11 airline credit cards that offer the best non-airfare category bonuses

Nov 12, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Not so long ago, most airline credit cards only offered multiple miles per dollar on one single category: airfare. And not just any airfare — only airfare on the partner airline itself.

Lately, though, airlines have faced increasing competition from premium cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, not to mention newer hotel cobranded cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, all of which accrue multiple points per dollar on a variety of purchase categories.

Image by Parinda Yatha / EyeEm / Getty Images.
Many airline credit cards now let you rack up multiple miles per dollar on groceries, among other purchases. (Image by Parinda Yatha/EyeEm/Getty Images.)

In order to remain competitive and retain cardholders, airline credit cards have had to up their earning game lately. Now, credit cards from American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United, among others — including some with no annual fees — all have non-airline bonus categories such as dining, groceries and hotel stays.

Here are the 11 best airline credit cards that offer non-airfare bonus earning opportunities and the categories in which you can maximize them. Stay tuned for a future post with the best business airline credit cards for non-airfare bonuses.

Card Earning Categories Welcome offer Annual fee
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® 2x at restaurants and gas stations 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months $99, waived first year
AAdvantage Aviator Silver 2x on hotels and car rentals None $195
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card 2x at grocery stores 10,000 miles after you spend $500 in the first three months $0
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Starting 1/30/2020: 2x at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets 75,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $3K in the first three months, plus a $100 statement credit $195, $250 after 1/30/2020 (see rates and fees)
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Starting 1/30/2020: 2x at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets 60,000 miles after you spend $2K in the first three months $95, $99 after 1/30/2020 (see rates and fees)
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express 2x miles at U.S. restaurants (worldwide after 1/30/2020) 10,000 miles after you spend $500 in the first three months $0 (see rates and fees)
Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® 3x at restaurants 40,000 miles after you spend $500 in the first 90 days $79
Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard 2x on gas, dining, grocery stores 60,000 miles after you spend $2K in the first 90 days $99
JetBlue Plus Card 2x at restaurants and grocery stores 40,000 points after $1K in 90 days $99
JetBlue Card 2x at restaurants and grocery stores 10,000 points after $1K in 90 days $0
United℠ Explorer Card 2x at restaurants and hotels 40,000 miles after you spend $2K in the first three months $95, waived first year

Now let’s look at specific cards airline by airline to see which ones offer the best bonuses.

In This Post

American Airlines

American fields several personal and business cards that offer non-airline bonuses.

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

Bonus categories: Among other benefits, this solid American Airlines choice earns 2x miles at restaurants and gas stations as well as on American Airlines purchases.

Current welcome offer: 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles when you spend $2,500 in the first three months.

Annual fee: $99, waived the first year.

Other reasons to consider it: Cardholders have access to reduced-mileage AAdvantage awards and can earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount certificate after spending $20,000 or more during a cardmembership year and renewing the card. They receive free checked bags and priority boarding for themselves and up to four companions on the same reservation and a 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases using their card.

Read our review of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® here.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver World Elite Mastercard®

Bonus categories: While you only earn 3x miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases, you can still rack up 2x miles on hotels and car rentals, and 1x per dollar on everything else.

Current welcome offer: Not currently available to new cardholders, although you can upgrade from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.

Annual fee: $195

Other reasons to consider it: Cardholders get up to $25 back per day as statement credits on inflight food and beverage purchases and up to $50 in statement credits for inflight Wi-Fi purchases. They also get free checked bags for themselves and up to eight companions on the same reservation as well as priority boarding.

The Aviator Silver participates in Barclays’ Flight Cents program. This perk allows you to round up purchases to the nearest dollar and earn miles at a rate of two cents apiece. Cardholders who spend $20,000 on purchases per calendar year get 5,000 EQMs toward elite status plus two $99 (plus taxes and fees) companion certificates. Spend $40,000 and you earn 10,000 EQMs total. Starting in 2020, cardholders who spend $50,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year will also be eligible to receive $3,000 EQDs toward AAdvantage elite qualification. Finally, cardholders are eligible for a $100 Global Entry application fee refund once every five years.

Read our review of the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard here.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Bonus categories: Earn 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores.

Current welcome offer: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and get a $50 statement credit after spending $500 within the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $0

Other reasons to consider it: This no-annual-fee card was launched in mid-2018 and is scant on travel benefits, but you can still count on a 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases.

Read our review of the AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card here.

Delta Air Lines

After a revamp coming in January, Delta’s American Express cobranded cards will offer some interesting new bonus opportunities.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Bonus categories: As part of the major changes Delta and American Express announced recently, the personal Platinum version will begin accruing 2x miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets starting Jan. 30, 2020.

Current welcome offer: 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months, plus a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months. If you have not already applied, you might want to wait until a better offer comes around.

Annual fee: $195, or $250 if application received on or after Jan. 30, 2020 (see rates and fees).

Other reasons to consider it: This card offers members an annual companion certificate good for a round-trip Main Cabin fare each year, plus free checked bags for themselves and up to eight companions on the same reservation, along with priority boarding and a 20% discount on inflight purchases. Cardholders can earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles when they spend $25,000 in a calendar year, and 10,000 more MQMs and bonus miles for hitting $50,000, though this will only be MQMs starting next year. Cardholders can purchase discounted passes to Delta Sky Clubs, and will be eligible for an up to $100 Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck application fee refund after January.

Read our review of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express here.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Bonus categories: After Jan. 30, 2020, earn 2x miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.

Current welcome offer:  30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in the first three months, plus a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the same time.

Annual fee: $95, or $99 if application received on or after Jan. 30, 2020 (see rates and fees)

Other reasons to consider it: This card offers the same checked-bag, priority boarding and in-flight purchase benefits as its Platinum counterpart.

Read our review of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express here.

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Bonus categories: While this relatively new card currently only earns 2x miles on Delta purchases and at U.S. restaurants, the dining benefit is expanding worldwide after Jan. 30, 2020, and will waive foreign transaction fees after that date, too.

Current welcome offer: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in the first three months.

Annual fee: $0 (see rates and fees)

Other reasons to consider it: Don’t expect too much from this no-annual-fee card except a 20% in-flight purchase discount.

Read our review of the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express here.

Frontier Airlines

Don’t forget about this card, which racks up elite-qualifying miles in addition to award miles.

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®

Bonus categories: This card racks up 5x miles on Frontier purchases, but also 3x miles at restaurants and 1x everywhere else.

Current welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchase in the first 90 days.

Annual fee: $79

Other reasons to consider it: This card is surprisingly compelling. Cardholders receive a $100 flight voucher every account anniversary after spending $2,500 or more on purchases during a cardmember year. They are also entitled to priority boarding, free family mileage pooling, and the miles earned through purchases count toward elite status.

Read our review of the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® here.

Hawaiian Airlines

Onboard mai tais are one reason to choose Hawaiian. A top-earning credit card is another.

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

Bonus categories: The card earns 3x miles per dollar on Hawaiian Airlines purchases; 2x miles per dollar on gas, dining and grocery store purchases: and 1x mile per dollar on everything else.

Current welcome offer: 60,000 bonus HawaiianMiles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days plus a one-time 50% discount on a companion economy airfare for round-trip travel between Hawaii and the mainland US.

Annual fee: $99

Other reasons to consider it: Cardholders can count on a free checked bag on Hawaiian Airlines flights, access to discounted awards, and can transfer miles to friends or family for free up to 10 times per calendar year. They also receive an annual discount of $100 off a companion ticket for round-trip travel between Hawaii and the mainland U.S.

Read our review of the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard here.

JetBlue

Both the airline’s personal credit cards offer reliable category bonuses.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

JetBlue Plus Card

Bonus categories: Cardholders earn 6x points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2x points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1x point per dollar on everything else.

Current welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

Annual fee: $99

Other reasons to consider it: Cardmembers get a 50% discount on inflight food and cocktail purchases, a free checked bag for themselves and up to three companions, 10% of their redeemed points refunded and 5,000 anniversary bonus points each year. They can also achieve TrueBlue Mosaic status for one year after spending $50,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year.

Read our review of the JetBlue Plus Card here.

JetBlue Card

Bonus categories: This card only earns 3x points on JetBlue purchases, but still accrues 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores.

Current welcome offer: $0

Annual fee: Earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Other reasons to consider it: This is a pretty solid option for a card with no annual fee. It still confers 50% savings on in-flight food and cocktail purchases and waives foreign transaction fees. You just won’t get a free checked bag or a shot at earning Mosaic status through spending.

United Airlines

United’s Explorer card offer several bonuses and benefits.

United Explorer Card

Bonus categories: In addition to United purchases, this card accrues 2x miles per dollar on hotels and dining, making it one of the all-round top potential earners.

Current welcome offer: 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. If you’ve been thinking of applying, though, you might want to hold off since this card has periodically offered higher bonuses.

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.

Other reasons to consider it: Back in June 2018, the United Explorer Card card added a host of new benefits including a 25% discount on in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases aboard United flights. More importantly, it also began to refund cardholders up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four years. That’s in addition to day-of-travel benefits such as free checked bags and priority boarding. As well as some other strong travel protections, the United Explorer is one of the few rewards credit cards to offer primary car rental insurance.

Read our review of the United Explorer Card here.

Bottom line

It’s great that more and more airline cards now (or soon will) earn bonus miles and points on non-airline purchases. However, if you tend to spend the most in one or two categories, it is worth looking into which other travel rewards cards earn the most at those particular merchants to determine which one will help you maximize your spending.

For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on a wide variety of travel purchases as well as on dining, and you can then transfer those points to over a dozen airline and hotel partners. Sure, you won’t get perks such as free checked bags or priority boarding when traveling, but the bonus earning and added flexibility of a transferable points program might suit your needs better.

If you are interested in carrying a particular airline’s credit card, then it certainly pays to make sure the one you select earns bonuses on the types of purchases you most frequently make — such as dining or groceries — so you can rack up reward travel even faster.

Featured image via Getty Images.

 

For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta Skymiles Card, please click here

For rates and fees of the Gold delta skymiles Card, please click here

For rates and fees of the Blue Delta Skymiles Card, please click here

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.