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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
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for beginners
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® – Best for American Airlines flyers
- United℠ Explorer Card: Best for United flyers
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best for occasional Delta flyers
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Best for frequent Delta flyers
- Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for Alaska Airlines flyers
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for premium benefits
|Credit card||Best for||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Beginners||$95|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®||American Airlines flyers||$99, waived the first 12 months|
|United℠ Explorer Card||United flyers||$95 annual fee, waived the first year|
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||Occasional Delta flyers||$99, waived for the first year. See (rates and fees)|
|Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card||Frequent Delta flyers||$250 See (rates and fees)|
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card||Alaska Airlines flyers||$75|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Premium benefits||$550 annual fee (see rates & fees)|
Best credit cards for airlines
When you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 60,000 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:
- 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining
- 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Benefits and perks
You’ll also get perks like:
- Primary car rental insurance: Covers damage from theft or collision to your rental car when you pay for the rental with your card.
- Trip delay reimbursement: Get up to $500 back per ticket on meals and lodging when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay.
- Extended warranty protection: Extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by a year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
- Baggage delay insurance: Reimburses you for purchases like toiletries and clothing during baggage delays longer than six hours by a passenger carrier, up to $100 a day for five days.
The $95 annual fee is definitely worth it because when you earn the welcome bonus, that’s $600 cash or $750 in travel (with no blackout dates) or over $1,000 in award travel.
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 $750 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.
Earn 50,000 American Airlines miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of opening the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®.
- 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent at gas stations and restaurants
- 1 American Airlines miles per dollar spent on other purchases
Benefits and perks
The AA Platinum Mastercard provides preferred boarding for you and up to four companions on the same reservation. You can also receive a 25% savings on inflight food, drinks and Wi-Fi purchased with the card while aboard American Airlines flights. The card offers your first checked bag for free on domestic itineraries for you and up to four traveling companions. Checked bags cost $30 each way, so you could potentially save $240 per round-trip with this feature alone.
The card comes with a $99 annual fee, waived the first year. It’s certainly worth opening the card the first year, but if you decide to pay the annual fee year after year, you’d better fly American Airlines at least a couple times each year.
Why it’s the best for American Airlines flyers
We estimate American Airlines miles value to be worth at least 1.6 cents each, meaning the Citi AA Platinum Card bonus is worth $800 in American Airlines flights. Not bad for a card with no annual fee the first year (then $99 ongoing annual fee)! 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 Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select.
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.
- 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
Benefits and perks
The United℠ Explorer Card enhances your travel experience in multiple ways with a variety of benefits and perks.
The card comes with 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, which is a huge time saver at U.S. airport security checkpoints. Everyone on the MMS team has either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (you can read about TSA PreCheck versus 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 where others see none.
Another gem of a perk is primary car rental insurance when you charge the entire rental to the card. You can decline paying $15 a day to the car rental agency because the United℠ Explorer Card will cover you for free.
The card also comes with trip-delay insurance. When your travel is delayed 12+ hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for expenses like meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.
Absolutely. 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.
Why it’s the best for United flyers
With the Delta Skymiles Gold card, you can earn 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- 2x miles per $1 spent with Delta, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets
- 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else
- Terms Apply
Benefits and perks
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, Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles cardholders receive 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.
For an annual fee of $99 (see rates and fees) that’s waived for the first year, it’s easy to come out ahead of the annual fee.
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.
You can earn 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
- 3x Delta miles per dollar spent with Delta, including flights booked on , 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
Benefits and perks
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.
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.
As an Amex Delta Platinum cardholder, you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation will get your first checked bag for free.
The card’s $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) is not waived the first year. But it’s easy to offset the fee with the perks you’ll get from this card. The welcome bonus alone is worth at least $1,000 when you use Pay With Miles.
Why it’s the best for frequent Delta flyers
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is a great option for folks who frequently travel with Delta. If you value Delta miles and Delta elite status and can use money-saving perks like the annual companion certificate and free checked bag, 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.
With the Alaska Airlines credit card, you can earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles, a $100 statement credit and an Alaska Airlines companion fare after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
The card also earns:
- 3 miles per $1 on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
- 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
Benefits and perks
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). Plus, you will get a 50% credit when you buy Alaska lounge day passes with the card and 20% back on eligible inflight Alaska Airlines purchases.
Absolutely. The $75 annual fee is especially worth it if you can make the most of the companion fare.
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 just $99 plus taxes and fees (from $22). This can save you hundreds of dollars on airfare.
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.
- 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare (booked either directly with the airline or through American Express Travel)
- 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.
Benefits and perks
- Up to $200 in Uber credits annually
- Up to $200 annual airline-fee credit
- $100 Global Entry credit
- Airport lounge access
- Elite car rental status with Avis, Executive status with National Car Rental and Gold Plus Rewards with Hertz
- Free Hilton Honors and Marriott Gold elite status (free breakfast and upgrades when available)
- Terms apply
For information on lounges at your home airport or favorite airport, check out this post on how to find Amex Platinum airport lounges.
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. You’ll find our full review of the Amex Platinum card 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:
Credit card companies offer card bonuses to lure new customers because that’s how they make money — from customers using their 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.
Ongoing bonus opportunities
We prefer airline credit cards that offer ongoing earnings, even after you earn the initial big welcome bonus.
Airline credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees and expanded award availability are some of our favorites.
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 with 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.
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For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, please click here.