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Best airline credit cards

By Mitch Strohm · Bankrate.com
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Posted: 3 pm ET

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The best airline credit cards offer generous rewards and travel-related perks, like free flights, seat upgrades and priority boarding.

These cards, which complement frequent flier programs, typically are most useful if you use the same airline for travel.

But while your travel habits will determine the best airline credit card for your wallet, some cards offer broader options for using your accumulated reward miles than others.

Here are the three best airline credit cards -- including a first-place tie -- as determined by the experts at CreditCards.com.

CARD SEARCH: Find the best airline credit cards here.

Best airline credit cards
Credit Card Rewards Annual fee
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Two airline miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases $95, waived the first year
British Airways Visa Signature Three miles per $1 spent on British Airways purchases $95
United MileagePlus Explorer Two miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases $95

1. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select

This card earns high marks for its outstanding rewards program and generous sign-up bonus. It also offers a number of airport and in-flight perks.

Highlights:

  • Earn two miles per $1 spent on American Airline purchases and one mile per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Earn 30,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of opening the account.
  • Earn a rebate of 10 percent of redeemed miles each year, up to 10,000 miles.

Who should get this card
This card is best for travelers who frequently fly American Airlines and take advantage of the generous rewards through the AAdvantage program. You'll also enjoy perks like priority boarding, 25 percent savings on in-flight purchases and free checked bags for you and up to four people.

No foreign transaction fees and a big sign-up bonus make this a great card for those who frequently travel abroad.

But you'll pay to own this card. After the first year, this card's $95 annual fee can eat into rewards. The APR is a variable 16.49 to 24.49 percent.

CARD SEARCH: Reward yourself today with an airline credit card.

1. British Airways Visa Signature

This card offers substantial rewards, an outstanding sign-up bonus and convenient travel perks. It earns a tie for the best airline credit card.

Highlights:

  • Earn three miles per $1 spent on British Airways purchases, one mile per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the account.
  • Cardholders who spend more than $30,000 a year can earn a free companion ticket on a flight that they purchase with miles. Applicable taxes and fees apply to the companion ticket.

Who should get this card
This card is ideal for travelers who would like generous rewards and flight options associated with British Airways and its partners. American Airlines is the only domestic airline in the network.

With no foreign transaction fees and several airline options, this card is also good for the cardholder who frequently travels abroad.

This card carries a $95 annual fee. If you don't use the card often enough to make up that fee in rewards, this Visa Signature card might not be right for you. The APR is a variable 16.74 to 23.74 percent.

CARD SEARCH: Search for the best airline credit cards now.

3. United MileagePlus Explorer

This card's generous rewards, large travel network and generous bonus opportunities make it a great choice, especially for United customers.

Highlights:

  • Earn two miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, one mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Each calendar year, cardholders are eligible to receive a 10,000-mile bonus after reaching $25,000 in purchases on the card.

Who should get this card
This card is best for those who often fly United Airlines or its partners in the Star Alliance. Bonus opportunities, great travel perks and generous rewards make this an ideal card for heavy travelers.

The United MileagePlus Explorer comes with perks like priority boarding, privileges at luxury hotels and resorts and two passes per year to the United Club.

Cardholders are limited to flying United and its Star Alliance partners. While that's a relatively large network, you might be better off with another card if you prefer a different, choice of airlines.

This card charges a $95 annual fee. The APR is a variable 16.74 to 23.74 percent.

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