Best no-annual-fee airline credit cards

May 21, 2021

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.

Starter travel rewards cards come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for a way to earn frequent flyer miles with your favorite airline, there are numerous options available.

New to The Points Guy? Want to learn more about credit card points and miles? Sign up for our daily newsletter.

No-annual-fee airline credit cards are also fantastic options for experienced award travelers who are already owners of multiple cards in their wallets. These cards can help you top off your mileage balance for your next trip without breaking the bank.

Related: Best airline credit cards of 2021

The best choice for you will depend on your favorite airline, but we like the United Gateway Card out of the bunch for its inclusive earning rates and elevated sign-up bonus.

The best no-annual-fee airline credit cards of 2021

The information for the JetBlue Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Comparing the best no-annual-fee airline credit cards

Card Rewards rate Sign-up bonus/welcome offer
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card 2x on eligible American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores, 1x on all other purchases Earn 10,000 AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card 2x on eligible Delta purchases and dining at restaurants, 1x on other purchases Earn 10,000 SkyMiles after you spend $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
JetBlue Card 3x on JetBlue purchases, 2x at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x on all other purchases Earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
United Gateway Card 2x on United purchases, gas stations and local transit and commuting, and 1x on all other purchases Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card 1.25x on all purchases Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

The best no-annual-fee airline credit cards

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card: Best card for American Airlines

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 2x on American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores, 1x on other purchases.

Other benefits: Besides the ability to earn bonus miles, the only additional benefit you’ll get with this card is a 25% discount on inflight purchases. If you want to add an authorized user to this card, you can do so without tacking on an additional fee. Keep in mind that this card does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, so you’ll want to avoid using it abroad.

Analysis: The MileUp card currently offers a sign-up bonus with $190 in value, including the $50 statement credit offer (based on TPG’s valuations). In 2021, American Airlines is also making it easier to earn elite status. By spending $30,000 or more on purchases with your eligible AAdvantage card, the elite qualifying dollar requirement for AAdvantage Gold, Platinum or Platinum Pro will be waived. If you’re able to meet this high spending threshold, you can speed your way to elite status, which can get you excellent perks that come with American Airlines’ credit cards with (much) higher annual fees.

Further reading: AAdvantage MileUp review

APPLY HERE: AAdvantage MileUp

Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card: Best card for Delta Air Lines

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Current welcome offer: Earn 10,000 SkyMiles after you spend $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 2x on eligible Delta purchases and dining at restaurants, 1x on other purchases.

Other benefits: The Delta Blue Amex is the best way to earn SkyMiles without ever incurring an annual fee. You’ll also enjoy benefits such as 20% savings on inflight purchases (in the form of a statement credit), no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees) and a number of shopping and travel protections. These include secondary rental car coverage, the Global Assist Hotline for travel emergencies, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

Analysis: According to TPG valuations, Delta SkyMiles are worth 1.1 cents each — making this welcome offer worth $110. This card offers a unique incentive when you pay for flights using your SkyMiles, giving you a $50 discount off the flight cost for every 5,000 miles you redeem with Delta’s Pay with Miles feature. 

Further reading: Delta Blue review

APPLY HERE: Delta Blue Amex

JetBlue Card: Best card for JetBlue Airways

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 3x on JetBlue purchases, 2x at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x on all other purchases.

Other benefits: The JetBlue Card’s earning rate is better than most cards on this list, as you’ll not only earn 3 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases but 2 points per dollar on both restaurants and groceries. Plus, you’ll get a nice 50% discount on inflight purchases and enjoy no foreign transaction fees.

Analysis: This sign-up bonus is worth $130 based on TPG’s valuations. While not necessarily unique to the card, JetBlue allows for points pooling, which means you can combine your reward balances with up to seven friends and family members. If you and several friends and family open this no-annual-fee card, you can collect a decent boost of TrueBlue points.

Further reading: JetBlue Card review

Related: Best credit cards for JetBlue flyers

United Gateway Card: Best card for United Airlines

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 2x on United purchases, gas stations and local transit and commuting, and 1x on all other purchases.

Other benefits: The United Gateway offers double miles on an impressive number of categories beyond United purchases, catered to those who are constantly on the go. You’ll also earn 25% back on your inflight purchases and forgo foreign transaction fees. This card is issued by Chase, who, by far, offers the most shopping and travel coverages, including secondary car rental coverage, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

Analysis: Since United MileagePlus miles are worth 1.3 cents each according to TPG’s valuations, you’re looking at $260 in value from the sign-up bonus alone. As a United cardmember, you’ll have access to United-exclusive events through the carrier and Chase, as well as the ability to book hotels through Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection for elite-like perks.

Further reading: United Gateway review

APPLY HERE: United Gateway

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best card for airline transfer partners

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Current sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards rate: Earn 1.25x on all purchases.

Other benefits: The ability to earn an unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases may be compelling for beginners who don’t want to keep track of bonus categories. In that case, you may want to opt for this travel card instead of an airline card to gain the most rewards flexibility. With your Capital One miles, you can redeem at a fixed rate of 1 cent each for any airline, hotel or miscellaneous travel booking. Or, you can transfer your miles to Capital One’s 16 airline and three hotel partners for potentially even greater value.

Analysis: We recently raised the value of Capital One miles thanks to the recent addition of four new transfer partners and a 1:1 transfer tier for select programs (in conjunction with existing 2:1.5 and 2:1 rates). Therefore, this sign-up bonus is worth $340 when transferring your miles to airline and hotel loyalty programs (based on TPG’s monthly calculations).

Further reading: Capital One VentureOne review

APPLY HERE: Capital One VentureOne

Bottom line

Nothing feels better than redeeming your airline miles for a free flight, and this is entirely possible by applying for any of the no-annual-fee cards on this list. These airline cards are all excellent introductions into the world of points and miles, as you’ll only have to worry about redeeming through a loyalty program you’re already comfortable with.

For rates and fees of the Delta Blue Amex, click here.

Featured photo by aapsky for Shutterstock.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.