Having an airline credit card is one of the best ways to earn travel rewards for free or discounted flights. Most airlines offer a co-branded card with exclusive perks, or there are general travel rewards cards that offer more flexible redemptions. 

Most airline cards come with sizable welcome bonuses to boost your miles, but they also offer additional perks for air travelers like priority boarding, free checked bags, and other benefits. For frequent travelers, an airline credit card is a powerful tool packed with value.

We’ve analyzed available airline credit cards to find the very best of the best for you to consider. 

What to Look for in an Airline Credit Card

Finding the right airline credit card depends on your goals for getting one. Many airline cards offer different benefits, so knowing what you want out of a card is key. Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing an airline credit card. 

Do You Prefer to Fly on a Particular Airline?

If you enjoy flying a particular airline, you are probably better off looking at a co-branded card specific to that airline. These kinds of cards offer exclusive rewards and benefits tied to that airline’s loyalty rewards program. Having a co-branded card allows you to get the most value from a single airline. 

If you tend to go with whatever airline offers the best deal, a general travel rewards card will be of more value to you. A general travel rewards card allows you to use your points and miles to book travel with almost any airline or transfer rewards to airline partner programs. 

How Often do you Travel? 

How often you travel is something else to consider. If you only travel occasionally, a luxury airline card is probably overkill. You won’t use all of the attached perks enough to justify the higher annual fee. 

If you are a frequent traveler, the opposite is true. You would probably benefit by having an upper-tier airline card that comes with benefits beyond the standard fare.  

What Perks are Important to You? 

While earning miles for free flights is one of the primary purposes for getting an airline credit card, you should also consider a card’s other benefits. 

If you’re a frequent traveler, there’s considerable value in a card that comes with perks like priority boarding and free checked bags. If you travel with a partner, some cards come with ways to earn a companion pass, allowing someone to travel with you for free. If you like to chill in airport lounges before flights, you’ll need a card that offers lounge access as a perk. 

Where Do You Want to Travel? 

You should also factor in where you plan to travel when choosing an airline card. Make sure the airline flies to where you want to go before signing up for a card. Is your local or regional airport a hub for a particular airline? Consider your desired destinations when picking the best airline card for you. 

At a Glance

 Best forAnnual feeWelcome Bonus
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardFlexible Rewards$95100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardWelcome Offer$0 first year, then $9940,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® PremierCompanion Pass$9940,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressLounge Access$695100,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 in the first six months
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®American Airlines Travelers$45050,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months
United Explorer CardOccasional United Travelers$0 first year, then $9560,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months; An additional 10,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 total in the first six months

Best Airline Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for Flexible Rewards

Often touted as one of the most versatile travel rewards credit cards, Chase Sapphire Preferred® offers flexible rewards you can redeem towards flights and a host of other travel and other redemptions. The 100,000-point welcome offer alone is worth $1,250 when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This Chase card is packed with value well beyond the $95 annual fee.

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer100,000 bonus points
Annual Fee$95
Regular APR15.99% to 22.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights 

  • Introductory offer of 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of opening your account. 

  • 5X points on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 

  • 3X on select streaming services. 

  • 3X points on select online grocery purchases. 

  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide.

  • 1X points on all other purchases.

  • Your Ultimate Rewards points carry 25% more value when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. 

  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. 

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card here

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best Welcome Offer 

Delta fans have four consumer credit cards to choose from, but Delta SkyMiles® Gold is our top choice. The card provides enough value for avid travelers without the hefty annual fees of the more premium cards. Plus, it has a relatively low spending requirement to earn a decent welcome bonus. 

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer40,000 bonus miles
Annual Fee$0 first year, then $99
Regular APR15.74% to 24.74%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights 

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new card (within the first three months).

  • Your first checked bag is free.

  • Main cabin one priority boarding on Delta flights.

  • If you spend $10,000 in purchases on your card within a calendar year, receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit (expires 12/31/21)

  • 2X miles at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets.

  • 1X miles on all other eligible purchases.

  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after using your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.

  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Best for Companion Pass 

Fans of Southwest Airlines will love the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. The card offers tons of value that far outweighs the $99 annual fee. Plus, with enough points, you can earn a companion pass. Southwest’s companion pass lets you designate a companion who can fly for free with you on every flight you book for miles or cash for up to two years. 

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer40,000 bonus miles
Annual Fee$99
Regular APR15.99% to 22.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months.

  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.

  • 2X points on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1X points on all other purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.

  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for Lounge Access

American Express recently increased the Platinum Card®’s annual fee to $695. They also added some new perks that have travelers excited, like a bigger intro welcome offer, Clear credits, and more. This premium card features a laundry list of extra benefits perfect for frequent travelers who want access to luxury perks. 

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer100,000 bonus points
Annual Fee$695
Regular APR15.99% to 22.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 on your new card in the first six months.

  • 10X points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first six months of Card Membership.

  • 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

  • 5X points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

  • 1X points on all other purchases.

  • $200 Fine Hotels + Resorts hotel credit.

  • Access to American Express Global Lounge Collection.

  • $200 airline fee credit.

  • $200 Uber cash.

  • $179 Clear credit.

  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

  • Marriott Bonvoy™ Gold Elite status.

  • Hilton Honors Gold status.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Best for American Airlines Travelers

The premium annual fee will scare away many travelers, but Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® offers considerable value for frequent American Airlines travelers. Not only can new cardholders earn a big welcome bonus, but the card also comes with access to the airline’s network of airport lounges with an Admirals Club membership. 

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer50,000 bonus miles 
Annual Fee$450
Regular APR15.99% to 24.99%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on your new card in the first three months. 

  • 2X miles on select American Airlines purchases.

  • 1X miles on all other purchases. 

  • Admirals Club membership.

  • Priority check-in, airport screening, and boarding privileges (where available).

  • Free first checked bag.

  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

  • 25% off inflight food and beverage purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees. 

Learn more about the Citi/ AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.

United Explorer Card: Best for Occasional United Travelers

The United Explorer Card features a sizable welcome bonus which can quickly earn you free flights. It also features several quality United-related travel benefits. Other United Airlines credit cards may offer more value, but this card hits a sweet spot with its perks and relatively low annual fee.  

FeatureDetails
Intro Offer70,000 bonus miles
Annual Fee$0 first year, then $95
Regular APR16.49% to 23.49%
Intro APRN/A

Highlights

  • Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles — 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on your card in the first three months and an additional 10,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 total on your card within the first six months. 

  • 2X miles on select United purchases.

  • 2X miles per $1 spent on dining, including eligible delivery services.

  • 2X miles on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel.

  • 1X miles on all other purchases.

  • First free checked bag.

  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

  • Priority boarding.

  • 2 United Club one-time passes each anniversary. 

  • 25% back on United inflight purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

  • Enjoy a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Learn more about the United Explorer Card

How Airline Credit Cards Work

Airline credit cards reward cardholders with points or miles for card spending. Rewards earned are redeemed for free flights and other airline-related redemptions like seat upgrades, inflight purchases, and more. 

Most airline credit cards also come with other travel-related perks, including:

  • Free checked bags

  • Priority boarding

  • Airport lounge access

  • In-flight purchase discounts

  • Companion passes

Some airline credit cards are co-branded with a specific airline, while others offer more flexible redemptions through the card issuer’s travel portal or airline transfer partners.

How Much are Airline Miles Worth?

The value of airline miles depends on the particular rewards program. Typically airline miles are worth between 1 cent and 1.5 cents per mile. Many airlines have switched to dynamic award pricing, meaning that ticket pricing changes all the time. This means the number of miles you need for a particular flight can change, changing the value of your miles.

Do Airline Miles Expire?

Depending on the specific airline credit card, your miles could expire. Often, you can extend the expiration date by either redeeming your points or miles or using the card to make a purchase. 

How to Maximize Airline Credit Cards

You can earn more airline miles or points by finding a card with bonus categories that lines up with your spending habits. The quickest way to build up rewards is to meet spending requirements to earn the intro bonus offer if your card offers one. If earning airline miles is your ultimate goal, consider using your airline card exclusively for purchases. The highest bonus category is usually reserved for purchases made with the airline, so make sure to use the card whenever you book paid flights, in-flight purchases, and any other airline-related purchases.

You can also maximize the value of your card by taking advantage of all of the card’s other perks. Much of the card’s value lies in these extra benefits, so make sure you use them whenever possible. 

What Credit Score is Needed for an Airline Credit Card

Credit score requirements vary from card to card, but typically you’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for an airline credit card. A good to excellent FICO credit score is a score of 670 or higher.

Who Airline Credit Cards are Best for

Airline credit cards are geared towards frequent travelers who fly at least a few times a year. Co-branded airline cards restrict you to using your miles with one airline, so only sign up for one if you plan to book several flights through that airline each year of card ownership. Make sure your local or regional airport offers enough flights with that particular airline to make it worth it. 

If you enjoy luxury travel or access to perks like airport lounge membership, airline credit cards are the way to go. An airline credit card is a great way to earn elite status with an airline, giving you access to even more benefits. 

More flexible airline credit cards allow you to apply rewards towards other redemptions like hotel stays, vacation packages, rental cars, and more. If you’re a casual traveler or you’re not sure how you want to use your points yet, these types of airline cards may be a better option right now. 

Summary

Use our guide as a launching point for finding the best airline credit card for you. Choose a card that aligns with your travel goals and offers the kind of perks you enjoy the most. Consider a co-branded airline credit card if you’re loyal to a particular airline brand. Otherwise, there are more versatile travel rewards credit cards that offer airline-related benefits along with other perks. 
 

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