*Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated Oct 01, 2018, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.
|Best airline credit cards|
|Best overall||AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite MasterCard®|
|Best for Alaska Airlines||Alaska Airlines® Visa Signature® Credit Card|
|Best for Delta Air Lines||Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express|
|Best for JetBlue||JetBlue Plus Card|
|Best for Southwest Airlines||Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card|
|Best for United Airlines||United℠ Explorer Card*|
|Best for flexible fliers||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card|
Airline credit cards have become big business in the past 10 years. A study by MagnifyMoney.com, another LendingTree company, found sign-up bonuses by travel-branded cards have dramatically increased since 2008. It also noted that airlines are using lucrative partnerships with top credit card companies to add to their bottom line. So it only makes sense for them to do what they can to not only attract new customers but keep their loyal ones.
Rewards in the airline credit card category tend to be highest when you’re using the card for airline-related travel. The better cards will also offer higher miles per $1 spent in popular categories like dining, groceries, and gas.
How we chose the best airline credit cards
We compiled this list by choosing the cards we think do the best job offering things valued most by users — elite status, redemption value, perks, flexibility and, of course, the sign-up bonus — for top airlines.
Best overall: AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
If you’re an American Airlines filer, it doesn’t really get better than this card. It’s our top pick for several reasons:
- The sign-up bonus. The biggest draw for this card is there’s no required spending amount to get the new cardmember bonus. So as long as you buy something within the first 90 days — even if it’s a bottle of water — and pay your $95 annual fee, you get 50,000 bonus miles. Plus they can be used for reward travel as soon as they’re deposited.
- Points. Cardmembers get 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Elite status. There’s a clear mechanism to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) that help you maintain your elite status on American Airlines.
- Airline perks. The card offers the best features you want in an airline credit card — earning miles for spending on American, getting 10% of your miles back when you redeem them and an annual flight discount, along with priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation.
Other reasons we like it: Another good benefit is the ability earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) after spending $25,000 on the card every calendar year, which helps you maintain that all-important elite status. EQDs are based on what you paid for your ticket, including base fare and carrier-imposed fees.
When you redeem miles earned with the card, you get 10% of them back, up to a maximum of 10,000 per calendar year. Cardmembers earn a $100 American Airlines flight discount after spending $30,000 or more on the card during your card membership year and if your account stays open for at least 45 days after your anniversary.
Thanks to American Airlines’ expansive global route network, you can use your miles to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. If you add flights flown by the oneworld alliance member airlines, that expands to more than 1,000 airports in 150+ countries.
You get priority boarding, one free checked bag and a 25% discount on food and beverages on American Airlines-operated flights for you and up to four travel companions on the same reservation. The card also comes with perks like a personalized concierge, auto rental collision damage waiver and trip cancellation and interruption coverage.
You have access to the AAdvantage Reduced Mileage Awards program, which provides a discount of up to 7,500 miles to select destinations round trip. Your miles don’t expire as long as there’s activity on the card every 18 months and there’s no limit to the number of AAdvantage miles you can earn with the card.
Things to watch out for: EQDs can’t be redeemed for award travel or AAdvantage miles or any other AAdvantage® program awards. This card doesn’t give you access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club airport lounges. The 1 mile per $1 includes popular categories like dining and gas, which can be a turnoff if you spend a lot in these categories. And 2 points per $1 spent on airline purchased can seem low compared with other travel-related cards.
Fees: There’s no first-year waiver of the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®’s $95 annual fee, but it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. The card has a 17.49% to 26.49% variable purchase APR. The balance transfer rate starts at an intro 0% APR for the first 15 billing cycle, then it goes to a 17.49% to 26.49% variable APR. The balance transfer rate is either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
The information related to the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
Best for Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card
Why we like it: The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card comes out swinging for new cardmembers. Not only do you get 30,000 bonus Mileage Plan miles, but you also get Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ the first year you have it — for free. Each year when you buy one ticket, you get another one for just the cost of taxes and fees. You get both the points bonus and the companion fare after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of your account opening. Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on everything.
The companion fare feature is free your first year and $121 every year after on your account anniversary for flights booked on alaskaair.com. If you want to fly to a destination not served by Alaska Air, you can use your miles to go to more than 900 destinations around the world on 16 global airline partners.
You get a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation. There are no blackout dates, no caps on the miles you earn and your miles never expire. And you can get a free FICO credit score.
Things to watch out for:
- You need to fly on Alaska Airlines regularly if you want to maximize the miles that you earn.
- The companion fare is only good for one ticket a year. Because the carrier’s route map is so West Coast-focused, it may be more of a challenge for those in the Midwest, the South and the East Coast to earn miles.
- There are other cards that offer more than 1 point per $1 spent on categories like dining, gas and credit cards.
- There’s no airport lounge access.
Fees: The card has a 16.49% to 24.49% variable purchase APR; the balance transfer rate is the same. The balance transfer fee is 3% of each transaction, at a minimum of $10. The card is $75 a year, but you won’t pay foreign transaction fees. The balance transfer fee is 3% of each transaction, at a minimum of $10.
Best for Delta Air Lines: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
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.
2X Miles on Delta Purchases*
Check your 1st bag free on every Delta flight*
- 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.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Why we like it: New Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express members 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. You earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
This card gives you a chance to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs), based on your annual spending on Delta and many partner flights. The MQDs required to reach platinum, gold, or silver medallion status for a qualification year are waived if you spend $25,000 or more during a calendar year on the card.
Once you earn your Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) — based on the distance you fly and the fare class of your ticket — in 2018, any extra miles will be rolled over to 2019 and will count toward 2020 medallion status qualification. There are no blackout dates on Delta-operated flights and your miles don’t expire.
You can use those miles to fly on 312 Delta destinations in 55 countries on six continents. And you can go even further via SkyTeam alliance partner airlines to more than 1,000 destinations in 177 countries.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers priority boarding, a free checked bag on Delta flights and a 20% discount as a statement credit on eligible Delta in-flight purchases like pre-purchased meals, food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets. Cardmembers and up to two traveling companions can get into the Delta Sky Club airport lounge for $29 each, half the price of a day pass.
The card also has the perks you’d expect with a luxury card, including roadside assistance, rental car loss and damage insurance, travel accident insurance, extended warranty, purchase protection and return protection. There’s also the Global Assist Hotline, which offers you 24/7 access to medical, legal, financial or other emergency and assistance services when traveling more than 100 miles from home.
Things to watch out for:
- There’s no way to earn bonus miles that go toward earning elite status.
- While you get priority boarding with this card, you don’t get priority check-in or access to the elite security line.
- The free checked bag and priority boarding is only for the cardholder, not those traveling with you on the same reservation.
- You only earn 1 point per $1 spent in popular categories like dining, gas and groceries, and the 2 points per $1 spent on Delta-related spending can seem low when compared with other travel-related credit cards.
Fees: The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. The purchase APR is 17.74%-26.74% Variable and the balance transfer APR is 17.74%-26.74% Variable. The balance transfer fee is Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. The foreign transaction fee: None.
Best for JetBlue: JetBlue Plus Card
Why we like it: New cardmembers Earn 40,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. You get 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X at restaurants & grocery stores, 1X on all other purchases. You also get 5,000 bonus points a year on your card anniversary. If you belong to the airline’s TrueBlue loyalty program, you earn another 3 points for every $1 spent on Amazon.com while using Fly-Fi, the airline’s high-speed in-flight internet.
You and up to three others traveling on the same reservation get a free checked bag if you’ve booked a Blue fare, the carrier’s cheapest, which usually charges for luggage. Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem them for reward travel. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions on JetBlue-operated flights. You get half off eligible in-flight purchases, including cocktails and food, when using the card.
Earn a $100 statement credit after you purchase a JetBlue Vacations package with your card. And earn unlimited points with your JetBlue Plus Card as long as your account remains open and those points don’t expire.
You automatically get TrueBlue Mosaic elite status for a year after spending $50,000 or more a year with the card. With that status, you get 9 points per $1 spent if you book on jetblue.com, plus change and cancellation fees are waived. Mosaic members and those on their itinerary get two free checked bags. Members also get a discount on points used to upgrade to Even More® Space seats, access to priority boarding and a dedicated airport security checkpoint line where available, a dedicated customer service line and free drinks on your flight.
Things to watch out for:
- True Blue points earned with the JetBlue Plus Card can only be used on JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines flights, so you should be a regular flyer on the airline to get the best benefit.
- International travel is limited to JetBlue’s flights to Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, along with Hawaiian’s Asia and the South Pacific routes. So if you want to go to other places in the world, you can’t do that with this card.
- It doesn’t offer popular perks, like travel and purchase insurance, nor does it offer airport lounge access.
- Spending $50,000 a year spend on the card to get TrueBlue Mosaic status could be seen as a bit steep. It’s easier to get this status by either flying 30 segments plus 12,000 base flight points or earning 15,000 base flight points, all within a calendar year.
Fees: The annual fee for the JetBlue Plus Card is $99, which isn’t waived during the first year. You get an 0% introductory APR for First 12 billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to account within 45 days of account opening. After the intro period ends, the balance transfer APR is 13.24%, 21.24% or 26.24% variable, while the purchase APR is 13.24%, 21.24% or 26.24% variable. The balance transfer fee is The greater of $5 or 3% of the transfer and the card has a 0% foreign transaction fee.
The information related to the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.
Best for Southwest Airlines: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- 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
See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Why we like it: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers a sign-up bonus where you Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Earning points on this card is pretty simple — 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.
The big draw of this card is the ability to earn the airline’s coveted Companion Pass, which allows you bring a companion along for free on every flight you fly for a year. But in order to get it, you have to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards qualifying points in a single calendar year.
Cardmembers get 6,000 bonus points every account anniversary year and 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases, up to $100,000 a year. These TPQs help you earn Rapid Rewards A-List or A-List Preferred status. A-List status gives you priority check-in and security lanes (where available), along with priority boarding, a 25% points bonus, a dedicated customer service line and free same-day standby on flights. A-List Preferred get all of the above, along with a 100% points bonus and free in-flight Wi-Fi.
There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions, and you earn unlimited points that don’t expire as long as your card account is open. And Southwest is the only airline that offers two free checked bags no matter what your status.
The card comes with extra travel and purchase perks including lost luggage reimbursement that covers you and your immediate family members’ checked or carry-on bags if they’re damaged or lost by the carrier for up to $3,000 per passenger; baggage delay insurance, which reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays more than six hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for three days; extended warranty protection, that extends the time period of a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by another year on eligible warranties of three years or less; and purchase protection that covers new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Things to watch out for:
- You can only use Rapid Rewards points on Southwest Airlines flights. While the carrier has expanded flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica — and announced plans for flying to to Hawaii — you can’t fly to other international destinations using your Rapid Rewards points.
- Those with A-List or A-List Preferred status can’t get early boarding for travel companions on the same itinerary.
- If you spend regularly on things like restaurants, groceries and gas, there are other cards that offer more than 1 point per $1 spent in these popular categories. If travel and purchasing perks are important to you, you don’t get them with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.
- There’s no airport lounge access with this card.
- While the Companion Fare program is a great deal, not every cardmember or traveler will fly enough during a calendar year to get it.
Fees: The card comes with a $99 annual fee — which isn’t waived during the first year. The purchase APR is 17.74% - 24.74% Variable and the balance transfer APR is 17.74% - 24.74% Variable. The balance transfer fee is Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. The foreign transaction fee is $0.
Best for United Airlines: United℠ Explorer Card
Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United
Priority boarding, free first checked bag, & $0 foreign transaction fee
- 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
See additional details for United℠ Explorer Card
Why we like it: The United℠ Explorer Card offers new cardmembers 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open You can earn another 5,000 bonus miles after adding your first authorized user and making your first purchase in the first three months from account opening. You Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
You and a companion on the same reservation get a free checked bag on United-operated flights when buying tickets with the card. You also get priority boarding and two free United Club passes every year you have the cards.
There are plenty of places to go — 354 destinations across five continents — with your miles on United. And you can leverage the Star Alliance network with flights to 1,300 airports in 191 countries on member airlines. Your miles don’t expire as long as your credit card account is open and there’s no limit to the number of miles you can earn.
The United℠ Explorer Card comes with Visa Signature® Concierge service that helps with tasks like travel planning, finding tickets to sports and entertainment events, making dining reservations and offering personal services, such as gift ideas or flower delivery, along with help with sending gifts. You also get auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage and trip delay reimbursement and purchase and extended warranty protection.
Things to watch out for:
- Aside from the initial offering, there’s no way to earn extra bonus miles.
- There’s no special way to earn miles that help you qualify for elite status.
- You only get two United Club airport lounge passes a year. After that, you either must shell out between $450 and $550 a year — depending on your status — for a United Club membership or buy a day pass for $59.
- If you’re a loyal United flyer, the points per $1 spent are OK if you use the card regularly for travel, but there are other airline- and travel-related cards that offer better.
- The points per $1 spent offered on the card are low when it comes to categories like restaurants, gas and groceries.
Fees: The United℠ Explorer Card has a $0 Intro for First Year, then $95 annual fee. The variable purchase APR is 17.74% - 24.74% Variable, and variable balance transfer APR is 17.74% - 24.74% Variable. The balance transfer fee is Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. The card has a $0 foreign transaction fee.
*The information related to the United℠ Explorer Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.
Best for flexible fliers: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
50,000 bonus points
2X points on travel and dining
1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- 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 a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 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
See additional details for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
For those who aren’t loyal to one airline and want a little more flexibility with their points, a travel-related credit card might be a better option. A card to consider is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, where you Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. It also allows you to earn 5,000 bonus points after adding the first authorized user and making a purchase in the first three months from opening the account.
Why we like it: For those who like to use points and miles to travel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you to transfer the card’s points 1:1 to nine airline and four hotel loyalty programs via Chase Ultimate Rewards® for more flexibility.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases, but it does better than the airlines in the dining and travel categories. And you can maximize your points on the Chase Ultimate Rewards site because cardmembers get 25% more value when they redeem them for travel. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel. You can book a flight on any airline with your Chase points, with no blackout dates.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has popular perks like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and travel and emergency assistance services. You get purchase protection and extended warranty protection, and you can earn 10,000 points — to a maximum of 50,000 per year — for each friend you recommend for the card and is approved.
Things to watch out for:
- You don’t get popular travel perks like airport lounge access, free checked bags and priority check-in and boarding.
- There’s no way to earn elite status on airlines.
Fees: It has a $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95 annual fee. There’s a 17.74% - 24.74% Variable APR and a variable 17.74% - 24.74% Variable balance transfer APR. The balance transfer fee is Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. The card has a $0 foreign transaction fee.
How to choose the right airline card
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to deciding which airline credit card is the best one. The answer is based on which things — like points/miles per $1 spent, ways to achieve elite status and extra perks — matter the most to you.
What’s the sign-up bonus for new cardmembers?
These can be a very attractive way to get an instant points/miles boost in the account of your airline loyalty program. Some bonuses are enough for an instant travel award.
Which card offers the best miles per $1 spent?
The key here is you want to get the most points/miles per $1 spent in the top categories — travel, dining, groceries and gas. Most of the airlines on this list only offer 1 point per $1 spent in these popular categories, so if you spend less on travel, an airline credit card might not be the best option for you.
Does it help you earn elite status?
The points/miles you earn on spending with an airline credit card do go toward elite status. But the real question to ask is if the credit card has a mechanism that boosts your efforts to get elite status via things like spending a certain amount.
What perks does it offer?
You expect to get things like priority check-in and boarding and a free checked bag. Other things to look for are airport lounge access, an in-flight discount on food and beverages, anniversary bonus points/miles and sharing airline-related perks with your traveling companions.
Can I transfer miles to other travel partners?
Airline cards don’t allow transfers to other airlines. But if an airline is a member of one of the three alliances — oneworld, SkyTeam or Star Alliance — you can use your miles to book on partner airlines. If your airline doesn’t belong to a global alliance, check and see if they have their own partnership with global carriers so you can redeem your miles for international travel. See if you can use your points/miles on other things like hotels, vacation packages and rental cars.
How much is the annual fee?
All the cards on this list charge an annual fee and some will waive that fee in the first year. But you need to ensure that the perks that come with a card balance with the annual fee you’ll pay.
What spending is needed for sign-up bonus?
Don’t be blinded by the points/miles being dangled in front of you. Instead, you need to carefully weigh them against how much you actually need to spend to get them.
Do my miles expire?
You don’t want to earn a pile of miles just to see them disappear after a certain amount of time. Make sure you get a card that doesn’t allow miles to expire after a certain amount of time.
Is there a cap on how many miles I can earn?
Again, the whole point of having a card that earns miles is to have the ability to earn as many as you can. So make sure your airline card doesn’t cap the number of miles you can earn.
Check out the credit scores needed for some of the top mile cards.