The best airline credit cards of 2020
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If you spend a good chunk of your annual travel on a particular airline, it’s usually a smart move to apply for one of its cobranded credit cards. But that’s not the only reason to add an airline card to your wallet. Some benefits can apply well beyond travel on that particular carrier, especially when you consider each airline’s partners and redemption perks.
The overall best card to have for airline purchases is the Capital One Venture card, one of the undeniable best credit cards. Earning 2x miles on every purchase means you’re being rewarded no matter airline you fly or what site you book your tickets through. Plus, Capital One miles are flexible — you can erase your travel purchases with a statement credit or transfer miles to a partner airline for maximum value. Here are all of the best airline cards for all different kinds of travelers.
The best airline rewards credit cards
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for spending miles on all airlines
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for beginner travelers on all airlines
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best for occasional Delta flyers
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Best for regular Delta flyers
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Best for Admirals Club access
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for earning Alaska Airlines miles
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: Best for Southwest Airlines business travelers
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Best for elite Delta flyers
- JetBlue Plus Card: Best for JetBlue flyers
Comparing best airline rewards credit cards offers
|CREDIT card||Best for||Annual fee||Bonus value**|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Earning miles across all airlines||$95, waived the first year||$700|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Beginner travelers on all airlines||$95||$1,200|
|Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card||Occasional Delta flyers||$99, waived the first year (see rates and fees)||$840|
|Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card||Regular Delta flyers||$250 (see rates and fees)||$1,200|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®||Admirals Club access||$450||$700|
|United Explorer Card||United flyers||$95 (waived the first year)||$780|
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card||Earning Alaska Airlines miles||$75||$720|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card||Southwest fanatics||$199||$1,500|
|Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card||Elite Delta flyers||$550 (see rates and fees)||$1,200|
|JetBlue Plus Card||JetBlue flyers||$99||$520|
**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
The information for the JetBlue Plus has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The best airline rewards credit cards
Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $700, according to TPG valuations
Rewards: Earn 2x miles on all purchases
Why it’s the best airline card for earning miles across airlines: Flexibility is hard to find in an airline card but the Venture makes it easy to earn and redeem miles. You use miles earned to “erase” any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile or you can transfer your miles to one of Capital One’s transfer partners. Cardholders also get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years (up to $100), which is a rare benefit for a card with a $95 annual fee.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Further reading: Capital One Venture card review
APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Welcome bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations
Rewards: Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining
Why it’s the best airline card for beginner travelers on all airlines: We’ve long suggested the Chase Sapphire Preferred for those who are new to earning travel rewards because it lets you earn valuable, transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with strong bonus categories and a reasonable annual fee. It’s particularly useful as an airline credit card, since the points earned on this card can transfer to United, Southwest, British Airways and six other airlines. If you apply for this card now, you can earn the bonus in time to book your summer travel in 2020. When those points hit your account after three months, it’ll be like a Christmas present to yourself.
Annual fee: $95
Further reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred card review
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Welcome bonus: Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles: 60,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months and an additional 10,000 miles after your first card anniversary. This bonus is worth up to $840, according to TPG’s valuations. (Offer expires 4/1/2020 )
Rewards: 2x miles on eligible Delta purchases, restaurants and U.S. supermarkets and 1x on everything else.
Why it’s the best airline card for occasional Delta flyers: The Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex card is the airline’s entry-level card with a $99 fee (see rates and fees). With this card, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees) and 20% in savings on inflight purchases. Plus, a recent refresh of the card added expanded earning categories and a $100 Delta flight credit after you spend $10k in a calendar year. Unfortunately, you are no longer able to use this card to earn a waiver of the Medallion Qualification Dollars requirement for elite status, and you’ll no longer have discounted Sky Club access. But if you’re an occasional Delta flyer who wants a way to earn bonus miles while enjoying a few elite-status-like perks, this might be the card for you.
Annual fee: $99, waived the first year
Further reading: Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex card review
APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
Welcome bonus: Up to 100,000 bonus miles (an all-time high). Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months, plus earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership. This bonus is worth up to $1,200, according to TPG’s valuations.(Offer expires 4/1/2020.)
Rewards: 3x on eligible Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2x restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
Why it’s the best airline card for regular Delta flyers: The new changes to the card mean a higher annual fee, but you’re also getting a few added benefits to help maximize your travel experience. The card has added enhanced spending categories and a (long overdue) TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit. For those hoping to hit elite status, you will still be able to use this card as a way to get Delta’s MQD requirement for elite status waived (up to the Platinum level) when you spend $25,000 on it in a calendar year. You can also earn 10,000 MQMs when you spend $25,000 in a year, and another 10,000 MQMs if you spend $50,000 in a year (though keep in mind you will no longer get the bonus miles that used to accompany the MQMs). So if you need just a little help hitting your desired Medallion status, this card is one way to help you get it.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Further reading: Platinum Delta SkyMiles card review
APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card
Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $700, according to TPG valuations
Rewards: 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar on everything else
Why it’s the best airline card for Admirals Club: If you fly American frequently, this card is worth having for the perks it provides. It comes with an Admirals Club airport lounge membership that gets you and your immediate family (or up to two guests) into dozens of club locations around the world, when you have a same-day boarding pass for an eligible American Airlines or select partner airline flight. You’ll get priority check-in, airport screening and boarding when flying American, a first bag checked free for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application-fee credit (up to $100). The card also offers a way to earn EQMs towards AAdvantage elite status when you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.
Annual fee: $450
Further reading: Citi AAdvantage Executive Card review
APPLY HERE: Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
Welcome bonus: For a limited time, earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.The full bonus is worth $780 according to TPG’s valuations.
Rewards: 2x miles on United purchases and at restaurants and hotels, 1 mile per dollar on everything else
Why it’s the best airline card for United flyers: The entry-level United personal credit card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, hotels and United purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The main perks include a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation, as long as you purchase your ticket (or any taxes and fees on an award ticket) from United using the Explorer Card. You’ll also get priority boarding, two, one-time United Club passes each year, a 25% discount on inflight United purchases — including Wi-Fi, food and beverages — and access to additional award space.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Further reading: United Explorer Card review
APPLY HERE: United Explorer Card
Welcome bonus: 40,000 miles, plus Alaska’s companion fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22), after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — worth $720, according to TPG valuations.
Rewards: 3x miles on Alaska purchases, 1x mile on everything else
Why it’s the best airline card for earning Alaska Airlines miles: There is a lot to love about the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. First, you’re getting a solid welcome bonus that includes a companion fare (which potentially adds hundreds of dollars in value). In addition, you get your first checked bag free, 50% off Alaska Lounge day passes and the companion fare from $121 each year after your account anniversary. It’s a no-brainer for anyone who flies Alaska or its partners throughout the year.
Annual fee: $75
Further reading: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card review
APPLY HERE: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
Welcome bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus points; earn 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first six months. According to TPG valuations, this bonus is worth up to $1,500.
Rewards: 3x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, 2x points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services and 1x point on everything else
Why it’s the best airline card for Southwest business travelers: If you’re a Southwest fanatic (like TPG’s Benet Wilson), this card helps you rack up Rapid Rewards points along with the best lineup of Southwest-specific benefits among the airline’s five cards. You’re getting four upgraded boardings to use each year, lowering your chances of getting stuck in an undesirable seat, 9,000 points every year on your cardmember anniversary, up to $100 every four years to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fee and 365 $8 Wi-Fi credits per year. You can also earn tier-qualifying points (TQPs) toward A-List status by hitting annual spending requirements. This card comes with the highest annual fee of Southwest’s business credit cards, but at $199 it’s still incredibly affordable for anyone who frequently flies with Southwest.
Annual fee: $199
Further reading: Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card review
Welcome bonus: Up to 100,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), an all-time high for this card. Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months, plus earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership. TPG values this bonus at $1,200. (Offer expires 4/1/2020.)
Rewards: 3x on eligible Delta purchases
Why it’s the best airline card for elite Delta flyers: The Delta Reserve Card is the airline’s most expensive, with a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). The card comes with a free Sky Club lounge membership (and two one-time passes for guests — you can also bring up to two guests for $39 per person per visit), a free checked bag and priority boarding for up to nine travelers on the same reservation as the cardmember, no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees) and 20% in savings on inflight purchases.
This card can also help you achieve Delta Medallion elite status, since you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000, $60,000, $90,000 and $120,000 in a calendar year. Considering you get a MQD waiver (for up to Platinum status) after spending $25k in a year, this card could get you Gold Medallion status without you ever having to step foot on a plane — or Platinum status if you can snag the above welcome offer and hit the $120,000 spending threshold. You also receive a round-trip companion certificate every year when you renew the card, valid for domestic first class, Delta Comfort+ or domestic Main Cabin. Finally, you’ll now enjoy complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions and a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit.
If you’re a regular Delta flyer who wants the luxury perks that come with a card targeting elite travelers, this is your card.
Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)
Further reading: Delta Reserve Amex card review
APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card
Welcome bonus: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days — worth $520, according to TPG’s valuations. However, we have seen reports of targeted offers of up to 60,000 points, so be on the lookout for those.
Rewards: 6x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, 1x point on everything else
Why it’s the best airline card for JetBlue flyers: If you’re looking to use credit card spending to hit elite status with JetBlue, the JetBlue Plus Card can help. You’ll earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status after you spend $50,000 each year with the card. The JetBlue Plus also comes with some nice benefits when you fly JetBlue, including a free checked bag (which even applies on new Blue Basic fares), an unlimited 10% rebate when you redeem points, a 50% discount on in-flight purchases and 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary — all of which could make this a long-term keeper in your wallet.
Annual fee: $99
Further reading: JetBlue Plus card review
APPLY HERE: JetBlue Plus Card
Airline credit cards with no annual fee
The best airline credit cards offer a panoply of perks that save travelers time, money and stress. The benefits that most airline cards confer seem fairly standard at this point, with only slight variations from one product to another.
Those incentives typically include free checked bags, some measure of priority in the boarding process, the ability to earn multiple miles per dollar on airfare and other purchases and even airport lounge access and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application-fee reimbursements at the higher echelons.
Unfortunately, the airline credit cards that offer these advantages often charge annual fees ranging from $95-$450. Sensing an opportunity to attract younger customers who might be just be getting started with credit, as well as potential customers who prefer earning miles over elite-style benefits, several airlines have introduced new no-annual-fee credit cards with pared-down perks.
These cards may not carry the same rewards as their more expensive counterparts but they are worth considering, especially if you are looking to hang onto a credit card for several years without having to shell out hundreds of dollars for the privilege.
|Airline card||Welcome Bonus||Bonus value**|
|American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card||10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months||$190|
|Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card||15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. Offer ends 4/1/2020. Terms apply.||$120|
|JetBlue Credit Card||10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days||$130|
|United TravelBank Credit Card||$150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months||$150|
**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.
Welcome bonus: 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases within three months of account opening
Rewards: 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases but also at grocery stores (including delivery services); 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
Why you should consider it: The MileUp Card is a decent option to start earning in the AAdvantage program without having to fly much or pay an annual fee. Though its sign-up bonus is low, applicants don’t have to worry about hitting high minimum spending requirements. Likewise, travelers who already enjoy travel benefits on American thanks to elite status but want a card that makes earning on ticket and grocery purchases easier might find this card useful.
Fees: There’s no annual fee, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.
APPLY HERE: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card
Welcome bonus:15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. (Offer expires 4/1/2020.)
Rewards: This card offers you double miles at restaurants worldwide as well as on all Delta purchases, including Sky Club membership or passes, Delta Vacations packages, seat upgrades and inflight purchases of food, beverages and audio headsets. You earn 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
Why you should consider it: If you want a major mileage haul and benefits that mimic Medallion status, you’re better off carrying one of the more premium Delta credit cards. However, if you already enjoy elite status or simply want to rack up miles on everyday purchases including a bonus at restaurants, all without an annual fee (see rates and fees), the Blue version might be a good choice for you. You’ll also now get access to Pay with Miles and enjoy no foreign transaction fees with the card’s recent refresh.
Fees: No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)
APPLY HERE: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
JetBlue Credit Card
Welcome bonus: 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
Rewards: 3x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere
Why you should consider it: Both the JetBlue Card and the JetBlue Plus Card are great products. If you don’t mind paying a $99 annual fee, the JetBlue Plus offers several extra benefits, including a higher welcome offer, anniversary bonus points, redemption refunds, statement credits and a shot at Mosaic status. But if the majority of your spending is on non-JetBlue purchases and you prefer a card with no annual fee, you might as well get the regular JetBlue Card since it earns the same number of points on non-airline spending.
Fees: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
United TravelBank Credit Card
Welcome bonus: $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening
Rewards: Earn 2% of your spending back in TravelBank cash on tickets purchased from United. You also earn 1.5% in TravelBank cash spent on all other purchases. Unlike miles, a dollar of TravelBank cash equals a dollar of credit that you can use toward the purchase of a ticket on flights operated by United, but not for flights operated by Star Alliance carriers or other partners. TravelBank cash can be used alone or combined with select forms of payment during the purchase.
Why you should consider it: The TravelBank Card’s two main attributes are its lack of an annual fee and a solid 1.5% earning rate on everyday purchases. However, the fact that you can only redeem the cash back you earn for United tickets limits its usefulness. The United Explorer Card is probably a better all-around choice for most frequent flyers thanks to its travel benefits, its multiple bonus earning categories and the usefulness of United MileagePlus miles for awards not only on United flights, but also on flights of its Star Alliance and other partners.
Fees: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
The information for the United TravelBank Credit 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.
Do you need an airline credit card?
Cobranded airline credit cards usually don’t offer the highest return on spending for airfare purchases, so if you’re simply looking to maximize your spending, you’d do better with a card that earns valuable transferable points. That being said, airline credit cards are worth looking at for the airline-specific perks they offer.
Just about every type of traveler can take advantage of an airline card, whether you’re a beginner to the points-and-miles game or a seasoned frequent flyer. Most airline credit cards include benefits like a free checked bag, early boarding and sometimes even discounts on inflight purchases — which can be particularly valuable if you live in a hub city for one of the major carriers.
Airline credit cards of a more premium nature can also include the option to earn elite-qualifying miles for those pursuing airline status and even lounge access in some cases. Those who need a little help hitting elite status or want to enjoy elite status-like benefits while they work to hit a tier can benefit from an airline card and its perks.
In short, having an airline credit card can make your flight experience more enjoyable (and even less expensive) if you frequently fly with a specific carrier, while those who simply pick the cheapest fare available may be better served by a card that earns transferable points. However, even those travelers could consider an airline credit card if they’re looking for miles to book a specific award itinerary for later this year.
How we chose the top airline credit cards
When we assembled our list of the best airline credit cards for this year, we took into account the extra value each card can bring to flyers with different travel needs and preferences. In this post, we’re looking at consumer airline and business airline credit cards, evaluating annual fees, travel perks, offer bonuses and spending requirements to compile the best airline credit cards
If you know what airline you want to travel on, it makes choosing an airline credit card much easier, but you can review our analysis of the best and worst airlines here to see what the major carriers offer. At the end of the day, TPGers all have our favorites, and there is no right or wrong preference. In fact, as you saw from the above list, most major airlines offer multiple cobranded options to fit the needs of a wide range of customers.
The difference between airline and travel credit cards
We included two travel credit cards — the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture — in our list because of their flexibility. Both of these cards are great for beginners, but luxury travelers who want to maximize airfare purchases should consider a card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers 5x on airfare booked directly with the airline (a 10% return on spending according to our valuations).
As a rule, credit cards that earn transferable points (such as Amex, Capital One, Chase or Citi points) get you a better return on spending. They don’t usually have airline-specific perks or a way to earn elite status on airlines, but they do allow you to transfer points to a specific carrier’s loyalty program.
How to maximize your airline credit cards
The simplest way to make the most of your airline credit card(s) is to study every perk and benefit that comes with these products and then use them. If you check luggage on flights, you can save $60 round-trip with the free checked bag that typically comes with these cards — or even more if you have travel companions. If the card comes with statement credits, do the spending required to get them. Use fee credits to cover expenses such as airport lounge access, seat upgrades or inflight food and beverage purchases.
For those chasing airline elite status, see if your credit card offers a way to help achieve it. If it does, consider doing the spending required to get it — but remember the TPG Golden Rule of paying off your credit cards every month to get the maximum benefit. You should also be sure to take advantage of free companion certificates to take a friend or loved one on a trip with you.
Finally, don’t overlook benefits such as extended warranty coverage and purchase and return protection.
Most airline credit card users will be better off paying an annual fee to enjoy far more benefits from their card, but there are some exceptions. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card is a great choice for infrequent travelers and Delta flyers who want to earn double miles at restaurants. Likewise, the AAdvantage MileUp Card lets you earn double AA miles at supermarkets and on grocery delivery services. Even the no-annual-fee JetBlue card from Barclays offers you double points at restaurants and grocery stores along with 3x points for JetBlue purchases.
Every one of the airline cards with an annual fee offers at least one unique benefit not available on any other credit card, so if one of those perks fits your travel needs, you’ll want to consider paying an annual fee for an airline card. Just make sure your choice fits your travel goals. And of course, if you’re a regular flyer on one of these airlines, definitely take a hard look at a higher-end card to see if one of them can make your time in the air cheaper, more comfortable or more rewarding — or potentially accomplish all three at the same time.
- Beginner’s guide to points and miles
- The best travel credit cards
- Best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor, Eric Rosen and Benét J. Wilson.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta Amex card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Delta SkyMiles card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve, please click here.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best currently available airline credit cards, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
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.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 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, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.