What is the best airline credit card?
What’s your favorite type of travel rewards credit card? Maybe you’re a fan of hotel rewards cards, which are great for frequent travelers who want to rapidly accumulate points on hotel purchases, then redeem them for free nights or incidental expenses at their favorite hotels. Perhaps you prefer traditional cash-back cards with attractive bonuses on gasoline or restaurant purchases, both of which can get expensive for regular travelers.
In addition to these useful card types, many frequent travelers prefer another option: airline rewards. Many major U.S. airlines have at least one branded credit card that you can tap for free or discounted flights and a host of value-added perks that directly reduce the cost of traveling or make the experience more comfortable.
Airline rewards cards vary from issuer to issuer, but most share some common characteristics. Airfare and possibly other types of travel purchases earn points at accelerated rates. Other purchases may earn points at lower rates.
Best Airline Credit Cards for Flight Miles and Rewards
These are the best airline credit cards on the market right now. Each creates value in its own way, whether that’s with an annual companion certificate worth hundreds of dollars per year or complimentary airport lounge access for the cardholder and their ticketed companions.
Our top overall pick offers the most value for the greatest number of would-be users, in our opinion.
Best Overall: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is the best airline credit card on this list — and one of the best travel credit cards overall — because it excels on so many levels. Key flyer-friendly features include:
- Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
- Get a $200 airline fee credit each year with the airline of your choosing (enrollment required)
- Complimentary access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide (enrollment required)
- Up to $200 in Uber credits per year (enrollment required) — a great benefit after you land in your destination
That’s not all. Although it does have a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees), the Platinum Card has some other incredibly generous benefits for travelers and nontravelers alike. Key additional features include:
- Earn 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards points as a welcome bonus when you spend at least $6,000 within six months of opening your account
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent on prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
- Get perks valued at $550 on average per stay at properties in the Luxury Hotels and Resorts Collection (terms apply and enrollment is required)
- Qualify for complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status with benefits including an 80% boost to base Hilton Honors point earnings on qualifying paid stays and complimentary room upgrades where available (enrollment required)
- Qualify for complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and get a 25% boost to base Bonvoy point earnings on qualifying paid stays plus a welcome bonus of 500 points per stay
- No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)
- Terms apply
Best Welcome Offer: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card has an excellent welcome offer for new cardmembers. It stands out because it’s relatively easy to attain despite its potential value.
This bonus comes in two parts: Spend at least $3,000 in eligible purchases with your new card in the first three months to earn 60,000 bonus SkyMiles and 5,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs).
MQMs are Delta’s elite status currency. Starting at Silver, each of the four tiers unlocks progressively more generous benefits for members.
Meanwhile, the 60,000-mile bonus is enough to cover the cost of a domestic round-trip flight within the U.S. — with room left over.
- Earn 3 SkyMiles per $1 spent on eligible Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels
- Earn 1 SkyMile per $1 spent on all other purchases, except 1.5 SkyMiles per $1 spent on purchases over $5,000 (up to 50,000 additional miles at the 1.5-mile rate)
- With Status Boost, spend at least $25,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year to earn 10,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs)
- Spend another $25,000 in qualifying purchases ($50,000 total qualifying spend) to earn another 10,000 bonus MQMs, for a total potential annual spending bonus of 20,000 MQMs
This card has a $250 annual fee. For more information, see rates and fees.
Best for Frequent Flyers: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Credit Card
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is the best card for Delta fans chasing elite status. In fact, it’s the best airline card for anyone looking to accelerate their progress toward higher loyalty tiers while taking advantage of luxe traveler perks.
Delta SkyMiles Reserve’s key frequent flyer benefits include:
- Free airport lounge access with a complimentary Delta Sky Club membership
- A complimentary companion certificate once per calendar year, entitling one companion to free airfare, less taxes and fees, when you have a fully paid fare
- 15,000 bonus MQMs with Status Boost after you spend $30,000 on your card, up to four times per year (terms apply)
- General frequent flyer benefits like priority wait list, priority check-in and boarding, and baggage fee waivers
- Depending on your Delta Medallion status tier, other possible benefits include complimentary first class and Comfort+ upgrades, discounted CLEAR® membership, and complimentary upgrades for ticketed companions (terms apply and enrollment is required for all these benefits).
- Earn 3x SkyMiles on eligible Delta purchases
- 1x SkyMiles on all other eligible purchases
- $550 annual fee (see rates and fees)
- No foreign transaction fee
Best for Discount Airfare: The JetBlue Plus Card
The JetBlue Plus Card is the best credit card for people who prefer — or at least don’t mind — to fly with discount airlines.
That’s in part because JetBlue is arguably the most pleasant U.S.-based discount airline to fly, and in part because the JetBlue Plus Card is a very generous product. Notably, this card earns JetBlue TrueBlue points (the airline’s loyalty currency) at an impressive clip.
Key features and benefits of this card include:
- For a limited time, earn 50,000 bonus TrueBlue points as a sign-up bonus after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days
- Earn 6 TrueBlue points per $1 spent on JetBlue purchases
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and grocery stores
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases
- Get a 10% bonus when you redeem TrueBlue points
- Get 5,000 bonus points after your account anniversary each year
- Get 50% in-flight savings on eligible food and drink purchases
- Get a free checked bag for you and the first three ticketed companions
- Qualify for JetBlue Mosaic benefits after $50,000 in annual spending
- $99 annual fee
Best for No Annual Fee: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card
Backed by Citi, the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is the only credit card on this list that doesn’t charge an annual fee after the first year.
If you fly American often enough to need an airline credit card but not so often that higher-end cards clearly offer better value, this is the card for you.
- For a limited time, earn 10,000 bonus AAdvantage miles plus $50 statement credit as a sign-up bonus when you spend $500 in eligible purchases within the first three months
- Earn unlimited 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- Earn unlimited 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases made with grocery stores and grocery delivery services
- Earn unlimited 1 AAdvantage mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
- Get 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights when you use your card
Best for Companion Airfare: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
If you love free companion airfare but don’t want to pay a steep annual fee for the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card — or you simply prefer to fly Southwest Airlines — the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is more your speed.
In fact, the Rapid Rewards Priority card has the best companion airfare deal of any airline credit card: Companion Pass. Once earned, Companion Pass entitles the traveling companion of your choosing to receive free airfare (less mandatory taxes and fees from $5.60 per ticket) every time they fly with you.
To qualify for Companion Pass, do one of the following in a calendar year:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights with Southwest
- Earn 125,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points
Once earned, Companion Pass is valid for the remainder of the calendar year, plus the following full calendar year.
- Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) toward A-List status for every $10,000 spent in purchases each year, with no caps on how much you can earn
- Get a $75 Southwest annual travel credit each year
- Earn 7,500 points every year after your cardmember anniversary
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on eligible Southwest purchases
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on eligible internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming purchases
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on eligible local transit and commuting purchases
- Get 25% back on in-flight purchases
- No foreign transaction fee
Best for Airport Lounge Access: Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card offers complimentary access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide through Priority Pass Select, a major global airport lounge network. Your traveling companions get in on the action too.
If you regularly travel with your family and transit airports with Priority Pass lounges — and most major international hubs have at least one — then you can easily offset the $550 annual fee with airport lounge visits alone.
- Get a $300 travel credit every year after your account anniversary
- Earn 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points as a sign-up bonus after you spend at least $4,000 in qualifying purchases within three months — worth up to $750 when redeemed for airfare, hotels, and other travel purchases through the Ultimate Rewards portal
- Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to around a dozen Chase travel partners at a 1-to-1 ratio
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent on air travel purchased through Chase Travel and 10 points per $1 spent on hotels and car rentals purchased through Chase Travel
- Earn unlimited 3 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on most travel (after earning your travel credit) and dining purchases worldwide
- Earn unlimited 1 Ultimate Rewards point per $1 spent on everything else
- Get up to $10,000 in eligible trip cancellation coverage and trip interruption protection
Best for Business Travelers: American Express Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business Card
The American Express Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business Card is the business version of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card. If you regularly fly Delta for business, this card absolutely needs to be in your wallet.
Key features and benefits include:
- Earn 60,000 bonus SkyMiles and 5,000 bonus MQMs as a welcome bonus after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months
- Earn 3 SkyMiles per $1 spent on qualifying Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels
- Earn 1 SkyMile per $1 spent on all other purchases, except 1.5 SkyMiles per $1 spent on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 50,000 additional miles per year)
- Get 10,000 bonus MQMs when you cross the $25,000 annual purchase spending threshold and an identical bonus when you hit the $50,000 annual purchase spending mark (terms apply)
- Enjoy a complimentary domestic companion fare (less taxes and fees) for one traveling companion on your ticketed reservation (terms apply)
- Enjoy priority boarding on all Delta flights, 20% discounts on select in-flight purchases, and a free first checked bag with every Delta reservation (terms apply)
- See rates and fees
Best General-Purpose Travel Card: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is the best general-purpose travel card for people who regularly travel by air.
Key benefits for air travelers include:
- No blackout dates on airfare redemptions, ever
- Earn 5x miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
- $300 annual travel credit against airfare and other travel purchases
- Up to $100 application fee waiver on your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership
- Transfer points to around 15 Capital One travel partners (including major airlines) at favorable conversion rates
- Earn 75,000 bonus miles as an early spend bonus once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
- Earn 10x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Earn 2x miles on all other eligible purchases
- Get 10,000 bonus miles every year, starting on your first anniversary — worth $100 when redeemed for travel
- $395 annual fee
Methodology: How We Select the Best Airline Credit Cards
We use several different factors to assess airline credit cards and narrow our list of the top offerings on the market right now.
Each of these factors has something to do with how these cards work, how much they cost, and how useful they are to travelers like you.
Some airline credit cards are closely associated with a particular airline. We refer to these cards as “co-branded.”
Co-branded cards aren’t necessarily better or worse than general-purpose travel cards. However, they’re clearly more useful for frequent travelers who are loyal to (or just travel often with) particular airlines. They tend to earn rewards at a faster rate than general-purpose cards and often have better redemption values on airfare too.
We feature a mix of co-branded and general-purpose travel cards. Where we promote co-branded cards, we look for those that offer clear value for the user.
Both co-branded and general-purpose airline cards have partner airlines.
For co-branded cards, the main partner airline is the co-branded airline. It’s often possible to redeem miles with other airlines in the co-branded airline’s alliance as well.
Not all general-purpose cards have partner airlines. Those that do tend to have point transfer arrangements with their partners, where you can convert points earned on the card into the partner’s loyalty currency at favorable conversion rates. This maneuver often unlocks higher redemption values than you’d get with the original points or miles.
All else being equal, we prefer airline cards with lots of different partners or particularly rewarding relationships with individual partners.
Rewards and Redemption
The rewards program and redemption terms are both really important to your experience as a cardholder — and as a traveler. Not surprisingly, we prefer airline credit cards with high rewards-earning rates and generous redemption values.
Sign-Up Bonuses (New Cardholder Offers)
Many airline credit cards offer generous sign-up bonus opportunities to new cardholders. You often have to jump through some hoops to earn these bonuses, but it’s usually worth it — hundreds of dollars in points, miles, or statement credits await on the other end.
Not having a sign-up bonus isn’t a dealbreaker. Still, we give preference to airline cards with generous welcome offers for new applicants.
No one wants to pay a credit card annual fee. Unfortunately, most of the top airline credit cards charge them — and the more generous the card, the higher the annual fee.
We look for value where we can. That is, when we find an airline card with an unusually low annual fee (or none at all), we bump it up in the rankings.
Frequent Flyer Benefits
All airline credit cards offer frequent flyer benefits in the sense that they earn rewards on airfare purchases and other types of purchases too. The more you fly, the more you earn, and the more opportunities you’ll have to redeem for free or discounted airfare.
Some airline credit cards go beyond this basic definition of “frequent flyer benefits” and deliver more value — sometimes much more. That value can take the form of accelerated progress toward frequent flyer tiers (loyalty status), which confer potentially valuable benefits, and perks like priority boarding and free checked bags.
Other Value-Added Perks and Benefits
To entice new cardholders, most airline rewards cards emphasize perks and benefits that indirectly raise cards’ value to cardholders. Notable ones include:
- Free or discounted airport lounge access
- Free or discounted companion airfare, ideally awarded at least once per year
- Application fee credit or reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership
- Discounts or special perks with participating partner hotels and car rental companies
- Purchase protections, such as coverage for items damaged or stolen after purchase
- Loyalty status with participating non-airline partners, such as hotels
Airline Credit Card FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Still have questions about airline credit cards? You’re not alone. Read on for answers to some of the most vexing queries about credit cards that earn airline miles.
What Is a Co-Branded Airline Credit Card?
There are really two types of airline credit cards: co-branded cards and general-purpose cards.
A co-branded credit card has a clear association with a specific airline, such as American Airlines or British Airways. Usually, that airline’s name is right there in the card’s name.
Co-branded credit cards earn their brand’s frequent flyer currency: Delta SkyMiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards points, and so on. The best way to redeem that currency is usually for flights or upgrades offered by the airline or its alliance partners. So co-branded cards are great for travelers loyal to specific airlines.
A general-purpose credit card is simply a travel rewards credit card that’s not directly associated with a specific travel brand. Examples include the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Capital One Venture Rewards card.
General-purpose cards have more versatile rewards currency. Often, there’s no inherent advantage to redeeming this currency for airfare over hotel rooms, rental cars, or other types of travel. Which is a good thing if you’re not so loyal to a particular travel brand.
How Can You Use Airline Card Miles and Points?
Although most airline rewards cards encourage holders to redeem points for flights or incidentals, many allow them to be spent on other travel-related purchases or even items that have nothing to do with travel. These include online gift cards, clothing, and even general statement credits.
Still, the best way to redeem miles or points earned on your airline credit card is usually for travel. On a co-branded card, that means flights or upgrades with the partner airline or airline alliance. On a general-purpose card, that means airfare, flight upgrades, or non-airfare travel purchases like hotel rooms or rental cars.
Can You Get Free Flights With an Airline Credit Card?
Yes. Many airline credit cards offer sign-up bonuses generous enough to cover the cost of a one-way or round-trip flight. You just need to spend a few thousand dollars in the space of a few months — or, better yet, make a qualifying purchase with the co-branded airline.
If your airline credit card doesn’t have a generous sign-up bonus, you can still rack up enough miles or points to get a free flight. You’ll just have to spend more on your card.
Should You Get an Airline Credit Card?
If you travel a lot for business or pleasure, it’s hard to make the case against keeping at least one airline rewards credit card in your wallet. If you don’t have a favored airline, a general-purpose travel rewards card works just fine to reduce your travel costs over time.
But airline credit cards — and premium travel cards in general — aren’t for everyone. These cards tend to have higher annual fees than other types of credit cards, and their rewards currency often isn’t as versatile.
If you instead prefer a card with better terms for carried balances and lower fees overall, opt for a low APR credit card with fewer perks and rewards. Even the most generous airline rewards programs and travel benefits can’t counteract the detrimental effects of carrying credit card balances for months on end.
How to Choose the Best Airline Credit Cards
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of legit airline credit cards on the market right now?
Join the party. It’s nice to have so much choice, but if you’re trying to come to a quick decision, it’s hard to know where to start.
Take a step back and ask yourself what you’re really looking for in an airline credit card. Consider:
- Whether you’re loyal enough to a particular airline to choose a co-branded card
- How heavily you spend on airfare in a given year, and with how many different airlines
- Whether you value in-flight perks like discounted food and beverages and priority boarding
- Whether you frequent airport lounges — or would if you could get in for free with your card
- Whether you could use an annual companion certificate in time
- How much you value frequent flyer status — and whether you’re willing to pay a higher annual fee to get it
- What other types of purchases you plan to make with your airline credit card
- Any other travel perks you value in an airline credit card
- Your credit score, which could affect your eligibility for these cards — most require very good or excellent credit
Answering these questions might not get you all the way to a decision. But your answers will definitely help narrow down your list. From there, review your options and choose the card that you feel best suits your spending patterns and travel habits.