A guide to airline credit cards
Airline credit cards reward you for loyalty to a specific airline. They earn miles you can redeem for future flights and possibly other travel purchases. The best airline credit cards also entitle you to special perks, like a free checked bag, priority boarding or airport lounge access. We’ve compiled a list of the best airline credit cards on the market. This guide will walk you through how to select the right one for you.
Comparing the best airline miles credit cards
|Credit card||Best For||Annual fee||Intro bonus||Required spend for intro bonus|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||General airline credit card||$95||60,000 miles||$3,000 in the first 3 months|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Luxury travel perks||$695||100,000 Membership Rewards® Points|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Sign-up bonus||$95||100,000 points||$40,000 in the first 3 months|
|Discover it® Miles||Airline miles flexibility||$0||Matches the miles you earned at the end of the first year||N/A|
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card||Less frequent travelers||$0||20,000 miles||$500 in the first 3 months|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No annual fee||$0||25,000 points||$1,000 in the first 90 days|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||Southwest Airlines||$69||40,000 points||$1,000 in first 3 months|
|American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM Card||American Airlines||$0||10,000 AAdvantage® miles and a $50 statement credit||$500 in first 3 months|
|Citi Premier® Card||JetBlue/TrueBlue||$95||80,000 points||$4,000 in the first 3 months|
Editor’s picks: Airline rewards credit card details
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best general airline credit card
Why we picked it: You can really rack up travel rewards with this popular travel credit card from Capital One. The Venture Rewards Credit Card offers unlimited 2X miles on every purchase and a sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (miles are currently valued at 1.7 cents per mile*). That means you can earn rewards on everyday purchases that you can use later in the year.
Pros: Cardholders get an up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck every four years. Capital One recently added JetBlue to its already long list of international airline transfer partners, which has broadened this card’s appeal considerably for domestic travel.
Cons: The current list of airline travel partners doesn’t include other large U.S. carriers. There’s a $95 annual fee, not waived the first year.
Who should apply? If you travel frequently, but don’t always fly the same carrier, this general purpose travel credit card might give you the most bang for your buck.
Who should skip? If you have a particular allegiance to one airline or alliance and spend a good bit on travel, you may find a co-branded airline card offers you a higher rewards rate and better value in the long run.
Read our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury travel perks
Why we picked it: The popular premium card from American Express comes fully-loaded with premium travel benefits, including luxury airport lounge access, Hilton Honors gold status, which entitles you to free Wi-Fi, late checkout and room upgrades (upon availability, enrollment required), and an impressive list of travel credits that’ll help you recoup its steep $695 annual fee. Those credits include an up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and up to $179 statement credit for CLEAR membership, as well as up to $200 in annual Uber Cash credits annually for rides or eats in the U.S. and up to $400 in annual credits combined for hotels and airline fees (up to $200 in statement credits on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel for prepaid hotels and up to $200 in statement credits for airline fees at one qualifying airline – enrollment required).
Pros: For base rewards, cardholders earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and 5X points on eligible hotels booked with American Express Travel. They also receive 1X points on general purchases. The card currently touts a generous welcome offer: You can earn 100,000 points if you spend $6,000 in your first six months, which we estimate to be worth around $1,000 when you book through AmexTravel (where points are worth around 1 cent each). Plus, you’ll receive 10X points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, then 1X) in your first six months.
Cons: The $695 annual fee is a big commitment, so carefully consider whether you travel enough to justify the price. You must redeem travel rewards through American Express Travel – and, unlike with many Chase credit cards, you won’t get a bonus for doing so. Some of the travel credits come with caveats that make them a bit tricky to track or maximize. For instance, the Platinum comes with up to a $300 Equinox credit but you receive $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships rather than the entire $300 credit at once (enrollment required).
Who should apply? This card ticks off all the boxes for big spenders and frequent travelers looking for luxury travel perks, particularly complimentary airport lounge access.
Who should skip? If you only fly a handful of times a year, rarely dine out and hardly ever stay at hotels, this card’s sky high annual fee is tough to justify.
Read our The Platinum Card® from American Express review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for sign-up bonus
Why we picked it: Frequent fliers can rack up rewards pretty quickly with this solid general-purpose travel credit card from Chase, which offers 2X points on restaurant and travel purchases, plus an eye-popping sign-up bonus (earn 100,000 points if you spend $4,000 in your first three months).
Pros: That sign-up bonus, which represents the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s best-ever offer, is worth around $1,250 when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, given cardholders receive a 25% bonus when they cash in points that way. You can combine the points you earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred with other cards in Chase’s line-up.
Cons: The $4,000 spend in the first three months associated with the sign-up bonus and the card’s $95 annual fee (not waived the first year) might price this card out of a frugal flier’s budget.
Who should apply? If you travel frequently, but don’t patronize a specific carrier, this general-purpose travel rewards credit card will net you a nice return on flights – and then some!
Who should skip? This well-rounded card has such broad appeal, though travelers on the tightest of budgets might still prefer a no annual fee card.
Read our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card review.
Discover it® Miles: Best for airline miles flexibility
Why we picked it: This no annual fee travel credit card offers a competitive 1.5X miles back on general purchases, along with a lucrative bonus that matches the miles you earn at the end of your first year.
Pros: You’ll enjoy a wide range of travel redemption options, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, travel packages, taxis and public transportation – and can even redeem miles for cash back. (Discover it Miles are worth one cent each*, which is average for a travel credit card.)
Cons: On the flip side, you can’t transfer your miles to airline partners. The card’s value drops significantly after the first year match. Depending on your spending habits, you could earn more with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers 2X miles on general purchases, but charges a $95 annual fee.
Who should apply? This card is another option for anyone looking for a straightforward, general purpose travel rewards credit card.
Who should skip? The fact that miles cannot be transferred to airline frequent flier programs may be a major deal breaker for frequent travelers.
Read our Discover it Miles review.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for less frequent travelers
Why we picked it: This straightforward travel rewards credit card lets you earn 1.25X miles on general purchases without paying an annual fee.
Pros: Cardholders can also earn 20,000 miles if they spend $500 in your first three months, which we estimate to be worth up to $200 in travel rewards. There’s no minimum to start redeeming rewards.
Cons: Capital One is thin on major U.S. airline partners. You could conceivably earn more with the Venture Rewards Credit Card, even though it charges a $95 annual fee. (Learn how to decide between the Capital One Venture cards.)
Who should apply? If you like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, but can’t stomach its annual fee or aren’t quite sure if you’ll travel enough to justify the charge, consider this card a solid alternative.
Who should skip? Frequent travelers may be better off with a higher flat-rate rewards card or one with bonus categories that allows them to maximize earnings.
Read our Capital One VentureOne review.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for no annual fee
Why we picked it: There’s a lot going for this travel card, including considerable rewards and few restrictions – and that’s with no annual fee. For example, earn 1.5 points on every dollar spent on all purchases. No annual fee means that you don’t have to track your earnings to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Pros: You can earn 25,000 points after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account. That comes to a $250 statement credit that you can use toward travel purchases. Also, there’s a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles, then it’s 13.99% to 23.99% variable. Bank of America points are worth one cent each.*
Cons: You won’t get a boost by redeeming points for travel through the Bank of America Travel center. If you redeem points for cash, your points are only worth 0.6 cents each.
Who should apply? If you’re committed to avoiding an annual fee, this general purpose travel card is one of your best options.
Who should skip? If you prefer fancy travel perks over simplicity, this no annual fee card doesn’t have much to offer you.
Read our Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Best for Southwest airlines
Why we picked it: This card rewards in a big way for brand loyalty, making it worth your while should Southwest Airlines be a favorite choice for you. Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest purchases. As a cardmember, you’ll earn 3,000 points after each card anniversary, which is not a common perk outside of the Southwest lineup.
Pros: The sign-up bonus is also startlingly good: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months plus 3 points per every $1 spent on dining for the first year. (Southwest points are worth 1.5 cents each*.) You also get two free checked bags for every cardholder.
Cons: Unlike some airline credit cards, you only earn bonus points on Southwest purchases (and dining purchases for the first year). Plus, Southwest doesn’t have airline partners, so the only rewards flights you can book are with Southwest.
Who should apply? Frequent Southwest flyers can earn Rapids Rewards points at a faster clip with the least expensive card in the carrier’s line-up. (Learn how to decide which Southwest credit card is right for you.)
Who should skip? If you don’t fly Southwest often, don’t live near a Southwest hub and/or mostly travel internationally, this card isn’t a match for you.
Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card review.
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Best for American Airlines
Why we picked it: The AAdvantage MileUp Card lacks some of the perks you’ll get with other American Airlines cards, but since it charges no annual fee and offers everyday value via its 2X rewards rate at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases, it’s a great place to start.
Pros: This card’s sign-up bonus of 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit can be yours with just $500 in spend in the first three months. Plus, American Airlines offers one of the largest travel networks in the world, and AAdvantage miles (valued at 1.4 cents*) can be transferred to dozens of airline, hotel and car rental partners.
Cons: Redeeming AAdvantage miles can be complicated; you’ll have to navigate blackout dates and award seats are limited.
Who should apply? This is a great starter airline credit card for people who fly American Airlines.
Who should skip? Travelers who don’t fly American or its partners and don’t live near an American hub may not get much out of this card.
Read our American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card review.
Citi Premier® Card: Best for JetBlue
Why we picked it: You can redeem your Citi ThankYou travel points that you earn with the Citi Premier Card for partner points, such as TrueBlue/JetBlue and a number of international brands like Etihad Guest Miles and Flying Blue (Air France, KLM). Typically you’ll get a 1:1 match, meaning that 1,000 ThankYou Points equals 1,000 JetBlue TrueBlue points.
Pros: The sign-up bonus is top-notch: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of card membership. There’s flexibility in earning with this card as well: You earn 3X points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
Cons: There’s a $95 annual fee that isn’t waived, although if you use this card often, you will more than recoup on that charge. Most of Citi’s transfer partners are based overseas. You’ll have to book travel through Citi.
Who should apply? This card lets you earn rewards on a combination of travel purchases and everyday expenses, so it’s a great alternative if you’re unsure of what type of rewards credit card to opt for.
Who should skip? Most of Citi’s airline transfer partners are international carriers, so this may not be an ideal fit for those who fly exclusively domestic.
Read our Citi Premier Card review.
What are airline credit cards and how do they work?
Airline credit cards are typically products that align with airlines to bring you rewards specific to that brand, although there has been a movement in the last year to offer boosted general rewards as well. Called co-branded cards, these products reward you for loyalty to that brand through in-flight purchases and tickets, as well as brand-specific benefits.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to pick a card partnering with an airline you’ll actually use, or there’s no point in earning all those miles. For example, American Airlines has a hub in Charlotte, while United has a hub in Houston, and Delta is based out of Atlanta. Where you live and go should factor into your decision.
“Airline cards are especially valuable when you’re loyal to a particular carrier,” says Ted Rossman, CreditCards.com’s industry analyst. “The miles you earn through a sign-up bonus and your ongoing spending can quickly earn you a free trip. Plus, airline cards often offer additional perks such as free checked bags and priority boarding. Many of them charge annual fees, but they can be recouped quickly. For example, a $95 annual fee equals roughly three checked bags. A family could come out ahead after just one flight.”
In addition to co-branded cards, there are general purpose travel credit cards that partner with airlines for redeeming points or miles, such as Venture Rewards and Sapphire Preferred.
Are airline credit cards worth it?
If you travel frequently and tend to fly the same carrier each time, a good airline credit card could help you earn loyalty points (and, by extension, award flights) faster. They could also entitle you to benefits that make flying more enjoyable or cost-effective, like priority boarding, a free checked bag, elite status and upgrades, when available.
While travel restrictions are starting to lift, you still may be traveling less as a result of a pandemic. It’s important to carefully consider how often you plan to fly within the next year or so before deciding on whether to get an airline credit card.
Of course, if the card has no annual fee, we say it’s a no-brainer. While you’re waiting around for more destinations to fully open up, you may as well be accumulating points or miles to fund your future getaways. If the card has an annual fee, you have more to think about, but the logic is the same. As always with an annual fee card, you should make sure that your estimated yearly rewards value is greater than the cost of the annual fee. If that’s the case and you’re OK with delayed gratification, there’s no reason not to start earning points and miles while you wait for travel restrictions to be lifted. (Learn how to determine when an annual fee is worth it.)
What is the difference between an airline credit card and a general travel credit card?
There can be clear differences between an airline card and a general-purpose travel card, such as:
- Airline cards reward for loyalty, while general-purpose travel cards often partner with multiple airline brands.
- General-purpose travel cards are more likely to reward for a variety of categories, and sometimes for all purchases, although some airline cards are starting to reward for everyday categories, such as groceries.
- An airline card may give boosted rewards to in-flight purchases.
- General travel cards often reward for benefits such as Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits, while airline cards might reward for benefits such as free first checked bag and seating upgrades.
Pros and cons of an airline credit card
Pros: When does an airline credit card make sense?
- You’re loyal to a brand. If you often use a specific airline, an airline card can deliver boosted rewards and superior redemptions.
- You’ll travel often. Want to earn lots of points or miles? You’ll earn more if you’re often traveling with your favorite airline.
- You’ll use the card often. Many airline cards have an annual fee, so you’ll need to plan on using your card enough to recoup the cost of that fee.
- You don’t mind keeping up with rules. The rules of an airline rewards program can be tough to navigate, so make sure you are prepared to follow them.
Cons: When does an airline credit card not make sense?
- You make travel plans at the last minute. Airline rewards programs often have blackout dates and seating restrictions, so airline cards may not suit the procrastinator.
- You plan to carry a balance. If you carry a balance to the next month, you will incur interest charges, negating the benefits of rewards. If you are prone to carrying a balance, consider a top low interest credit card instead.
- You don’t live near an airline hub. If you live in a midsize city, the airline of your choice may not fly there, making it more difficult to earn rewards.
- You are an occasional traveler. If there are only airline rewards offered, it may be difficult to earn enough rewards to make the card worth your while.
How to compare two different airline cards
With all those great choices, picking the right airline card can seem overwhelming. Well, we’ve done the heavy lifting to help you make the right decision. Here are the factors you should consider when choosing between two airline credit cards. As an example, we’ll compare the AAdvantage MileUp card and the United Explorer card as we go.
Consider which card’s sign-up bonus is more lucrative and attainable. While the United Explorer card offers a larger bonus, it requires a larger amount of spending. The MileUp card, on the other hand, offers a smaller bonus, but only requires you to spend $500 in the first 3 months.
If two cards have the same required spend, the one with the higher bonus might be more favorable, but you’ll also need to check point valuations, as one airline’s points or miles might be worth more than the other’s. In the case of the MileUp card versus the United Explorer, it’s close: AAdvantage miles are valued at 1.4 cents* while United MileagePlus miles are valued at 1.3 cents*.
Some airline credit cards offer rewards outside of the realm of airline loyalty, making them competitive with general-purpose travel cards or even some rewards credit cards. However, you’ll want to be sure a card’s bonus categories line up with your spending habits.
The United Explorer card, for example, offers 2X miles on hotel and restaurant purchases while the MileUp card offers a 2X rewards rate on grocery store purchases. If you plan to eat takeout often or plan to stay in hotels down the road, the United Explorer card is the obvious choice, but if you’re more of a home cook, you may get more long-term value out of the MileUp card, even though its sign-up bonus pales in comparison to that of the United Explorer.
Airline cards can offer a number of useful perks that reduce the stress of flying, and if you make use of them they can really help justify a card’s higher annual fee. If you don’t do a ton of traveling, though, they may not be worth it. Ask yourself if you’ll make use of perks like airport lounge access and discounted in-flight purchases; if all you really care about is discounted airfare, you can likely save money with a lower annual fee card.
The United Explorer card, for example, charges a $95 fee annual fee (waived the first year), but gets you perks like lounge access, a free first checked bag, priority boarding and a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. In stark contrast, the no-annual-fee MileUp card’s best offering is a 25% discount on food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
Depending on the benefits a card offers and whether you’ll make use of them, it may be worth paying an annual fee. To decide, consider the net cost of the card along with the added value of the credits, benefits and rewards you receive. Keep in mind, too, that many airline cards, including the United Explorer card, offer to waive the fee for the first year. Others, such as the MileUp card, have no annual fee at all.
With no sign-up bonus in play in the second year, things level off considerably, so your choice will come down to your spending habits and the value you place on travel perks and other card benefits.
Card Value Comparison: Year 1
Note: Bonus category earnings in the tables below are based on average monthly household spending+. Total earned assumes rewards are redeemed for travel.
|Card||Sign-up bonus||Bonus category spending||Other spending||Annual fee||Total earned at end of first year|
|United Explorer||Up to 70k miles (60k miles with $3k spend in first 3 months and 10k miles with 6k spend in first 6 months)*1.3 cents=$910||2X*$288 (dining)*12 months=$90||1X*$500*12 months=$78||$95 (waived first year)||$1078|
|AAdvantage MileUp||10k miles ($50 statement credit, with $500 spend in first 3 months)*1.4 cents=$190||2X*$372 (groceries)*12 months=$125||1X*$500*12 months=$84||$0||$399|
Card Value Comparison: Year 2
|Card||Bonus category spending||Other spending||Annual fee||Total earned at end of second year|
|United Explorer||2X*$288 (dining)*12 months=$90||1X*$500*12 months=$78||$95||$73|
|AAdvantage MileUp||2X*$372 (groceries)*12 months=$125||1X*$500*12 months=$84||$0||$209|
+Average dining and grocery spending courtesy Bureau of Labor & Statistics
Most popular airline rewards programs
While the SkyMiles program is forever moving the finish line with ever-changing point values and rules, there are no blackout dates and there are a number of redemption options.
The average point value is 1.1 cents, according to The Points Guy, and rewards don’t expire. There are more than 20 airline partners, so you can go pretty much anywhere in the world. It’s a good program for loyal Delta flyers and international travelers.
The United program award tickets are one-way, which actually opens up your options. You can have a different class each direction; or you can travel out with a Saver ticket when your plans are flexible, and with an Everyday ticket on the return with firmed up plans.
You can use miles to request upgrades to a premium cabin, which allows you to benefit from free alcoholic beverages, as well as priority check-in, security line access, boarding, and baggage handling. The average point value is 1.3 cents each*.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
With this loyalty program of Southwest Airlines, flight options are primarily limited to domestic destinations, but the rewards are strong. This program is particularly great for families with loads of luggage. Booking is flexible and there aren’t a ton of hidden fees. Southwest Rapid Rewards are, on average, worth 1.5 cents a piece*.
While there are no blackout dates and one-way trips are permitted, it’s not the largest of airlines, with only about 100 destinations, and only about 10 countries.
American Airlines AAdvantage
With about 350 destinations to more than 50 countries, American Airlines, with regional carrier American Eagle, is one of the largest airlines in the world, ideal for world travelers. The airline partners with OneWorld Alliance carriers as well as other partners.
While there’s the MileSAAver awards, which means you can book award flights at a low number of miles, there are downsides, such as some quirky rules and the need for flexibility when booking. American Advantage points are worth, on average, 1.4 cents each*.
British Airways Executive Club
OneWorld partner British Airways can eat up your miles, called Avios, but the experience is superior.
There is a feature called Reward Flight Savers, advertised as the best value reward flights, which is available on return flights in Europe and southern Africa. Like other loyalty programs, you can use Avios to upgrade, for a hotel stay or getting a rental car. Avios points are, on average, worth 1.5 cents each*.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Flying to roughly a dozen countries, Virgin Atlantic is a 35-year-old British airline with a number of stops in the U.S. Flying Club, Virgin Atlantic’s loyalty program, offers dozens of partners, including Delta. You can redeem on Delta for as little at 20,000 miles for East Coast flights during the off-season.
Other partners include KLM, Air France and other international airlines, as well as hotels such as Hilton and IHG. The points valuation for this program is a generous 1.5 cents, according to TPG. You can also convert points into miles through some of the top card issuer programs, such as Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Do airline miles expire?
When it comes to airline rewards, few things are more frustrating than seeing your hard-earned points and miles expire before you’ve had a chance to use them. Unfortunately, only a few airline rewards programs offer miles that never expire, with the vast majority requiring you to either earn or redeem miles within 1-2 years or risk forfeiting the miles in your account. In some cases, you can have expired miles restored to your account, but don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a reinstatement fee.
Here’s how airline point and mile expiration breaks down with some of the most popular airline rewards programs:
|Airline / rewards program||Do miles expire?||How to keep miles from expiring|
|Alaska Airlines||Yes, after 24 months of no activity||Earn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||Yes, after 18 months of no activity||Earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months|
|British Airways / Avios||Yes, after 36 months of no activity||Earn or redeem Avios at least once every 36 months|
|Cathay Pacific / Asia Miles||Yes, after 36 months after earning||No way to keep from expiring|
|Etihad||Yes, after 24 months after earning||No way to keep from expiring|
|Air France / KLM (Flying Blue)||Yes, after 24 months of no activity||Earn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months|
|Qantas||Yes, after 18 months of no activity||Earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||No||Earn points at least once every 24 months|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||Yes, after 36 months of no activity||Earn or redeem miles at least once every 36 months|
How to choose an airline credit card
Consider how frequently you fly.
Simply put, if you don’t fly more than a couple of times a year, you probably don’t need an airline credit card. While some airline credit cards let you earn miles on everyday purchases, like gas or groceries, you generally get the most bang for your buck by redeeming for free flights. And while many cards have moved away from blackout or expiration dates on miles, you’re not likely to recoup the annual fee associated with most of these cards if you’re not cashing in your rewards each year or taking advantage of the ancillary perks a card entitles you to. If your spending tends to vary, consider a general rewards credit card or a cash back credit card instead.
Identify your carrier of choice.
If you do fly frequently, consider next whether you tend to do so on the same carrier. (That’s generally dictated by whether you live near an airline hub or a major airport serviced by carriers with a large flight network.) If so, that brand’s airline credit card could help you earn award flights more quickly, qualify for elite status and receive perks that let you travel in style. If you’re more likely to fly on a variety of carriers throughout the year or you like to comparison-shop for deals across travel providers, consider a general purpose travel credit card. (We’re partial to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers 2X miles on general purchases and lets you redeem rewards as statement credits for a wide variety of travel expenses.)
Account for a card’s transfer partners.
Many general purpose travel credit cards let you transfer your points to partnering airlines. Review their list of current partners to see if they’re in line with your travel habits. Transferring points is often a great way to get a bit more bang for your buck. Learn other ways to maximize credit card rewards.
Ask yourself if you check a bag.
Most airline’s charge $30 for a first checked bag and $40 for a second, so if you frequently travel with a suitcase, an airline credit card that lets you skip that charge can save you money or, at least, cover a card’s annual fee before you factor in the rewards.
Decide if you’re looking for lounge access.
Some premium travel rewards credit cards offer access to a large number of airport lounges, irrespective of brand. The Platinum Card from American Express, for example, grants cardholders access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection®, which includes more than 1,300 airport lounges around the world. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, meanwhile, comes with complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges in more than 1,200 locations around the world.
How we picked the best airline credit cards
Research methodology: We analyzed 148 airline credit cards to identify the best ones currently on the market. The major factors we considered in making our Editor’s picks include:
- Rewards rates: The best airline credit cards offer at least 2X points on purchases with their specific carrier. General purpose travel credit cards might offer between 1.25X to 2X miles on all purchases.
- Rewards value: Not all miles are created equal. We looked at how much each mile was worth when redeemed for airfare. We also considered how much each mile was worth across additional redemption options, when available.
- Ancillary airline perks: The best airline credit cards offer extra benefits, like a free checked bag, priority boarding, automatic elite status, airport lounge access or more. Many offer travel credits for items like Global Entry or TSA Precheck. We weighted cards more heavily if they offered these types of benefits.
- Rates and Fees: Many airline credit cards charge annual fees and, as a rewards credit card, they tend to carry higher APRs than low interest counterparts. However, we still considered if these costs were reasonable relative to the category and the benefits each card carried.
Full criteria used: Rewards rates, rewards categories, airline alliance partners, other transfer partners, sign-up bonus, point values, redemption options, redemption flexibility, elite status, annual fee, travel credits, airport lounge access, miscellaneous travel benefits, rates and fees, customer service, credit needed, upgrade and downgrade options. For more detail on our review scores, see our ratings process for airline cards.
More information on airline credit cards
For more information on all things travel cards, continue reading content from our credit card experts:
* All points and miles valuations have been provided by The Points Guy