Finder’s credit card experts spend more than 200 hours comparing and rating nearly 100 airline cards based on must-have features including mileage earning rates, rewards amendments in the face of the pandemic, redemption values and additional travel benefits. We’ve placed the top-performing cards into eight categories to help you best fly in style. Finder’s experts provide unbiased, trustworthy evaluations of all airline credit cards and providers, not just those we partner with on the site.
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s annual-fee increased, the card still boasts an impressive travel credit to make up the difference. Not only does this card feature one of the highest travel credits available on a travel card, but its the most flexible, allowing you to redeem it on any travel purchase. Similar cards, such as the Amex Platinum Card, restrict how and where you can use your credit.
Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of card membership. This is worth $900 if you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Earn rewards points. Earn 3x points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1x points on all other purchases. The 3x points can be worth 4.5% back if redeemed on travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards. You also earn 10x points on Lyft purchases until March 2022. This can be worth up to 15% back in travel purchases via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Annual travel credit. Get $300 in statement credit as reimbursement for your travel purchases every year on your card account anniversary.
Annual fee. Awesome perks come with a high annual fee. You'll pay $550 annual fee for the card.
No intro APR. You won't find an intro APR on balance transfers or purchases at this time.
16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $900 through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
This card offers the best bang for your buck among the Delta line of cards. On top of the new Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, it offers increased rewards on Delta purchases and accelerated rewards at hotels, restaurants and US supermarkets. But the real kicker: it comes with an annual companion certificate, a perk worth far more than the annual fee of the card.
Welcome offer. Get 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after your account is open. Also earn $100 back as statement credit for US restaurant purchases within the same time frame.
Earn miles. Earn 3 miles per dollar spent on eligible Delta purchases like flight tickets, food or beverages and movies, and on purchases made directly with hotels. You can also earn 2x miles on purchases made at restaurants and US supermarkets. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other eligible purchases. Redeem miles for flights on Delta and Delta's partner airlines.
Companion certificate. Each year you renew your Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, you'll receive a domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate. This means you can take a guest on a round-trip domestic flight for only the cost of taxes and fees.
Annual fee. The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card comes with a $250 annual fee.
Not widely accepted abroad. American Express tends to have fewer retailers abroad that accept their cards.
Companion pass taxes. While a companion pass will pay for your flight, you're on the hook for taxes and fees.
15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.
Also, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for purchases at US restaurants within the first 3 months of membership.
The Platinum Card® from American Express has a steep $695 annual fee, but it offers a stellar 5x points on flights on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x) as well as prepaid hotels you book through Amex Travel. It also happens to be one of the most coveted credit cards for airport lounge access, with premium benefits such as access to the Global Lounge Collection, Priority Pass, and most notably, Centurion Lounges. No matter where you fly with this card, you can wait for your flight in style.
Membership reward points. Earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex Travel. On all other eligible purchases, you'll earn 1x points. Your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually, reverting to 1x points after that.
Welcome offer. Earn 100,000 membership rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first 6 months of card membership. You'll also earn 10x points at restaurants and US Shop Small retailers, on up to $25,000 within your first 6 months of account opening. Based on Finder's valuation, that's up to $7,000 worth of rewards when transferred to travel partners.
Travel fee credit. Select a qualifying airline and receive a $200 airline fee credit each year to cover incidental charges, such as checked bags or in-flight purchases. You'll also receive up to $200 credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel
Annual fee. Expect to pay $695 for the card. This may seem like a lot, but if you travel often, you can easily offset the fee.
Not widely accepted abroad. American Express is not as widely accepted worldwide as Mastercard and Visa.
See Pay Over Time APR
Foreign transaction fee
100,000 points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other purchases
The midtier United℠ Explorer Card continues to offer great value for its price. You'll find accelerated rewards on restaurant purchases and hotel stays, as well as perks like first checked bag free, annual United lounge passes, and credit toward your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. You'll also find a great signup bonus value for the card's annual fee. Your other United card option, the United Club Infinite Card, is a luxury card and only suitable if you're a hardcore United customer.
Rewards. Earn 2x miles on United purchases, eligible hotel stays and restaurant spending. Earn 1.5x miles on all other purchases.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit. Get up to $100 credit once every for years to cover for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
Earning restrictions. You may not earn your 2x miles when you purchase tickets through third party flights.
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
16.49% to 23.49% variable
Foreign transaction fee
60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus 10,000 miles after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months
This is the highest-priced Southwest credit card, but you can offset the annual fee with the yearly $75 travel credit and the 7,500 anniversary points you get each year (valued around $97). This essentially negates the annual fee while still delivering a suite of perks, including priority boarding and in-flight discounts. Considering the card pays for itself, its the de facto choice for Southwest fliers.
Signup bonus. 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus earn 3x points on dining, including eligible takeout and delivery, for your first year.
Rewards. Earn 2x points on Southwest Airlines purchases and spending with hotel and car rental partners. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
Anniversary points. Get 7,500 bonus points every year on your cardmember anniversary.
Annual fee. You'll need to pay $149 annually to use this card, though the card's perks will more than pay off this fee.
Variable minimum credit lines. Depending on the version of the card you receive (Visa Signature or Visa Platinum), you'll either receive a $2,000 minimum credit line or $5,000 minimum credit line.
15.99% to 22.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee
40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year
While you can find a companion pass on other Delta cards, including the Delta Platinum, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card's companion pass allows your friend to fly with you on a first class booking. The other Delta card companion pass offerings are just for main cabin booking, which while valuable, can't compare to a free first class flight for your friend. This pass alone pays for the cost of the card, so if you have a friend to bring along with you for a trip each year you could consider this luxury card free to own.
Welcome offer. Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $3,000 in eligible purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening. You'll also earn $100 in statement credits for purchases at US restaurants within the same timeframe.
Rewards. Earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on other eligible purchases.
Companion Pass. Enjoy one Delta Companion Certificate each year you renew your card account. This certificate is good for a first-class, Delta Comfort+ or main-cabin flight.
Annual fee. You'll pay $550 annually to use this card.
Potentially high APR. This card comes with a higher average APR range than other American Express cards.
Not widely accepted abroad. American Express cards are less commonly accepted abroad than Visa or Mastercard credit cards.
15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in your first 3 months.
Also, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for purchases at US restaurants within the first 3 months.
The mid-tier AAdvantage card is a safe bet during these uncertain times when travel may not be top of mind. It offers a lot of value for a low annual fee, including 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and on restaurant and gas station spending, which is more categories than you'd find with the similarly priced AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®. You'll also get access to useful American Airlines perks, as well as flight discounts after meeting annual spend requirements and renewing your card.
Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Rewards. Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, on gas station and restaurant purchases. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
American Airlines perks. Get first checked bag free and preferred boarding on American Airlines itineraries, plus 25% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases, and a $125 flight discount when you spend $20,000 or more in a cardmembership year.
Taxes and fees. You're on the hook for taxes and fees for flights you book using bonus miles.
No lounge access. This card lacks some of the amenities of higher end airline cards, including lounge passes and TSA PreCheck credits.
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
15.99% to 24.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee
50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
The information about Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® has been collected independently by Finder and and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer.
What’s changed in 2021
Given safety concerns related to travel in 2020, our favorite airline picks remained relatively unchanged in 2021, though the cards themselves received some small tweaks to help consumers continue to find value while they’re not traveling.
Since there is no single “best” airline credit card for all types of travelers, you’ll need to consider a few factors to find the card that best fits your individual needs.
Look at your options from your preferred airlines. Most airlines offer at least a few credit cards that can help you earn and redeem miles on flights. However, some airlines offer more choices than others.
Pick based on your travel frequency. If you travel a lot, you’re bound to get more value out of an airline card with a larger annual fee thanks to the additional perks it offers.
Review the card perks. Airline cards can come with a variety of perks, ranging from free checked bags to in-flight discounts. If you’re looking for a specific perk you’ll want to ensure that it’s listed on the card’s features.
Let’s break down how airline credit cards work
An airline credit card typically offers rewards for airline purchases, usually in the form of airline miles. You can redeem these miles on flights or other related purchases, such as seat upgrades.
Airline cards tend to come in two varieties: cobranded cards that are associated with a specific airline, and general airline cards. A cobranded card usually offers more perks or earning potential for that specific airline, which can play a significant role in how you pick an airline card.
Compare & apply for a card
Look at cobranded and general airline cards that fit your airline preferences and apply like normal.
Once you receive your card, use it on categories that earn you the most miles. Cobranded cards tend to reward the most miles for purchases made with that specific airline.
Once you’ve earned enough miles for a flight, you can book one through your credit card account or the frequent flyer program associated with your credit card.
Pros and cons of airline credit cards
Earn big miles on airline purchases. Airline cards let you earn better than average rewards on airline purchases. You can redeem these rewards on flights, upgrades and more.
Airline perks. Many airline credit cards come with airline specific perks, such as free checked bags or airport lounge access.
Earn award flights without airline spending. Some airline cards let you earn miles while spending on everyday purchases such as groceries.
Can be expensive. Many of the best airline cards come with large annual fees. You’ll need to make sure you use your card enough to offset this annual fee.
Redemption options can be limited. Depending on the card, you might have fewer redemption options for your rewards than you’d have with a general travel card.
When is an airline credit card worth it?
An airline credit card isn’t worth it for every traveler. Generally, the value an airline card brings has to at least offset the cost of the card’s annual fee. Here are some signs your use of an airline card could exceed that fee and be worth a spot in your wallet.
You favor a specific airline. If you prefer a specific airline over others, you might be an ideal candidate for a cobranded airline card. These cards tend to have more generous perks and rewards than general airline cards.
You travel heavy. If you’re always checking bags when you fly, an airline credit card can save you hundreds of dollars over the year.
You don’t want other rewards. An airline credit card is a better pick than a general travel card if you plan on only reinvesting your rewards back into travel.
You’re interested in elite status. Some airline credit cards can help you reach the next tier of an airline’s elite program faster.
You want a companion pass. Many of the best airline cards available offer companion passes, either as a welcome offer or on each card anniversary. These passes are worth hundreds of dollars.
You regularly use the card. A card with all manner of perks isn’t worth it if you don’t use that card on a regular basis – especially if the card requires an annual fee.
You asked, we listened: Top 5 common questions
With so many airline credit cards to choose from, it’s only natural to have some questions. Here are the 5 most common questions we receive on the subject.
How much are credit card airline miles worth? The ultimate value of an airline mile can vary greatly depending on the specific loyalty program and how you redeem your miles.
Can I get an airline credit card with bad credit? Most airline credit cards require a good or better credit score. However, you can still use another type of credit card for your airline purchases.
What kinds of airline cards are there? Airline credit cards come in two varieties: cobranded, which are released under the umbrella of a specific airline, and general, which can be used on any airline.
Do I need a frequent flyer number to use an airline card? Only if you’re using a cobranded credit card. These cards need to be linked to your frequent flyer number to generate miles and provide rewards.
What’s the difference between airline credit cards and travel credit cards? Airline credit cards generate miles and offer rewards specifically for flights. Travel credit cards offer general points that can be used on airlines as well as other travel options, such as hotels and cruises.
The best airline credit card for you will depend on your credit score, spending habits and how often you fly. We’ve highlighted some of the top performing cards on the market, but if none of these cards quite hit the mark, compare more airline credit cards to find the right fit.
Credit card ratings
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Our team evaluates credit cards to determine their value against similar cards on the market.
We rank card types — travel, cash back, business — on a set of factors that are most relevant to that type of card. We create these rankings to help you narrow down a credit card that best suits your spending and budget.
Kevin Joey Chen is a credit cards, banking and investments writer whose work and analysis have appeared on CNN, U.S. News & World Report, Business.com, Lifehacker and CreditCards.com. He's passionate about helping you get your finances in order by expertly navigating cutting-edge financial tools — including credit cards, apps and budgeting software.
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