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Best Airline Credit Cards

Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Frequent travelers can get free flights and travel perks with airline credit cards. Like other types of credit cards, co-branded cards usually earn rewards at a higher rate for a specific airline, while generic airline credit cards give you more flexibility in redeeming miles or points.

Our picks for
Best Airline Credit Cards

Best airline credit card overall
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Company nameContact
capital one venture rewards credit card
Recommended Credit:
Good or Excellent
LogoSummary
SIGN-UP BONUS
  • 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in first three months
ANNUAL FEE
  • $95, waived first year
READ MORE

Capital One Venture Rewards review

Capital One Venture Rewards is our top pick for best airline credit card overall because it’s easy to earn miles quickly — especially if you spend in bonus categories and take advantage of the sign-up bonus — and miles are redeemable at any airline or hotel without blackout dates. Cardholders earn 2 miles for each dollar spent and 10X miles at thousands of hotels. There’s no limit to how many miles a Capital One Venture Rewards card can earn, and miles never expire if the account is in good standing. Redeem miles at any of Capital One’s 10+ travel partners or through hotels.com/venture.

Capital One Venture Rewards benefits

Capital One Venture Rewards benefits include travel perks, security protections and account management tools.

  • Entertainment access: VIP packages, exclusive access and discounts to premier culinary experiences, popular music events and professional sporting events.
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck: Get up to $100 credit if you use your Capital One Venture card for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application.
  • Travel insurance: Cardholders also get complimentary insurance to cover losses while traveling.
  • 24/7 travel assistance: Emergency assistance services are available if your card is lost or stolen while traveling.
  • Security protection: Capital One Venture Rewards cardholders get automatic security alerts, virtual card numbers from Eno, $0 fraud liability, card lock and credit monitoring through CreditWise.
  • Management tools: Complete balance transfers, set up autopay, add authorized users and track account activity through the Capital One Mobile App.
Capital One Venture Rewards card considerations

The annual fee is waived the first year but will cost $95 per year after that. Capital One Venture Rewards doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which means you won’t be charged extra if you use the card to make purchases abroad. Keep in mind balance transfer fees are 3% per transaction, and there is a 3% fee ($10 minimum) for cash advances. Late payments incur a penalty fee up to $39.

Is the Capital One Venture Rewards card worth it?

Capital One Venture Rewards cardholders get a lot out of the first year — 50,000 bonus points if you spent $3,000 within three months and the first annual fee is waived. The Capital One Venture Rewards card is still worth it beyond the first year because of the flexible miles, travel perks and management tools.

Best airline credit card no annual fee
Capital One VentureOne Card

Company nameContact
discover it miles
Recommended Credit:
Good or Excellent
LogoSummary
SIGN-UP BONUS
  • Get 20,000 miles if you spend $1,000 in first three months
ANNUAL FEE
  • $0
READ MORE

Capital One VentureOne review

With no annual fee, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card is an excellent choice for those who want to earn unlimited miles for everyday spending but still have some flexibility in how they redeem miles. Capital One VentureOne cardholders earn 1.25 miles for every dollar they spend, plus 10 miles per dollar spent at eligible hotel partners through hotels.com. Miles can be transferred to more than 12 loyalty programs and there’s no blackout dates for travel purchases.

Capital One VentureOne benefits

Capital One VentureOne cards are great for earning miles but come with fewer benefits than airline credit cards that charge an annual fee.

  • Intro APR: With 0% interest on new purchases for 12 months, the sign-up bonus can be even easier to hit.
  • Easy rewards: There’s no cap on how many reward miles you can earn, and miles never expire as long as your account is in good standing. Cardholders can easily redeem rewards for flights, hotels and more.
  • Travel protection: Capital One VentureOne comes with 24-hour travel assistance services, travel accident insurance and an auto rental collision damage waiver.
  • Extra security: Capital One VentureOne cardholders get security alerts about suspicious account activity and $0 fraud liability protection.
Capital One VentureOne considerations

There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fees with a Capital One VentureOne card, but there are a few transaction and penalty fees to be aware of before you apply. If you want to do a balance transfer, a 3% fee is charged on the amount of each transferred balance. For cash advances, there is a 3% fee ($10 minimum). Late payment fees are up to $39 each.

Is the Capital One VentureOne card worth it?

Capital One VentureOne is the top pick for an airline credit card without an annual fee because of the combination of unlimited flat-rate miles and 10X miles earned on eligible hotel purchases. Plus, cardholders don’t have to pay interest on new purchases for over a year, which could make it even easier to maximize Capital One VentureOne sign-up bonus.

Best Southwest credit card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Company nameContact
southwest rapid rewards premier credit card
Recommended Credit:
Good or Excellent
LogoSummary
SIGN-UP BONUS
  • Get 40,000 points if you spend $1,000 in first three months
  • Get an additional 20,000 points if you spend $12,000 in first year
ANNUAL FEE
  • $99
READ MORE

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier review

It’s easy to accumulate points quickly with a Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card. Cardholders earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and at Southwest hotel and car rental partners, plus earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. There’s no limit to how many points Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders can earn, and no blackout dates to redeem — Southwest points can be used during any season, for any open seat. Redeemed points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards and more.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier benefits

In addition to the sign-up bonus, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card benefits include more bonus points, travel perks and purchase coverage.

  • Anniversary bonus: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders also get a generous 6,000-point anniversary bonus after a year.
  • Bags fly free: Pay $0 for first and second checked bags.
  • Travel protection: Lost luggage reimbursement covers up to $3,000 for lost or damaged luggage. Baggage delay insurance reimburses essential items like toiletries or clothing up to $100 per day for three days. Terms apply.
  • Purchase coverage: Protect new purchases against theft or damage for 120 days, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. Extended warranty protection expends eligible U.S. manufacturers’ warranties by an additional year. Terms apply.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card considerations

The first $99 annual fee is applied to your first billing statement. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders don’t have to pay foreign transaction fees, but there are a few other fees to consider before you apply. Late payment and returned payment fees are each up to $39, and cash advances require either a $10 or 5% fee per transaction, whichever is greater.

Is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card worth it?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is well worth the $99 annual fee if you fly on Southwest more than a few times per year, especially if you can take advantage of the sign-up bonus and keep the account open long enough for the anniversary bonus.

Best Delta credit card
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Company nameContact
gold delta skymiles credit card
Recommended Credit:
Good or Excellent
LogoSummary
WELCOME OFFER
  • Get 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 in first three months
  • Get $50 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase in first three months
ANNUAL FEE
  • $95, waived the first year
READ MORE

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card review

An ideal card for frequent Delta flyers, Gold Delta SkyMiles cardholders earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases made directly through Delta, plus 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. Miles are redeemable at Delta or one of 20+ other airline partners. Popular Delta Airline partners include Aeromexico, AirFrance, Alitalia, KLM, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, AirEuropa, Kenya Airways, Middle East Airlines, China Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. Terms apply.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card benefits

Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card benefits include travel perks, security protection and 20% discounts on in-flight purchases and more.

  • Free bag check: Cardholders can check their first bag for free on Delta flights, which means up to $240 savings per round-trip flight for a family of four.
  • Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding: Enjoy early boarding for more time to get settled before your flight and be one of the first to exit the plane too.
  • Pay with Miles: Pay with Miles gives you more flexibility in how you apply miles to ticket costs by reducing the cost of airfare in $50 increments.
  • Delta Sky Club: Enjoy an exclusive per-visit rate of $29 per person to the Delta Sky Club for yourself and up to two guests while traveling.
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card considerations

Gold Delta SkyMiles from American Express cardholders’ annual fee is waived the first year but costs $95 per year after that. There’s no foreign transaction fee, but keep in mind there is a 3% fee ($5 minimum) for cash advances. Late payments and returned payments incur penalty fees up to $38 per transaction.

Is the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card worth it?

Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express is worth the annual fee for all the travel perks and benefits, especially if cardholders take advantage of the welcome offer. In addition to the 30,000 bonus miles cardholders can get through the welcome offer, a $50 statement credit is available if you make an eligible Delta purchase within three months of opening an account.

Best United credit card
United Explorer Card

Company nameContact
united explorer card
Recommended Credit:
Good or Excellent
LogoSummary
SIGN-UP BONUS
  • Get 40,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in first three months
  • Get 25,000 miles if you spend $10,000 total in first six months
ANNUAL FEE
  • $95, waived first year
READ MORE

United Explorer Card review

The United Explorer card earns bonus miles for a range of diverse purchase categories. Earn 2 miles for each $1 spent on purchases from United and 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays. All other purchases earn 1 mile per $1. As few as 12,500 miles can be redeemed at any time — no blackout dates — for trips within the continental United States and Canada. Book miles through Star Alliance for even more travel perks and complimentary upgrades.

United Explorer Card benefits

United Explorer cardholders enjoy lots of travel benefits like priority boarding, United Club passes for entry into elite airport lounges each account anniversary and more.

  • In-flight discounts: Get 25% back on United in-flight purchases.
  • Priority boarding: United Explorer cardholders get two one-time passes each for priority boarding privileges and access to the United Club.
  • Free bag check: Check your first bag for free when you use the United Explorer card to book tickets (up to $120 savings per round-trip flights).
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck: Get up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees.
  • Luxury hotels and resorts: Enjoy complimentary upgrades and VIP perks at 900+ global luxury hotels and resorts.
  • Purchase protection: Free purchase protection and extended warranty protection for eligible purchases through Chase.
  • Travel protection: Cardholders can take advantage of complimentary baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement and auto rental collision damage waiver.
United Explorer Card considerations

The annual fee is waived for the first year but is $95 per year after that. United Explorer cardholders never have to pay foreign transaction fees, but expect to pay a 5% fee ($10 minimum) for cash advances. Late payment and returned payment fees are both up to $39 each.

Is the United Explorer Card worth it?

The United Explorer card is worth the annual fee if you fly more than a few times per year with United, especially if you can meet the sign-up bonus thresholds and stay with one or more of United’s hotel partners. It’s easy to accumulate reward miles through bonus purchasing categories, and even easier to redeem miles for trips within the U.S. and Canada.

Best American Airlines credit card
Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Company nameContact
citi aadvantage executive world elite mastercard
Recommended Credit:
Excellent
LogoSummary
SIGN-UP BONUS
  • Get 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in first three months
  • Get 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles if you spend $40,000 within one year
ANNUAL FEE
  • $450

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard review

One of Citi’s best travel cards for earning American Airlines miles, the AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is perfect for those who want extra travel perks and simple rewards. Earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage mile per $1 spent on everything else. Miles are flexible to redeem, and cardholders can stretch miles further through discounted MileSAAver flights.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard benefits

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard’s travel benefits are some of the best around for those who enjoy VIP status and free priority upgrades.

  • Airport lounge access: Enjoy perks like priority check-in, priority airport screening, extra boarding privileges and complimentary Admirals Club membership and lounge access at 50+ global locations for the account holder and guests or authorized users.
  • Authorized users: Add up to 10 authorized users at no additional cost. Authorized users can earn miles and rewards and enjoy many primary cardholder travel benefits.
  • Free checked bags: First checked bag is free on all domestic American Airline itineraries for the cardholder and up to eight travel companions.
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck: Up to $100 reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee every five years.
  • In-flight discounts: Save 25% on purchases made while onboard American Airlines flights.
  • Purchase protection: Cardholders are never held financially responsible for unauthorized purchases.
  • Citi Price Rewind: Citi’s Price Rewind program searches for the lowest prices on products. If Citi finds a lower price for one of your recent purchases, you may get the difference back.
Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard considerations

Unfortunately, the $450 annual fee is not waived the first year. On the plus side, cardholders don’t have to pay foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad. Cash advance fees are either $10 or 5% per transaction, whichever is greater. You may not qualify to earn bonus miles you have opened or closed another Citi / AAdvantage account in the past 24 months.

Is the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard worth it?

The travel benefits and convenience that Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite cardmembers enjoy is well worth the annual fee if you fly with American Airlines often. Get this card if you fly with American Airlines more than several times per year and want to earn rewards for future trips while enjoying perks and discount at the same time.

What is an airline credit card?

An airline credit card is a type of rewards card for frequent travelers that earns points or miles they can redeem for travel expenses. Airline credit card miles or points are like frequent flyer miles but can be cashed in for free trips and other travel rewards or transferred to a different rewards program. Airline credit cards benefits include travel perks like early boarding, free bag check, discounts on in-flight purchases or access to exclusive airport lounges.

Find an airline card and start earning rewards today


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How do airline credit cards work?

Airline credit cards earn 1–2 miles or points per dollar spent on eligible purchases. Cardholders can redeem their miles and points for airline credits, travel bookings, cash back and more.

Airline credit cards work differently from frequent flyer miles. Frequent flyer miles are awarded to customers with brand loyalty to a specific airline company. Airline credit cards earn miles or points when the cardholder makes purchases with an airline, but also for everyday purchase categories like gas stations or supermarkets.

Airline credit cards can be co-branded or generic. Miles or points earned with co-branded airline credit cards can usually only be redeemed through that airline. Generic airline credit cards earn transferable points or miles at a lower rate but are more flexible.

It’s a bit of a misnomer when airline credit card issuers refer to “miles” — each mile translates to a monetary value, not a distance. For example, earning 50,000 miles won’t allow you to fly from New York City to Tokyo seven times. A generic credit card mile has approximately 1 cent in value, whereas the value of a co-branded mile can be anywhere from .75 to 3 cents. So, depending on your issuer, 50,000 miles have a $500–$1,500 value.

Are airline credit cards worth it?

Airline credit cards are worth it if you fly many times each year, especially if you can meet the signup bonus. Their benefits include perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and elite status, which can make up for even some of the higher annual fees.

On the other hand, airline credit cards also typically have higher interest rates than other types of credit cards, which means if you don’t pay your full balance in full each month, you could quickly get into debt. Airline credit cards also usually come with higher annual fees and have stricter rules for redeeming rewards. If you want to earn redeemable with more flexibility overall, consider a cash back credit card.

Travelers who don’t have brand loyalty to a particular airline and generally select the lowest fare could be better off with a cash back or generic travel credit card, but a co-branded airline credit card could be worth it to you if you fly with the same carrier several times per year.

What is the best airline credit card?

When comparing airline credit cards, consider your purchasing habits and airline preferences most of all. If you travel abroad frequently, consider whether or not there’s a foreign transaction fee when you use the card for purchases in a different currency. Overall, decide if the annual fee is more or less than what you can redeem in points per year.

Compare airline credit cards

CardOffer*Annual fee
Capital One Venture Rewards10x miles on select hotels and 2x miles on all other purchases$95 (first year waived)
Capital One VentureOne1.25x miles on every purchase$0
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier2x points on Southwest purchases, hotel and car rental partners and 1x point on all other purchases$99
Gold Delta SkyMiles from American Express2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x mile on all other purchases$95 (first year waived)
United Explorer2x miles on United purchases, select bonus categories and 1x mile on all other purchases$95 (first year waived)
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp2x miles on American Airlines and 1x mile on all other purchases$450
*Terms and conditions may apply.

How to earn airline miles

Signing up for a co-branded or generic airline credit card is the best way to earn airline miles. Not only can you earn miles while you fly, but also for regular spending while on the ground. Here are 10 tips to maximize airline miles.

  1. Meet the sign-up bonus threshold: All of the best airline credit cards have generous sign-up bonuses or welcome offers that make it easy to accumulate many bonus miles in the first few months of opening an account. These bonus miles puts you well on your way to redeeming a free trip.
  2. Use for everyday spending: Many airline credit cards earn unlimited flat-rate rewards for most purchases. Eligible purchases typically include transactions for most products and services but exclude cash-based transactions like purchasing money orders or lottery tickets.
  3. Use to pay bills: Many airline credit cards earn rewards when you pay your bills. Some airline credit card issuers offer cell phone protection insurance to cardholders who pay their cell phone bills with an airline credit card.
  4. Spend in bonus categories: Some airline credit cards earn bonus rewards when you spend in specific categories, like on dining, supermarkets or gas stations. Be sure to use these cards if you make purchases in those categories.
  5. Shop in online portals: Some airline credit cardholders can redeem miles or points through their issuers’ online portals. Issuer online shopping portals offer exclusive deals like discounted vacation packages.
  6. Spend with partners: Many airline credit card issuers partner with car rental and hotel companies to offer discounts or bonuses.
  7. Join airline dining programs: Popular airlines like American, Delta, United and more offer dining programs where you can earn thousands of bonus miles for eating at participating restaurants.
  8. Book vacation packages: Get better deals when you book packages through your airline credit card issuer’s redemption portal.
  9. Fill out surveys: Some airlines let you earn bonus miles for filling out surveys.
  10. Fly more often: Perhaps this is obvious, but using an airline credit card to purchase airfare is usually the best way to earn airline miles. Plus, earn miles for airport expenses like baggage fees, upgrades and in-flight services.

How to redeem airline miles

Redeeming airline miles is easy once you’ve accumulated enough of them. Depending on the issuer, you might be able to transfer miles to another loyalty program, exchange for merchandise, gift cards or statement credits, or donate to charity. Keep in mind some issuers have a minimum threshold for redeeming miles, and some airline credit card issues restrict when you can redeem miles with blackout dates.

  1. Log in to issuer redemption portal: Visit your airline credit card issuer’s website and select the redemption portal or rewards tab. Enter your rewards number or account log-in information.
  2. Compare options: Search for flights and vacation packages to get the best return on miles, or explore other redemption options through loyalty programs and affiliates.
  3. Book tickets: Redeeming airline miles for travel gets the best return. Be sure to select miles or points as the form of payment.
  4. Earn more rewards: Booking airfare with airline credit card miles or points usually earns even more miles or points. If you rent a car or stay in a hotel, try to do so within your card issuer’s affiliate program for even more rewards.

Bottom line

Airline credit cards make it possible to save money on airfare and come with great travel perks. A co-branded or generic airline credit card is likely worth it to you if you take advantage of the sign-up bonus or welcome offer and use it frequently enough to make up for the annual fee.

Want to compare more airline credit cards?


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ConsumerAffairs has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ConsumerAffairs and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.