Best Airline Credit Cards

How to Find the Best Points and Perks

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Airline frequent-flyer miles represent one of the first consumer loyalty programs ever developed. spearheaded by American Airlines in the early 1980s. In turn, airline-specific credit cards that allowed consumers to earn miles with everyday purchases were among the first cards to provide rewards.

The best airline cards provide a combination of strong introductory bonuses, generous miles or points rewards tied to the airline’s frequent flyer program, flexible points redemption, and solid travel-related benefits. While certain airline cards score higher than others based on these factors, begin your selection process with the carriers you prefer, if any. Also, consider other airlines that extensively serve both your home city and your frequent or aspirational vacation destinations.

Best Airline Credit Cards for October 2021: Find the Right Card for You

Best Overall : United℠ Explorer


Rating as an Airline Card
4.5
United℠ Explorer Card
Current Offer

Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services, on hotel stays, and on United purchases. Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

Based on our analysis, the United Explorer Card offers the highest value per mile earned of any airline credit card, and miles can be redeemed in multiple ways, including for flights with participating member airlines in its Star Alliance, one of the largest global airline partnerships. The compelling introductory bonus of the card really adds to the value of it because of the high value placed on redeeming those points with United. The annual fee is in line with its competitors and is waived the first year. The card does not charge foreign transaction fees which helps make it a good choice for international travel.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Valuable rewards program

  • Special benefits every time you fly United

  • Several travel benefits and protections

Cons
  • Fewer free checked bags than some competing airline cards

  • Higher spend required to receive the full welcome bonus

Read the full United℠ Explorer credit card review

Best Business Airline Card : United℠ Business


Rating as an Airline Card
3.9
United℠ Business Card
Current Offer

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, eligible local transit, and office supply stores. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. 5,000 mile loyalty anniversary bonus.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Cash Advance APR (%) 24.99%
Cash Advance Fee Either $15 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

We chose the United Business Card as the best airline card for small businesses because of its superior mile value, ability to earn bonus miles for United, restaurant, gas, and office supply purchases as well as excellent travel benefits. As one of the world's largest air carriers, United Airlines, along with its airline alliance partners, provides extensive and flexible business travel options to small business owners and their employees, adding to the value of miles earned through the card.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Huge bonus

  • Annual miles bonus if you also own a personal United card

  • Annual statement credit opportunity and complimentary United Club passes

Cons
  • Fewer free checked bags than other airlines

Read the full United℠ Business credit card review.

Best for American Airlines, Best for Gas : Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®


Rating as an Airline Card
4.2
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $99
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Plus 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

We chose the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard as the best airline credit card for American Airlines customers due to the combination of its reward structure and price point. We also chose it as the best airline card for gasoline purchases because of the bonus miles offered for those purchases. It offers above-average rewards earning rate on American Airlines and restaurants with a competitive earnings rate for all other spending.

The card also offers a strong one-time bonus after reaching relatively light spend minimums and a reasonable annual fee that's waived in the first year.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Generous 50,000-mile one-time bonus after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months of account opening

  • Strong 2 miles per dollar rewards on flight purchases

  • No annual fee the first year

Cons
  • Maximizing rewards value requires savvy—and probably an international destination

Read the full Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® credit card review.

Best General Airline Card : Chase Sapphire Reserve®


Rating as an Airline Card
4.0
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $550
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards(R) immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve isn't a co-branded airline card, but it offers a ton of flexibility in terms of transferring its points to various airline programs which helps make it our pick for the best general airline card. It has a competitive one-time point bonus, annual travel credit, and high rewards earning rate.

While the annual fee for this card is high, if you're an avid traveler, the annual travel credit can help justify it. Plus, it has numerous other travel-related benefits that make this the best card for airlines if you're not ready to commit yourself to a single airline.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Excellent points reward rate for travel and dining

  • Large bonus for new cardholders

  • Premium travel features

  • Points worth 50% more for travel bought through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Cons
  • $550 annual fee

  • Limited high-rewards categories

  • Strong credit recommended

Read the full Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card review.

Best for Lounge Access : The Platinum Card® from American Express


Rating as an Airline Card
3.5
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Current Offer

Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards(R) Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Plus, 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.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $695
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5X Membership Rewards(R) Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Earn 5X Membership Rewards(R) Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

The Platinum Card® from American Express is the best credit card for lounge access for travelers. In addition to the 1,200 Priority Pass airport lounges around the world, Amex Platinum cardholders also receive exclusive access to American Express Centurion Lounges.

When buying your airline tickets, you'll receive 5x points when booking flights directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel. Travelers will also enjoy $200 in annual airline fee credits to cover fees from your designated airline, $200 per year in Uber credits, and so much more.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Outstanding rewards on flights and hotel stays

  • Generous one-time offer for new cardholders

  • Exceptional luxury travel benefits

Cons
  • High annual fee

  • Limited bonus categories for spending

Read the full The Platinum Card® from American Express credit card review.

Best for Flexibility : Capital One Venture Rewards


Rating as an Airline Card
3.7
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Current Offer

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options.
Balance Transfer Fee 3% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that we may offer you. None for balances transferred at the Transfer APR.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

Our choice for the card with the best flexibility is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. This card is primarily known for its ability to book travel with "no blackout dates." Simply book your trip, pay with the card, then "erase" the travel purchases with your rewards within 90 days.

Customers may also book directly with Capital One's travel portal or transfer miles to 15 airline and hotel partners. This flexibility is ideal for offering numerous options when redeeming rewards.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • High rewards rate with no cap on earnings

  • Sizable one-time bonus

  • Flexible redemption options

  • Credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck every 4 years

Cons
  • Poor cashback redemption rate

  • Limited transfer partners

Read the full Capital One Venture Rewards credit card review.

Best Delta, Best for Groceries : Delta SkyMiles® Platinum


Rating as an Airline Card
3.6
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card
Current Offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion(R) Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021. Terms Apply.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $250
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets, and 1X on other purchases. Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost(R). Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus MQMs to help you reach Medallion Status.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card is our choice as the best option among Delta cards because of its robust miles earning structure with excellent bonus miles on Delta purchases, restaurants, and, notably, U.S. supermarket purchases.

Priority boarding and an annual companion certificate are also excellent benefits of the card. The annual fee is quite high relative to similar competitor cards but is easily justified for frequent Delta flyers, especially when considering the value of the rewards structure and the limited one-time bonus: earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion(R) Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021. Terms Apply.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Exceptional bonus offer for new cardholders

  • Outstanding travel perks

  • Spending helps achieve or maintain elite status

Cons
  • No free lounge access

  • $250 annual fee

Read the full Delta SkyMiles® Platinum credit card review.

Best for Southwest Airlines, Best Anniversary Bonus : Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority


Rating as an Airline Card
3.7
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Current Offer

Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $149
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2X points on Southwest(R) purchases. Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare. Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the top-of-the-line card allied with the airline, which typically scores very well in customer satisfaction surveys. While the annual fee is on the high side for an airline credit card, its perks and credits should more than justify the fee for regular Southwest customers.

Cardmembers get a 20% discount on in-flight purchases and are eligible to receive four upgraded boardings per year when available, along with an additional 7,500 points upon the anniversary of account opening each year.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Rewards are relatively valuable

  • Annual Southwest travel credit of $75 offsets a larger annual fee

  • No checked bag fees or reservation change fees

Cons
  • $149 annual fee, on the high side for an airline card

  • Limited to four complimentary priority boarding passes per year

  • Bonus categories limited to Southwest flights and travel partners

Read the full Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority credit card review.

Best for JetBlue : JetBlue Plus


Rating as an Airline Card
3.6
JetBlue Plus Card
Current Offer

Earn 70,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases and paying the annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.

Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $99
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1X points on all other purchases.
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER APR 0% for 12 Billing Cycles
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose This Card
  • Pros and Cons
Why We Chose This Card

The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card is the best credit card for people who fly on JetBlue. It earns 6x points for every dollar that you spend on JetBlue, which is twice as much as the no-fee card. Plus, you'll also earn 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores to get that much closer to a free flight.

This card also comes with a generous welcome bonus of 70,000 points with a relatively small $1,000 minimum spending requirement and annual fee payment both within the first 90 days. You'll receive 5,000 bonus points when you renew the card and you can achieve Mosaic elite status when you spend $50,000 in a calendar year.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Strong rewards program to earn free travel on JetBlue, double that of the no annual fee card option

  • Decent sign-up bonus with a relatively low spending requirement

  • Can earn Mosaic elite status based on spending

  • Balance transfer offer, which is relatively rare for an airline card

Cons
  • No introductory APR offer on new purchases

  • Annual fee not waived in year one

Read the full JetBlue Plus credit card review.

Final Verdict

When picking the best airline credit card, a mix of a generous welcome bonus, strong earning power, and excellent travel benefits for a reasonable annual fee is ideal. Airline credit cards can save money and time by offering complimentary first-checked bags and priority boarding for you and your companions. Additional perks, like airport lounge access and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck reimbursement, improve your travel experience before you board the plane.

Our choice for the best airline credit card is the United Explorer Card. It earns some of the most valuable airline miles of all of the domestic airlines and includes a welcome bonus of up to 70,000 miles. You'll earn 2x miles with United and on dining and hotels, and one mile per dollar everywhere else. The first checked bag is free for you and a traveling companion, which can save up to $140 on each roundtrip flight you take. Cardholders get reimbursed up to $100 every four years for Global Entry or TSA Precheck and receive two United Club lounge passes every year. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees when traveling internationally.

Compare the Best Airline Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee Standout Features
United℠ Explorer
Best Overall
$95 (first year waived) Up to 70k mile bonus; 2 free Club passes each year
United℠ Business
Best Business Airline Card
$99 75k mile bonus; free employee cards
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Best for American Airlines, Best for Gas
$99 (first year waived) Free checked bags and priority boarding
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best General Airline Card
$550 Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards(R) immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 13 transfer partners
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for Lounge Access
$695 Centurion Lounge & 1,200 Priority Pass lounges
Capital One Venture Rewards
Best for Flexibility
$95 No blackout dates; erase travel purchases with miles
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card
Best Delta, Best for Groceries
$250 50k mile bonus; 2x miles on groceries
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority
Best for Southwest Airlines, Best Anniversary Bonus
$149 $75 annual Southwest credit; 7,500 points upon renewal each year
JetBlue Plus
Best for JetBlue
$99 6x on JetBlue; 5k bonus upon renewal each year

Editorial Picks for Best Airline Credit Cards

United℠ Explorer Card

Best Overall

The United Explorer Card is the best overall airline credit card based on its earning power, high welcome bonus, and additional perks. Cardholders receive free checked bags, priority boarding, a 25% discount on in-flight food, drinks, and Wi-Fi, and two United Club passes every year.

United℠ Business Card

Best Business Airline Card, Best for No Annual Fee

The United Business Card is ideal for business owners. It has a sizable welcome bonus, offers employee cards at no charge, includes free checked bags and priority boarding, and gives 5,000 miles each anniversary when you have both the personal and business United cards.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

Best for American Airlines, Best for Gas

The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is the best card for American Airlines and gas based on its welcome bonus and 2x earnings on AA flights, dining, and gas. It offers travel benefits, offers an elite qualifying dollars (EQD) waiver based on spending, and waives the annual fee for the first 12 months.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best General Airline Card

The best general airline card is the Chase Sapphire Reserve because its points can be used to book travel at 1.5 cents each or transfer to 13 airline and hotel partners. Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards(R) immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Also, receive access to Priority Pass lounges.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for Lounge Access

The Platinum Card from American Express offers the best lounge access of any airline credit card. Cardholders receive complimentary access to over 1,200 Priority Pass lounges and Amex's exclusive Centurion Lounges.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for Flexibility

The best card for flexibility is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card because its points can be used to book travel, erase travel purchases, or transfer to airline and hotel partners. The card offers a simple earning structure and reimbursement of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card

Best Delta, Best for Groceries

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card is the best for Delta fliers and for grocery purchases. The card earns 3x miles on Delta and hotel purchases and 2x on dining and groceries, plus many additional perks that travelers enjoy.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Best for Southwest Airlines, Best Anniversary Bonus

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the best for Southwest Airlines because it includes a $75 credit for Southwest flights and four Priority Boarding passes each year. It also offers the best anniversary bonus with 7,500 bonus points every year that you renew the card.

JetBlue Plus Card

Best for JetBlue

For the best JetBlue card, we chose the JetBlue Plus Card because it has a higher welcome bonus, earns more points on spending, and offers free checked bags. The card also provides a 5,000 point bonus on renewal, and your spending can earn elite Mosaic status for even more benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Airline Cards Work?

Airline credit cards are partnerships between major credit card issuers like Citi and Chase and air carriers like United Airlines, Delta, and American Airlines. Such cards are now offered by even the smallest airlines, like Spirit and Allegiant Air. They allow you to earn miles or points on that airline on every dollar you spend—usually, one mile or point per dollar spent—along with higher earnings when the card is used to purchase tickets or services on the airline instead of something like groceries.

Cards may also offer better rates than the default of one mile per one dollar on select other purchases, such as dining, gas, or hotels. Rewards can generally be redeemed for flights; seat upgrades to exit-row, business-class, or first-class seating; hotel stays; car rentals; or destination-based vacation packages offered through the airline. Some cards in the market offer flexible “miles” on purchases that can be redeemed for travel on any airline through the issuers’ dedicated booking portals.

As an additional incentive, airline credit cards usually provide valuable benefits when you fly, such as a waiver of checked baggage fees, upgraded boarding status, and a discount on in-flight purchases like drinks, food, and Wi-Fi. Certain ultra-exclusive airline cards even offer complimentary airline lounge access, which some frequent fliers feel alone justifies these cards’ higher annual fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons of an Airline Credit Card?

Pros
  • Enticing introductory one-time bonuses

  • An additional way to earn miles or points without flying

  • Flying benefits such as earlier boarding

  • Discounts and fee waivers for certain services

What We Don't Like
  • Best rewards redemptions often limited to the airline itself

  • Significantly higher interest rates than other categories of cards

  • Annual fees common and sometimes substantial

Is An Airline Credit Card Right for Me?

When choosing an airline credit card, consider the following features:

  • Airline service to your city: Choose a credit card for the airline that services your local airport and flies to the destinations that you want to travel to.
  • Annual fee: If you're going to pay an annual fee, make sure that the card's benefits and rewards earned justify the amount that you pay. For example, the complimentary checked bag benefit can save a family of four over $200 on one round-trip flight.
  • Introductory bonus: Most airline cards offer a one-time bonus when you meet a minimum spending requirement. Make sure that you can meet that requirement to earn the bonus without overspending.
  • Rewards on carrier purchases: When you purchase flights frequently, you want an airline credit card that offers a bonus on the purchase of plane tickets.
  • Airline travel benefits: Many airline credit cards offer valuable carrier benefits like fee waivers for checked bags, early boarding priority, and discounts on in-flight purchases.
  • Additional travel perks: Airline credit cards may also offer travel perks not associated with the airline, including credits against the cost of TSA or Global Entry pre-check clearance and complimentary or discounted access to airport lounges.

How Much Is an Airline Mile Worth?

Our scoring of the various airline cards depends in part on the respective values of their rewards—and those, in turn, should be an important factor as you choose among the cards. These values are averages and your redemptions may be at a higher or lower value depending on how they are used.

Below are our current valuations for each rewards mile or point offered by the major U.S. air carriers.

Airline Value
United Airlines (MileagePlus) 2.16 cents
American Airlines (AAdvantage) 2.10 cents
Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles) 1.60 cents
Southwest (Rapid Rewards) 1.49 cents
JetBlue (TrueBlue) 1.30 cents
Alaska Airlines (Mileage Plan) 0.80 cents

How Do We Value Airline Miles and Points?

To arrive at those valuations, our research digs deep to compare the cost of buying flights to the number of miles required to acquire them through rewards. Where some other websites that cover cards take single snapshots of airfares, we research flight costs for a number of different fare classes, including economy, business, and first-class fares, and for both domestic and international destinations.

Further, we look at fare data for a number of advance-booking scenarios, ranging from one to five months prior to departure. A few caveats to our valuations, though. Fuel surcharges are not included in our calculations, in part because some airlines charge these and some do not.

Also, valuations are based on using rewards to buy further flights on the carrier; other redemption options may provide less value. Finally, despite diligent research, our valuations are only estimates; the precise value you’ll receive for each mile or point will vary by the transaction.

How Do You Choose the Best Airline Credit Card?

Consider the following features when selecting an airline credit card.

Airline Service to Your City

Only choose an airline that makes sense for you, based on where you live and where you might be flying. Even if you live in a major city that’s likely serviced by many airlines, you should check the frequency and departure times for flights to your preferred destinations. If your home is in a smaller city, you might have little choice but to select among a limited number of carriers that serve your area well. 

Annual Fee

Since many, if not most, airline credit cards carry an annual fee, it’s wise to assess that cost against the benefits you expect to receive. That involves calculating, at least roughly, the value of the rewards you expect to earn, based on your anticipated spending and miles valuations. Consider, too, the value to you of any other benefits or niceties the card offers, even if some (such as early boarding for flights) may be hard to quantify financially.

Introductory Bonus

Most airline cards offer a one-time bonus in the form of frequent flyer miles or points. However, these almost invariably require you to meet an initial spending threshold, sometimes of several thousand dollars within the first three or four months the account is open. Before opting for a card, be sure your normal spending can satisfy the spending requirements of its bonus, since failing to pay off the required spend quickly and carrying it as an ongoing balance could quickly negate the bonus’s value. And consider strategically planning any major purchase in order that it helps you meet the necessary bonus spending.

Rewards on Carrier Purchases

Airline cards generally reward spending on the carrier, for tickets or extra services, with higher earnings than the card’s norm—typically 2 or 3 miles or points per dollar spent. Consider the size of this “multiplier” as you choose between cards. The same goes for the elevated rewards for purchases in select categories like dining, gas, or groceries, which some co-branded and general travel cards also provide.

Extra Travel Benefits

Many airline credit cards offer valuable carrier benefits like fee waivers for checked bags, early boarding priority, and discounts on in-flight purchases. The cards may also offer travel perks not associated with the airline, including credits against the cost of TSA or Global Entry pre-check clearance and complimentary or discounted access to airport lounges.

Is it Possible to Transfer Miles or Points?

While you generally can’t transfer miles between frequent-flier programs, it is possible to book flights on other airlines that share membership in a global alliance. The biggest alliances (with their U.S. carriers in parentheses) are OneWorld (American Airlines), SkyTeam (Delta), and Star Alliance (United).

Within an airline alliance, you can then earn miles in one airline’s frequent flier program and redeem those miles for flights on another. However, you cannot transfer miles from one airline loyalty program to another. For example, miles earned on American Airlines can be redeemed on eligible British Airways flights just because they are both members of the One World Alliance. 

Credit cards that earn flexible points can be transferred to multiple airlines. American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citibank each partner with certain airlines and hotels so you can transfer your points to those loyalty programs.

How Can You Maximize Airline Credit Card Rewards?

Each airline’s frequent-flier program has its own rules and guidelines, but to maximize airline card rewards overall, follow these tips:

  • Book flights directly with your credit card issuer’s travel portal (if a general travel card) or the airline itself (if you have a co-branded airline card), rather than at a third-party travel site.
  • Avoid redeeming miles for merchandise or other non-travel-related options, as this will dilute the value you receive for each mile redeemed.
  • Take advantage of special fare deals the airline offers to boost the miles you earn or their value when redeemed.
  • Consider using online shopping apps and portals as a way to earn additional airline miles without flying.
  • Take advantage of points and cash payment options to reduce the number of miles or points needed to book your reservation.

Should You Get an Airline Card With No Annual Fee?

The vast majority of airline credit cards charge an annual fee, but a few of them have no yearly charge. In addition to no-fee co-branded airline cards, there are flexible airline cards, not associated with any particular airline, that have no annual fee. The credit cards with an annual fee generally offer better rewards and additional travel features compared with their no-annual-fee counterparts. If you fly regularly, then, it can be quite easy to justify the cost of the fee, whether through additional rewards or the value of perks such as waived checked-bag fees or credits for the cost of a streamlined security program.

If you only fly occasionally, compare the rewards and perks of the paid card versus the one with no annual fee. Sometimes even a single use of the perks makes it worth paying an annual fee. For example, getting free checked bags for you and your family can save over $200 on a single round-trip flight. That alone makes it worthwhile paying an annual of around $100.

When shopping for no-annual-fee rewards cards, many people find a better value in cash-back credit cards than branded airline cards. Although cashback cards usually don't offer travel benefits, the ability to spend the rewards any way you choose can be very attractive to some cardholders.

Are Airline Credit Cards Worth It?

While airline credit cards make great sense for people who travel frequently for business or pleasure, their value may be much lower if you aren't traveling a lot. Benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, and airport lounge access do not justify a card's annual fee if they are not being used. In an effort to retain customers while they aren't traveling, banks have added temporary benefits and expanded how travel credits can be used, such as groceries and dining.

Many people have continued to apply for or renew airline credit cards to receive welcome bonuses and earn miles on their purchases for future travel; others have canceled their card or downgraded to a no-fee version to save money on annual fees in the interim.

When you're ready to start traveling again, it makes sense to apply for a new airline credit card. You have the opportunity to earn a welcome bonus and can save money on checked bags when you fly.

Popular Airline Rewards Programs

Airline loyalty programs are free to join, so those who are interested in travel should open an account. This makes it easier to earn rewards when you travel, use a credit card, or shop with their partners. Additionally, you can opt-in to email newsletters to learn about the latest promotions, limited-time offers, and fare sales.

Here are links to the most popular airline rewards programs:

Methodology

To find the best airline credit cards, we gathered dozens of data points from every available airline and travel card. We then assigned a star rating for each of these data points to analyze the pros and cons of each card. Features such as the welcome bonus, rewards earned, airline benefits, additional perks, and annual fees all weighed into our decision. We continuously monitor data from the credit card issuers to ensure that we're offering the most up-to-date rankings for our readers so that they can make an informed decision before applying.

Meet Our Credit Cards Expert

Ben Woolsey is Investopedia's Senior Editor for Credit Cards. He has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including marketing for banking and financial institutions such as Associates First Capital and Bank One. Prior to Investopedia, he managed credit card content for CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com.