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.
Great for: Airline booking flexibility Chase Sapphire Preferred®
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Great for: Airline booking flexibility Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- 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✓®
Great for: Travel card with no annual fee Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- 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 if 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, then 17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR
- Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
- If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%
Great for: Unlimited flat-rate rewards Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- 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
Great for: Travel card with no annual fee Discover it® Miles
- INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles. That's $600 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.
- Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
- No Annual Fee.
Great for: United frequent flyers United Explorer Card
Credit Rating Requirement:
- 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
Great for: Southwest frequent flyers Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Credit Rating Requirement:
- Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 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
Great for: American Airlines frequent flyers Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
Credit Rating Requirement:
- Earn 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn an additional 10,000 miles after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in the first year of account opening*
- New: Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations*
- New: Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at restaurants*
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases*
- New: Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card*
- No Foreign Transaction Fees*
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
- Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
- Receive 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
Great for: Delta frequent flyers Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Credit Rating Requirement:
- Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in 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 on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
- Check your first bag free on Delta flights - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
- Want even more flexibility? Pay with Miles is a Card Member feature that gives you the option to redeem miles for all or part of the price of your tickets on Delta.com.
- Settle into your seat sooner with Priority Boarding. •Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- Terms Apply.
Get our latest tips and uncover more of our top picks to help you conquer your money goals
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.
- Jump to
- Why you can trust us
- How we picked the winners
- What's an airline credit card, anyway?
- How airline credit cards work
- The major benefits offered
- Top miles-based credit cards
- Top points-based travel cards
- Top airline-specific cards
- Should you pay an annual fee?
- When airline credit cards may not be the best bet
- Is an airline credit card right for you?
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.
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.
What's an airline credit card, anyway?
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 diehard 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.
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.
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.
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.
Top miles-based credit cards
Excluding airline-specific cards, credit cards with miles-based programs tend to offer statement credit redemptions where miles are redeemed to erase travel purchases from your statement. Three miles-based programs made our list of the best credit cards thanks to their high rewards rates, bonuses, and features that differentiate them from the rest of the pack.
|Miles card||Rewards||Key feature|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||2 miles per $1||50,000 miles sign-up bonus ($500 of travel value)|
|Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®||2 miles per $1||Up to 25,000 bonus miles for spending $25,000 each year.|
|Discover it® Miles||1.5 miles per $1||No annual fee. Annual $30 airline WiFi credit. Miles earned in the first year are matched (double rewards).|
The best miles credit card ultimately depends on how much you spend, and how you travel. Discover it® Miles is a really compelling value, considering it offers a fee credit for in-flight WiFi even though it doesn’t carry an annual fee. If you spend exactly $25,000 per year, Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard® offers one of the highest rewards rates we’ve seen, thanks to bonuses you earn at $10,000 and $25,000 of spending in one year.
Of course, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is no slouch, either. Its new cardholder bonus valued at $500 in travel value is one of the highest in the category.
Top points-based travel cards
With one exception, points-based credit cards we picked as the best in the category offer redemptions through the card issuer’s travel portal, where points you earn can be redeemed for airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more, with just a few clicks.
|Travel points credit card||Rewards||Key feature|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||2 points per $1 on travel and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 on everything else||50,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $625 in travel value). Points can be transferred to travel partners.|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||3 points per $1 on travel and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 on everything else||50,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $750 in travel value). Points can be transferred to travel partners.|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||1.5 points per $1 on all purchases||No annual fee. 25,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $250 in travel value). Bank of America customers can qualify for bonuses that increase standard rewards by 75%.|
Among no annual fee cards, Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is the best travel points credit card for sign-up bonuses thanks to its lucrative bonus worth $250 in travel value for spending just $1,000 in the first 90 days after account opening.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® are perennial favorites among frequent travelers for the fact that the points they earn can be transferred to travel partners. This can be a huge advantage when making redemptions, since points may have a higher value when transferred to other loyalty programs.
Top airline-specific cards
Airline-specific cards are clear winners for travelers flying exclusively with one airline, given the premium earn rates. Travelers preferring booking versatility will likely earn more rewards with a general travel card on our list. With this in mind, here are some details on the top airline-specific cards.
|Airline-specific card||Rewards||Key feature|
|United Explorer Card||2 miles per $1 for United flights, hotels, and restaurants||40,000 miles sign-up bonus, free first checked bag, $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck® Fee Credit, $95 annual fee (waived the first year)|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Card||2 miles per $1 for Southwest flights||40,000 point sign-up bonus, 6,000 points every anniversary year, $99 annual fee|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||2 miles per $1 for American Airlines flights, gas, and restaurants||50,000 miles sign-up bonus, free first checked bag, $99 annual fee (waived the first year)|
|Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card||2 miles per $1 for Delta flights||60,000 miles sign-up bonus, free first checked bag, $95 annual fee (waived the first year)|
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, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card is a no-annual-fee travel card that offers 1.5 miles for every $1 spent, thus rewarding you with $0.015 of travel value per $1. On the other hand, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card 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 per year, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers more value. If you spend less, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card is a better choice.
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.