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Best Airline Credit Card: Compare Top 6 Cards for 2020 Now

Best Airline Credit Card: Compare Top 6 Cards for 2020 Now

Airline credit cards are an excellent way to increase your miles balance for your everyday purchases, along with utilizing benefits to enhance your travel experiences.

Citi is an advertising partner.

Selecting the right airline card based on your expenses and travel needs is essential to maximizing the credit card you choose. Based on our research of cards available through ValuePenguin, as well as top cards offered by major issuers, we’ve compiled a list of the best airline credit cards.

Best credit cards for Airline Miles 2020

Best for Delta Air Lines

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Best for Southwest Airlines

  • On Chase's Secure Website
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Best for American Airlines

  • On Citibank's Secure Website
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Other Airline Credit Cards | About Airline Credit Cards | Airline Credit Cards FAQ

Best airline credit card for Delta Air Lines

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

15.74%-24.74% Variable

Excellent/Good

  • Earn 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn now. Travel when you're ready. After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to inspire your next travel.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99.
  • Terms Apply.
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Earn 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

Our thoughts on this card

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is the best credit card for earning Delta SkyMiles, as it offers multiple spending categories — including restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and Delta purchases — for a modest annual fee. Cardholders Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.

In addition to a solid rewards program, you'll get to board sooner, since the card gets you Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding. This can help ensure you have overhead space for your carry-ons, even on crowded flights. If you'd like to check your bag instead, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card card also allows you to check your first bag for free on Delta flights.

What to watch out for

This card previously gave discounted entrance into Delta Sky Clubs. However, once the portfolio of Delta credit cards was refreshed, that benefit has now been removed. If you’re an avid traveler looking to relax in Delta Sky Clubs between flights, only the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (which comes with a hefty $550 annual fee) includes Delta Sky Club and American Express Centurion Lounge access.

How useful are Delta SkyMiles?

Delta SkyMiles offer a solid value when redeemed for flights. We estimate each mile to be worth 1.2 cents, but of course, the actual value you receive will depend on your specific itinerary. You’ll get the best value for SkyMiles when booking domestic travel and business class on international flights. We’ve put together a comprehensive overview on how to get the best value out of Delta SkyMiles.

Where you can use Delta SkyMiles

Delta is part of the SkyTeam airline alliance, which consists of more than a dozen airlines to which you can transfer miles. The sheer number of airlines in this alliance makes Delta SkyMiles a highly dynamic airline rewards currency:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia Airlines
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines

For rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, please click here

For rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, please click here.



Best airline credit card for Southwest Airlines

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website

$99

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Excellent

  • 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 each year.
  • 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.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Your points never expire.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.
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Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Our thoughts on this card

Of the three Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards offered, we found that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers the best value based on sign-up bonus, annual fee and anniversary points.

Having a Southwest credit card helps you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, a prized benefit in the airline credit card world. With the pass, you can choose a travel partner to get free tickets (less taxes and fees) on all of your itineraries for a full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which you earn the pass. You’ll have to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards miles in one year, and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card’s 40,000 point sign-up bonus can get you one step closer to that pass.

Beyond the boost toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers some additional unique perks and rewards. For example, you’ll earn 6,000 bonus points after your cardmember anniversary. While those points may not get you a free roundtrip flight, they can certainly help you close the gap. The points you earn with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card can be utilized for flights, hotel stays and gift cards, among other things.

What to watch out for

Southwest mostly offers domestic flights, so if you're dreaming of international travel, then it may make more sense to pick a different card. An airline miles credit card is only as good as the travel options provided by the airline and any partners associated with it — that said, it should be noted that Southwest is an excellent airline carrier offering very competitive mile redemption rates for domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines expanded service to Hawaii

In March 2019, Southwest Airlines launched service to Hawaii. This destination has been a long time coming for Southwest Airlines and gives its customers access to one of the most enviable vacation destinations. And if you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, flying to Hawaii on Southwest Airlines may be one of the most affordable ways to travel there with a friend or family member.

Where you can use Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Unfortunately, Southwest Rapid Rewards can’t be transferred to other airlines, but Southwest offers the option to redeem your rewards directly for international flights via the More Rewards functionality on Southwest's site.

The More Rewards section is a shopping portal for Southwest Rapid Rewards members to use their points on a variety of purchases. You can buy gift cards, electronics, jewelry and a myriad of other items — and among those items are travel-related purchases like flights.

When you search for a flight, you will see a list of airlines flying where Southwest does not, along with the flight price in Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Unfortunately, in many cases, the redemption value is very low. To ensure you are getting the best value for Southwest points, stick to using Rapid Rewards points on Southwest flights.

You'll have to be sure to shop around to confirm you’re getting a decent redemption value for your Rapid Rewards.



Best airline credit card for United Airlines

60k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.

Our thoughts on this card

The United℠ Explorer Card allows cardholders to Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. The rewards for these categories are very typical across co-branded airline credit cards.

However, the card’s best feature is the $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee voucher. Typically, cards that offer this feature will charge annual fees above $450 — unlike those cards, however, the United℠ Explorer Card's annual fee is $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95 every year after.

Where you can use your United Airlines Miles

United Airlines miles are fairly useful, as you can redeem them for flights with United and other Star Alliance members. The Star Alliance network offers more than 1,000 destinations across dozens of airline partners:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana
  • Austrian
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Airways
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • SWISS
  • TAP Portugal
  • THAI
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines


Best airline credit card for American Airlines

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

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

  • On Citibank's Secure Website

$99, waived for first 12 months

15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)

Excellent

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
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Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Our thoughts on this card

Of the five American Airlines co-branded credit cards, we believe the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers the best value proposition through a strong rewards earning structure. You Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases

On top of a strong rewards structure, the card offers one of the best sign-up bonuses available. If utilized correctly, the miles you earn in the first year could be enough for an international round-trip flight.

What to watch out for

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® charges an annual fee of $99, waived for first 12 months. If you plan to spend more than $20,000 on the card every year, you’ll earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount for reaching that spend amount, which would offset the card’s annual fee.

How useful are American Airlines miles?

From a value perspective, we believe American Airlines miles are some of the most valuable airline currencies around, as we estimate that each AAdvantage mile is worth 1.4 cents. Of course, the actual value you’ll get from each mile will be highly dependent on several factors, but you can use this figure as a benchmark.

However, we’ve found it's a bit harder to maximize the value of American Airlines miles when compared to other airline currencies. While cardholders may find incredible redemption values, they'll need to maintain a measure of flexibility. If you're OK with this, then the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® is an excellent choice for an airline miles credit card.

Where you can use your American Airlines miles

You can redeem AAdvantage miles with any oneworld airline alliance member. We’ve also compiled a thorough guide on the best ways to redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Currently, there are 14 airlines that make up the oneworld alliance:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • Sri Lankan Airlines
  • Fiji Airways

Plus, Alaska Airlines recently joined the oneworld alliance, bringing the airline group to 15 member airlines.

The information related to Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Other strong airline credit cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • On Chase's Secure Website

$95

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Excellent

  • Earn 60,000 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®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
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Earn 60,000 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®.

Our thoughts on this card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the best credit cards for purchasing flights due to its rewards program. Cardholders 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.. Unlike some of the cards listed above, the travel category is not restricted to a specific airline, meaning booking flights with United, Delta, American or Southwest will earn you 2 points per dollar spent.

What to watch out for

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a $95 annual fee that's not waived in the first year.

Chase transfer partners

When you use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points for your purchases. With Chase Ultimate Rewards, cardholders can book airline tickets and hotel stays directly through Chase’s website or transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to 13 loyalty program travel partners. We outline all current transfer partners below:

  • Aer Lingus AerClub
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Emirates
  • Flying Blue Air France KLM
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • World of Hyatt

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • On Capital One's Secure Website

$95

17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)

Excellent/Good

  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Redeem on travel—from vacation rentals to car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
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Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Our thoughts on this card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also offers an excellent rewards structure. When you use the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you will earn 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. This is helpful if you don’t enjoy tracking purchase categories or juggling multiple travel rewards credit cards.

What to watch out for

It's worth noting that the card's list of transfer partners isn't as robust as what’s offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. If you enjoy analyzing airline awards charts and maximizing the value of your points or miles, you may be better off with a different card. However, this card remains an excellent choice for most other travelers and even for the budget-conscious, given the annual fee is waived in the first year.

Capital One transfer partners

The miles you earn with this card are transferable to a list of travel rewards programs listed below:

  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France, KLM
  • Alitalia
  • Avianca
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Finnair
  • JetBlue
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Accor Live Limitless
  • Wyndham Rewards

Discover it® Miles

Our thoughts on this card

The Discover it® Miles is our top pick for low spenders looking for spending rewards and some travel benefits. You earn Unlimited 1.5 Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee. You also get no foreign transaction fees while you're abroad.

The Discover it® Miles also has a great welcome bonus. Discover will match ALL the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 miles, you earn an additional 35,000 miles to match it. With each mile worth 1 cent, that’s $700 towards travel. The more you earn, the more you will receive with the match. That boosts this card’s rewards rate to an excellent 3% for the first 12 months. During the promotional period, the Discover it Miles card bests some of the airline credit cards on our list.

What to watch out for

The Discover it® Miles lacks some of the features of other cards on this list. For example, the miles earned on the Discover it® Miles can’t be transferred to airline loyalty programs, but you can use miles as a statement credit toward travel purchases. As such, this is an ideal card for the casual, budget-conscious traveler.

For rates and fees of Discover it® Miles, please click here.

Best airline credit cards summary

Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.

ValuePenguin’s verdict

Each airline offers one or more credit cards that offer ways to earn points and miles with their respective loyalty program. Some cards even offer exclusive perks, such as statement credits, free checked bags and early boarding. The best airline card for you depends on where your loyalty lies and if you’ll travel enough to use the benefits provided by the card.

What's an airline credit card?

An airline credit card rewards cardholders with points or miles for purchases made with the card, which can then be redeemed for free flights or for airline or other travel-related purchases, such as seat upgrades or rental cars. Airlines cards can also come with benefits specific to traveling, such as priority boarding, fee-free baggage checking, airport lounge access or even companion passes.

It's not all that uncommon for airline miles credit cards to have a sign-up bonus of tens of thousands of points, which could be enough to get you a round-trip ticket to a desired destination.


Types of airline credit cards

There are two types of airline credit cards available: co-branded cards and bank cards.

Co-branded airline credit cards are affiliated with a specific airline, like the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. This card earns Delta SkyMiles that can be used on Delta or any of its SkyTeam partners.

Bank cards, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, earn rewards that are not exclusive to one specific airline. When you use a bank card, the points earned can be transferred to a list of travel partners or booked directly with the travel portal unique to the bank.

If a bank credit card interests you, two of the best credit card rewards programs are American Express and Chase, because their points can be transferred to a wide variety of partners. Capital One also has cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card that earn points that can be transferred to specific travel partners.


How to choose an airline credit card

Choosing an airline card can seem overwhelming with the amount of options available. To find the card or cards that are right for you, it’s best to establish an end goal and work backward from it.

Your end goal can be summarized by answering this question: Where do you fly from and where do you want to fly to? Based on these questions, you can find an airline that works best for you.

For example, if you are based in Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC) and fly to the east coast regularly, a Delta SkyMiles credit card might work well, as Salt Lake City is a hub for Delta.

If your dream is to fly international on Emirates, it could be best to get a card with the ability to transfer points directly to Emirates, such as the American Express® Gold Card.

In addition, consider the features of the card such as sign-up bonuses and annual fees. And don't overlook the value of benefits like baggage fee waivers and airport lounge access, which can easily justify a card's annual fee. With all of these factors considered, you may be able to find one or more credit card options that work for your travel needs.


How to use an airline credit card

Since purchase categories, like dining and travel, are rewarded differently depending on the card, make sure you pick one that matches your expenses. You can also maximize your miles earnings by rotating cards with different earning categories. For instance, you could use the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card for all your Delta, U.S. supermarket and restaurant purchases, and use the Discover it Miles card to earn 1.5 miles per $1 on the rest of your purchases.

Also, list out the benefits you have with a particular airline card. Premium credit cards with large annual fees offer a long list of benefits — such as status boosters, checked bag fee waivers, lounge access and statements credits for enrolling in TSA PreCheck/Global Entry — that can easily go unused. Paying a high annual fee without utilizing the benefits can be a waste. If a premium card is the best credit card option for you, keep track of how often you use the benefits.

Survey: 32% of Americans plan to fly again in 2020

While the COVID-19 crisis has many consumers rethinking their travel plans for the remainder of 2020, a recent ValuePenguin survey found that many Americans are still planning to fly again this year. 32% said they definitely plan to fly again, and another 35% said they may fly again, depending on circumstances. Of consumers who are planning to fly again, 40% are planning to do so this summer.

Read more about our travel survey findings

Below are some of the most common questions our readers have when applying for a new credit card. Check back often, as we're continually adding and updating our FAQs.

What credit card gives the best flight points?

Our research shows that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card has the best rewards program for earning flight points and miles. Out of all the credit card rewards programs, Chase Ultimate Rewards provides the best transfer options. You can move your miles at a 1:1 ratio to any of the nine airline partners including Southwest, United and Singapore Airlines. In addition, your points are worth even more when you book travel through the Chase travel portal. If you hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your points are worth 1.25 cents per point.

Which airline has the best frequent flyer program?

For most travelers, the Alaska Airlines rewards program will provide the best value. Its miles are worth an average of 1.8 cents, which is a lot higher than competitors like Delta or American Airlines.

Additionally, Alaska Airlines recently joined the oneworld airline alliance. This means that Alaska Airlines miles can be used on many different airlines.

Are airline credit cards worth it?

Airline credit cards are worth it for people who travel at least two to three times per year. Most of the top-tier airline miles cards charge an annual fee. However, if you’re able to pay for one ticket with points, that’s potentially hundreds of dollars saved.

Which airline credit card is the easiest to get approved for?

Unfortunately, most airline credit cards require good or excellent credit. If you have a low credit score (below 650), we recommend applying for a credit building credit card. If you have a FICO score above 720 and a solid credit history, you shouldn't have trouble getting approved for the cards we recommended above.

What is the 5/24 rule for credit cards?

Chase may automatically decline your credit card application if you’ve opened five or more personal credit cards (across all banks) in the last 24 months, which is generally referred to as the "5/24 Rule". The rule is not official and has not been announced by Chase; instead, everything we know about it comes from multiple user reports. Keep in mind that this is just one factor in a credit decision — you may be declined for a credit card if you don't meet the minimum credit score, credit history or income requirements.

Which is the best credit card for airline points?

The best airline card for you depends on your location and travel preferences. For example, if you live near an airport dominated by a single airline (like Charlotte, N.C., with American Airlines), then you'll be best served by a co-branded credit card. On the other hand, those with more choice among airlines may prefer a general travel card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

What is the easiest airline credit card to get?

Almost all airline credit cards require that you have good to excellent credit. However, some of the no-fee co-branded airline credit cards have less stringent application requirements. There are many online forums you can use to check the credit profiles of people who have been approved for a specific card.

Brett Holzhauer

Brett Holzhauer is ValuePenguin’s travel rewards expert, focusing on credit card rewards maximization, consumer travel trends, and personal finance news. He has earned and burned over 5 million points and miles throughout his travels, saving him roughly $75,000 in travel expenses.