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What Are The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2018?

After reviewing 200 airline and travel credit cards, our team of analysts came up with a list of the best cards for earning free flights. For most people, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the best airline credit card because it offers a mix of industry-leading rewards, with versatility that makes it great for casual users and frequent flyers. Some consumers who are loyal to a particular airline or face specific circumstances will be better served by a more niche card, which is why we also broke down recommendations for other popular consumer categories:

Recommended Card

Best ForCredit NeededAnnual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardOverall Best ChoiceExcellent$95 ($0 first year)
Discover it® MilesNo Annual FeeGood/Excellent$0
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®American AirlinesExcellent$99 ($0 first year)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit CardSouthwest AirlinesGood/Excellent$99
United℠ Explorer CardUnited AirlinesExcellent$95 ($0 first year)
AeroMexico Visa Secured CardBad CreditPoor$25

Recommended Card

Best ForAnnual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardOverall Best Choice$95 ($0 first year)
Discover it® MilesNo Annual Fee$0
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®American Airlines$99 ($0 first year)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit CardSouthwest Airlines$99
United℠ Explorer CardUnited Airlines$95 ($0 first year)
AeroMexico Visa Secured CardBad Credit$25

If you're interested in learning more about each of our recommendations and their rationale, click on the categories below for our in-depth reviews. You can also check out our comparison tool -- it's the only calculator on the market that allows you to estimate the value of top airline credit cards based your spending habits.

Table of Contents

In-Depth Reviews of The Best Airline Credit Cards

Here we'll go over our justifications for why each card would maximize your miles or free flight options depending on the airlines you fly. We've also shared important notes you should be aware of that came from hours evaluating each card for different spending profiles and scenarios.

Best Overall Airline Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Annual Fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Purchase APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent Credit
Details
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is this years' pick for best airline credit card, due to its excellent rewards rate on travel and dining purchases (2.5% vs an industry average of 2%) and fantastic ongoing benefits (travel insurance, no foreign transaction fees). Get this card if you prefer to shop around for the best flights, rather than stay loyal to just one airline. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is also part of the best credit card rewards program, Ultimate Rewards. What makes it so good is that cardholders have the option to either book airline tickets or hotel stays directly through Chase's website or transfer their points at a generous 1:1 ratio to any of the 11 participating airline and hotel programs. The list includes United Airlines, British Airways and Southwest . No other credit card program comes with the same level of versatility and high value. Finally, you can get a best-in-class bonus (50k points) if you spend $4,000 on the card within the first 3 months of account opening.

There is a better luxury version of this card, called the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that we believe is more valuable for frequent flyers. That card comes with a high $450 annual fee, but delivers an unmatched rewards rate of 4.5% and gives users access to premium perks. Benefits like airport lounge access, a $300 annual travel credit and TSA Pre largely offset the card's high annual fee. If you're after the most premium experience, get the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. For everyone else, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the best miles credit card.

Best No Annual Fee Miles Credit Card: Discover it® Miles

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
13.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent, Good
Details
  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match™ details & other information.

The Discover it® Miles is our top pick for low spenders looking for the best features of an airline card without the yearly fee. Anyone spending less than $12,000 per year on their card should consider this over any other airline credit card. Unless you meet that $12k threshold, you'll end up paying more in fees for an airline cards than you'd get back in rewards. The Discover it® Miles is one of the few cards to provide users with miles without charging annual or FX fees for it. While these aren't traditional airline miles, you can still use them to pay for travel.

Finally, you should know that Discover is also running a great bonus where it will double all the miles you earned at the end of your first year. That effectively boosts this card's rewards rate to an excellent 3% for those first 12 months. With that rewards rate, it beats even some other airline credit cards on our list during that promotional period.

Best Credit Card for Southwest Airlines: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Annual Fee
$99
Purchase APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent/Good
Details
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card comes with some of the highest airline mile bonuses we've seen, making it a must-have for frequent Southwest flyers. The only other card currently offered by the carrier is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card -- which offers a substantially lower anniversary bonus (3,000 miles vs 6,000). That difference in ongoing bonuses tips the math in favor of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, despite the card having a slightly higher annual fee ($99 vs $69). This is the third year in a row that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has made it onto our list of 'Best Airline Credit Cards'. While many cards shift their bonuses and features around, the Southwest card has remained a consistently great option throughout the years.

Southwest Airlines offer the best (albeit difficult) companion fare benefit of any carrier we've come across, and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card can help you earn it. So long as you reach 110,000 miles within one year, you'll earn a companion ticket that you can keep reusing for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earned it, plus the following year. That's a potential savings of hundreds per flight. Companion fares are already rare enough, and airlines that do offer it will limit the use at one flight per year. Southwest is the only carrier to allow users to keep reusing it for multiple months. If you want to learn more, check out our analysis of the Southwest Companion Fare.

Best American Airlines Card: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Annual Fee
$0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year then $99
Purchase APR
17.49% - 25.49% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent
Details
  • 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines
  • 1 mile for every $1 spent otherwise
  • First checked bag free for you and up to four traveling companions
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% discount on in-flight purchases

American Airlines offers 5 co-branded cards, and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® stands out as a clear winner out of the bunch. It's the best credit card for earning AA miles and providing in-fight discounts. At the same time, it's reasonably priced -- costing just $99 per year (the annual fee is waived the first year). By contrast, other AA credit cards have annual fees as high as $450, and provide only incremental benefits that will be useful to fewer travelers.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® is superior not just among AA cards, but also among many other co-branded airline credit cards. The card has a 2.6% rewards rate on gas station and restaurant purchases. Most other airline cards don't give more than 1-1.3% in these categories. This extra reward makes it easier for users to earn more miles, which will in turn translate to more free flights.

United Airlines: United℠ Explorer Card

Annual Fee
$0 Intro for First Year, then $95
Purchase APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent Credit
Details
  • Extended for a Limited Time - Offer ends 8/15/18. 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open plus $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • New! Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • New! Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • New! 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Out of the three United credit cards available, the United℠ Explorer Card hits a sweet spot that makes it best for most United travelers. It's not nearly as expensive as the United MileagePlus® Club Card ($95 vs $450 annual fee), though it still comes equipped with a rich set of features. We favor the United℠ Explorer Card over the United MileagePlus® Club Card because the incremental half a mile more you earn with the latter is not worth its extra $355 in annual fees for the average United flyer. Our analysts calculate you'd have to spend over $50,000 annually in order to justify the yearly difference between the two.

It's worth noting that the United℠ Explorer Card currently offers an above-average welcome of 40,000 bonus miles with a midline spending requirement. To be eligible, you'll have to spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open, when most cards require anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 in the first quarter. That's enough to cover a round trip economy class ticket from New York to Los Angeles.

Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Annual Fee
$75
Purchase APR
16.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Good
Details
  • Get 30,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases
  • 3 miles per $1 on Alaska Airlines tickets, vacation packages, and cargo purchases
  • 5 miles per $1 spent using Mileage Plan Dining
  • 1 mile per $1 on all purchases
  • First Checked Bag Free for you and up to 6 companions booked on your reservation
  • Coach Companion Fare from $121 ($99 base fare plus taxes and fees from $22)

Out of the 22 co-brand airline cards we studied, none performed as well as the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card. This was the most rewarding frequent flyer card across most of the metrics we surveyed. It has a high everyday rewards rate (1.8% compared to industry-standard 1%), provides an annual companion fare worth hundreds of dollars, and free checked bag benefits on Alaska Air flights (for up to 6 passengers). Alaska Airlines also has a wide range of international airline partners, increasing the utility of the miles you earn. You can use Alaska miles to book flights with Aer Lingus, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and more. On top of that, Alaska recently purchased Virgin America further expanding the number of airports it can service.

Even if you don’t fly with Alaska Airlines frequently, this card is worth getting exclusively for the aforementioned companion fare. This is an extremely valuable and rare airline card benefit. For $99 (plus taxes and fees) you can book a second Alaska Air ticket at no additional cost. Take, for example, a flight from New York City to Los Angeles. Such a flight ordinarily costs $450 dollars per ticket. If you use a companion fare, your friend, significant other or family member can fly with you for next to nothing.

Best Airline Credit Card for Bad Credit: AeroMexico Visa Secured Card

Annual Fee
$25
Purchase APR
24.74%
Credit Needed Poor
Details
  • 3,500 First Use Bonus Miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate
  • 1 Club Premier Mile per $1 spent
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on Gas & Groceries
  • Double miles on gas and groceries
  • One mile per $1 spent on eligible net purchases
  • 3,500 first use bonus miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate
  • $99 Companion Certificate with renewal
  • Complimentary Baggage

The AeroMexico Visa Secured Card is available to people with less-than-stellar credit histories, and offers a decent set of airline benefits at the same time. If you have bad credit there aren't many airline credit cards you can qualify for, so this card is a rare gem. The AeroMexico Visa Secured Card provides its users with the types of perks usually reserved for cards open to people with good credit, like a competitive 2% rewards rate on Aeromexico airfare purchases, free checked bags and an annual $99 companion certificate -- all for a relatively low annual fee of $25.

While Aeromexico predominantly flies around North and South America, it's part of the SkyTeam airline alliance. That means you can use all the miles you earn to book flights on 20 different airlines, including Delta, KLM and Air France.

Compare Airline Credit Cards

If you're looking for a specific airline credit card that we may not have mentioned in our top list, we've created a handy tool that lets you compare airline credit cards. Take a look at how rewards with each card performs specifically for you by inputting your expenses.

Assumptions Based On Monthly Spend of: $1,430 Edit
General:
U.S. Gas Stations:
U.S. Supermarkets:
Airlines:
Hotel:
U.S. Restaurants:
Office:
Utilities:
Computing:
Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s welcome bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any welcome bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card and on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
$69 3.43%
$731
Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first 3 months of opening your account
$1,176
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.017 = $583
Bonuses
40,000 x $0.017 = $680
3,000 x $0.017 = $51
Less Annual Fees -$138
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,176

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $69
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
$99 3.40%
$782
Get 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account
$1,167
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.017 = $583
Bonuses
40,000 x $0.017 = $680
6,000 x $0.017 = $102
Less Annual Fees -$198
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,167

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $99
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more
United℠ Explorer Card
$0 Intro for First Year, then $95 2.98%
$560
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
$1,023
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.014 = $558
Bonuses
40,000 x $0.014 = $560
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,023

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0 Intro for First Year, then $95
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Extended for a Limited Time - Offer ends 8/15/18. 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open plus $100 statement credit after your first purchase.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • New! Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • New! Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee Credit
  • New! 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95 3.00%
$625
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
$1,028
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 39,840 x $0.013 = $498
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.013 = $625
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,028

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card
$75 2.94%
$540
Get 30,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases
$1,008
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.018 = $618
Bonuses
30,000 x $0.018 = $540
Less Annual Fees -$150
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,008

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $75
APR 16.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Get 30,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases
  • 3 miles per $1 on Alaska Airlines tickets, vacation packages, and cargo purchases
  • 5 miles per $1 spent using Mileage Plan Dining
  • 1 mile per $1 on all purchases
  • First Checked Bag Free for you and up to 6 companions booked on your reservation
  • Coach Companion Fare from $121 ($99 base fare plus taxes and fees from $22)
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
$0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year then $99 3.11%
$702
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases the first 3 months
$1,066
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.014 = $463
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.014 = $675
1,000 x $0.014 = $14
1,000 x $0.014 = $14
Less Annual Fees -$99
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 1,066

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0 Intro Annual Fee for the first year then $99
APR 17.49% - 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines
  • 1 mile for every $1 spent otherwise
  • First checked bag free for you and up to four traveling companions
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% discount on in-flight purchases
Discover it® Miles
$0 2.25%
$257
INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
$772
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 51,480 x $0.01 = $515
Bonuses
257 x $0.01 = $257
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 772

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 13.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • INTRO OFFER: Discover will match ALL the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 30,000 Miles, you get 60,000 Miles.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your Miles as a statement credit towards travel purchases.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match™ details & other information.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
$450 1.55%
$750
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
$530
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 45,360 x $0.015 = $680
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.015 = $750
Less Annual Fees -$900
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 530

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $450
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50K 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®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card for 2017’ by MONEY® Magazine
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
$95 1.90%
$500
50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
$653
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 34,320 x $0.01 = $343
Bonuses
50,000 x $0.01 = $500
Less Annual Fees -$190
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 653

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $95
APR 17.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios.
  • Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.
  • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
  • In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
  • Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home.
AeroMexico Visa Secured Card
$25 1.33%
$35
3,500 First Use Bonus Miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate
$455
Graph Card More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 47,040 x $0.01 = $470
Bonuses
3,500 x $0.01 = $35
Less Annual Fees -$50
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 455

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $25
APR 24.74%

Card Details

  • 3,500 First Use Bonus Miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate
  • 1 Club Premier Mile per $1 spent
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on Gas & Groceries
  • Double miles on gas and groceries
  • One mile per $1 spent on eligible net purchases
  • 3,500 first use bonus miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate
  • $99 Companion Certificate with renewal
  • Complimentary Baggage

How We Arrived at Our Top Airline Picks

Our team went through 65 airline credit cards, and 135 general travel cards to arrive at our seven recommendations above. We arrived at our sample by collecting credit card details from America's 10 largest credit card issuers, including Citibank, Chase, Capital One and Discover. We also considered recommendations left for us by users, as well as those frequently appearing on other review sites. We then proceeded to cut through our exhaustive list, based on rigorous criteria established by our team. This was done by determining a minimum set of requirements that a good airline card ought to fulfill, like having no foreign transaction fees or a high rewards rate. We detail the criteria below.

Finally, to truly study airline credit cards we needed to have a deep understanding of each card's frequent flyer program. That's why our team also looked into factors like how easy it is to redeem miles, their value, award seat availability, the prevalence of blackout dates, and transferability. That last factor was scored based on an airline's partnerships and alliances, which allow users to book free flights across more than just one frequent flyer program.

The Selection Criteria

Rewards rate greater than 3% Our first step was to eliminate any credit card that provided consumers less than a 3% return on travel or airfare purchases. Cardholders that typically get approved for airline credit cards have good-to-excellent credit scores, and in this subcategory of rewards cards that '3%' mark is what we consider the cream of the crop. The only exception to this rule are no-annual-fee cards. For these, consumers should expect to get at least 1.5%-2% back on their purchases.

Loyalty bonuses We gave strong preference to co-branded cards that provide cardholders with extra incentives, like priority boarding, free checked bag benefits or in-flight meals. If you're going to subscribe to a particular airline's credit card, you should expect something extra for that loyalty, beyond the standard elevated rewards rate (which you could get from a regular rewards credit card).

No foreign transaction fees A top-notch airline credit card shouldn't charge any foreign transaction fees. It's standard for most cards to impose a 3% fee anytime you use them outside of the United States. However, cards that are geared towards travel should waive such fees.

Companion fares Out of all the perks you'll find on airline credit cards, companion fares are often the most valuable — easily worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, each year. That's why we gave strong preference to any credit card that awarded such a benefit. Companion fares are similar to a "buy-one-get-one-free" promotion with minimal costs. They're fantastic for people that travel with two or more people, like couples of families.

Transferability and Airline Alliances. We value airline cards that allow users to do more than just one thing with their points. Most good credit card and airline rewards programs should provide users with the ability to use their miles with no less than 5 other airline programs. The best airline cards should also provide the ability to use your miles in other ways, like cash back, without incurring much—if any—penalty. These added options increase the utility of your card, and allow you to cash out your points/miles even if you don't plan to take a trip with one particular airline.

That's why for our list, we also gave preference to credit cards whose airlines belong to one of the 3 major airline alliances — Skyteam, Oneworld and Star Alliance. These alliances allow you to book airfare with 20, 13 and 27 different carriers, respectively.

Top Rated Miles Cards that Did Not Make the Cut

In our search for the leading airline credit cards, we had to cut some otherwise great credit cards. In the five years we've been researching credit cards, the rewards market has never been as competitive as it is today. While these are all excellent cards for earning miles, they had one or two flaws or restrictions that stopped us from recommending them.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: This is the best luxury credit card on the market, and offers fantastic rewards. However, most people looking for a top-notch airline credit card might not value all the extra bells and whistles that come with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (like the airport lounges). That's why we still recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card over the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card: This is another high-value airline credit card, though heavy fuel surcharges on airfare make it a tough recommendation. Many frequent flyers are frustrated by the fact that they have to pay hundreds of dollars in added fees when they book their "free" award tickets. This recently lead to a lawsuit, which resulted in a settlement. While the card itself is fantastic, the mileage program surrounding it kept it off our list.

JetBlue Plus Card: JetBlue offers a solid credit card for their customers, with perks like a 10% rebate on all redeemed TrueBlue points and free checked bag benefits. This is also one of the few cards to provide a way to earn elite status with the affiliated airline. You can earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status when you spend $50,000 on the card per year (a tall order for most). Ultimately, the card isn't as good when we compare it to another domestic airline offers like Southwest. The latter provides better ongoing bonuses (6,000 miles every year) that can help cardholders earn more free flights. The JetBlue Airlines credit card doesn't have the same long-term value.

How to Choose the Best Credit Card for Airline Miles

Anyone who carries a balance month-to-month should apply for a low-interest credit card, instead of an airline one. Otherwise, we calculate that you'll end up paying significantly more in interest charges than you'll get back in value through miles. For example, while the best airline credit cards can give you as much as a 5% return on your spending, you'll have to pay about 15% in interest to carry a balance.

Also, individuals with a credit score below 680 won't get approved for most of airline credit cards (outside of the ones we've specifically said are good for individuals with bad credit). Most cards affiliated with an airline carrier unfortunately require you to have an excellent credit score.

We also recommend that you don't bother applying for an airline credit card if you spend less than $1,000 per month on your card. If that describes you, we strongly recommend you look into getting a no annual fee credit card instead. Some no fee cards come with fantastic travel perks, so you can still use them to pay for things like airline tickets. While they won't be as valuable as co-branded or generic travel cards, a no fee card provides the best net rewards for individuals spending less than $1,000. Otherwise, you’ll be paying a hefty fee each year but unable to earn enough rewards to make it worthwhile.

Assuming you pass the above-mentioned criteria, most consumers will be best off with a generic travel rewards credit card. We recommend this option for most people because it provides you with a combination of extremely good value and versatility, and lets you use your rewards towards airlines and more. Say, for example, you sign up for a travel card and decide one year that you won't take any long-distance vacations. You can still use a travel card to pay for things like car rentals, hotel stays or even just cash back. A credit card tied to a specific airline will only be useful if you fly frequently with that airline.

Those of you who find themselves always traveling with the same carrier multiple times per year should look into a credit card specifically tied to that airline. While co-branded cards are restrictive, they also tend to provide the highest value. If you always travel with the same airline anyway, that restrictiveness we mention won't matter to you anyway. We don't recommend co-branded cards for casual travelers who shop around for the cheapest price across multiple airlines rather than by airline. However, if you're a diehard American Airlines customer, or live in a hub that AA dominates, then an AA credit card would suit you best.

Robert Harrow

Robert is a Product Manager at ValuePenguin, covering credit cards and credit card processing. He graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in Physics and a minor in Mathematics.

Comments and Questions

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