The best airline credit cards of 2019

Oct 6, 2019

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Looking for the best airline credit card? If you spend a good chunk of your annual travel on a particular airline, it’s usually a smart move to apply for its corresponding cobranded credit card. 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 best airline credit cards of 2019

Comparing best airline credit cards offers

CREDIT  card Best for Annual fee Bonus value**
United Explorer Business Card United business flyers $95 Up to $1,300
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Beginner travelers on all airlines $95 $1,200
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard Partner award redemptions $90 Up to $1,200
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Regular Delta flyers $195 ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)  (see rates and fees) $1,000
CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard® American business flyers $99 (waived the first 12 months) $980
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express Elite Delta flyers $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (see rates and fees) $900
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card Southwest fanatics $149 Up to $900
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Regular Southwest flyers $99 Up to $900
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card Occasional Southwest flyers $69 Up to $900
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Occasional Delta flyers $95 (see rates and fees) $770
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card Earning Alaskan Airlines miles $75 $720
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Spending miles on all airlines $95, waived the first year $700
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® American Airlines flyers $99, waived the first year $700
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® Admirals Club access $450 $700
United Explorer Card United flyers $95 $520
JetBlue Plus Card JetBlue flyers $99 $520

**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

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 because it’s important to know which card will best match your own travel needs and preferences. In this post, we’re looking at consumer airline and business airline credit cards.

If you know what airline you want to travel on, it makes your decision much easier in choosing an airline credit card. You can review the best and worst airlines here — TPGers all have our favorites and there is no right or wrong preference. Most major airlines offer multiple cobranded options to fit the needs of a wide range of customers. The other major criteria in putting together our list included: annual fee, travel perks, offer bonus and spending requirements.

The best airline credit cards

United Explorer Business Card

Welcome bonus: 50,000 United MileagePlus miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 50,000 miles after you spend $25,000 total in purchases in the first six months of account opening. This bonus is worth up to $1,300, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on United purchases and at gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants

Why we like it: We’ve never seen a 100,000-mile bonus on this card, so this sign-up offer makes it a card to strongly consider — if your business expenses generally add up to the high $25,000 spending requirement. Even though United is removing its fixed award chart for flights on or after November 15, you can still find excellent value through the airline’s Star Alliance partnerships and take advantage of access to additional award space on United flights

Annual fee: $95

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: United Explorer Business Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.)

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 we like it: 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 spring break travel in 2020. When those points hit your account after three months, it’ll be like a mini Christmas present to yourself.

Annual fee: $95

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Welcome bonus:  60,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening, plus an additional 5,000 miles for adding two authorized users and an additional 15,000 miles after spending a total of $25,000 within your anniversary year. This total bonus is worth up to $1,200 according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: Earn 3 miles per dollar spend directly with Virgin Atlantic and 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Why we like it: With this card’s current offer, you can earn up to 80,000 bonus miles within your first year when you include the primary sign-up bonus, the authorized users and the anniversary bonus. That’s 10,000 miles less than the highest offer we’ve ever seen on this card, but the required spend is a lot less than usual — in this case, you only need to spend $2,000 to earn two-thirds of the bonus miles. Plus, TPG valuations place the earning rate for this card at a 4.5% return on Virgin Atlantic purchases and a 2.25% return for everything else. A lot of cards stop offering bonus miles after the initial three-month welcome period, so it’s nice to see cards offering ways to earn additional points throughout the year.

Annual fee: $90

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Platinum Delta SkyMiles from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: Earn 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months. This bonus is worth up to $1,000 according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: It’s not the top-tier card in Delta’s credit card lineup, but the Platinum Delta still offers solid value for regular Delta flyers. While the benefits of this card will be changing as of January 30, 2020, you’ll 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. So if you need just a little help hitting your desired elite status, this card is one way to help you get it.

Annual fee: $195 ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (see rates & fees)

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Platinum Delta SkyMiles from American Express

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Welcome bonus: 70,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in the first four months — worth $980, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and on telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations; 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: If you and your employees fly American frequently for your business, this card helps smooth your travels as well as allowing you to earn higher miles on business-friendly categories. You’ll get a first bag checked free for you and up to four companions on the same reservation. You can also earn an American Airlines companion certificate for a domestic main cabin flight after spending $30,000 each card membership year you renew.

Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy.)

Welcome bonus: 75,000 miles after spending $3,000 in three months, plus 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles. This bonus is worth $900, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: The Delta Reserve Card is the airline’s most expensive, with a $450 annual fee that will be rising to $550 if your application is received on or after 1/30/2020 (see rates and fees). But that means now is a great time to get it, since you’ll get the lower annual fee for the first year while still being able to take advantage of the card’s new benefits that roll out on January 30, 2020. Even before that, the card comes with a free Sky Club lounge membership (you can bring up to two guests for $29 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 and 20% in savings on inflight purchases.

This card can also help you achieve Delta elite status, since you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year (with further 15k MQM bonuses available at $90,000 and $120,000 in spending starting at the end of January 2020). You also receive a domestic first class, Delta Comfort+ or domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year you renew the card. So 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: $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (see rates and fees)

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

A Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737-700 (Registration N713SW) taxis on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. © 2019 Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy
© 2019 Patrick T. Fallon for The Points Guy.

Welcome bonus: Up to 60,000 points: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months, plus 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months. According to TPG valuations, this bonus is worth up to $900.

Rewards: 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car-rental partner purchases

Why we like it: If you’re a Southwest fanatic (like TPG’s Benet Wilson), this card helps you rack up Rapid Rewards points along with a great lineup of Southwest-specific benefits. You’re getting a $75 annual travel credit on Southwest purchases, and you can earn tier-qualifying points (TQPs) toward A-List status by hitting annual spending requirements. Plus, you get four upgraded boardings to use each year, lowering your chances of getting stuck in an undesirable seat. This card does come with the highest annual fee of Southwest’s personal credit cards, but at $149, it’s still incredibly affordable for anyone who frequently flies with Southwest.

Annual fee: $149

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus:  Up to 60,000 points: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months, plus 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months. According to TPG valuations, this bonus is worth up to $900.

Rewards: 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases

Why we like it: It’s rare for a mid-tier airline card to offer an easy way to earn status-qualifying points or miles through credit card spending — that’s typically a perk saved for top-tier cards with high spending requirements to earn them. However, for regular Southwest flyers who need a little help getting to A-List status, you’ll earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points (TQPs) for every $10,000 you spend on this card (up to $100,000 annually) — for just a $99 annual fee. Plus, you’re getting the same bonus value as Southwest’s higher-tier Southwest Priority card, and 6,000 Rapid Rewards points every year after your account anniversary.

Annual fee: $99

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: Up to 60,000 points: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months, plus 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months. According to TPG valuations, this bonus is worth up to $900.

Rewards: 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car-rental partner purchases

Why we like it: This card is a solid option for anyone who occasionally flies Southwest or someone who’s just starting in the Rapid Rewards program. You’re getting the same welcome bonus with this card as the other two Southwest consumer cards, plus a nice 3,000 bonus points each year after your account anniversary. Although you may not get some of the perks that come with the Premier or Priority, the Plus is a low-cost way to rack up points when you fly Southwest without committing to a higher annual fee. The fall is a great time to apply for a Southwest card and earn a Companion Pass by the end of this year so you can enjoy it throughout 2020.

Annual fee: $69

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy.)

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first three months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months. This bonus is worth $770, according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: The Gold Delta SkyMiles card is the cheapest of the three credit cards in Delta’s lineup with a $95 fee. With this card, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees and 20% in savings on inflight purchases. You won’t be able to use this card to earn a waiver of the Medallion Qualification Dollars elite status requirement after the benefits change on January 30, 2020, 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 just might be the card for you.

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year (see rates and fees)

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER photographed in April 2016 by Chad Slattery.
Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER photographed in April 2016 by Chad Slattery.

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 in the first 90 days — worth $720 according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 3x miles on Alaska purchases, 1x mile on everything else

Why we like it: 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:

APPLY HERE: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.)

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, which is worth $700 according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: Earn 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases at Hotels.com/Venture and 2x miles on all other purchases

Why we like it: Flexibility is hard to come by 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, which is a rare benefit for a card with a $95 annual fee.

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

American Airlines
American Airlines’ excellent 777-300ER business class seats.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months of account opening — worth $700 according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, at restaurants and at gas stations, 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card now offers bonus miles on purchases beyond airfare. In addition to earning 2x miles on spending with American Airlines, you’ll get 2x miles at restaurants and gas stations. It’s not the most rewarding card for these spending categories, but if earning American miles is your top priority and you use this card for most spending, this is a welcome perk, as is the ability to earn a $100 flight discount after you spend $20,000 on the card in a membership year.

Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

Further reading:

The card details on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard have been collected independently by The Points Guy and have not been provided by the card issuer.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
Get Admirals Club access with the Citi AAdvantage Executive card. (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy.)

Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months — worth $700 according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: If you fly American frequently, this card is worth having for the perks it provides. 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. Not to mention a way to earn EQMs towards AAdvantage status when you spend $40,000 on the card in a year.

Annual fee: $450

Further reading:

APPLY HERE: Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

United Explorer Card

Welcome bonus: 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, which is worth $520 according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on United purchases and at restaurants and hotels, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: 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:

APPLY HERE: United Explorer Card

JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue’s Mint is one of the best domestic business class products, and you can redeem TrueBlue points for it.

Welcome bonus: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, worth $520 according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 6x points on JetBlue purchases and at restaurants and grocery stores, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: 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. If you’re about to book domestic holiday travel, the card provides an easy way to earn JetBlue points while hitting the welcome-bonus requirements. The JetBlue Plus also comes with some nice benefits when you fly JetBlue, including a free checked bag and 10% rebate when you redeem points.

Annual fee: $99

Further reading:

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. However, 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 spending $500 on purchases in the first three months $190
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases within three months of account opening. Terms apply. $120
JetBlue Credit Card 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days $130
United TravelBank Credit Card $150 in United TravelBank cash after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months $150

**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

Welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases but also at grocery stores (including delivery services). Earn 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 to 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

Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases within three months of account opening.

Rewards: This card offers you double miles at U.S. restaurants 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 that restaurant bonus category, all without having to pay an annual fee, the Blue version might be a good choice for you. You’ll also get a few new added benefits starting at the end of January 2020, when this card adds 2x miles at restaurants worldwide (instead of just at U.S. restaurants), access to Pay with Miles and drops its foreign transaction fees.

Fees: There’s no annual fee, but there is a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions until January 30, 2020 (see rates & fees).

APPLY HERE: Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

JetBlue Credit Card

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

Rewards: Earn 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.

APPLY HERE: JetBlue Credit Card

United TravelBank Credit Card

Welcome bonus: $150 in United TravelBank cash after spending $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 specifically for United tickets limits its usefulness. The United Explorer Card is probably a better all-round 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 as well.

Fees: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

APPLY HERE: United TravelBank Credit Card

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 airline purchases, so if you’re simply looking to maximize your spending, you’d do better with a card that earns valuable transferable points. But 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.

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. Those who simply pick the cheapest fare available may be better served by a card that earns transferable points, but even those travelers could consider an airline credit card if they’re looking for miles to book a specific award itinerary this fall or holiday season.

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) generally get you a better return on spending. However, they don’t usually have airline-specific perks, such as priority check-in and boarding, a free checked bag and airport lounge access. They also don’t have 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 simple answer is to study every perk and benefit that comes with an airline credit card and use it. If you check luggage on flights, you can save $60 round-trip with the free checked bag that comes with a card. 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 remembering the TPG Golden Rule of paying off your credit cards every month to get the maximum benefit. Take advantage of free companion certificates and 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.

Bottom line

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 Blue Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express is a great choice for infrequent travelers and elite 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. And even the no-annual-fee JetBlue card from Barclays offers you double points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 3x points for JetBlue purchases.

And yet, 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 these cards to see if one of them can make your time in the air cheaper, more comfortable, or both.

Related guides:

Additional reporting by Eric Rosen, Madison Blancaflor and Benét J. Wilson. Featured image courtesy of Chris Sattlberger via Getty Images.

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.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and discounted Delta  Sky Club access.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 10/30/2019.
  • Earn 2 miles on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on your Delta flights, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.49%-26.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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