Best Airline Travel Cards — Earn Free Flights Faster
Airline travel may not look the same now as it did a year or two ago, but one day we know it will return. Until then, you can continue to rack up airline miles and earn discounted tickets to use when the time is right by using the best airline credit cards — you might even earn an extra pack of peanuts on a flight. Airline credit cards offer several advantages, in addition to the opportunity to earn
As a travel credit card, airline credit cards are similar to hotel credit cards. There are co-branded versions, where the card partners specifically with one brand of airline, in which case they work in conjunction with a frequent flyer program. Or there are the generic travel cards, where you earn miles on any airline travel, no matter the brand, just by spending on everyday purchases like gas stations, U.S. supermarkets, delivery services, restaurants, and travel purchases.
And, of course, the goal with using an airline credit card is to snag free flights, free companion fares, and elite status that garners upgrades and lounge access to be treated like a rock star flyer.
Today we’re going to look at a combination of both types, to find out which card is the best airline credit card offering the most bang for your travel buck.
- Overview of the best airline credit cards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
- Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- JetBlue Plus Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- American Express Green Card
- Summary of the best airline credit cards
- The bottom line
Overview of the best airline credit cards
|Credit card issuer||Best for|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||Travel insurance and protections|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Frequent travelers|
|Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card||Delta loyalists|
|Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard||American Airlines enthusiasts|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Straightforward program|
|JetBlue Plus Card||JetBlue fanatics|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card||Southwest frequent fliers|
|American Express Green Card||Comprehensive travel program|
Reviews of our picks for best airline credit cards
Here’s a snapshot of each card and how each one performs for earning airline rewards.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card isn’t co-branded with a specific airline, but the list of travel rewards is quite extensive. The benefits have expanded for 2020 and beyond, further making this a card you should consider,
The generous bonus offer is the first thing you’ll notice. You earn 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first four months, which is worth $750 in travel rewards to redeem in the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal. And with no blackout dates for travel rewards, you can put the $750 to use for airline travel. Each point is a 1:1 transfer, meaning for every point you earn, you earn 1 point in travel rewards. You earn 2x the points in dining and travel categories (including airfare) too, making this a card you can use daily to earn travel rewards.
Chase Sapphire Preferred features other perks, such as the PayYourselfBack® promotions where you earn 25% more for your points. Plus, when you travel, you have 24/7 customer service, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, and Extended Warranty Protection for products you purchase with your card. And you’ll never have to worry about any foreign transaction fees when you’re traveling.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but the reward structure and benefits far outweigh the $95 if you take advantage of all the card has to offer. Though this card isn’t tied to a specific airline, you can use it every day to build up points easily converted for airline use.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is another strong option from Chase and the airline benefits are perfect for those who like to fly.
Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Reserve offers a generous sign up bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Immediately you begin earning 3x the rewards points for all travel (including airfare purchases) and dining purchases with your card.
Chase Sapphire Reserve features the Pay Yourself Back, where your points are worth 50% more during special offers (versus 25% for Chase Sapphire Preferred) and other opportunities to maximize your points throughout the year. Using your card means you have access to 24/7 customer service, and trip protection extras like trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance and Extended Warranty Protection.
While you’re in the airport, the Chase Sapphire Reserve grants you airport lounge access to over 1,000 lounges worldwide after a one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select.
While the $550 annual fee is more expensive versus other airline credit cards, you receive a $300 travel credit each year on your card anniversary. Plus there is $0 in foreign transaction fees and you receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck — all of which exceeds the cost of the card.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is a stellar option for those loyal to Delta Air Lines. This loyalty program card combines the travel perks of an American Express, with the ability to earn miles on everyday purchases.
The 35,000 sign-on bonus miles are within reach if you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. Then you immediately begin earning 2x miles on Delta purchases (use your card for Delta flight and in-flight purchases), as well as supermarkets and restaurants. You also receive a $100 Delta flight credit if you spend $10,000 in purchases in a year. Plus your first checked bag is free with the card.
If you don’t like to take chances on the overhead bins filling up, cardholders receive priority boarding so you can get settled sooner.
Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers numerous benefits for those who prefer flying with the American Airlines airline and partners. When you sign up and spend $5,000 within the first 3 months, you’ll earn 50,000 points plus free Admirals Club® membership (worth $650).
It’s easy to start earning AAdvantage points with this card. For starters, you earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year then you earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. After that, it’s 1 mile per $1.
Other airline perks include Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit and priority check-in for you and 8 of your travel companions, plus access to travel concierge services.
JetBlue Plus Card
Those who live near a JetBlue hub can take serious advantage of the JetBlue Plus card benefits. New cardholders are eligible for 40,000 in TrueBlue rewards if you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
The JetBlue Plus card gives you major points power with 6x the points for JetBlue purchases, 2x the points at grocery stores and restaurants, and 1x for all other purchases. When you fly, you get a free checked bag and access to 50% off in-flight purchases. Then every year, you’re gifted with 5,000 TrueBlue points on your card anniversary and no blackout dates. This card is ideal for those who fly JetBlue frequently and want to make the most of the membership rewards program.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
Similar to the JetBlue Plus card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card offers amazing perks for those who fly Southwest on a regular basis. This card allows you to earn a massive amount of miles in the first year — 100,000 to be exact. You earn 70,000 if you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months. Then you earn an additional 30,000 if you spend $25,000 in the first six months.
Business owners will love the points potential with this card. You earn 3x the points for all Southwest flight and in-flight purchases, then 2x the points for business-related category purchases. Every year on your card anniversary, you’ll receive an additional 9,000 points.
When you do fly and use this card, you’re eligible for four free upgrades per year and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit once every four years.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The popular Capital One Venture Rewards card is a fan favorite not only because of the marketing but because the reward structure is simple and generous. You earn unlimited 1.25 points per dollar spent every day, but then you can use your points towards travel including airfare and other categories like hotels. The bonus with this card is your points never expire.
The Capital One Venture Rewards features an impressive 0% introductory APR, and no annual fee too. When you use your card you’ll have numerous travel protections including travel accident insurance and car rental collision damage waiver. This card is a great option for those who want an easy reward and redemption program to follow, and lots of options for redeeming with airlines and other categories.
American Express Green Card
The American Express Green Card rewards you for airline, transit, and hotel purchases by allowing you to earn 3x the points on these purchases and 1x points for all others.
The low annual fee of $150 means you have access to several travel protections such as car rental loss and damage insurance, lost baggage insurance, and access to the Global Assist hotline — plus trip delay insurance. This Amex is ideal for those who want a well-rounded card for traveling, a low annual fee, and access to a long list of travel perks.
When you do fly, this card gives you a $100 LoungeBuddy Credit, which allows you to access airport lounges worldwide. Additionally, the $100 CLEAR Credit is put towards the cost of the CLEAR program, which allows you to go through security faster.
Summary of the best airline credit cards
|Issuer||Sign up or bonus offer||Reward structure||APR||Annual fee||Foreign transaction fees|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||60k / spend $4k in 4 mos||2:1 dining, travel; 1:1 all others||15.99% to 22.99%||$95||None|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||50k / spend $4k in 3 mos||3:1 dining, travel; 1:1 all others; $300 travel credit annually||16.99% to 23.99%||$550 each authorized user, $75 per year||None|
|Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card||35k points after $1k within first 3 mos||2:1 on Delta flights and purchases, supermarkets,restaurants; 1:1 all others||15.74% to 24.74%||$0 first year, $95 after||None|
|Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard||50k American Airlines AAdvantage after $5k within first 3 mos, plus free Admirals Club membership||2:1 on American flights and purchases, 1:1 all others||15.99% to 24.99%||$450||None|
|JetBlue Plus Card||40k points after $1k within first 3 mos||6:1 on JetBlue purchases, 2:1 dining, groceries; 1:1 all others||0% introductory APR, then 15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99%||$99||None|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card||70k /spend $5,000 in 3 mos and 25k/spend $25,000 in 6 mo||3:1 on Southwest flights and purchases,2:1 business categories; 1:1 all others||15.99% to 22.99%||$199||None|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||25k /spend $500 in 3 mos||1.25:1 every purchase||0% introductory APR first 12 months account is open then 15.49%, 21.49% or 25.49%||$0||None|
|American Express Green Card||45k points after $2k within first 6 mos||3:1 on travel; 1:1 all others||15.99% to 22.99%||$150||None|
Will my airline miles expire?
Like other rewards programs, if you don’t use your airline miles within a certain time period, then yes, they can expire. Most airlines offer you a minimum of 24 months before you have to use or earn miles. Some airlines, such as the British Airways Executive Club allow you 36 months to earn or redeem a portion and others, like DeltaSkyMiles, never expire.
How can I make the most of my airline credit cards?
Since it may feel somewhat limiting to have a credit card specifically for airline travel, it’s understandable you’d want to maximize the benefits from your airline credit card.
First, make sure you know all the benefits and perks available to you with the card. Perks such as free checked-baggage for you or your companions come in handy and can save you $60 or more on a round-trip flight.
Other perks, such as lounge access, offer you chances to relax and grab a bite to eat or drink, further saving you while you’re traveling.
Chances are, there are numerous other benefits, like extending warranty services or product protection, that offer value without you realizing it. Get familiar with all your cards have to offer and make it a point to take advantage of all the benefits.
Why should you use the best airline credit cards?
Airline travel remains an expensive portion of your travel budget, whether for personal trips, work, or vacation. And in the post-COVID world, we should expect airline prices to continue to increase.
If you’re looking for a way to cut a significant portion from your travel budget, or access discounted tickets, then using the best airline credit cards can get you there. Plus, most credit cards come with additional travel protections you would never have if you only used a debit card.
The bottom line
When the time is right, you’ll be traveling again. And then watch out world! When you do travel, you can use the rewards you’ve earned from our list of best airline credit cards to make your trip more affordable.