Our Picks: Best Airline Credit Cards
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: With the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, earn two miles per dollar on all Delta purchases and two miles per dollar at restaurants worldwide. All other eligible purchases earn one mile per dollar. Get a 20% discount on Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages and headsets that you make with your card. This card also has no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee, and you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months. See our full review.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: If Delta is your preferred airline, this card can help you earn free award flights faster. Purchases from Delta and at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets earn 2 miles per dollar, and you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases. You’ll also get your first checked bag free on Delta flights, priority boarding on Delta flights and 20% savings as a statement credit when you charge Delta in-flight purchases See Rates & Fees). See our full review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Why this is one of the best airline cards: This card is firmly in the luxury travel category, with benefits like access to the Global Lounge Collection, up to a $200 airline fee credit and Fine Hotels & Resorts perks. Flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel earn five Membership Rewards points per dollar (beginning Jan 1, 2021, bonus points in these categories will be limited to the first $500,000 in combined purchases each year). Hotels booked through amextravel.com also earn five points per dollar. Those features help balance out the $695 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). See our full review.
United℠ Explorer Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: The United Explorer Card offers unlimited 2 miles per dollar on on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar. Cardholders get valuable airline perks, including up to a $100 fee credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, your first checked bag free, priority boarding and 25% back on United in-flight purchases. See our full review.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per dollar on flights with no cap on earnings, regardless of which airline you book. You can redeem on travel-including flights, vacation rentals, car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 15+ travel loyalty programs. This card charges a $95 annual fee. See our full review.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers a $300 annual travel statement credit against travel purchases charged during the year, including flights. Once you earn the credit, you can begin earning three points per dollar on travel purchases. You also earn three points on dining and one point on all other purchases. When you redeem points for flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 50% more in travel value. See our full review.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: The Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 5% cash back when you buy airline tickets or make other travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You also receive 3% cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. See our full review.
Discover it® Miles
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: This card will automatically match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. You’ll also earn 1.5 miles for every dollar spent, with no rewards cap. Convert your miles into cash, or use them to pay part of your monthly bill. See our full review.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: With the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, earn unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar spent on every purchase. Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. Transfer your miles to more than 15 travel loyalty programs, and fly with any airline or stay at any hotel with no blackout dates. This card charges a $0 annual fee and foreign transaction fee. The card offers 0% intro on purchases for 15 months, but 19.24% to 29.24% (variable) APR on purchases after that. This card also offers 0% intro on balance transfers, but charges a balance transfer fee after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months. See our full review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why this is one of the best airline credit cards: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers flexible redemption options when booking flights. Earn 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more, which can be redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards for 25% more value. Or, you can transfer points on a 1:1 basis to partner airlines and hotels. This card has a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. See our full review.
How Do Airline Credit Cards Work?
When you make purchases with your credit card, you earn points or miles that can be redeemed for free flights and for many other travel-related expenses. Often, travel spending on airlines, rental cars and hotels earns bonus points. Some airline credit cards even allow for higher point valuations when points are redeemed for airline rewards.
Most airline credit cards earn at least two points or miles per dollar on airline purchases.
Many airline credit cards earn rewards that you can redeem as cash back, travel bookings or transfers to travel partners. Some airline cards have rewards you can redeem with multiple partners, such as within an airline alliance.
Sign-up bonuses worth at least $100 are common, and many cards offer sign-up bonuses worth $500 or more.
Most airline credit cards have an annual fee, but a few waive the annual fee for the first year.
Many airline cards have a minimum annual percentage rate between 15.99% and 18.99%.
In addition to earning free flights, many airline credit cards come with travel perks such as free checked baggage, priority boarding, seat upgrades, concierge services or access to members-only airport lounges.
Is an Airline Rewards Credit Card Worth It?
Before you apply for an airline credit card, take a look at this checklist to see if these cards are a good fit for you.
- You frequently fly with the airline or plan to do so in the future. If you don’t travel frequently or visit destinations served by a particular airline, a general travel rewards card may be a better choice than an airline credit card.
- You have good or excellent credit. Airline credit cards usually require good to excellent credit. You should have a FICO credit score of at least 670 before you apply for an airline rewards credit card.
- You can pay off your balance each month. You should be debt-free and avoid carrying a balance on your airline rewards credit card, as interest charges can quickly wipe out any rewards you earn.
How Can You Choose the Best Airline Credit Card?
Airline loyalty, spending habits and preferences are different for every traveler, so the “best airline credit card” will differ from person to person.
When you’re trying to pick the best airline credit card, follow these six simple steps to evaluate each card:
1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
Co-branded airline credit cards sometimes offer the biggest benefits toward airfare and related purchases. Travel rewards cards provide broader rewards categories, but many don’t offer the same level of rewards for airline-based earnings.
Co-branded cards: Airline credit cards are often called “co-branded cards” because they are tied to a particular airline, such as Delta or United, which can limit your travel options.
If you’re signing up for a co-branded airline card, consider airlines with hubs at your local airport. For example, many frequent flyers in Atlanta fly with Delta because the airline has a huge hub there.
Travel rewards cards: With travel rewards cards, points or miles can be used for flights, hotels and rental cars without being restricted to a particular airline or an airline partner. They can also be redeemed for merchandise or cash back.
Take your time and decide which type of rewards will benefit you the most. The best type of credit card is the one that works best for you.
2. Calculate earning potential.
With the best rewards on airfare and related purchases made directly with the airline, co-branded airline cards promote brand loyalty.
General travel rewards credit cards often provide you with more chances to earn a higher rewards rate. They may offer broader bonus spending categories or simply earn a higher rate on all purchases.
3. Calculate sign-up bonuses and welcome offers.
Sign-up bonuses and welcome offers provide a lot of points or miles, but only after you meet certain spending requirements.
But a warning: Don’t get dazzled by a fabulous sign-up bonus. Make sure the credit card is right for you, apart from the sign-up bonus. In other words, keep a cool head and choose wisely.
4. Calculate redemption value.
For most travel rewards cards, one point is equal to 1 cent. Co-branded airline cards may offer from 1 cent to 5 cents per point, depending on the flight, but it’s difficult to put a consistent value on what you earn in rewards because it’s always changing based on flight prices, route, availability and more.
While some airlines have a published award chart you can use to estimate value, others don’t. Understanding how an airline card’s point system works is an important part of selecting a credit card.
Subtract annual fees from your potential earnings to estimate the true rewards value of a card. Although a card may have annual fees, the benefits and rewards could offset those costs.
6. Understand travel benefits.
Airline rewards cards come with benefits that can be helpful for traveling and making purchases. Many travel cards offer perks, including trip cancellation or interruption insurance, auto rental insurance, lost baggage protection and no foreign transaction fees.
Airline co-branded cards typically provide more valuable cardholder benefits than general travel cards. They may offer benefits directly with the airline, which could include free checked bags, priority check-in, priority boarding, companion tickets and access to airport lounges.
How Can You Maximize Airline Rewards?
Make sure the fees are worth it. Consider your plans for using the card, earning rewards and taking advantage of benefits. If you won’t use it enough to offset associated fees, the card may not be worth it.
Combine cards. If you have a general travel rewards card but often fly one airline, it may make sense to supplement with an airline credit card. Your general travel rewards card may offer better rewards on bonus categories, but your airline card will earn the most when you fly with that specific airline.
Maximize loyalty tier rewards. To do this, you have to travel as much as you can with a single airline. Keep close track of your qualifying purchases, points and flights, and find out when qualifications expire. Schedule your trips so that you can maximize earnings within the calendar year and earn a tier upgrade. You’ll need to think ahead to make it work out.
Maximize bonus category returns. Understand the criteria for earning bonuses, and keep track of any promotional programs your credit card company offers. Keep in mind that bonus spending with airlines may not be limited to flights. And don’t overspend to get the bonus or the rewards. Have a budget for your airline credit card and stick to it.
What Are the Perks of Owning an Airline Credit Card?
- Earn points for travel. Rewards can be a major incentive for frequent travelers. Airline credit cards may offer bonus points for purchases with the airline, for other travel-related purchases, or on categories such as dining, entertainment and groceries.
- Airfare discounts. Even when you’re not redeeming rewards points or miles, you may still be able to use your airline card to save money.
- Airline privileges. Many airlines offer special privileges for airline credit card holders, including free checked bags, priority boarding, discounts on in-flight purchases and seat upgrades. Your card may also get you into private airport lounges with complimentary beverages, snacks, internet access and workspaces.
- Travel perks and protections. Many airline credit cards waive foreign transaction fees, which is important if you travel overseas. They may also offer protection for travelers including trip cancellation insurance, car rental insurance, lost baggage protection and emergency assistance.
What Are the Drawbacks of Owning an Airline Credit Card?
- Complicated rewards structure. With airline co-branded credit cards, point valuations are fluid. Determining just how much a point or a mile is worth can sometimes be a challenge.
- Annual fees. Many airline credit cards have annual fees, so you’ll have to make sure your rewards will outweigh the cost.
- Higher purchase and balance transfer APRs. Purchase and balance transfer APRs for airline credit cards may be higher than other types of rewards cards.
- Credit score requirements. Airline credit cards are often reserved for consumers with at least good credit (FICO score of at least 670).
- Restrictions on earnings. Many airline credit cards only earn bonus points or miles on purchases with a specific airline. Or some bonus categories may only earn the bonus rewards rate on a limited amount of annual purchases.
- Restrictions on redemptions. Points or miles earned with an airline credit card may only be usable with a particular airline or with its partners. There may be blackout dates, which limit the flights you have access to as well as the dates when you can travel.
Alternatives to Airline Credit Cards
- General travel rewards credit cards. Some of the best airline credit cards are general travel rewards cards. But there are also cards such as the U.S. Bank Altitude Connect Visa Signature Card that you can consider if you want to earn travel rewards that aren’t as focused on air travel.
- Hotel credit cards. If your travel spending tends to focus on hotel stays, you can consider hotel credit cards. There is some overlap among the best airline, best hotel and best travel credit cards, but consumers loyal to a particular hotel chain can look into co-branded cards.
- Airline rewards programs. You can still earn in an airline’s frequent flyer program even if you don’t have a co-branded credit card.
U.S. News has helped consumers make money decisions for decades. Our ranking of the Best Airline Credit Cards factors in overall issuer satisfaction, APR, cardholder benefits, and each card’s annual fee, foreign transaction fee and balance transfer fee. We also consider several factors related to rewards: ease and flexibility of redemption, airline rewards earning rate, rewards redemption value and sign-up bonus value. Satisfaction data is based on an annual nationwide survey.
Our top picks include both co-branded cards and general travel rewards cards, so you can find a good option whether or not you’re loyal to a particular airline. Annual fees among top airline cards range widely, so be sure to consider whether you’d get enough value from a card to make up for any annual fee. Most of the cards on our list offer a sign-up bonus. Be sure to consider whether you could unlock the extra rewards with your normal spending.