Free plane tickets from rewards points are of the top reasons to sign up for an airline rewards credit card. Some people choose an airline credit card for other purposes like prestige and exclusivity, but most of the best flight credit cards offer travel rewards that can’t be beaten.
If you choose correctly, airline credit cards should upgrade your flight experience from check-in to takeoff. Take a look at our top airline credit card choices.
American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator MasterCard
The AAdvantage Aviator MasterCard is different from other rewards cards in that it doesn’t require you to spend a specific dollar amount on qualifying for the signup bonus.
As long as you make one purchase in the first 90 days, you’ll qualify for a bonus of 60,000 miles. After that, you earn 2 points for every dollar spent at grocery stores and when using grocery delivery services.
Each $1 you spend on American Airlines flights also earns 2 points. The APR ranges from 15.99 to 24.99 percent, which is competitive for this type of credit card.
But the AAdvantage Aviator stands out because it’s one of few that doesn’t charge an annual fee, making it an excellent option for anyone who likes to fly with American Airlines that doesn’t travel often.
This means that you aren’t hit with fees when you don’t need to use it. Other perks include free checked baggage, preferred boarding, and discounts when you spend money on board.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a popular credit card for airline rewards. Though it isn’t issued through an airline, you can earn points when you book flights using your Chase card.
This card is an excellent option for anyone who isn’t loyal to a specific airline. Your points can also be transferred to airlines and hotel partners, including United Airlines, British Airways, JetBlue, and Marriott.
The annual fee of $95 is competitive, given its generous rewards program. When you sign up, you’ll receive a 60,000 bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the card.
The intro bonus gives you $750 towards the purchase of an airline ticket or your choosing of other travel costs. Each time you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel or dining, you earn 2x points. Travel can mean anything from parking fees around the city to Lyft and Uber rides.
Dining includes delivery services in addition to bars and restaurants. The credit card comes with trip delay insurance in case your plans change last minute.
Skip rental car insurance coverage because you’re covered under the Chase Sapphire Preferred travel program. Once you own the credit card for a year, you can upgrade to the more exclusive Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card.
The card comes with an annual fee of $550 but earns 3x points on travel and dining, which can mean significant savings if you have to travel a lot for work. You can also earn up to $300 in annual travel credits to use on just about all your travel expenses.
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express
The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express is a top airline credit card for Delta loyalists since you can earn 3x points on Delta purchases, including flights and in-flight expenses. You also earn 3x points for hotel purchases, including the cost of rooms and incidentals.
Cardholders get a discount on entry to the Delta Sky Club, an exclusive airport lounge that offers WiFi, bar service, and more. Both you and two guests can access the Delta Sky Club for a rate of $39.
Your first checked bag is free, and you’ll get priority placement onboard Delta flights in Main Cabin 1. Cardholders get 2x points when spending in restaurants and grocery stores and 1x miles on any other purchase.
In-flight discounts are given in the form of a 20 percent statement credit after you buy things like cocktails, headphones or premium food. No foreign transaction fees are making this a great card to use when traveling internationally, but there is a $250 annual fee to own the card.
The signup bonus is one of the best in its category. You’ll earn 45,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) as long as you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of owning the card.
You also earn a $100 statement credit if you use your card for any Delta-related purchases within the 3 months. Spending more than $25,000 on your card in a calendar year brings you closer to Medallion Status with a new feature called Status Boost.
With Status Boost, you earn an additional 10,000 MQMs for reaching the $25,000 threshold for the year.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card isn’t the cheapest option around. You can spend less in annual fees with its sister cards, but you’ll be giving up on major perks if you’re a Southwest Airlines loyalist.
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card, you get 40,000 in bonus points when you spend more than $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening a new account. Each year after that, you earn 7,500 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary.
You’ll also earn a $75 travel credit, 4 upgraded flights per year, and 20 percent discounts on in-flight WiFi and drinks. Purchases made with Southwest Airlines and its partners earn 2 points for every $1 spent.
You earn 1 point for every $1 spent with all other retailers. There are no foreign transaction fees, but a $149 annual fee is charged to your card each year.
The most significant disadvantage to owning the card is the lack of access to premium perks like that of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express. It’s the best card Southwest has to offer, but you don’t have access to the airport lounge or have priority boarding on every flight.
Still, you do have the opportunity to increase your travel status to Companion Pass, the brand’s elite travel program, with each purchase. You’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points each time you have $10,000 in purchases.
The Companion Pass means you can bring a friend along on a flight for free each time you purchase or redeem points for a trip.
You’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points in a year to be admitted into the program. But signup bonuses and anniversary bonuses count.
The A-List program is one step down from the Companion Pass status. A-List perks include free WiFi and a 100 percent points bonus for Southwest flight purchases instead of the standard 25 percent.
You can get to A-List status by earning 70,000 tier-qualifying points in one calendar year.
United Explorer Card
You’ll get many of the same perks as other airline rewards credit cards but flexible perks like a guest pass to the United Club.
If you spend more than $2,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account, you earn 40,000 in bonus miles. There’s no annual fee for the first year, then you’ll pay $95 per year.
Cardholders get 25% back on United inflight purchases and up to $100 on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees. There is no cost to check your first bag as long as you buy your plane ticket using a credit card.
You’ll earn 2 miles for every $1 you spend at restaurants, bars, and hotels. A variable APR is ranging between 16.49 percent to 23.49 percent.
The United Explorer card isn’t an excellent option for balance transfers with a higher than average fee of 5 percent for transfers. The minimum payment is $5. This card is a great option if you’re looking for a branded credit card which competitive perks and have good credit.
But if you have stellar credit, there are better airline credit card options available with no annual fee and better bonus points.
Alaska Airlines Visa
If you travel on Alaska Airlines at least once a year, this airline rewards card can be a great option. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card offers an annual Companion Fare.
The Companion Fare means getting a ticket for a friend for only $99 plus taxes and fees every year. The flight routes are relatively limited with Alaska Airlines, making it a good option only if you live in Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest.
The annual fee is modest at $75 each year, and you’ll earn 3x points on Alaska Airlines purchases. When you signup for a new account, you get a $100 statement credit and 40,000 bonus miles as long as you spend $2,000 or more in the first 3 months.
You and up to six other passengers on the same reservation can check a bag for free even if you don’t buy the plane ticket using your Alaska Airlines Visa. This saves around $30 per person each way.
Cardholders also get 50 percent off day passes to the Alaska Lounge network, an exclusive airport club for travelers. You’ll also receive 20 percent back on any in-flight purchases.
JetBlue Plus Card
JetBlue loyalists should consider the higher than average points system offered through the JetBlue Plus Card. Instead of the usual 2x to 3x points offered by airline credit cards, you’ll earn 6x points on all JetBlue purchases.
That’s an incredible saving if JetBlue flies to airports in your city. Cardholders earn 2x points at restaurants, and grocery stores and other purchases earn 1 point for every dollar spent.
There’s a 5,000 point bonus on your cardmember anniversary each year. You’ll get a free checked back and 50 percent discount on in-flight expenses. There are tiers to elevate you to more exclusive perks as you spend.
For example, after you spend more than $50,000 in a calendar year, you reach JetBlue Mosaic status. This means free in-flight drinks and having your cancellation and change fees waived.
JetBlue Mosaic status members also get two free checked bags per flight. There’s a $99 annual fee that quickly pays for itself when you book your flights using your card.
Flying with JetBlue isn’t convenient if you aren’t near one of its hub cities like New York or Boston.
The airline also flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, and parts of South America. The points you earn with the JetBlue Plus Card don’t expire which means you can use them anytime when booking with JetBlue, or its partner Hawaiian Airlines.
Discover It Miles
With the Discover It Miles card, you’ll get an unlimited signup bonus. New account holders get 1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase plus Discover matches every aspect you earn at the end of your first year.
This means you can earn as much as you want in bonus miles during the first year. Choose between converting your miles to cashback or use it for travel at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
This is an excellent incentive for travelers who want flexibility in how rewards are redeemed. Usually, opting for cashback means taking a loss when it comes to mileage redemption.
The points system isn’t the highest available, but relatively good when you consider there’s no annual fee and an uncapped signup bonus. This card is an option for travelers who aren’t tied to a specific airline and don’t want to feel obligated to use their travel cards on a regular basis.
Choosing Airline Rewards Credit Cards
The number of airline rewards credit cards can be dizzying. Choosing between branded and general travel cards should be based on how often you travel and where you live. In some cities, it doesn’t make sense to own a branded credit card because flight routes are too limited to give you the full benefits of earning points.
But if you’re in a major hub for an airline, you can earn thousands of points per year if you travel a lot for work or play. Consider your specific travel needs to avoid getting stuck with a card with high fees that you rarely use.