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Looking for the best airline credit cards? Most folks already know that if a particular airline sees a good chunk of your annual travel, it’s a smart move to apply for its corresponding co-branded card. But that’s not the only reason to add an airline card to your wallet. Some benefits can apply well beyond travel just on that particular carrier, especially when you consider each airline’s partners and redemption perks.
The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019
Here are the Best Airline Credit Cards:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Best for Southwest
- United Explorer Card and United Explorer Business Card: Best for United
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines
- Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express: Best for Delta
- JetBlue Plus Card: Best for JetBlue
How We Chose the Best Airline Credit Cards
When we assembled our list of the best airline cobranded cards for this year, we made sure to consider the extra value each card can bring, whether you’re flying on that airline or not. Because with so many varying benefits, it’s important to know which card will best match your own travel needs and preferences.
One thing to take into account when you are deciding on an airline credit card is your airline preference. If you know what airline you want to travel on, that makes your decision much easier. You can review the best and worst airlines here. The other major criterion that impacted our list include: the annual fee, travel perks, offer bonus and spending requirements. Below you will find a credit card comparison table which lays out the major factors of our best credit cards so you can evaluate how they rank against each other.
Comparing Airline Credit Cards
Below we can see how each airline credit card compares to the competition.
|Card||Bonus Offer||Annual Fee||Notable Perks|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card||60,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.||$69||3,000 bonus points at your card member anniversary each year|
|United Explorer Card||40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months||$95*||One free checked bag when you use the card to pay for your United flights
Two United Club passes each year
Access to additional award space on United flights
|United Explorer Business Card||50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.||$95*||One free checked bag when you use the card to pay for your United flights
Two United Club passes each year
Access to additional award space on United flights
|Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.||$99*||Free checked bag for you and up to four companions
25% rebate on inflight food and beverage purchases
$125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 in a membership year and renew your card
|Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express||40,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.||$450||Complimentary Sky Club access when you’re traveling on Delta
Free checked bag for you and up to eight companions
Companion certificate for domestic travel each year after your account anniversary
Earn bonus MQMs for high annual spend
|JetBlue Plus Card||40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days||$99||Free checked bag for you and up to three companions
10% rebate on all redeemed TrueBlue points
5,000 bonus points at your card member anniversary each year
Earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status with $50,000 in annual spend
*Annual fee waived the first year.
Which Airline Credit Card is the Best:
Here we will dive into the details of the best airline credit cards and how you can maximize the benefits of each offer.
The biggest complaint about airline miles is they’re impossible to use because there’s never any award space. Well, that’s never a problem with the Rapid Rewards points you can earn with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. Southwest uses a revenue-based, fixed-value redemption system in which the number of points needed to redeem for an airline ticket is tied to the cost of the airfare. So you’ll never get outsized value for your points, but you’ll also never be unable to find award space (unless the flight itself is entirely sold out).
With this card, you’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent at Southwest and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Unfortunately, this card does charge a 3% foreign-transaction fee, so you won’t want to use it on overseas trips. You’ll also get 3,000 bonus points after your card member anniversary each year, and with only a $69 annual fee, the cost of keeping the card long-term is at the low end of the scale for airline cobranded cards.
As United is a member of the Star Alliance, its miles can be used for some great international redemptions on partner airlines, which is one reason why the United Explorer Card cards is on our list.
But another reason is the somewhat unusual but very neat perk in which card holders get access to additional award space on United flights. These seats come out of an entirely different fare bucket than the normal United award space, so if you have this card and sign in to your frequent flyer account on united.com, you’ll have access to more award flights than folks without the card.
You’ll also get one free checked bag when you use the card to pay for your United flights, along with priority boarding and two United Club passes each year at your card member anniversary. Plus, with no foreign transaction fees, this is a card you’ll be able to use anywhere, so for a $95 annual fee, it’s one to think about getting if you’re a regular United traveler. Finally, the card recently added 2x earning rates for spending on dining and hotels, an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and 25% off inflight purchases.
If you really value United Club access and aren’t averse to paying a higher annual fee, you might also consider the United MileagePlus Club Card. It offers a full United Club membership (the main draw), plus two free checked bags on United flights, priority check-in, security and boarding and more. There’s a $450 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees. This card’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months — previously, it didn’t even offer a sign-up bonus.
If you’re a regular traveler on American Airlines, you’ll likely want to pick up the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard to take advantage of its benefits.
With a free checked bag on American flights for you and up to four companions on your reservation (even if you use a different card to pay for the ticket), priority boarding and a 25% rebate on inflight food and beverage purchases, it’s a must-have card for American flyers.
The card has a $99 annual fee, which is waived the first year. Like most other cards on this list, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select waives foreign transaction fees. The card is currently offering a bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. It also recently added 2x earning rates for spending at restaurants and gas stations, as well as a $125 American Airlines flight discount when you spend $20,000 on the card in a membership year and renew your card.
American Express has three personal cards in its Delta lineup, and with a $450 annual fee — the Delta Reserve Credit Card is the most expensive. That said, it could be worth the price if you frequently fly with the carrier and are working toward Delta elite status.
In addition to offering you complimentary Sky Club access when you’re traveling on Delta, the card offers Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) toward Medallion status, both as part of the welcome bonus and for cardholders who meet certain spending thresholds. If you charge at least $30,000 to the card in a year, you’ll get 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs, and you’ll get another 15,000 of each if you charge $60,000 to the card in the same year. Silver Medallion status requires 30,000 MQMs, so you could meet that aspect of qualifying for Delta status through (significant) spending on this card alone.
Other benefits include a companion certificate for domestic travel each year after your account anniversary, 2x miles on Delta purchases, a free checked bag on Delta flights, priority boarding and no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t want to pay a $450 annual fee, you might also consider the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card From American Express, which has a $95 fee that’s waived the first year. With this card, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees and 20% in savings on inflight purchases.
And as far as elite status goes, if you’re considering going for the Gold — or Silver, Platinum or Diamond — Delta will waive its MQD requirement up to Platinum status if you spend $25,000 on one of its co-branded cards. It recently increased the waiver requirement for Diamond status to $250,000.
You may not be able to get outsized value for your points with TrueBlue, JetBlue’s fixed-value frequent flyer program. But the JetBlue Plus card comes with some great benefits that will make booking and flying on JetBlue easier than ever, plus some decent bonus categories to boot.
As with most of the other cards on this list, with the JetBlue Plus you and up to three of your companions on the same reservation get a free checked bag whenever you fly JetBlue, which will save you at least $20 on every flight you take. You’ll also get a 10% rebate on all your redeemed TrueBlue points, but unlike the American AAdvantage cards, there’s no annual cap, so you’ll benefit from it every time you redeem. You can also earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status with $50,000 in annual spend on the card. And each year at your anniversary when you pay the $99 annual fee, you’ll get 5,000 bonus points just for renewing. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, those points are worth $65, which offsets two-thirds of the annual fee.
On the earning side, the JetBlue Plus card outshines most of the other cards on this list, with 6 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x on all other purchases. For dining purchases you may want to use a card that earns flexible rewards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but the return on grocery spend can definitely be useful for most households.
Featured image courtesy of Chris Sattlberger via Getty Images.
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.
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- Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- Earn 2 miles per $1 at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores
- Earn 2 miles per $1 on United purchases and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
- Free checked bag - save up to $120 per roundtrip (terms apply)
- Two one-time United Club℠ passes each year — more than a $100 value
- Priority boarding for you and companions on the same reservation on United-operated flights
- Employee cards at no additional cost