Best Airline Credit Cards

Written by: Tracy Stewart | Edited by: Jeanine Skowronski | Reviewed by: Emily Sherman
|

September 15, 2021

Our editorial team and our expert review board provide an unbiased analysis of the products we feature. Our comparison service is compensated by our partners, and may influence where or how products are featured on the site. Learn more about our partners and how we make money. Please note: The star-rating system on this page is based on our independent card scoring methodology and is not influenced by advertisers or card issuers.

There are plenty of factors to consider when deciding which airline card is best for you. First things first, you want to choose a card that is co-branded or at least partners with an airline that offers frequent service to your nearest (or preferred) airport. You should also have a sense of what you’re looking for in terms of card perks and realistically assess if those perks align with your spending habits and how often you travel.

Why trust us? Our team of credit card experts examined over 300 cards to determine which airline credit cards offer the best value. When making our selections, we look at the card’s rewards rate, redemption value, ancillary benefits and other card perks, as well as any rates and fees charged by the card. We use a one-to-five star rating system to assess cards and provide valuable information on how to make the most out of these card offers. All card offers from our partners are assessed independently by our editors based on their research, opinions and other factors.

There are plenty of factors to consider when deciding which airline card is best for you. First things first, you want to choose a card that is co-branded or at least partners with an airline that offers frequent service to your nearest (or preferred) airport. You should also have a sense of what you’re looking for in terms of card perks and realistically assess if those perks align with your spending habits and how often you travel.

Why trust us? Our team of credit card experts examined over 300 cards to determine which airline credit cards offer the best value. When making our selections, we look at the card’s rewards rate, redemption value, ancillary benefits and other card perks, as well as any rates and fees charged by the card. We use a one-to-five star rating system to assess cards and provide valuable information on how to make the most out of these card offers. All card offers from our partners are assessed independently by our editors based on their research, opinions and other factors.

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021

BEST GENERAL AIRLINE CREDIT CARD
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:4.1 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
60,000 miles Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.49% variable
BEST FOR SIGN-UP BONUS
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Our rating:4.4 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

5X
Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3X
Earn 3X points on dining.
2X
Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
100,000 points Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Our rating:3.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3X
Earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases.
1X
Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
40,000 points Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Annual fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR NO ANNUAL FEE
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Our rating:3.7 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

1.5X
Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
25,000 points 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
BEST FOR AIRLINE MILES FLEXIBILITY
Discover it® Miles
Our rating:3.7 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

1.5X
Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
Discover Match® Unlimited Bonus: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable
BEST FOR LESS FREQUENT TRAVELERS
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Our rating:3.6 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

1.25X
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
20,000 miles Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
BEST FOR LUXURY TRAVEL PERKS
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Our rating:4.4 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

10X
Earn 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 6 months of Card Membership.
5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
100,000 points Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Annual fee
$695
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
BEST FOR AMERICAN AIRLINES
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card
Our rating:3.2 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
1X
Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro bonus
10,000 miles Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
BEST FOR ALASKA AIRLINES
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
Our rating:3.8 Our writers, editors and industry experts score credit cards based on a variety of factors including card features, bonus offers and independent research. Credit card issuers have no say or influence on how we rate cards. The score seen here reflects the card's primary category rating. For more information, you can read about how we rate our cards.

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards rate

3X
Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases.
1X
Unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro bonus
50,000 miles Get 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Annual fee
$75
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Back to top

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 cardBest ForAnnual feeIntro bonusRequired spend for intro bonus
Citi Premier® CardJetBlue/TrueBlue$9580,000 points$4,000 in the first 3 months
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardGeneral airline credit card$9560,000 miles$3,000 in the first 3 months
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardSign-up bonus$95100,000 points$4,000 in the first 3 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardSouthwest Airlines$6940,000 points$1,000 in first 3 months
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit cardNo annual fee$025,000 points$1,000 in the first 90 days
Discover it® MilesAirline miles flexibility$0Matches the miles you earned at the end of the first yearN/A
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardLess frequent travelers$020,000 miles$500 in the first 3 months
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressLuxury travel perks$695100,000 Membership Rewards® Points$6,000 on purchases in your first 6 months
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM CardAmerican Airlines$010,000 AAdvantage® miles and a $50 statement credit$500 in first 3 months
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit cardAlaska Airlines$7550,000 miles, plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22)$2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening

best airline credit cards of 2021

Editor’s picks: Airline rewards credit card details

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 or jump back to this card’s offer 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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on dining and 2X points on other 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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 15 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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

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 or jump back to this card’s offer details.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for Alaska Airlines

Why we picked it: This airline credit card comes fully-loaded with a decent rewards return rate (3X miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases, 1X points on everything else) and plenty of extras, including a free checked bag for you and up to six companions on the same reservation.

Pros: There’s a doubly rewarding sign-up bonus that lets you earn 50,000 miles and the Alaska Airlines companion fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after spending $2,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. You’ll receive that companion fare each year on your account anniversary, too.

Cons: The card carries a $75 annual fee, so be sure you fly Alaska Airlines enough for the long haul to justify adding it to your wallet.

Who should apply? If you fly Alaska Airlines with a companion even once or twice a year, you’re likely to appreciate this card’s benefits.

Who should skip? If you frequent a different airline or your travel patterns are more varied, consider a different travel credit card.

Read our full Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card review or jump back to this card’s offer details.


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.

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: For starters, an airline card offers rewards for loyalty to one specific carrier or alliance whereas a general-purpose travel card partners with multiple airline brands. If your closest airport happens to be a designated hub for a particular airline, you might find that airline’s branded credit card to be the most convenient.

With an airline credit card, you can often earn boosted rewards on travel and in-flight purchases. A general-purpose travel credit card tends to reward for a variety of categories, sometimes even offering rewards for all purchases. More recently, airline credit cards have begun to reward for everyday spending in categories such as groceries, although it isn’t nearly as common as with general-purpose cards. General travel cards also offer benefits such as Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits, while airline cards might offer complimentary checked baggage, seating upgrades and lounge access.

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.

Who should get an airline credit card?

It’s difficult to resist the temptation of an airline-branded credit card with their hefty sign up bonuses and fancy extras like lounge access, dedicated customer service reps and complimentary baggage. Who doesn’t want to stock up on miles and earn a free trip to some sunny isle? In reality, an airline credit card won’t be the best fit for everyone. If you rarely travel now, getting an airline card won’t necessarily be the impetus you think it will be.

However, if you already travel somewhat regularly, an airline credit card can save you cash on things like checked baggage and provide protections against lost luggage and trip cancellations. If you travel for business or even your side hustle, a good airline credit card can help take the sting out of business trips with frills like lounge access and upgrades. Best of all, the rewards you earn can be put toward future travel.

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 1.1 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.

  • 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. 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 programDo miles expire?How to keep miles from expiring
Alaska AirlinesYes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
American Airlines AAdvantageYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
British Airways / AviosYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn or redeem Avios at least once every 36 months
Cathay Pacific / Asia MilesYes, after 36 months after earningNo way to keep from expiring
DeltaNoN/A
EtihadYes, after 24 months after earningNo way to keep from expiring
Air France / KLM (Flying Blue)Yes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
JetBlueNoN/A
QantasYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
Southwest Rapid RewardsNoEarn points at least once every 24 months
United MileagePlusNoN/A
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn 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.

Are airline credit cards worth it in 2021?

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.)

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


Frequently Asked Questions