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If you want to book free flights, a credit card from an airline or bank partner with frequent flyer programs is a must. Not only can you earn miles for every purchase you make, but you can also earn a welcome bonus that will help you rebalance your frequent flyer account and book an award flight sooner than you think.
There is no best airline credit card; The right option for you depends on the airline you fly, whether you’re a loyal fan or want flexibility, how you want to use your miles, how convenient the annual fee is, and other factors.
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Personal Finance Insider has selected the best airline cards based on the value each card offers relative to its annual fee. To make sure we’re looking at the best airline credit cards, we’ve researched the recommendations and methodology of top airline lists from other websites like CreditCards.com, NerdWallet, The Points Guy and Wirecutter.
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In many cases, each publication’s pick for the best credit card for a given airline was different — and in this case, we arrived at our choice by asking which card offers the most value for the fee. its annual , excluding benefits. requires you to spend extra money to unlock it.
Note that we focused on credit card options for flying major US airlines, including the “big three” American, Delta, and United, as well as smaller popular carriers like Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, and Hawaiian Airlines. If you frequently fly another airline like Frontier, you may want to consider co-branded credit card options, but we won’t discuss them here.
Remember that we’re focusing on the rewards and rewards that make these credit cards great options, not the interest rates and late fees that outweigh the value of each point or mile. When using credit cards, it’s important to be financially disciplined by paying your balance in full each month, making on-time payments, and only spending what you can afford.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Ultimate Rewards points that can be used to book travel directly through Chase or by transferring to various airline and hotel partners, including United, British Airways, JetBlue and Marriott. So even though it’s not an airline co-branded card, you can still use your Sapphire Preferred points to book award tickets.
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Personal Finance Insider isn’t alone in recommending the Sapphire Preferred as the best entry-level card for travel newbies; Other publications in the credit card space — from The Points Guy to NerdWallet — sing their praises. It offers very strong discounts and rewards in exchange for a relatively modest annual fee.
With 2x points on travel and dining, you’ll earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all your spending. Travel includes everything from airfare to parking to hotels, and dining includes restaurants, delivery services, and even some bars. The Sapphire Preferred also offers one of the best sign-up bonuses among consumer credit cards, and you get some valuable coverage benefits, including travel delay insurance and rental car insurance.
If you’re interested in earning and redeeming travel points by applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred program, remember that you can always upgrade to its bigger sibling, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, after the first year. Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but also earns 3x points on travel and dining (vs. 2x) and offers up to $300 in annual travel credits that can be applied to almost any travel purchase.
Click here for more information on the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Platinum Card from American Express Who it’s for: Frequent travelers who want to earn the most points when purchasing airline tickets, as well as get some luxury travel benefits
The 9 Best Airline Credit Cards For Earning Miles To Book Free Flights
With a high annual fee, the Amex Platinum card doesn’t make sense if you only travel once or twice a year. However, if you’re on the road often, the card’s many premium benefits—from airline lounge access to $200 in annual airline payment credits—make it a worthwhile choice.
The Platinum Card earns a spot on our list of the best airline credit cards because it earns 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel. The points you earn are in the Amex Membership Rewards program, and you can use them to book travel directly with Amex or book award flights with more than a dozen airline partners.
Click here to learn more about the Amex Platinum Card. AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard Good for: American Airlines flyer
Welcome Bonus: 60,000 AAdvantage American Airlines miles after making your first purchase and paying the annual fee in the first 90 days
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AAdvantage Aviator stands out by offering a generous sign-up bonus that only requires one purchase in the first three months. It’s one of only two American Airlines cards at this price—the other is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®. The Aviator Card now offers a higher sign-up bonus, but also offers an introductory affiliate certificate for $99 per guest after you make your first purchase and pay the annual fee in the first 90 days.
In addition to these introductory benefits, the card offers several perks like a free bag, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight purchases that enhance your American flying experience.
You may be wondering why we are recently offering the Delta credit card with a $250 fee. Our answer: Even with a higher fee that goes into effect in early 2020, the Platinum Delta offers the best value among Amex Delta credit cards — and the fee increase comes with some new benefits.
Starting January 30, 2020, the Platinum Delta Amex earns 3x miles on Delta hotels and purchases, plus 2x miles on US restaurants and supermarkets. Thanks to these new and improved bonus categories, the card will now be a valuable option not only for earning bonus miles on your Delta purchases, but also for everyday spending. Additionally, starting in 2020, the card offers a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. This allowance may offset the annual fee increase.
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Other Delta Amex Platinum benefits that make it a favorite for Delta loyalists include a first checked bag, an annual companion certificate and priority boarding.
Welcome Bonus: Up to 65,000 miles combined – 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months and an additional 25,000 miles after spending a total of $10,000 on purchases in the first six months.
The United Explorer Card offers the benefits you’d expect from an airline credit card—a free checked bag (you must pay for your United flight with your Explorer Card to receive this bonus), priority boarding, discounts on in-flight purchases and bonus miles on airline purchases – plus some very valuable extras.
If you have this card (or any other United card), you’ll have extended access to United’s lowest-priced “saver” fares that help you save miles on your future flight bookings. The Explorer Card also offers two one-time United Club passes each year and an application fee of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
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This is another case where even though there are low annual fee options for an airline credit card, you are guaranteed a high annual fee based on the value you receive. Wirecutter and CreditCards.com single out the Southwest Priority card for overall value, and thanks to annual perks like up to $75 in Southwest travel credits and four upgraded boardings when available, we’re inclined to agree.
A statement credit of up to $75 on annual Southwest purchases drops the annual fee to $74 — lower than the annual fee of Southwest’s cheapest consumer card, the Premier Rewards Southwest Rapid Credit Card ($99).
Plus, the Priority card offers a bonus of 7,500 Southwest Rapid Rewards points each year after your account anniversary (these points can be used toward award flights) and you get 20% off in-flight purchases. If you fly Southwest once or twice a year, this card can easily cover the annual fee.
Welcome bonus: 40,000 Alaska miles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, get an affiliate fee starting at $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees starting at $22) after you make $2,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
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Alaska Airlines doesn’t have the largest route network among US carriers, but if you live in the Pacific Northwest or another area, the airline serves extensively, or if you’re flying from Alaska to Hawaii, it’s a great card.
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