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Best airline credit cards of 2021

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

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 cards into eight categories to help you best fly in style.

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.

  • 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.

What are the 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
60,000
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. 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.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $900 through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Estimated welcome offer value $900 based on Finder's valuation
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
50,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
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 up to $100 back as statement credits on eligible US restaurant purchases in 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 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 Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months plus up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants in the same timeframe
Estimated welcome offer value $700 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 3x miles on Delta and direct hotel purchases, 2x miles at restaurants and US supermarkets and 1x miles for all other purchases
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

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 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. 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 6 months of card membership. You'll also earn 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets, on 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
Estimated welcome offer value $4,500 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 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
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

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. 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.
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, plus 25,000 miles after spending $10,000 in the first 6 months
Estimated welcome offer value $845 based on Finder's valuation
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
40,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 3x
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). 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 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the 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.
Annual fee $149
Purchase APR 15.99% to 22.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year
Estimated welcome offer value $600 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year, 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
50,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
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. Also earn up to $100 back in statement credits on eligible US restaurants during that same time frame.
  • 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 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 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months plus up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants in the same timeframe
Estimated welcome offer value $700 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 3x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

Best for earning points from airlines
Citi Prestige® Credit Card

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

★★★★★

Credit recommended (740-850)
Read review
740
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. This is incredibly uncommon for a general travel card — other cards that earn 5x points on travel are usually restricted to certain airlines. And while the annual fee is high, the statement credits and assorted travel perks more than make up for the cost. The only tradeoff is Citi's transfer partners are largely international airlines, but if you're someone who doesn't stick to a single airline, this is an impressive travel rewards card.
  • Rewards. Earn 5x points on air travel and restaurants, 3x points on hotels and cruise lines, and 1x 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
Estimated welcome offer value $850 based on Finder's valuation
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 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 (670-850)
Read review
670
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 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.
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
Estimated welcome offer value $750 based on Finder's valuation
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.

Compare all airline credit cards

There are dozens of airline credit cards on the market and just because they aren’t on our best list doesn’t mean they’re not worth a spot in your wallet. You can compare all airline card options to see how they stack up and find one that best suits your travel needs.

How to choose the best airline credit card

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.

Earn miles

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.

Redeem miles

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.

Airline credit card pros and cons

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Bottom line

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

★★★★★ — 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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