The best airline credit cards of 2020

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Fasten your seatbelts. We’ve compiled a list of the top credit card offers to consider right now for award flights to help you ring in a new year of travel. If you’re loyal to a particular airline, you can do well by opening an airline credit card that rewards you for your business with a more comfortable travel experience and extra miles for your next award trip. You get perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, along with benefits specific to each card.

The best airlines rewards credit cards

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Comparing the top airline credit cards

Credit cardBest forAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardBeginners$95
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressPremium benefits$550 annual fee (see rates & fees)
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®American Airlines flyers$99, waived the first 12 months
United℠ Explorer CardUnited flyers$95 annual fee, waived the first year
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardOccasional Delta flyers$99, waived for the first year. See (rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express CardFrequent Delta flyers$250 See (rates and fees)
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit cardAlaska Airlines flyers$75
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points$550
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit CardSouthwest flyers$199
#1 FOR BEGINNERS

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card APPLY NOW

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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#1 FOR TRAVEL PERKS

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express Learn More

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card APPLY NOW

United℠ Explorer Card

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Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card APPLY NOW

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

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Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card APPLY NOW

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card APPLY NOW

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

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Deep dive into the best credit cards for airline miles

Chase Sapphire Preferred

When you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account.

Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders get:

  • 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants
  • 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all other purchases

You’ll also get perks like primary car rental insurance and trip delay coverage. Plus, Chase’s new(ish) Pay Yourself Back feature allows you to redeem Chase points towards eligible purchases at a rate of 1.25 cents each.

Read this post for full details!

With all of these benefits, the $95 annual fee is definitely worth it because when you earn the welcome bonus, that’s $800 cash or $1,000 in travel (with no blackout dates) when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Why it’s the best airline miles card for beginners

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the #1 card we recommend for beginners in the miles-and-points hobby. The sign-up bonus is worth $1,000 in travel when you book through the Chase travel portal and you can get even more value by transferring the points you earn to airline and hotel partners like Hyatt, Southwest and United Airlines.

Plus, the Pay Yourself Back feature gives you a great reason to collect Chase points, even if travel isn’t in your near future. You can collect points for travel later, but know you can easily redeem them at a decent rate if travel doesn’t pick up for a while.

Plan your next adventure with the best airline credit cards. (Photo courtesy of BABAROGA/Shutterstock)

The Platinum Card® from American Express

With The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.

You’ll also earn:

  • 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare (booked either directly with the airline or through American Express Travel). Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked on Amex Travel
  • 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar on everything else
  • Terms apply

The 5x Membership Rewards points you’ll earn on flights booked directly with the airlines and on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel is the highest earning rate for flights of any credit card.

The card has a $550 annual fee, which is not waived (see rates and fees). The Amex Platinum card’s annual fee can easily be worth it as the intro offer is worth $1,080 based on our valuations. And that doesn’t even account for the value of the card’s benefits and perks which are easily worth $100s more.

Why it’s the best for premium benefits

The Amex Platinum is useful for anyone looking to earn a nice stash of Amex Membership Rewards points, especially if you can make the most of the card’s perks, like up to $200 in Uber credits annually, up to $200 annual airline-fee credit, airline lounge access, and more! For information on lounges at your home airport or favorite airport, take a look at this post on how to find Amex Platinum airport lounges.

You’ll find our full review of the Amex Platinum card here.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith)

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

You can earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.

In addition to the lucrative sign-up bonus, the American Airlines Business Platinum card also earns 2x American Airlines miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and select business categories (car rental merchants, telecommunications, cable, satellite and at gas stations). And cardholders earn one mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

In addition, from May 1 to December 31, 2020, every dollar you spend on the card will count toward million miler status.

The card comes with a $99 annual fee, waived the 12 months. And we estimate American Airlines miles value to be worth at least 1.6 cents each, meaning the CitiBusiness AA Platinum card’s welcome bonus is worth $1,040.

Why it’s the best for American Airlines flyers

If you fly American Airlines with any regularity you’ll want this card for its benefits and perks like priority boarding and your first checked bag free for you and up to four travel companions on the same reservation (free-checked-bag perk applies to domestic American Airlines flights only). This card also gets you access to the AA Reduced Mileage Awards and has no foreign transaction fees.

It’s worth opening to see if it works for your lifestyle — if it doesn’t, no harm done. Read our full review of the CitiBusiness American Airlines Platinum card here.

Just note that you can’t receive a new account bonus on this card if you’ve received a new account bonus on the card in the past 48 months. Read our full guide of Citi American Airlines application rules for more details.

United℠ Explorer Card

The United℠ Explorer Card comes with 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus you’ll earn bonus miles on United purchases, restaurants, and hotel stays.

The United℠ Explorer Card enhances your travel experience in multiple ways with a variety of benefits and perks, like priority boarding and two one-time United Club lounge passes per cardmember year. Plus, you’ll get a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership. 

We value United miles at an average of 1.3 cents per mile, bringing the total value of the Explorer card’s welcome bonus to $520. That said, this doesn’t account for the value you can get from the card’s perks. For example, one of my favorite benefits of the card is that you receive access to more award seats than travelers who don’t have the card. It’s the reason I keep this card year after year. If you’re able to make the most of those, you’ll certainly get even more out of this card.

Why it’s the best for United flyers

The United℠ Explorer Card has so many meaningful benefits that it would make sense for almost anyone. Here’s our full review. If you take two round-trip flights per year with checked bags, you’ll save money by keeping this card. And the lounge passes are valuable, too. Plus, if you use the $100 credit to pay for Global Entry, you’ll come out ahead of the $95 annual fee right from the start.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

With the Delta Skymiles Gold card, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months (offer ends 10/28/20). You’ll also earn:

  • 2x miles per $1 spent with Delta on eligible purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else
  • Terms Apply

If you use your card on certain inflight purchases, you’ll receive a credit of 20% off the original purchase price on your Amex statement within six to eight weeks after the transaction is posted to your account. In addition, you’ll get complimentary priority boarding for the cardmember and up to eight additional people flying on the same itinerary, making the benefits of the card especially useful for frequent Delta flyers. Plus, you’ll get up to a $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000+ on the card in a calendar year.

With the Delta SkyMiles Gold, the primary cardholder and up to eight others traveling on the same reservation will enjoy one free checked bag each. With baggage fees starting at $30 per bag, this could add up to some serious savings.

Why it’s the best for occasional Delta flyers

With an annual fee of $99 (see rates and fees) that’s waived for the first year and a welcome bonus potentially worth hundreds of dollars, the Delta SkyMiles Gold is definitely worth considering. Here’s our review.

50,000 Delta miles are worth $625 according to our valuation that pegs them at an average of 1.25 cents per point. Plus, with the primary cardholder and up to eight others traveling on the same reservation enjoying one free checked bag each, you’re looking at some serious savings. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

With the Delta Platinum Amex card, you can earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months (offer ends 10/28/20). Cardholders will also earn:

  • 3x Delta miles per dollar spent with Delta on eligible purchases, including flights booked on Delta.com, Sky Club membership or passes, Delta Vacations packages, upgrades and inflight purchases
  • 3x Delta miles per dollar on purchases made directly with hotels
  • 2x Delta miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets
  • 1 Delta mile per dollar spent on everything else
  • Terms Apply

This card comes with a number of valuable perks, including the fact that you and up to eight passengers on your reservation can board your flight when Zone 1 Priority Boarding is called. And that, you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation will get your first checked bag for free.

Why it’s the best for frequent Delta flyers

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is a great option for folks who value Delta miles and Delta elite status. This card’s intro bonus is worth an average of $750 in flights, according to our rewards valuations, and add that to the value of the card’s other perks, like free checked bags, and you could be looking at $1,000s in savings. For frequent Delta flyers, this card is well worth the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). Be sure to check out our Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex card review.

Plus, upon renewal of the card each year, Delta SkyMiles Platinum cardholders are granted a companion certificate. With it, travelers can add a friend to their domestic Delta reservation for only the price of taxes and fees. The companion certificate covers one round-trip companion ticket in coach, which is sure to save you at least a few hundred dollars. 

Delta One Suites. (Photo by Zach Honig.)

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

With the Alaska Airlines credit card, you can earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

At an average value of 2 cents a piece, 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles are worth at least $800. For only a $75 annual fee (waived the first year for a limited time), cardholders will absolutely come out ahead.

The card also earns:

  • 3 miles per dollar on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases

Why it’s the best for Alaska Airlines flyers

Along with the great sign-up bonus, the card comes with an Alaska Airlines companion fare after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. With this companion fare, a friend can fly with you for $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees (from $22)). This can save you hundreds of dollars on airfare.

Plus, the Alaska Airlines credit card benefits include a free checked bag for you and up to six passengers on your reservation – a savings of $30 per person in baggage fees each way (a great perk if you don’t have Alaska Airlines elite status), which can  really add up if you fly with any regularity.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

When you sign up for Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.  

  • 3 Chase points per dollar on travel and dining
  • 1 Chase point per dollar on everything else

The Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits include the ability to earn 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 10x points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and dining worldwide and one Chase point on all other purchases.

The best perk for this card is the annual $300 in travel credits, which are automatically earned whenever you make a qualified purchase, including airfare, hotels, rental cars and more. You also get an application fee credit (worth up to $100) for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. The card also includes a Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you and up to two guests access to 1,200+ airport lounges.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee is $550, in turn this card more than makes up for it between its annual $300 in travel credits and the welcome bonus is worth $850 using an average redemption value for Chase Ultimate Rewards. And it could be worth a lot more if you were to transfer the rewards you earn to one of Chase’s valuable transfer partners — another fantastic reason that many of us on the MMS team hold this card.

Why it’s the best for earning and redeeming Chase points

Having the Chase Sapphire Reserve increases the value of all the Chase points you earn from any Ultimate Rewards earning card. Plus, when you use your points through the Chase travel portal or through Pay Yourself Back, your points are worth 1.5 cents each. That’s at least 0.25 cents higher than any other card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

The Chase Southwest Performance Business Card comes with 100,000 bonus points after meeting tiered spending requirements:

  • 70,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
  • 30,000 points after spending $25,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening

That’s worth at least $1,500 in Southwest flights. And you’ll also get perks like four upgraded boardings each year (between A1 and A15), 9,000 anniversary points (worth $135 in flights), and a statement credit of up to $100 for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.

All that for a $199 annual fee!

Based on our valuations, cardholders can get at least $1,500 in value from the welcome offer. And if you account for all of the perks that come with the card you can easily receive $1,750+ in value from this card for the first year. Factor in the fact that you’ll learn the Companion Pass too, and you’ll effectively double the value of your points! 

Why it’s the best for Southwest flyers

If you fly Southwest with any regularity this card is a no-brainer. That’s because after meeting minimum spending on this card, you’ll have at least 125,000 qualifying points — exactly enough to earn the Companion Pass!

Plus, using Southwest points is incredibly easy. There’s no Southwest award chart; instead, if there’s a seat for sale, you can book it with points. The price of an award flight is tied to the cost of a paid ticket, so if there’s a Southwest fare sale, you’ll need fewer points.

The Southwest Performance Business card’s annual fee is outweighed by the perks like Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit (worth up to $100) and 1,500 tier-qualifying points after every $10,000 in purchases (on up to $100,000 in purchases every cardmember year).

You’ll find our Southwest Performance Business credit card review here. And for an in-depth look at this card’s perks, check out our benefits guide here. 

How we chose the best airline credit cards

Credit card introductory bonuses are the fastest way to earn big travel rewards without spending a lot of money. Here are the factors we consider:

Bonus offer

Credit card companies offer card bonuses to lure new customers because that’s how they make money — from customers using their cards. And hey, this strategy works! One of the most efficient ways of earning travel rewards is to earn lucrative welcome bonuses from the top cards for travel. So the value of such bonuses is always a factor when deciding which cards are the best cards.

Minimum spending requirement

To earn an introductory bonus on most credit cards, you must spend a certain amount on your new card within a certain timeframe. The best offers have reasonable spending requirements or offer a huge reward if the minimum spending requirements are larger. Again, this is always something to consider when deciding between cards.

Ongoing bonus opportunities

We prefer airline credit cards that offer ongoing earnings, even after you earn the initial big welcome bonus. That’s because a card that offers ongoing bonus opportunities will be worth keeping year after year.

Benefits

Airline credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees and expanded award availability are some of our favorites. Regardless of what the benefit is, card perks add to the overall value of a card. So they should be considered when comparing various airline cards.

How do airline credit cards work?

General rewards cards and many of the most popular credit cards for travel aren’t connected with a specific airline. You’ll earn cash-back or rewards you can use for travel, but you likely won’t get airline-specific perks.

In comparison, airline credit cards (or co-branded cards) are tied to a specific airline and their frequent flyer program. With a co-branded airline card, you can earn bonus miles for each dollar you spend and oftentimes have access to airline-specific benefits like priority boarding and free checked bags.

When it comes to earning and redeeming the rewards you earn with an airline credit card, each rewards program is different. The value of the miles or points you earn from an airline rewards program will vary, depending on the airline and how you decide to redeem them. In general, though, the more you spend, the more you’ll earn. And that can translate into more free travel.

Airlines credit cards FAQ

How to use an airline credit card

You use an airline credit card just like you would any other credit card. It’s as simple as that.

As always, we recommend paying your credit card off in full every month. That’s because any interest you accrue will negate the value of any rewards you may have earned.

Are airline credit cards worth it?

As with most aspects of the miles and points hobby, you’ll have to do the math to see what makes the most sense for your particular situation. If you only fly Delta once in a blue moon, for example, it probably doesn’t make sense to get a Delta card. But if you fly the airline even just three times a year, having a Delta card that offers a free checked bag can be well worth it. It really comes down to your spending and travel habits.

Is an airline credit card right for you?

If you’re a frequent flyer and regularly travel with a particular airline, it probably makes sense to get an airline credit card. Not only will you earn bonus miles on the airfare you purchase, but you’ll also have access to card perks like free checked bags and priority boarding — which will save you time and money.

Whether or not an airline card makes sense for you depends on how often you fly and if you’ll be able to take advantage of an airline card’s benefits and perks.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets email newsletter.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum card, click here.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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