Best Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags or airport lounge access while also making it easier to rack up points or miles and save money on flights. We analyzed 148 co-branded airline cards based on miles value, rewards rate, and other benefits to find the best cards for each major airline. Here are the best offers from our partners.

Airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags or airport lounge access while also making it easier to rack up points or miles and save money on flights. We analyzed 148 co-branded airline cards based on miles value, rewards rate, and other benefits to find the best cards for each major airline. Here are the best offers from our partners.

Summary

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2020

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
75,000 points
Annual Fee
$99
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% variable

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
3 Avios per $1 spent on purchases with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Level.
2X
2 Avios per $1 spent on hotel accommodations.
1X
1 Avios per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 100,000 Avios
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% variable

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 points
Annual Fee
$99
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% variable

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
1X
1 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
50,000 miles
Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
17.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
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Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

Comparing the Best Airline Credit Card Offers

Updated: January 23, 2020

Choosing a credit card can be difficult, and choosing the “right” one for your needs can be even more of a challenge. If you fly often, you’ll want to make sure the card you select helps you maximize your opportunity to earn airline status as you spend money on flights.

With the new year ahead, now is a good time to learn how you can use airline credit cards to save on airfare for your upcoming trips. We’ve compiled a list of the best airline credit cards for your needs, and this guide will walk you through how to select the right one for you.


best airline credit cards of 2020

Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for airline transfer partners

The card recently added JetBlue to its already long list of international airline transfer partners, which has broadened its appeal considerably for domestic travel.

Card overview

Get started now and you could rack up enough miles for a dream vacation come spring: This card offers unlimited 2X miles on every purchase and a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months (miles are currently valued at 1.4 cents per mile*). Keep in mind, though, that Capital One’s airline transfer partners largely consist of international airlines rather than major U.S.-based carriers.

Best airline perk

While it’s not tied to a specific airline, the card could help you breeze through airport security thanks to its credit of up to $100 toward the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, a perk usually reserved for luxury travel cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for sign-up bonus

The card’s 60,000-point sign-up bonus (for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months) is worth $750 toward travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

Card overview

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are currently valued at 2 cents per point* and you can transfer points to a number of airline and hotel partners on a 1:1 basis, which opens up a lot of 2020 travel possibilities. On the downside, the card’s $95 annual fee is not waived for the first year and you’ll miss out on the airline-specific perks offered by co-branded airline cards.

Best airline perk

Though it’s not an airline perk per se, the card comes with trip cancellation and interruption insurance, which could save you a ton should you need to cut a trip short or cancel because of an illness or severe weather.

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Why it’s the best airline credit card for no annual fee

It’s a great fit if you want to earn rewards without breaking the bank. The card not only charges no annual fee – a rarity among airline cards – but also comes with a 10,000-mile welcome offer after you spend just $500 in the first 3 months.

Card overview

While it can’t compete with the value and travel perks offered by the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, the Blue Delta SkyMiles card still gets you 2X miles at U.S. restaurants – something you don’t often see with airline cards – as well as 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta. SkyMiles are valued at 1.2 cents*.

Best airline perk

You’ll get 20% back in the form of a statement credit on eligible in-flight purchases of food, beverages and audio headsets on Delta flights.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Why it’s the best airline credit card for Delta Air Lines

The card comes with a 30,000-mile welcome offer after you spend just $1,000 in the first 3 months, which we estimate is worth close to $500 in airfare. Plus, you’ll enjoy an array of travel benefits that can save you money and make flying less of a hassle.

Card overview

It may not be the most lucrative card in terms of ongoing everyday rewards, since you’ll earn 2X miles only on direct Delta purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases, but the card’s annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year and you can get a $50 statement credit for using your new card to make a Delta purchase within the first 3 months. SkyMiles are valued at 1.2 cents*.

Best airline perk

You’ll get the fee waived for your first checked bag and for the first checked bags of up to 8 companions traveling on the same reservation. This could save you up to $60 per person on a round-trip Delta flight.

Discover it® Miles

Why it’s the best airline credit card for first year bonus

This is about as close as you can get to making your own bonus: Not only will you earn unlimited 1.5X miles on every purchase, Discover will match all the miles earned in your first year – no need to shell out thousands in the first few months just to score a big sign-up bonus. Even better, the card charges no annual fee.

Card overview

This card offers great flexibility in how you can redeem miles. In addition to airfare, you can opt for cash back, book hotel rooms and rental cars or pay for taxis and public transportation, all without sacrificing rewards value. You also get a 0% intro APR for 14 months on new purchases (13.49%-24.49% variable thereafter), making it a solid choice for paying off large expenses over time. Unfortunately, though, you can’t transfer miles to a frequent flyer program.

Best airline perk

It’s not exactly an airline perk, but the card’s lack of a foreign transaction fee should come in handy if you plan to travel abroad. Many cards charge a foreign transaction fee of at least 3% per purchase made overseas. Discover card international acceptance can be limited, however, so be sure to check if your card will be accepted where you’re traveling.

United℠ Explorer Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for United Airlines

You can earn up to 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of when your account is opened.

Card overview

The United Explorer Card is more versatile than some airlines cards, since you’ll not only earn 2X miles on tickets purchased directly with United, but also on hotel and restaurant purchases (miles are valued at 1.3 cents*). The card also comes with a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which, if you fly frequently, should help lessen the blow of the card’s $95 annual fee (waived the first year).

Best airline perk

You get 2 one-time passes to the United Club lounge each year on your cardholder anniversary, allowing you to escape the chaos of the airport and enjoy free food and drinks, complimentary Wi-Fi and comfortable workspaces.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines miles are valued at 1.8 cents* and this card lets you earn them at an impressive rate – unlimited 3X miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases. Plus, it comes with a strong sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days.

Card overview

While the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card charges an annual fee of $75 that isn’t waived in the first year, its 3X rewards rate beats that of most airline credit cards, and you can transfer miles to a variety of domestic and international airline partners, including American Airlines, Delta and British Airways.

Best airline perk

As part of the card’s sign-up bonus, you can get a Companion Fare for just $99 (plus taxes and fees from $22) when you spend $2,000 or more in the first 90 days. Plus, you can get another discounted fare each year on your account anniversary starting at $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) when you buy a ticket.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for American Airlines

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 on grocery store and American Airlines purchases, it’s a great place to start.

Card overview

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 3 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. That said, redeeming AAdvantage miles can be complicated.

Best airline perk

You’ll get a 25% discount on food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights. Unfortunately, this doesn’t cover other in-flight purchases like Wi-Fi.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for Southwest Airlines

It offers the same sign-up bonus as the Rapid Rewards Premier and Priority cards – up to 75,000 points: 40,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months plus 35,000 after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months– while charging a lower annual fee of $69.

Card overview

Along with the 2X points you’ll earn on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards partner hotel and car rental purchases, this card offers 3,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary (points are valued at 1.5 cents*). It’s not the best choice if you’re planning an international getaway this spring, though, since Southwest has a smaller overseas flight network than many other airlines.

Best airline perk

Earn 125,000 points or buy 100 qualifying one-way tickets and you’ll be eligible for a Companion Pass, which allows you to have a companion fly for free (plus taxes and fees) for up to 2 years on every Southwest flight you buy with points or cash.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for annual travel credit

The card’s annual 7,500-point anniversary bonus is the largest offered by a Southwest Rapid Rewards consumer card. Plus, you can apply the $75 credit you get each year toward airfare. This is a huge perk, as most travel credits only count toward incidentals.

Card overview

While it shares the Rapid Rewards Plus card’s sign-up bonus and rewards rate, the Rapid Rewards Priority card’s annual bonus, travel credit and other perks should make up for its higher annual fee of $149.

Best airline perk

Along with its annual credit and a chance to earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, the card gets you 4 upgraded boardings per year and a 20% discount on in-flight purchases, including drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging and movies.

Summary of The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2020

Credit Card Best For Intro Bonus Annual Fee Editor’s Review Score
Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card Airline transfer partners 50,000 miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months $95, waived first year 4.2 / 5
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Sign-up bonus 60,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months $95 3.9 / 5
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express No annual fee 10,000 miles for spending $500 in the first 3 months $0 3.5 / 5
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Delta and free checked baggage 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months $95, waived first year 3.6 / 5
Discover it® Miles first year bonus Matches the miles you earned at the end of the first year $0 4 / 5
United Explorer Card United and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application credit 60,000 miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months* $95, waived first year 3.7 / 5
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card Alaska Air and companion fare 40,000 miles plus Alaska’s Companion Fare for spending $2,000 in the first 90 days $75 3.7 / 5
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM Card American Airlines 10,000 AAdvantage® miles and a $50 statement credit for spending $500 in first 3 months $0 3.5 / 5
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Southwest and overall value 75,000 points for spending $5,000 in first 6 months $69 3.7 / 5
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card Anniversary bonus points 75,000 points for spending $5,000 in first 6 months $149 3.8 / 5

* Limited time offer

Research methodology

Airline credit cards analyzed: 148

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

Multiple criteria influenced how we picked the best card for each airline. We recognize that the best things any airline card can do for you is to help you save on airfare with free flights and make the airport/flying experience more tolerable (and, with the right perks, even enjoyable). For a full list of criteria and more detail on our review scores, see our ratings process for airline cards.

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, such as the Blue Delta SkyMiles with 2X miles at U.S. restaurants. 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 (pun intended) in earning all those amazing 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.

In addition to co-branded cards, there are credit cards that solely present the bank brand but still partner with airlines for redeeming points or miles, such as Venture Rewards and Sapphire Preferred.

“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.”

To summarize, an airline credit card will be a great fit for you if:

  • You spend a significant amount of money specifically on air travel every year. If you don’t travel often, or if the destinations you frequent aren’t offered through your airline and associated partners of choice, you might want to consider getting a generic travel credit card that allows you to transfer points to your travel program of choice.
  • You have good or excellent credit. You will want to have a FICO credit score of at least 670 before applying for an airline rewards credit card, which typically requires great credit.
  • You are able to pay off your balance each month. Interest charges are no joke, and can quickly cost you far more than your rewards are worth. Ideally, you should be debt-free and always avoid carrying a balance on any credit card you hold.

How to compare 2 different airline cards

With all those great choices, picking the right airline card can seem overwhelming. Well, we do the heavy lifting to help you make the right decision. Here are the factors you should consider when choosing between 2 airline credit cards. As an example, we’ll compare the AAdvantage MileUp card and the United Explorer card as we go.

Sign-up bonus

Consider which card’s sign up bonus is more lucrative and attainable. While the United Explorer card offers a giant bonus, it requires a giant 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 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*.

Ongoing rewards

Some airline credit cards offer rewards outside of the realm of airline royalty, making them competitive with general purpose travel 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 stay in hotels and eat out often, 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.

Benefits

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.

Annual Fee

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.

Putting it all together…

Assuming you’re already a heavy spender, the United Explorer card is a much more lucrative option, at least for the first year. If you can meet the card’s sign-up bonus spend requirement of $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll get 60,000 miles, worth about $780 in travel. If you spend an average amount on eating out and at least $500 on other purchases each month, you’ll earn close to 13,000 more miles in a year, worth about $170 in travel. In total, you’ll have cleared more than 70,000 miles in your first year, worth close to $1,000 in travel.
Meanwhile, the MileUp card is a much better fit for modest spenders and may have more long-term everyday value if you don’t mind its paltry perks. If you meet the card’s bonus spend requirement of $500 in the first 3 months and spend an average amount on groceries and at least $500 on other purchases each month, the MileUp card will get you close to $350 worth of travel in the first year.
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 60k miles (with $3k spend in 3 months)*1.3 cents=$780 2X*$288 (dining)*12 months=$90 1X*$500*12 months=$78 $95 (waived first year) $1,013
AAdvantage MileUp 10k miles (with $500 spend in 3 months)*1.4 cents=$140 2X*$372 (groceries)*12 months=$125 1X*$500*12 months=$84 $0 $349

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 (waived first year) $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

How to earn airline miles

It may seem straightforward – spend on your card, get miles, redeem, rinse and repeat. But there’s more to it than you’d think. You’ll want to time your purchases, time which card you use, and more.

Time your purchases

This is a big one. You’ll want to make sure, for example, that you spend the required amount before the sign-up bonus deadline hits. Typically, you have 3 months to spend a set amount in order to receive the sign-up bonus. Also, you may consider making a big purchase (that you can pay back in full) before a planned trip to top off your points. For example, you might plan to earn miles with fall renovations that can be used for your holiday trip to see New York City.

Time which card you use

Different cards offer different ongoing rewards, so it might be worth your while to have multiple cards, depending on your spending habits. So, you might use your Chase Sapphire Preferred on worldwide travel and restaurants, earning 2X points, while you can use your United Explorer card on hotels, earning 2X miles.

When do you get your miles?

Once you’ve earned your miles, you would think you would get them almost immediately, because you’ve met the requirements, but not necessarily so. For example, Chase says it will take 6-8 weeks before your sign-up bonus points are posted, but it can be less. That brings us back to making sure you time when you make your purchase, and ensuring that those miles will post before the big trip. Trying to earn miles to visit family in the next few months? Make sure you spend enough in time to get those rewards back in order to redeem them.

Choose what you redeem for carefully

Now that you’re on your way to earning points or miles, you may think the easy part is ahead. But not so fast.

Miles’ values vary not only between airlines but also between types of redemptions. For example, with the Delta SkyMiles, flights are valued at 1.35 cents, while upgrades are valued at an incredible 2.2 cents, while merchandise is only 0.4 cent. And programs such as AAdvantage allows you to redeem miles for everything from flights and upgrades to gift cards. But while the value of miles is strong for flight awards and upgrades (Business/First MileSAAver trades at a whopping 3.8 cents), that isn’t always the case for other redemptions.

Choose how often you redeem

You may be required to have a minimum before you can redeem, so check for that.

To maximize your redemption, you need a plan. And part of that plan is to redeem your miles as soon as you can while still reaching your goal. That’s because points can lose their value over time. For example, Qatar Airlines’ Qmiles were worth 1.1 cents in December 2017, according to our points valuation, and are now worth 0.8 cents. Also, the miles can even expire if you don’t pay attention to the rules.

Leverage your airline’s partners

Another note about paying attention to the rules: Played right, you can maximize the use of your miles. For example, British Airways is notorious for charging an incredibly high number of Avios (points) for redeeming seats in first and business class. Instead, you can check partners such as American Airlines to see if you can find a better deal.

You can do your own check to see how many miles you need from the airline’s website: Just look under the reservations page, and search for the section that mentions award flights. Most will offer a chart showing the regions to which they travel – usually broken down by continents – as well as a schedule showing how many miles it takes to get from one region to another.

Most popular airline rewards programs

Delta SkyMiles

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 1.2 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.

United MileagePlus

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.

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, which is inevitable when you’re lugging kids and skis to the slopes this winter. Booking is flexible and there aren’t a ton of hidden fees.

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.

British Airways Executive Club

Another 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.

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
Alaksa Airlines Yes, after 24 months of no activity Earn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
American Airlines AAdvantage Yes, afer 18 months of no activity Earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
British Airways / Avios Yes, afer 36 months of no activity Earn or redeem Avios at least once every 36 months
Cathay Pacific / Asia Miles Yes, afer 36 months after earning No way to keep from expiring
Delta No N/A
Etihad Yes, afer 24 months after earning No way to keep from expiring
Air France / KLM (Flying Blue) Yes, afer 24 months of no activity Earn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
JetBlue No N/A
Qantas Yes, afer 18 months of no activity Earn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards Yes, afer 24 months with no earning activity Earn points at least once every 24 months
United MileagePlus No N/A
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Yes, afer 36 months of no activity Earn or redeem miles at least once every 36 months

Can you transfer miles between airlines?

A lot of people consider airline miles to be comparable to cash. However, airline miles are a little bit more like currency from different countries: Many places will not allow you to pay with money from another country.

Similarly, you can’t transfer points between frequent flyer programs in most cases, even if the airlines are partners. Partnerships such as OneWorld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam typically allow you to earn miles when you fly on one airline, and redeem those miles you earn for flights on a carrier within the same network. However, most of those airlines won’t allow you to transfer miles directly from one carrier to another, because there is no financial benefit to them for doing so.

But there are some exceptions to the rule. British Airways and Iberia share the Avios frequent flyer program. So while your points in each program remain separate and distinct, you can transfer them freely between the two so long as both accounts are at least 3 months old.

Just because you can’t transfer points back and forth, however, doesn’t mean that you are stuck with a single carrier for life. Most airlines within the major alliances will allow you to use your mileage stash with that brand to book award flights on partner airlines.

For example, an American Airlines frequent flyer can use AAdvantage miles to book a flight on British Airways, and the cost of that ticket will be based on the American Airlines mileage award chart. So even though that traveler will physically fly on a British Airways flight, the passenger is subject to all of American’s ticketing rules; responsible for paying any change or redeposit fees to American; and must contact American – not British Airways – with any problems or issues that may arise before departure.

Related Travel and Rewards Card Categories:

If you’re interested in learning more about airline credit cards, check out our reviews section where we go into detail about our top picks and several others. Additionally, consider our top picks from the following categories to use on your air travel:


* All points and miles valuations have been provided by The Points Guy

† All information about The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is no longer available through CreditCards.com.


Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura’s work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at laura.mohammad@creditcards.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.


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