to some big advantages that make airline cards a better choice for those who are frequently on the road.

Big sign-up bonuses

These offers stand out for their massive sign-up bonuses to new qualifying cardholders. Some sign-up bonuses currently offer upwards of $750 in travel value. Even no-annual-fee cards offer as much as $200 in travel value. These bonuses are higher than you’d find with cash-back credit cards.

No foreign transaction fees

Many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee (usually 3% of the purchase amount) when you use the card overseas, or to pay a merchant who processes cards through a foreign bank. None of our best travel card selections charge a foreign transaction fee, in contrast to many other credit cards on the market.

Avoid travel costs

Depending on the card, you may be able to dodge some travel expenses when you use it. Some airline cards and other travel cards allow you to bring a checked bag for free. A select few give cardholders Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ credits, which cover the application fee for security clearances that help you get through airport security faster.

Status

Some cards give you immediate status with hotels and airlines just for having the card, which makes you eligible for enhanced loyalty points on every stay, late checkouts, and other perks when you book a stay or flight with a particular hotel or airline.

Comfort at the airport

Some high-end travel cards offer cardholders access to thousands of airport lounges all around the world, where you can enjoy complimentary food or drinks while waiting for your flight.

Travel insurances

Even some travel credit cards with no annual fee offer valuable travel insurance options from trip cancellation protection to lost and delayed baggage insurance. Premium travel credit cards up the ante with deeper coverage that could relieve the burden of almost any travel mishap. Note, qualifying for travel insurance will generally require you to place the entire purchase on your credit card.

Free checked bags

Wipe out nuisance checked bag fees by carrying an airline-branded card. Most branded offers include this perk.

Priority boarding

Airline-branded cards also tend to offer priority boarding for cardholders. Most branded offer include this perk as well.
It’s smart to have a credit card if you travel frequently, even if it isn’t specifically designed for travel. That’s because many travel agencies require credit cards for travel purchases, particularly if you want to rent a hotel room, or rent a car for a weekend getaway.

Should you pay an annual fee?

Cards with annual fees typically offer more perks and rewards for every $1 you spend, so whether or not it makes sense to pay an annual fee typically comes down to how much you spend each year.

For example, take a no annual fee card that offers 1.5 miles for every $1 spent, thus rewarding you with $0.015 of travel value per $1 and a card that carries a $95 annual fee, but it rewards cardholders with 2 miles per $1 spent, for a rewards yield of $0.02 in travel value per $1.

We can determine which card is the better choice by dividing the difference in the annual fees by the differences in rewards yields. In this case, we find that the cards break even at $19,000 in annual spending ($95 fee divided by $0.005 = $19,000). If you spend more than $19,000, the annual fee card may net out more positively for you.

When airline credit cards may not be the best bet

You’ll notice that both airline-branded airmiles credit cards and general travel credit cards made our list. The biggest reason airline-branded cards are included is that they can be very valuable for people who use one airline and can benefit from the various VIP perks, such as priority boarding, free checked bags, and travel credits. This is why airline-branded credit cards tend to work best for business travelers or frequent flyers. The downfall is these cards are notorious for devaluing miles, meaning that miles that were once worth $0.01 each have been devalued to $0.007 each, or even less.

General travel credit cards have more established redemption values and tend to be less complicated, making them a fit for people who value an array of redemption options in one card.

Is an airline credit card right for you?

While we have many good things to say about airline cards, we recognize they aren’t for everyone. Used wisely, an airline credit card can help you earn rewards that can be used to pay for your next trip to Asia, or your next Uber ride to a ballgame.

There are two things you need to do to make sure that a travel card works for you, rather than against you.

  • Don’t carry a balance -- It doesn’t make sense to spend and carry balances just to earn a small amount of travel rewards. Because credit cards carry interest rates in the double digits, paying just one month of interest can cost you more than you earn in travel from using a rewards card. Building up a balance in the pursuit of travel rewards is a losing strategy.
  • Redeem rewards for travel -- Airline cards offer the best value when the points or miles you earn are redeemed for travel. Avoid redeeming for cash back, since virtually all travel cards give you less value per point or mile when you redeem for cash. If you don’t know that you will have a need for travel redemptions, a cash back card is probably better for you than an airline card.
Card Rating Great For…
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Graphic of Chase Sapphire Preferred®
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4.5 stars
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Great For:

Airline booking flexibility

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Graphic of Chase Sapphire Reserve®
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4.5 stars
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Great For:

Airline booking flexibility

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Graphic of Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
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4.5 stars
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Great For:

Travel card with no annual fee

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Graphic of Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
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4.0 stars
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Great For:

Unlimited flat-rate rewards

Discover it® Miles Graphic of Discover it® Miles
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3.5 stars
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Great For:

Travel card with no annual fee

United Explorer Card Graphic of United Explorer Card
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4.0 stars
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Great For:

United frequent flyers

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Graphic of Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
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4.0 stars
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Great For:

Southwest frequent flyers

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Graphic of Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
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4.0 stars
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Great For:

Delta frequent flyers