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Best Airline Credit Cards

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by Sam Lipscomb | Updated Sep. 17, 2020

Overview of the Best Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards are meant to take the stress out of flying so the fun can begin sooner. Among the best features for airline credit cards available today, you can find free checked bags, priority boarding, miles towards elite status qualification, and of course, free flights. Do you tend to fly domestically or internationally with your preferred airline? Or do you simply go on Kayak to find the most affordable way to get where you're going? Either way, you can find your next travel companion below. Using available fare and mileage data, we did the math to find the airline credit cards that can help get you where you need to go. We've also included the dollar value in rewards you can expect to get from each of the cards. Keep reading to find out how you can make your air travel more comfortable. See More



Best Credit Card for All-Around Air Travel

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  • If you make $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of card membership, you will receive a welcome bonus equal to 60,000 Membership Rewards points
  • Receive Uber VIP status, including free rides in the U.S. – up to $15 each month, with a bonus $20 in the month of December. Annually, this can total up to $200 in Uber savings
  • Earn 5 points for flights booked with American Express Travel or directly with airlines
  • Earn 5 points for eligible hotel rooms booked and paid for online through amextravel.com
  • Receive access to the Global Lounge Collection which includes access to airport lounge locations around the world
  • Receive complimentary benefits with Fine Hotels & Resorts, with an average value of $550
  • Receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year with one qualifying airline to cover incidental fees such as baggage fees and in-flight refreshments
  • If you make purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card, you can get up to $100 in statement credits annually – enrollment required
  • Annual fee of $550
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$550

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

N/A

Details

With The Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with an airline or through amextravel.com. You’ll also receive 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. All other eligible purchases will earn you 1x points. You can also earn 60,000 bonus points after you make $5,000 in purchases over the course of your first three months with the card.

This card’s $550 annual fee can be offset with a number of credits. For example, you can receive $200 worth of airline fee credits annually for an airline of your choice. You’ll also gain access to Uber VIP status and $15 in Uber credits every month with a bonus $20 in credits in December (only available in the U.S.). Beyond these perks, there’s a $100 statement credit for Global Entry that’s available every four years or an $85 credit for TSA PreCheck® available every four and a half years. Cardholders can also receive $50 in Saks credits every six months upon enrollment.

Cardholders will also have access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, as well as gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, memberships with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive and a membership to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. There are no foreign transaction fees with this card.

Why We Like It

The Platinum Card from American Express is easily a top option when it comes to airline credit cards. The card provides significant value on multiple fronts. Not only will you earn a significant 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, you’ll also have the opportunity to redeem these points for flights with a wider variety of airlines than an airline-specific credit card.

You can use points to book directly through amextravel.com, or you can transfer them to a number of airline partners, allowing you to book tickets with almost any carrier in the world. So while this card’s $550 annual fee is steep, its bonus perks and rewards upside make it an extremely lucrative airline card.

Best Airline Credit Card with Easy-to-Use Points

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  • Receive a one-time early spend bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases during your first 3 months of card membership. When redeemed for travel, this is equal to $500!
  • On every purchase, you will earn 2 miles per dollar
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for either Global Entry or TSA Precheck when you use your Venture® Card
  • Redeem your miles without blackout dates. You can fly any airline and stay at any hotel; anytime. Transfer your miles to over ten loyalty travel programs for additional flexibility
  • There's no limit to the number of miles you can earn and your miles won't expire as long as your account is in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

17.24% - 24.49% Variable

Details

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card earns unlimited 2x miles on all purchases. The card has a relatively low $95 annual fee. Miles can be redeemed as a statement credit for travel expenses like airfare, or they can be transferred to a number of other travel loyalty programs.

To help you get your earnings started, you can receive a 50,000-mile early spending bonus after you spend $3,000 over your first three months. The card has other built-in perks, such as travel accident insurance and roadside assistance, in addition to no foreign transaction fees. You’ll also receive up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® statement credit every four years.

Why We Like It

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the simplest travel cards on the market, making it a great airline card option. The miles you earn with the card are quite versatile, as you can either redeem them to cover the cost of any travel purchase or transfer them to a number of hotel and airline partners.

Note that Capital One’s transfer rates are usually 2 Capital One miles to 1.5 partner miles, which is less than the normal 1:1 rate typically found with other cards. However, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is still a fantastic card for frequent flyers.

Best Airline Credit Card for United Flyers

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  • Earn a 60,000 mile bonus after spending $3,000 in eligible purchases during your first 3 months of account opening
  • Receive a $0 introductory annual fee for your first year of cardmembership. After that, the annual fee will be $95
  • Earn 2 bonus miles per $1 spent on hotel accommodations
  • Receive up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit Every 4 Years
  • Get 25% back as a statement credit on in-flight purchases of Wi-Fi, food, and beverages
  • When you use your card to purchase your United ticket, you can check your first bag for free
  • Earn 2 bonus miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases and 1 mile spent on everything else
  • Earn 2 bonus miles per $1 spent on purchases with restaurants and purchases with eligible delivery services including Caviar, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Seamless

Annual Fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.49% - 23.49% Variable

Details

With the United Explorer Card, you’ll be able to earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases during your first three months of card membership. You’ll earn 2x miles on hotel stays and purchases with United. You’ll also earn 2x miles on restaurant purchases and eligible delivery service purchases and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases.

Cardholders also receive up to $100 in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credits. When you purchase your flight ticket with your card, you’ll get 25% back on United in-flight purchases and you will have the ability to check your first bag for free. For each card membership anniversary, you’ll also get two one-time United Club passes and priority boarding. This card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year.

Why We Like It

With a reasonable annual fee, the United Explorer Card is a great option for United customers. While you only receive limited lounge access, the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credits are useful for any frequent flyer. The card also has significant rewards potential, as you can increase your MileagePlus balance fairly quickly. While a more seasoned United flyer may be drawn to the United Club Infinite Card, the Explorer Card is still a great option.

Best Airline Credit Card for American Airlines Flyers

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  • If you spend $2,500 on purchases in the first 3 months of card membership you will earn 50,000 bonus miles
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar that you spend at restaurants and gas stations
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar that you spend on eligible purchases with American Airlines
  • If you spend $20,000 or more in purchases in the first year and renew your card, you will earn a $125 American Airlines Discount
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases overseas
  • Check the first bag free for you and up to 4 companions traveling on the same reservation on domestic American Airlines itineraries
  • As a cardholder, enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • Standard APR when taking part in the Citi Flex Plan is a variable 15.99% - 24.99% depending on creditworthiness. Flex Plan offers are made at Citibank’s discretion.

Annual Fee

$99, waived for the first 12 months

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.99% - 24.99% Variable

Details

With the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, cardholders will earn 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after making $2,500 in purchases over the first three months following their account opening. You’ll also earn 2x AAdvantage miles at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases, as well as 1x miles on all other purchases.

Cardholders will also be able to check their first bag for free, while receiving preferred boarding and a 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases. The card’s $99 annual fee is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees to worry about.

Why We Like It

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is a great option for frequent American Airlines flyers who want rewards for a reasonable annual fee. While you won’t enjoy the ability to earn the airline’s elite status through spending like you can with some other airline-specific cards, this card provides several strong benefits, all while helping you build a stash of AAdvantage miles for your next trip.

Best Airline Credit Card for Delta Flyers

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  • Earn a welcome bonus of 60,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles) after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Offer Expires 10/28/2020
  • Earn 2 miles at supermarkets in the U.S. and at restaurants worldwide including takout and delivery. Plus, earn 1 mile on all of your other eligible purchases
  • Receive a statement credit to reimburse you for Global Entry or TSA Precheck® application fee
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta Flights and your first checked bag free
  • Earn 3 miles on Delta purchases which include Delta flights and Delta vacation packages. You can also earn 3 miles on purchases made directly with hotels
  • You and two guests can enter the Delta Sky Club for an exclusive rate of $39 when traveling on a Delta flight
  • There are no foreign transaction fees. However, there is an Annual Fee of $250
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$250

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.74% - 24.74% Variable

Details

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card offers a solid rewards bonus of 60,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) if you spend $3,000 in purchases over your first three months as a cardholder (offer expires 10/28/2020). You can also receive an additional 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in purchases over a calendar year (cardholders can claim this benefit up to two times per year).

Additionally, cardholders get Main Cabin 1 priority boarding and their first checked bag free. You’ll also be able to take advantage of either a $100 statement credit for Global Entry every four years or an $85 statement credit for TSA PreCheck® every four and a half years.

Cardholders can earn 3x miles on purchases made directly with hotels and eligible Delta purchases, 2x miles at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and U.S. supermarkets and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. When you fly on a Delta flight, you’ll also have access to a lowered rate of $39 per person so you and up to two guests can enter the Delta Sky Club. On Delta-operated flights, you will also receive 20% back on in-flight purchases, including pre-purchased meals, in-flight purchases of food, audio headsets and alcoholic beverages. This card has an annual fee of $250.

Why We Like It

Although the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card charges a higher annual fee than some other cards on this list, its benefits are often superior. The card is loaded with perks that you simply won’t get from other similar airline cards.

With 3x miles on direct hotel and eligible Delta purchases and the opportunity to earn MQMs through spending alone, this card would be valuable for any frequent Delta flyers looking to boost their mileage earnings. In addition, the card’s Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® credits make it well worth the substantial annual fee.

Best Airline Credit Card for Southwest Flyers

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  • Earn a 40,000 point bonus when spending $1,000 in the first 3 months with your card
  • Receive a 7,500 bonus after your cardmember anniversary
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • Free priority boarding up to four times per year when available
  • When you purchase in-flight drinks and WiFi with your card, get 20% back as a statement credit
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad

Annual Fee

$149

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Details

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card lets cardholders earn 2x points on Southwest purchases, as well as Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases. For all other purchases, the rewards rate is 1x points. The card also offers the opportunity to earn 40,000 bonus points if you can manage to spend $1,000 on purchases over your first three months with the card.

Cardholders can also receive 7,500 points on their cardmember anniversary, along with a $75 annual Southwest travel credit. When available, you’ll also have access to four priority boarding upgrades each year. Cardholders also receive 20% off on in-flight beverage and WiFi purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees with this card, and there is a $149 annual fee.

Why We Like It

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is a solid option for anyone who flies Southwest at least twice a year. With the $75 Southwest statement credit helping offset the annual fee, the card is well worth it for most frequent Southwest flyers. While the point-earning potential for this card isn’t particularly high, you’ll still be able to build your reserves by using your card on a day-to-day basis.

Best Airline Credit Card for JetBlue Flyers

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  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days
  • Earn 6 points per $1 on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don't expire
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food & the first checked bag is free for you and three companions on JetBlue-operated flights
  • Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
  • Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card

Annual Fee

$99

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles (for balance transfers posted within first 45 days)

Regular APR

15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% Variable

Details

The JetBlue Plus Card is one of only two personal credit cards offered by JetBlue. Its rewards setup is unlike any of the other cards on this list. First off, you’re able to earn JetBlue’s elite status, which is known as Mosaic, through spending alone. More specifically, when you use your card for $50,000 in purchases over a calendar year, you’ll earn Mosaic for the rest of the year and the following year.

If you spend $100 or more on a JetBlue Vacations package with your card, you will receive an annual $100 statement credit for use through JetBlue. Additionally, cardholders and up to three others traveling on the same reservation will receive a free checked bag. Furthermore, you can also get 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases during the first 90 days following your account opening. You will also receive 50% off in-flight purchases of cocktails and food.

The JetBlue Plus Card allows cardholders to earn 6x points on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x points on all other purchases. You will also receive 5,000 bonus points on each account anniversary as long as your account is in good standing. This card has a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Why We Like It

There are only a couple of options for personal JetBlue credit cards, and this one is clearly the winner. Between the ability to earn JetBlue’s Mosaic elite status solely through spending and a solid rewards structure, it should be easy to get good value out of this card even if you don’t fly more than a few times a year.

Best Airline Credit Card for Business

More Details

  • Receive a great signup bonus of 65,000 miles when you spend $4,000 in purchases over your first four months with the card
  • First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines flights
  • Save 25% on in-flight Wi-Fi with your card
  • Receive Preferred Boarding on American Airlines flights
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases at car rental merchants, gas stations, telecommunications merchants, and cable and satellite providers. Earn 1 mile per dollar everywhere else
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Annual Fee

$99, waived for the first 12 months

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.99% - 24.99% Variable

Details

Right off the bat, the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard earns cardholders a hefty sum of 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases within their first four months with the card. When you fly, you’ll receive your first checked bag for free, priority boarding and 25% off in-flight purchases of WiFi. Additionally, if you spend $30,000 with your card over a calendar year and renew your card membership, you’ll also earn a valuable companion certificate. This benefit will allow you to buy a ticket for yourself and then add a second ticket to that reservation for just $99, plus taxes and fees.

Cardholders also get 2x miles on a variety of purchases, such as eligible American Airlines purchases, cable and satellite providers, gas stations, telecommunications merchants and car rentals. All other purchases earn 1x miles. The card’s $99 annual fee is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Why We Like It

When it comes to airline-branded business credit cards, the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard is consistently ranked as one of the best on the market. Not only do you earn 2x miles on many different types of purchases, but you also get a multitude of other perks and a large signup bonus. The companion certificate alone can offset the annual fee every year, and flying is made a little easier with the option to check a bag for free and board in a priority group.

Methodology

SmartAsset has developed a quantitative and independent system for evaluating the relative value of a credit card offer versus other offers in the marketplace. Our system evaluates cards based exclusively on their features, such as their rewards earning rate (if applicable), fees, perks, and rewards program redemption options. The annual rewards values on this page are calculated using annual spending assumptions in various categories such as, but not limited to, gas, restaurants, airfare, and US supermarkets. These spending assumptions are built on research that SmartAsset has conducted on existing cash back credit cardholders. Our promise with our credit card recommendations is that we will always strive to have the most comprehensive, accurate, and objective method of evaluating credit card offers. Any recommendations are solely determined by the result of this research and model, and is never influenced by any fees, commissions, or other forms of compensation that SmartAsset may receive from credit card issuers for leads generated on our website.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.


Airline Credit Cards:
Everything You Need to Know


The Basics


Airline credit cards offer frequent travelers the chance to earn rewards for their loyalty to a specific airline. Many airline credit cards also include their partner airlines and hotels in the deal, as well.

Of course, not everyone flies with the same airline every time. Most of us are looking for the best prices and bundles when it comes time to buy plane tickets. But for those who are loyal to a certain airline, you may want to consider getting an airline credit card. Not only will it help you save money, but they can help you snag some great travel perks. You can even hop on a free flight when you earn enough miles. If you’re a frequent flyer on a specific airline, you should have no trouble spending enough money to get a free flight in no time. As a frequent flyer, you’re not really making any big changes to your spending. The credit card just helps you earn rewards from your normal spending.

Each airline card is going to be different from the next. Some cards will earn miles only through airline and hotel purchases, while others can earn through everyday purchases, too. Redeeming your miles for rewards can also vary from card to card in terms of rewards options and miles valuation. As airline specific cards, these are meant to get you the most bang for your buck when you use it toward travel. They’re also there to make your travel experiences more comfortable and special.


The Difference Between Airline Credit Cards and Travel Credit Cards


Generally when looking around for a travel rewards credit card, you’ll stumble upon either a co-branded card or a general travel credit card. A co-branded card means that an airline and a credit card issuer have teamed up to provide airline customers with a specialty credit card. With this kind of card, you earn rewards from purchases made with that specific and their partners, if they have any.

On the other hand, you might find that a general travel rewards card would be better for you. These cards aren’t specific to any airline. However, they do tend to have partnerships with a number of airlines and hotels. Having this kind of card gives you access to rewards and perks with all of these airlines and hotels, rather than one specific group. This kind of card would better suit travelers who may not stick to one airline, but bounce around instead. Not only that, but these general travel rewards cards can make it easier to earn points. They often have special categories like restaurants and groceries that will earn extra points. An airline credit card most often offers extra miles/points only on flights or hotel purchases.


The Benefits of Airline Credit Card Rewards


Frequent flyers on a specific airline certainly stand to gain a ton of benefits by having an airline-affiliated credit card. Airline credit cards earn a certain number of miles for purchases you make with the airline and its partners. In turn, you can use those miles to book a free flight or hotel stay or sometimes even cash back, although the return for cash back isn’t as rewarding. This system rewards you for spending on purchases you already would have made, especially huge expenses since you’re a frequent traveler.

You may also have the chance to upgrade to elite status, depending on the airline, by spending high amounts. Elite members gain access to even further travel comforts like luxury lounges and first class upgrades.

While an airline credit card is affiliated with one specific airline, that doesn’t always mean you’re fully tied to that line. Many airlines have partnerships with other airlines and hotels. Through these partnerships, you can transfer your frequent flyer miles from your airline credit card to another airline, should you choose to. Or you could use those miles for a comfortable hotel stay.

An airline credit card can also provide you with a much more comfortable travel experience. Airline credit cards often come with automatic perks like free checked bags, access to airport lounges and priority boarding. You could also snag a seat upgrade to first class or a bigger hotel room, depending on the card. Some airlines may even offer companion passes, making traveling with a buddy that much easier.

You could potentially see more benefits if you’re a high spender. Many cards offer bonus rewards for those who spend thousands of dollars on the card per year. Big spending also means you earn miles faster, thus getting access to a free flight faster, too. Not a big spender? You could find a card that offers an anniversary bonus. On the anniversary of your card opening, you could see thousands of bonus miles.


How an Airline Credit Card Could Save You Money


Traveling isn’t cheap, that’s for sure. Luckily, airline credit cards exist, in part, to help you travel more comfortably and save money. If you’re looking into an airline specific credit card, we’re assuming you’re already a frequent traveler. If you use the card often enough on qualifying purchases like those airline’s flights, you’ll rack up those frequent flyer miles in no time. Then, with those miles, you get to treat yourself to another trip. Without an airline rewards program, you would have still bought those flights, but not gained an extra vacation out of it.

Many of the automatic perks and rewards of airline credit cards allow you to forgo certain costs, like checked baggage fees. Other covered costs could include in-flight meals and lounge access. Not only that, but sometimes you can even extend your perks to a travel companion. Some cards will automatically cover these costs just for your membership. Others will provide you with an airline credit that you can use at your discretion.

You may also want to look for a card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. That way you can carry and use your card around the world and not be limited to purchases only within the United States. Otherwise, you could get hit with a nasty fee for treating yourself to a fancy dinner in Italy. Many travel credit cards also provide a number of insurance policies so that you don’t have to pay for those entirely out of pocket. These kind of insurance coverages only apply if you use your credit card for the purchase. Some cards offer trip cancellation insurance, so if you need to cancel a flight due to conditions out of your control, your trip will be covered by the card issuer.

Your airline credit card could also save you some money when it comes to rental car insurance. If the card doesn’t provide total coverage, it will at least lessen the burden on your wallet. Just be sure to check whether your card issuer provides primary or secondary rental car insurance and how much it would cover. Lastly, your airline credit card could provide you with lost luggage insurance should you ever find yourself luggage-less. If an airline loses your luggage and barely covers the cost, your credit card issuer could cover the rest. They may also help you out in the meantime by covering costs like lost toiletries and clothes.


The Drawbacks of Airline Credit Cards


Right off the bat, an airline credit card won’t be quite right for you if you’re not beholden to a certain airline. Sure an airline credit card offers a ton of benefits, but that applies only to those who are sticking to the airline and their partners. It would also apply only to people who travel enough to earn the rewards and make the card worth it. This means traveling much more than just two or three times a year. Further, airline credit cards don’t provide much flexibility when it comes to choosing which airlines and hotels you can use. If that kind of freedom is important to you, you may want to go with an unaffiliated travel rewards card.

If you do decide that an airline credit card is right for you, it helps to know the drawbacks as well as the perks. For starters, airline credit cards tend to have high credit expectations in terms of qualification. You’ll need good or excellent credit to even think about your potential rewards. Along with high credit scores, airline credit cards often come with high rates and fees. As a rewards card, it’s not uncommon that they should carry a high variable APR. Issuers do want to make sure they’re not losing money with such benefit-heavy credit cards. Most airline credit cards will come with an annual fee, too. The fee will vary between cards, but it usually lands around $95. You’ll have to figure out whether your spending and rewards will outweigh the cost of an annual fee.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the card’s redemption values and methods. Airline credit cards tend to offer low values for your miles when you redeem for anything other than travel. So if you want cash back or gift certificates from this card, your miles will often be worth less than 1 cent. You won’t want to waste your well-earned miles on a low returning reward. Even when you do redeem your miles for flights or hotel stays, you’ll have to check for blackout dates. Some airlines and their frequent flyer programs offer solid returns, but not enough flexibility when it comes time to use them.

You may want to delve a little deeper into an airline’s frequent flyer program before committing. Read reviews to see how other customers have liked the program and the airline. If you ever have problems or questions, you’ll want to be with an airline that offers great customer service. Also check to see if the airline has made changes to their program within the past few years. If they have, that could be a sign that they may change the program’s terms again in the near future. It helps to have a card with a reliable airline and frequent flyer program so you know your miles and rewards are safe.


How an Airline Credit Card Could Affect Your Credit Score


Like with any credit card, you need to be mindful of how you use an airline credit card. It might be easy to overspend since you’re looking at flights and hotels, which aren’t cheap expenses. However, you have to be sure to spend only what you can afford to pay back. If you end up making late payments or owing too much, you could find yourself in serious trouble. For one, you could lose all the miles you’ve racked up previously. You usually have a little over a year to spend your rewards miles, but if your account falls out of favor, you could lose those points even faster.

More dangerously, bad credit card habits could really damage your credit score. Since airline credit cards tend to have higher rates and fees, you’ll want to be aware of exactly what you’re buying and paying back. You won’t want to be surprised by a hefty penalty APR that sends your funds and credit in a downward spiral. If you’re looking into getting multiple airline credit cards or credit card churning, that’s when you should be careful with your credit score. Each credit card application will require an inquiry into your credit history. Each inquiry will then cause a dip in your score. If your repayment habits are solid enough to recover your score, then you may not have to worry. But too many applications and cards to juggle becomes risky when you’re not paying attention.


Who Should Apply for an Airline Credit Card


You should only really apply for an airline credit card if you are a frequent flyer with a specific airline. It doesn’t matter if you’re constantly visiting family, going on vacation or flying for work. As long as you’re flying a few times a year on the same airline, you should be good to go. If it makes sense for you to own an airline credit card, you then have to make sure you have good to excellent credit before applying. Most airline credit cards require high credit scores to ensure borrowers are trustworthy and responsible. If your score isn’t so hot, you might want to work on responsibly improving it before chasing frequent flyer miles.

You should only apply for an airline credit card if you and your finances can handle it. You only earn miles when you pay off your purchases made on the card. If you know you’re not good at paying off credit card purchases, you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, you can rack up a ton of interest and debt and lose your rewards miles. You’ll also want to make sure you can handle the card’s annual fee. An annual fee of $95 may seem like a small price to pay for travel perks. But with the high cost of travel, you want to make sure you can take on another expense.


What Matters Most When Applying for an Airline Credit Card


When looking for an airline card, what matters most is your personal and financial habits and needs. Pay attention to your travel habits, too, to better decide which card fits for you. For one, make sure you travel enough to actually reap the benefits of having an airline credit card. Depending on what card you’re looking at, you may not even travel enough to earn more than you spend.

You may want to avoid going straight for the card with the biggest rewards. A card could have incredible-sounding rewards, but if you can’t meet the requirements to earn them, applying for and getting the card would be useless. Do your best to match the card and its features to your existing habits. That way, you won’t be stuck with a card that’s supposed to earn you a lot, but doesn’t. What you actually get out of a card matters more than the label of a “bigger and better” card.

In terms of qualifying for an airline credit card, you’re going to need a stellar credit score. Most airline credit cards require an excellent score and others may allow a good credit score to pass. This allows airlines and credit card issuers to feel more comfortable lending to you.


Assessing the Value of Airline Credit Card Rewards


The value of a mile is going to vary between cards. Most airline credit cards tend to value a mile between 1 and 2 cents. Let’s take a look at some numbers. For example, if you had 10,000 miles that were each worth 1 cent, you could redeem them for a $100 value. If those miles were worth 2 cents, you could redeem them for a $200 value. Miles usually value higher when used for travel. This is especially true when it comes to airline credit cards. This means that if the highest your miles will value is 1 cent, that will most likely apply to travel redemption options.

If you wanted to redeem your miles for cash back or a gift certificate, your miles will often be worth less than 1 cent. Definitely be sure to check your card’s miles valuation to get the most out of your rewards.


Which Airline Credit Card Should You Choose?


You should certainly go with an airline credit card that best suits your travel needs. For example, if you fly with American Airlines most often, you should choose an American Airlines credit card. Some airlines, like JetBlue, may have more than one affiliated credit card. In that case, you should check out the pros and cons of each card. Look at the annual fees, foreign transaction fees and the perks each card offers.


What to Do After Choosing an Airline Credit Card


Once you’ve found the right airline card for you, it’s time to apply for it. Usually you can apply directly online, which might be the easiest and fastest way to go about it. You could also choose to mail in an application. As with any credit card application, you will have to provide personal information like your Social Security number, your household income and your credit history.

If you’re approved for the card, you should receive it in the mail within 10 business days. Once your new card arrives, you will want to activate it as soon as possible. Make sure the card’s offerings are what you signed up for and that you’re ready to go.

If you didn’t get approved for an airline credit card, not to worry. You should try to find out exactly why you were denied. That way you can fix the issue and increase your chances of approval for future cards. Often the issue lies with your credit history. It may not have been solid enough for the credit card issuer to feel comfortable approving you. Or your debt-to-income ratio may be too high for the issuer’s liking. Being denied for a credit card may seem like a huge hit. However, it could be better for you in the long run if your credit isn’t doing so great. That way, you won’t run the risk of racking up even more debt with your airline credit card. So once you find out why your application was denied, it’s best to start working on improving for your next application.


Should You Apply for More Than One Airline Credit Card?


The main purpose of an airline credit card is to stick with one airline (and its partners) in order to earn a bunch of rewards. However, this may not make sense for everyone. For one, if you’re not flying at least a few times a year, a frequent flyer program likely wouldn't make sense for you. Or maybe you do travel a lot, but you just don’t use the same airline often enough. Luckily, you have the option of getting a travel credit card that's not affiliated with a specific airline.

You might also be thinking about applying for more than one airline credit card. That option is appealing because there’s the chance to earn a ton of rewards across multiple airline loyalty programs. By having more than one airline card, you could potentially end up earning thousands of miles on each card and earn free flights from a few different airlines. However, in order to achieve this, you would have to be spending a lot on each card to earn the miles in the first place. This means a lot of travel purchases on each card you have. Otherwise, the fees and rates of a card could really weigh you down. If that were to happen, you could end up in more credit trouble instead of on yearly reward flights to Hawaii.

There are always dangers to applying for too many lines of credit. Credit card or loan lenders will look at how many applications you've sent in recently. If you're applying to a few at the same time, lenders could see that as irresponsible and then deny your application. Too many inquiries into your credit history will also affect your credit score, further hurting your chances at other credit cards or loans.

If you’re super determined to have more than one airline card, it may be best to do so slowly. Try out having one card first to see how your spending goes. Once you’re comfortably using that card, then you can try adding another.

If you’re looking into credit card churning (opening and closing credit cards to get the sign-up bonuses), take it slowly and carefully as well. Again, you’ll want to avoid hurting your credit score by applying for multiple credit cards within a short amount of time. Churning requires a lot of attention on your part so you don’t end up with high fees or missed payments. If that sounds like too much work for you, don’t push your luck. The last thing you want is to be overwhelmed from the start and lose out on rewards completely.


How to Maximize Your Airline Credit Card


You’re probably already thinking about how to get the most out of your airline credit card, which is a good thing. To do this with an airline credit card, you have to be a frequent flyer with a certain airline and its partners. This means more than just flying home twice a year to see your family. Flying more than a few times a year means you have more opportunities to use your card on those airline purchases. The more flights you purchase, the more miles you earn.

Depending on the airline you want to affiliate with, you may want to get a card that offers extra miles for airline/hotel purchases, plus a solid one mile for everything else. That way, you can still use your card for non-affiliated airline or hotel purchases. That being said, you probably still want to have a traditional credit card in addition to your airline credit card. A cash back or rewards card can get you higher rewards for purchases at places like restaurants and gas stations. You don’t have to settle for the one mile return with an airline credit card.

A huge part of maximizing your airline credit card rewards is using the card responsibly. Yes, you will get the most out of it if you travel and spend a lot. However, only do so if you can afford it. You shouldn’t rely on future reward flights to make up for your spending. Using your card responsibly means paying back your purchases on time. It also helps immensely to pay each bill in full. When you pay it in full, you avoid racking up more costs in interest, saving yourself money in the long run.

You should also pay attention to the terms and conditions surrounding your frequent flyer miles. Make sure you know exactly what purchases will earn you miles and how many miles you will earn. Check to see whether your miles will ever expire. It certainly helps to know when your points will expire as early as possible, instead of a month before you have to use them. You could lose your miles if you keep defaulting on payments. Keep an eye out, or you could lose a ton of earned miles before having used them.

When it comes to fees, it doesn’t hurt to see if you can find a card without an annual fee and especially one without a foreign transaction fee. An airline credit card without an annual fee is somewhat rare. Even if you find one, it may not be the most useful for you. So you definitely have to make sure you can budget in the cost of an annual fee. An airline credit card without a foreign transaction fee could really boost your savings, though. As a travel card, you’re going to want to take this with you when you travel, whether domestically or internationally. If you’re often flying abroad, a foreign transaction fee can really hit your wallet hard since the fee is usually 3% of the transaction amount.

One way to combat the annual fee, at least for the first year, is getting a card with a sign-up bonus. A sign-up bonus means you get a certain amount of miles for spending a few thousand dollars usually. Earning that sign-up bonus could be a good way to earn some extra miles or cash to cover the first year’s annual fee. Even without worrying about the annual fee, snagging that sign-up bonus would be a great way to start off your card earnings.


How to Earn as Many Airline Rewards as Possible


Kick off your airline credit card earnings with a bang by snagging the card’s sign-up bonus. Each card will have a different bonus, so make sure you know exactly what your card’s requirements are. With a sign-up bonus, you have to spend a specific amount on the card to earn thousands of bonus miles. The bonus usually ends up valuing at a few hundred dollars, which could then cover a vacation flight!

Most cards will earn two miles per dollar spent on purchases from that specific airline and its partners. This is why it is so important to get an airline credit card only if you will be spending money with mostly one airline. That way you can get the most out of the card by buying flights from that airline and its partners. It will help to have a comprehensive list of the airline’s partners. They could include hotels in their partnerships, too, which would help you earn more miles.

Many airline credit cards also earn one mile per dollar spent on everything else. This is a pretty standard return and while it’s not much, it can definitely come in handy if you don’t have another, better-earning credit card on hand. You also want to look out for whether your airline credit card has any other special categories that will earn miles. For example, some cards could earn you double miles on restaurant purchases. If that’s the case, you should definitely be using your card at restaurants to quickly rack up miles. Some cards may even match a certain percentage of the miles you’ve earned in a calendar year. You’ll want to keep an eye out for deals like that so you can take advantage of easy earnings.

You could also earn thousands of airline rewards through credit card churning, which we mentioned above. This is the practice of opening and closing multiple credit cards in quick succession in order to earn the sign-up bonus before interest and fees kick in. This could be a great way to earn a ton of miles without big spending. It’s not easy, however, since it requires strategy, planning and careful attention. With credit card churning, you’ll need to pay attention to payment and bonus deadlines in order to avoid spending more or missing out on the bonus. If you don’t think you can keep up with the churning strategy, it’s best to steer clear of it and earn your miles in a more straightforward manner.


Redeeming Airline Credit Card Rewards


The method of redemption can vary from card to card. Redeeming your airline credit card rewards is usually no different than any other rewards credit card. Note that you won’t see your miles in your account until you have actually paid off your purchases. That’s why it’s crucial to pay off your credit card bills, or else risk losing your chance at rewards miles. Most rewards credit cards have a minimum amount of points or miles you’ll need to start redeeming. Once you rack up enough miles on your card, you can redeem them for flights, hotel stays or seat upgrades.

Often, miles redemption is as easy as going to your card’s online account and clicking redeem. Most credit card issuers, especially travel cards, will have an easily accessible online portal where you can manage and redeem your miles. Luckily, many airlines offer frequent flyer customers access to dozens of other airline and hotel partners. You may use your miles toward flights and stays with those partners as well as the card’s affiliated airline.

The worth of each mile will vary between cards. Some airline credit cards will value a mile (point) at 1 cent. In that case, 10,000 miles would get you $100 in rewards. But sometimes redeeming your miles for a more expensive flight, like an international business class seat, can get you more bang for your buck. Once you get your airline credit card, it helps to look at their specific redemption rates and options. It’ll help you strategize and time your miles redemption just right to get the best valued flight.

A good rule to follow is to simply redeem your airline rewards miles for travel purchases. Some programs may offer the option of redeeming miles for cash or gift certificates. However, the value of a mile when redeemed for these choices is often pretty low, making them less worth your time and miles.


Frequently Asked Questions:


1. Do airline credit cards always offer rewards?

Yes, they do! An airline credit card’s purpose is to provide the frequent flyer customer with rewards for using the airline. Of course, every airline and every card is going to be different. Some cards may offer better rewards than others. However, it’s important to choose the card that’s best for you.

2. Can I redeem miles for cash or statement credits?

You can redeem your frequent flyer miles for cash or statement credits, depending on the airline and its program. However, it would very likely be a waste of your miles. You typically get the best value for your miles when you redeem them for travel purchases, usually with a mile valued between 1 and 2 cents. For example, 10,000 miles each worth 1 cent would be redeemed for $100 worth of travel. When you redeem for cash or statement credits, those miles will be worth less than 1 cent. Using the example above, 10,000 miles valued at half a cent would only get you $50 in cash. If you’re more interested in cash rewards like statement credits and gift certificates, you should probably look into a cash back credit card or another rewards card.

3. Can I donate my airline credit card rewards to charity?

Depending on which airline your card is affiliated with, you do have the option to donate your credit card rewards to charity. If donations are a big part of how you plan to spend your rewards, you’ll want to check whether an airline’s rewards program includes charitable donations in its redemption options before committing.

To donate your miles to a charity, you can usually just go to your online credit card account as though you were about to redeem your miles for rewards. If your airline rewards program includes this feature, there will be a donation option on your account. You could also call your rewards program to inquire about and make a charitable donation. You will usually need to meet a minimum amount of miles in order to make a donation. Some airline programs will allow you to donate as little as a penny, though. You do get to choose the amount you donate, as long as you meet the minimum if there is one.

It’s also good to know how the charity of your choice will receive your donation. Sometimes charities will receive the donation as travel credit, and sometimes they receive cash. Knowing how your miles will be converted and how much they will be worth can help your decision of how many miles you would like to donate. Most donations are final, too, so it helps to be sure before you send them. Some people may use charitable donations to keep their accounts active. So if you’re not really using the card anymore but you still have miles, you can go ahead and donate those.

These donations will not be tax-deductible. This is because the IRS views your airline rewards miles as discounts or gifts and not income.

4. How can I evaluate airline credit card offers?

Before diving too deeply into specific airline credit card offers, you should first determine whether an airline-specific card is the best choice for you. If you don’t have any sort of loyalty to a certain airline already, you might want to consider an unaffiliated travel rewards credit card. That way, you won’t be tied to one airline, or a small group of airlines.

Deciding which airline credit card you need will be pretty easy for you if you already fly with an airline more often than others. If not, you’ll need to decide which airline(s) you’ll feel the most comfortable flying with many times a year. It helps to look for the airlines with solid customer service reviews and views and offerings that most align with you and your plans. If an airline offers great rewards returns, but their company has a bad reputation, you probably won’t want to bother applying for the card.

You should weigh the value of each card’s rewards to better understand how much you’ll be getting out of the card. This goes further than knowing you’ll earn double miles for a flight purchase. Once you want to redeem those miles, how much will each mile be worth? Earning miles that are worth 2 cents instead of 1 cent could make all the difference in your travel experiences. It could also help to estimate how many miles you can see yourself earning in a year. Will your spending be worth the earnings and rewards? Will it be worth the possible annual fee? You may even want to forget about a potential sign-up bonus. This will leave some room in your budget, especially since the bonus only happens once.

Of course, you’ll also want to check out the other perks that would come with an airline credit card. These perks often include things like free checked bags, companion passes and complimentary flight and hotel upgrades. Check to see which perks are automatic and which you have to work for. For one, some cards may have access to elite status, but only after you spend a certain amount of money each year.

Try to figure out whether you’ll actually be using the provided perks. Some may sound very impressive, but if you’re not going to directly benefit, you could probably find a card that better fits your current and future travel needs.

You should also look for a possible foreign transaction fee. If you only really travel domestically, a foreign transaction fee shouldn’t often affect you. You just have to make sure you don’t use the card for foreign purchases. If you do travel internationally, though, you’ll want to check out the cards that don’t have a foreign transaction fee.

5. What’s the typical rewards rate for airline credit cards?

Airline credit cards will usually earn two miles per dollar spent on purchases from that specific airline and its partners. Some may even offer more than two miles per dollar. Many cards also earn one mile per dollar spent on everything else. There are airline credit cards out there that do offer a special category that earns more than the base level of one mile per dollar. That’s not super common, though.

6. Do airline credit cards come with sign-up bonuses?

Many airline credit cards do offer a sign-up bonus. The exact amounts will vary between cards, but you can usually expect a bonus of thousands of miles. Of course, the bonus won’t come free. You usually have to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a given amount of time. The amount of money can range from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. The amount of time will also vary, but you’re usually given a few months to meet the dollar requirement. For example, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles by spending $500 within the first three months of having the card.

7. Do I have to shop at specific stores to earn airline credit card rewards?

The main way you can earn airline credit card rewards is by buying flights from that airline and their partners if they have any. Some airlines may have an online shopping portal, though, where you can buy merchandise. You could either use your credit card to pay for the purchases, or you may be able to use your miles for purchases. The programs will vary between airlines. Not all airlines will have this option either.

8. Do I need to pay my airline credit card bill in full every month to earn rewards?

Technically you do not need to pay your bill in full every month to earn rewards. However, you will only earn miles for what you pay off. For example, if you make a $1,000 purchase but only pay off $500 in that payment period, you’ll earn miles on that $500. So if you make that $1,000 purchase, you can’t expect $1,000 worth of points until you pay it all back.

Even without rewards, you should still be paying off your credit card bills on time and in full each month. That way, you can save yourself the trouble of owing more and more money due to accrued interest. This is generally the best practice to any rewards card. Otherwise, your interest payments could end up outweighing any benefits you gain from having the card.

9. How soon can I cash in on my airline credit card rewards?

The amount of time you’re given before you can redeem your airline credit card miles depends on the card. Most often, you will need to wait until you have a few thousand miles in the bank before you can redeem them. However, there are some cards that don’t have a minimum redemption limit.

10. Do airline credit card rewards ever expire?

Yes, they do! While general rewards credit card points don’t expire unless you default on your account, airline credit card rewards are different. Airline credit card miles do expire after a certain amount of time, varying between cards. Generally you’re given between 18 and 36 months to redeem your miles. Some cards may give you more or less time and some cards don’t have an expiration date. You should find out your card’s exact expiration date, if there is one. That way you’re not left scrambling trying to book flights weeks before they expire.


Final Thoughts


Airline credit cards provide a great opportunity for frequent flyers to earn extra flights and travel perks. As a frequent flyer, you’re bound to be spending a lot of money on flights and hotel stays. An airline credit card makes that spending more rewarding by earning miles you can later redeem for a free flight or hotel stay. By earning around two miles per dollar spent with the card’s airline, you’ll look forward to racking up miles. Not only that, but you’ll look forward to traveling, even for business, with all the travel perks and benefits an airline credit card can give you.

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/martin-dm, ©iStock.com/Izabela Habur, ©iStock.com/MStudioImages

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