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Best Airline Credit Cards

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Best Airline Credit Cards

Meghan HunterBest Airline Credit CardsMillion Mile Secrets Team

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

INSIDER SECRET: Having an airline’s credit card can get you perks usually reserved for elite members, before you even start flying. And if you already have elite status, an airline credit card can help you earn miles even faster!

If you’re looking for the perfect card to earn miles for award flights, these are the top card offers to consider right now.

You can get perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, along with benefits specific to each card. And in general, if you’re loyal to a particular airline, you can do well to open that airline’s credit card to make your travels more comfortable – and keep the miles flowing in for your next award trip.

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

Get ready to fly out of town with the best airline credit cards! (Photo by Harlan Vaughn/Million Mile Secrets)

How to Choose the Best Airline Credit Card

Many of y’all know the fastest way to earn miles and points is by earning big welcome bonuses from the best travel credit cards. But folks who are new to the hobby might wonder how applying for cards will affect your credit score. So be sure to check out this post about the myths that could be holding you back.

Not only are the miles you earn important, but having a card that comes with valuable perks, like free checked bags, can be beneficial too.

That’s why it’s worth considering cards with annual fees. I certainly don’t mind paying annual fees because many annual-fee cards have terrific ongoing perks that can easily offset the expense.

CardIntro BonusBest PerkAnnual Fee
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card40,000 Alaska Airlines miles, plus Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22) after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening account. (Only available to those who haven't had the card before)each year you’re a cardmember, you’ll get a companion fare for $99 plus taxes and fees from $22, that’s valid on all Alaska Airlines flights with no blackout dates.$75
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases in first 3 months of account openingYou’ll get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and up to four traveling companions plus preferred boarding$99, waived for first 12 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three monthsthe points you earn DO count toward the Southwest Companion Pass – by far the best deal in domestic travel!$69
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card60,000 Southwest points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 monthsthe points you earn DO count toward the Southwest Companion Pass – by far the best deal in domestic travel!$99
United℠ Explorer Card40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your accountIf you have this card, you'll receive access to more award seats than folks without the card!$95 annual fee (Waived the first year)

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa: Best Airline Credit Card for West Coast Flyers

Apply Here: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Read our review of the Alaska Airlines credit card

The Intro Offer: You’ll earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles and a Companion Fare ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

What That Means for You: Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most valuable around! Thanks to partnerships with many excellent international airlines, like Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, you can use your miles to fly nearly anywhere in the world. Plus, domestic award flights on Alaska Airlines start at only 5,000 miles each way in coach.

Use Alaska Airlines miles to fly on many other partner airlines. I used mine to fly on Icelandair to where else – Iceland! (Photo by Harlan Vaughn/Million Mile Secrets)

Ongoing Earnings: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn:

  • 3 Alaska Airlines miles per dollar spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
  • 1 Alaska Airlines mile per dollar on everything else

Cool Perks: You’ll get your first bag checked for free for you and up to six traveling companions. Alaska Airlines charges $30 per checked bag, so just a single round-trip flight almost negates the $75 annual fee.

Plus, each year you’re a cardmember, you’ll get a $99 companion fare (plus taxes and fees from $22), valid on all Alaska Airlines flights with no blackout dates. That can save hundreds and hundreds of dollars!

Is the Card Worth the Annual Fee? The $75 annual fee is on the lower end of what we see for airline credit cards. And Alaska Airlines miles are tough to earn, so getting 3X miles on Alaska Airlines flights is an easy way to rack ’em up. If you use the annual companion fare, it’s a no-brainer to keep the card even with the annual fee.

Alaska Airlines Credit Card Bottom Line: Folks who live on the West Coast will get tons of value from this card. But because Alaska Airlines has such diverse airline partners, earning miles with this card is a good idea for just about everyone.

Further Reading:

Apply Here: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select: Best Small Business Airline Credit Card for American Airlines Flights

Apply Here: CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Read our review of the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select

The Intro Offer: You’ll earn 60,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card.

What That Means for You: 60,000 American Airlines miles is an excellent welcome bonus, and as high as we’ve seen for this card! It’s worth two round-trip coach tickets within the US, which cost only 25,000 American Airlines miles each. Or 45,000 American Airlines miles for a round-trip coach saver award ticket to Europe during the off-peak season!

The intro bonus alone is enough for a round-trip coach saver ticket to Europe. (Photo by Harlan Vaughn/Million Mile Secrets)

Ongoing Earnings: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent on American Airlines flights
  • 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations
  • 1 American Airlines mile per dollar spent on other purchases

Cool Perks: You’ll get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and up to four traveling companions. Checked bags cost $30 each way, so if you travel with a family, this could mean hundreds and hundreds in savings, even with just a couple trips each year!

You’ll also receive preferred boarding, which means you’re one of the first travelers aboard the plane. It feels fancy, and it ensures you’ll find overhead bin space for your carry-on.

Also, when you fly American Airlines, you can get a 25% savings on in-flight food, drinks and Wi-Fi purchased with the card.

This is also a good card to take abroad, as it has no foreign transaction fees.

Is the Card Worth the Annual Fee? This is a toughie. It really depends on how often you fly American Airlines. If you fly them regularly, you’ll pretty effortlessly make up the $99 annual fee with the free checked bag benefit.

The annual fee is waived the first 12 months, so it’s absolutely a no-brainer for the first year.

CitiBusiness American Airlines Card Bottom Line: Early boarding is handy. Free checked bags can save you lots of money. 60,000 American Airlines miles is enough for a free roundtrip coach flight to Europe. If you’re an American Airlines regular, this card is hard to beat.

Further Reading:

Apply here: CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Chase Southwest Plus Card: Best Airline Credit Card With Low Annual Fee

Apply Here: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Read our review of the Southwest Plus Card

The Intro Offer: When you open the Chase Southwest Plus card, you’ll earn 40,000 Southwest points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

What That Means for You: Southwest points are worth ~1.5 cents each, so this bonus is worth ~$600 toward travel on Southwest. That’s a great deal!

(Photo by Jasmin Baron/Million Mile Secrets)

Ongoing Earnings: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals
  • 1 Southwest point per dollar spent on everything else

Cool Perks: With this card, you’ll get 3,000 Southwest points each card member year (worth ~$45). That’s a neat little feature!

If you use your Chase Southwest Plus card to pay for your flight, you can get reimbursed for essentials like toiletries and clothing if your bags are delayed over six hours. Coverage is up to $100 per day for three days. Also, if your or an immediate family member’s checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

The card even comes in handy for non-travel related issues. For example, it protects your eligible new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. It also extends the time period of a US manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Is the Card Worth the Annual Fee? The 3,000 bonus points you’ll get each year offset a big chunk of the card’s $69 annual fee, bringing the net cost down to $24 a year ($69 – $45).

And the points you earn from everyday spending with this card also count toward the Companion Pass, so it’s that’s a goal of yours, it’s definitely worth keeping and using.

Southwest Premier Business Card Bottom Line: This card is definitely worth an application due to its welcome bonus. But I’d only recommend keeping the card if you fly Southwest often.

Further Reading:

Apply Here: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Chase Southwest Premier Small Business Card: Best Small Business Airline Credit Card for Southwest Flights

Apply Here: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

Read our review of the Southwest Business Credit Card

The Intro Offer: You’ll earn a 60,000 Southwest point welcome bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening the Chase Southwest Premier small business card.

What That Means for You: For small business owners, this is another way to get ~$900 for travel on Southwest, and points toward the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. You can redeem Southwest points for any open seat on any Southwest flight!

If you have a small business, you can turn operating expenses into Southwest award flights. (Photo by NextNewMedia/Shutterstock)

Ongoing Earnings: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals
  • 1 Southwest point per dollar spent on everything else

Cool Perks: You’ll receive 6,000 Southwest points after every cardmember anniversary. Those points are worth ~$90 toward Southwest flights.

The card’s other benefits are similar to the Chase Southwest Plus. You’ll receive purchase protection, which will cover any purchases you make with the card for 120 days against damage or theft (up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account).

As with all good travel cards, you’ll receive some form of baggage delay insurance. This perk will reimburse you for “essential” purchases, like meals and toiletries (even clothing!) when your bag is delayed six or more hours, up to $100 a day for three days.

And if your checked or carry-on baggage is lost, the card will cover you and your immediate family up to $3,000 per passenger when you pay with the card.

Is the Card Worth the Annual Fee? Considering you get ~$90 worth of Southwest points for a $99 annual fee, yes! Plus, employee cards are free, so it’s a small cost to keep your expenses tracked so easily.

Southwest Premier Business Card Bottom Line: Earning this card’s bonus is one of the easiest routes to the Southwest Companion Pass. If you’ve got a for-profit venture, and your travel goals revolve around the US, Caribbean, and Mexico, take a hard look at this card.

Apply here: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

Chase United Explorer Card: Best All-Around Airline Credit Card

Apply Here: United℠ Explorer Card

Read our review of the United Explorer Card

The Intro Offer: You’ll earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the Chase United Explorer card.

What That Means for You: 40,000 United Airlines miles is easily worth a round-trip coach ticket within the US, which cost only 25,000 United Airlines miles at the lowest level. While this isn’t the biggest bonus we’ve seen, you might consider opening this card if you have an immediate need for the other benefits.

I have the Chase United Explorer card and find it’s worth keeping, even as an infrequent United Airlines flyer. (Photo by Harlan Vaughn/Million Mile Secrets)

Ongoing Earnings: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn:

  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent on United Airlines purchases
  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • 1 United Airlines mile per dollar spent on everything else

Cool Perks: You’ll get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and a companion when you use the card to pay for your ticket, plus priority boarding.

The Chase United Explorer card also comes with two United Club lounge passes per cardmember year. That means you and a travel buddy can enter a United Airlines lounge once, or you can enter twice if you’re traveling solo.

You’ll get a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, which is an absolute time saver at US airport security checkpoints. Everyone on the team has either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (you can read about TSA PreCheck vs Global Entry here).

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. In other words, if you go online to book a seat, you may see plenty of options, while others see none. I’ve found this to be the case multiple times.

Another gem of a perk is primary car rental insurance when you charge the entire rental to the card. That means when you’re at the car rental agency and they try to charge you $15 per day for their insurance, you can decline it, and the Chase United Explorer card will cover you for free.

Is the Card Worth the Annual Fee? Absolutely! If you fly two round-trips per year with checked bags, you’ll save money by keeping this card. And I personally love the lounge passes.

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. I don’t fly United Airlines all that often, but always find a reason to keep this card every year.

Chase United Explorer Bottom Line: But if you’re looking for the most well-rounded airline credit card that will enhance your travel experience in multiple ways, it’s GOT to be the Chase United Explorer. This card’s got so many meaningful benefits that it’s my absolute favorite airline credit card. Everyone should have this one.

Further Reading:

Apply Here: United Explorer Card

Which Airline Credit Cards Are the Best? Bottom Line!

Our favorite airline credit card offers right now are:

What’s your favorite airline credit card?

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Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

  • Now - 40,000 Bonus Mile + Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ Offer.
  • Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Save with a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
  • Get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ every year! Each year on your account anniversary get a companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22). Valid on all Alaska flights booked on alaskaair.com with no blackout dates.
  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. And, your miles don't expire on active accounts.
  • New! Enjoy 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge and 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases when you pay with your new card.
  • Redeem miles with no blackout dates on any of Alaska's 1,200 daily flights or choose from over 900+ destinations with more than a dozen global airline partners. Plus, get exclusive access to discounted redemption levels when you redeem miles for hotel stays at over 400,000 properties using Alaska Airlines Hotels.
  • Plus, no foreign transaction fees and a low $75 annual fee.

More Info

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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CitiBusiness has a long memory. I filed bankruptcy 25 years ago in which I included a this card’s balance. I applied for this card 5 years ago and was rejected for that reason. Anyone have any ideas on how to qualify for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card?

I would call and ask for a reconsideration. Or just straight out ask what can you do to qualify for another Citi card.

They might require payment of the debt or something like that, but that might be the only option if it was 25 years ago and they’re using it as a reason to turn you down.

United MileAgePlus is offering an 85% bonus when purchasing miles. Purchase 94,000 miles get 79,900 bonus miles for a total of 173,900 miles for $3220. This seems like a good deal. Comments?

Thanks, Bryan

Nicolas Florez

I love, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card cause there are no black out days. Also it gives a lot of points!!!

I love my Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card. My girlfriend and I have traveled all over the US using SW points. I’m now working on my second go around for the Companion Pass!

Loving my SW RR card! The companion pass is

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