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Best airline credit cards of 2021

We compared nearly 100 airline cards to find the best deals and perks.

Updated

Fact checked

The best airline credit cards of 2021 provide the biggest mileage earnings on purchases along with the most valuable travel perks for the price. 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 card into 8 categories to help you best fly in style.

  • Why trust us? Unlike our competitors, Finder’s credit card experts research and write about all credit cards, including those from providers who aren’t partners on our site. Our trustworthy, unbiased evaluations are solely meant to help you choose the best credit card for your financial needs.
Best airline credit cards

Best for travel credits
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve® logo
Finder Rating: 4.6 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (740-850)
Apply now
on Chase's secure site
Rates & fees

740
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
50,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 10x
Points
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s annual-fee increased, the card still boasts an impressive travel credit to make up the difference. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s credit is highly flexible, allowing you to redeem it on most travel expenses. Other similar cards, such as the Amex Platinum Card, restrict how you can use your credit.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of card membership. This is worth $750 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.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases

Best for Delta
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card logo
Finder Rating: 4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on American Express's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$250
Annual fee
40,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
This card has a higher annual fee after its January 2020 revamp, but it's become more valuable. 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.
  • Welcome offer. Get 40,000 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. You'll also earn 100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the same timeframe.
  • 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 x miles on purchases made at restaurants and US supermarkets. Earn 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.
Annual fee $250
Purchase APR 15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 40,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus $100 after making a Delta purchase in the same timeframe
Rewards 3x miles on Delta and direct hotel purchases, 2x miles at restaurants and US supermarkets and 1x miles for all other purchases

Best for lounge access
The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express logo
Finder Rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on American Express's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
75,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 10x
Points
The Platinum Card® from American Express has a steep $550 annual fee, but it offers a stellar 5x points on flights 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 more. 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. Starting January 1, 2021, however, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to 500,000 annually, reverting to 1x points after that.
  • Welcome offer. Get 75,000 membership rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 10 months of card membership. You'll also earn 10x points at US gas stations and supermarkets, up to $15,000 within your first 6 months of account opening. That's up to $4,500 worth of rewards when transferred to travel partners.
  • Airline 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.
  • Annual fee. Expect to pay $550 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.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR See pay over time APR
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
Rewards 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases. Starting January 1, 2021, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x points).

Best for United
United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$95 ongoing
Annual fee
40,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 2x
Miles
The midtier United℠ Explorer Card continues to offer great value for its price. Beyond typical airline-specific perks, you'll find accelerated rewards on restaurant purchases and hotel stays, as well as a credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. You'll also find a great signup bonus value for the card's annual fee.
  • 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.
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Purchase APR 16.49% to 23.49% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1.5x miles on all other purchases

Best for Southwest
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.1 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$149
Annual fee
50,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 5x
Points
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). You can also find great value from the priority boarding and the generous welcome offer.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 points after you make $2,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of opening your account.
  • 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.
Annual fee $149
Purchase APR 15.99% to 22.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus 30,000 after spending $10,000 in the first 9 months
Rewards 5x points on Southwest between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month, then 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals and 1x points on all other purchases

Best for companion certificate
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.3 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on American Express's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
40,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
Amex increased this card's annual fee in January 2020, but it added attractive perks for the price. The real draw here is the annual companion pass, which grants you one first-class or main cabin flight each year you renew your card account. This pass alone pays for the cost of the card.
  • Welcome offer. Earn 40,000 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.
  • Rewards. Earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and x 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 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.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 40,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 3x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases

Best for earning points from airlines
Citi Prestige® Credit Card

Citi Prestige® Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 3.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Read review
670
Min. credit score
$495
Annual fee
50,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 5x
Points
The Citi Prestige offers an excellent 5x points not only on air travel, but on restaurants as well. And while the annual fee is high, the statement credits and assorted travel perks more than make up for the cost. Keep an eye on this card if you're banking on plenty of travel post-pandemic.
  • Rewards. Earn 5x points on air travel and restaurants, 3x points on hotels and cruiselines, and x points on everything else.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points after making $4,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
  • Travel credits. Enjoy $250 in travel credits each calendar year.
  • Annual fee. This card requires a hefty $495 annual fee to own.
  • High penalty APR. Miss a payment and you could face a penalty APR of up to 29.99%% variable.
Annual fee $495
Purchase APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Now, through December 2021, supermarket and restaurant packages will also count towards the $250 Travel Credit
Rewards 5x points on flights and dining, 3x points on hotels and cruises and 1x points on all other purchases
The information about Citi Prestige® Credit Card has been collected independently by Finder and and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer.

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

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® logo
Finder Rating: 4.1 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (740-850)
Read review
740
Min. credit score
$99 ongoing
Annual fee
50,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 2x
Miles
The mid-tier AAdvantage card is a safe bet during these uncertain times when travel may not be top of mind. It offers 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and on restaurant and gas station spending. You'll 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.
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Purchase APR 15.99% to 24.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
Rewards 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases
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. Though the cards themselves received some small tweaks to help consumers continue to find value. We expect we’ll have some new favorite picks when travel becomes safer.

How to compare airline credit cards

Aside from the card’s APR, here are a few important features to compare when selecting an airline credit card:

  • Airline. If you prefer flying a certain airline, look for a cobranded card that offers rewards specific to that company. Otherwise, a general travel card can help you earn on all airlines.
  • Annual fee. Airline credit cards often feature annual fees to offset the various perks they offer.
  • Signup bonus. Many airline cards offer a mileage signup bonus when you spend within the set requirements. This bonus can easily pay for a roundtrip flight, depending on your destination and class.
  • Earning categories. Cobranded cards tend to earn the most miles on purchases associated with that airline. If you plan on using your card for day-to-day purchases, consider a card that earns miles on those purchases.
  • Perks. Both types of travel cards can offer a variety of perks, including free breakfast, upgraded rooms, statement credits or concierge service access.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Many airline cards forgo foreign transaction fees, though that’s not a guarantee. Make sure to check if you plan on using your card abroad.’

Bottom line

The best card for you will depend on your credit score, spending habits and how often you fly. If none of these cards quite hit the mark, compare more airline credit cards to find the right fit.

Credit card ratings

★★★★★ — Excellent

★★★★★ — Good

★★★★★ — Average

★★★★★ — Subpar

★★★★★ — Poor

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.

Learn the details of our methodology and scoring.

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