Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

For the frequent flyer, airline credit cards are a rewarding companion. Find the best credit card for you and you’ll be rewarded with award flights, status upgrades, and special perks you won’t find anywhere else. If you tend to only fly one airline, apply for one of its branded cards. If you fly many airlines, choose a card that rewards you with points or miles you can redeem in a variety of ways. Bankrate has compiled the very best airline credit cards of 2019 from our partners here; choose yours and start flying better.

Editor's Top Picks: Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

Citi Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Citi's secure website

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations* Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases*
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases in first 3 months of account opening
Annual Fee:
$99, waived for first 12 months*
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.74%-25.74%* (Variable)

Card Details

  • Designed for businesses
  • Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases in first 3 months of account opening
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries to reduce travel costs and boost your bottom line*
  • 25% savings on American Airlines inflight Wi-Fi when you use your card*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations*
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees*
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for Delta frequent flyers

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile for every eligible dollar you spend on other purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
Annual Fee:
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.74%-26.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile for every eligible dollar you spend on other purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for travel buddies

Bank of America Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases. Unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Get 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account
Annual Fee:
$75
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Card Details

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

Best airline card with no annual fee

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent Credit (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Rewards Rate:
2 miles per dollar at US restaurants. 2 Miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. 1 mile on every eligible dollar spent on other purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.74%-26.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar at US restaurants.
  • Earn 2 Miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile on every eligible dollar spent on other purchases.
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
  • Terms Apply.
Bank of America Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®

Rewards Rate:
Earn 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
Welcome Offer:
For a limited time: Earn up to 80,000 bonus miles with the new Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®
Annual Fee:
$90
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Card Details

  • For a limited time: Earn up to 80,000 bonus miles with the new Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®
  • New! Get a companion reward in the same cabin class when you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic reward ticket. Must spend $25,000 or more in purchases annually to qualify
  • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent directly on Virgin Atlantic purchases and 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all other purchases with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Redeem miles for flights on any of Virgin Atlantic’s domestic and international partner airlines
  • 25 tier points per $2,500 in purchases (maximum 50 per month) to elevate your Flying Club status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Low annual fee of $90
  • Residents of the US and its territories only
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.


Author: Barry Bridges | bbridges@bankrate.com

Airline credit cards can help frequent flyers make the most of their travels

Frequent flyers can take advantage of the perks that come with airline credit cards to help make travel more worthwhile. From bonus miles on airline purchases to discounts while you’re in the air, it makes a lot of sense for savvy travelers to have their favorite airline’s co-branded credit card in their wallet.

Why you should trust Bankrate

How we evaluated the best airline credit cards

Bankrate’s team of experts have many years of experience providing advice for every stage of your financial life. Whether you’re looking for help choosing a credit card for general travel rewards or a specific trip, the crew here at Bankrate can help you with thoughtful and well-researched commentary. Finding the right airline credit card can be complicated because there are so many different types of travel rewards cards to choose from. From points and miles to co-branded airline or hotel cards, we cut through the noise to give you the information you will need to make an informed choice.

Scoring criteria

We’ve tailored this category’s Bankrate scoring criteria to highlight the features most relevant to frequent flyers looking to maximize the value from their airline loyalty:

  • Rewards Rate: With most airline cards rewarding a multiple on every dollar spent on their travel bookings, we weight the rate of this bonus, its redemption value, and its earnings on everyday purchases to determine which co-branded cards offer the greatest expected return.
  • Perks: After we crunch the numbers on rewards rates, we factor in additional benefits, such as purchase protection or free checked bags, that enhance the travelling experience and increase the overall value of the card.
  • Annual Fee: After calculating each offering’s travel value, we consider the annual cost of membership (if applicable) and determine whether the fee is justified by rewards, perks, or any introductory bonuses tied to opening an account.

What is an airline credit card?

An airline card is a credit card, often co-branded with a major issuer like American Express or Citi, that offers rewards and perks for those loyal to a specific airline. Typically, these cards offer bonus miles for purchases made directly with the airline, and potentially for other categories as well. You can then redeem those miles for award airfare with the airline.

Many major airlines have other airline partners, and you can transfer points between the programs. Some are also members of international airline alliances. American Airlines, for example, is a member of the oneworld® alliance partners. You can redeem your rewards earned with American Airlines for flights with any of the airlines in the alliance, not just American.

You can use airline credit cards just like a more general rewards credit card, but that may not be the best strategy for maximizing rewards. Airline cards provide the most value when used strategically with other cards.

How to choose the right airline card for your lifestyle

Airline credit cards are great for those who book flights at least a few times a year, especially if you fly with the same airline each time. However, you don’t have to be loyal to just one airline to enjoy the benefits of an airline credit card. Whether you’re a travel newbie or a frequent luxury traveler, there is an airline card out there that can help you upgrade your flight experience.

Decide whether you want brand-specific perks

Beyond offering a way to rack up miles, airline cards typically offer brand-specific benefits and perks that general travel cards do not. Common perks that come with an airline credit card include:

  • Preferred boarding
  • Discounts on in-flight purchases
  • First checked bag free
  • Lounge access

If you’re willing to pay a higher annual fee, some top-tier airline cards will offer elite status (or at least an easier path to elite status) or anniversary bonus miles. Elite status with an airline can help you score flight upgrades, priority boarding (which is better than preferred boarding) and more.

Airline credit cards vs. travel credit cards

The one downside to airline credit cards is the lack of flexibility. Most airline cards only offer worthwhile rewards on brand-specific purchases. Plus, your redemption options aren’t as flexible as with a more general rewards card. A card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you to earn 2x points on a number of different travel and dining purchases, and you aren’t limited to redeeming points within a certain list of airlines.

Know what kind of traveler you are

If you want to take full advantage of an airline card, you’ll want to first take stock of your travel preferences and needs. Do you use a certain airline for certain trips, or would you prefer earning points on all purchases made to redeem for travel? Regardless of where you are or where you want to go, there’s probably an airline credit card out there for you.

Airline cards for beginner travelers

When you’re first getting into points and miles, flexibility is a hot commodity. You want the ability to earn rewards across multiple categories and redeem for more than just one airline. Consider a card like the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. You won’t have to pay an annual fee, and Delta offers various ways to rack up miles. The card itself will earn 2x miles on U.S. restaurants and directly-made Delta purchases (plus 1x miles on all other purchases), but you can also earn Delta SkyMiles when you stay with Airbnb, by shopping through the Delta portal, dining at a participating SkyMiles Dining location, fly with their airline partners and more. You will also be able to redeem your miles with multiple airlines.

Airline cards for business

If you’re flying the same routes on the same airline often, you should definitely be taking advantage of the perks an airline card can get you. A business credit card that offers an elite-qualifying dollar waiver is an excellent option in this case. These cards help you reach elite status faster, and elite status comes with exclusive perks like Priority Boarding and automatic upgrades when available. Delta, United and Southwest all have business credit card options that waive certain elite status requirements by hitting certain spend requirements.

Airline cards for luxury travelers

Top-tier airline credit cards offer incredible perks that help luxury travelers upgrade their overall travel experience. While they also typically come with a larger annual fee, the value of the benefits that usually come with these cards make the fee worth it if you are flying often.

Maximize the value of your airline miles

Many major airlines are devaluing the worth of their miles by introducing dynamic award pricing and making it harder to hit elite status. However, that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on earning airline miles. It’s just more important for savvy travelers to have pockets of points or miles with multiple loyalty programs. Loyalty to just one airline might not reap many benefits, but knowing how to play the field can help you save no matter which airline you fly. This is where credit card pairing can come in handy.

For example, let’s say you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card because you fly Southwest more often than any other airline. Because Southwest is a Chase travel partner, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. That way, you can rack up points to use for Southwest flights between both cards, but you aren’t stuck redeeming with Southwest if you find a better award price for your Ultimate Rewards points elsewhere.

Take full advantage of sign-up bonuses and know when your miles expire. Points can decline in value the longer you sit on them, and most loyalty program miles expire after 18-36 months of inactivity.  If you’re willing to put in the work to maximize the value of your airline miles, you can save hundreds of dollars on flights and receive additional benefits that makes flying more enjoyable — all without giving up the flexibility to book award travel with multiple airlines.

The information about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Airline credit cards and your credit score

Airline credit cards generally require good to excellent credit (670-850) in order to be approved. So no need to prematurely fret if you’re on the lower end of that spectrum. You can still qualify for a top-tier airline credit card with a lower credit score — just know that this means you probably won’t be approved for the lowest interest rates or highest lines of credit. However, you can always work to increase your score over time so you can eventually be approved for an airline card.

How to build up your credit score

There is no shortcut to getting a better credit score, but there are tried and true methods to raising your score — if you are patient.

  1. Get a secured or credit-builder credit card. This is the fastest way to build your credit, provided you use the card properly. Your score can improve in months with good credit behavior.
  2. Make consistent and on-time payments. Payment history is one of the top factors considered when determining your credit score. The longer you go without a missed or late payment, the more trustworthy you are seen by creditors.
  3. Lower your credit utilization ratio. You do not want to have a large percentage of your available credit line in use. If you are struggling with credit card debt, it’s a good idea to pay off that debt before you start digging into the points and miles game.
  4. Only open new lines of credit when you need them. When you apply for a new credit card, a car loan, a mortgage and other types of credit, a hard inquiry is pulled on your report. While the negative effects of a hard inquiry are normally short-lived, applying for multiple credit cards in a short period of time can make it harder for you to get approved.

You can also take advantage of new programs that can help you boost your score, such as Experian Boost and UltraFICO.

Once you’re approved for an airline credit card, make sure you are paying off your bill in full each month. Rewards credit cards — including airline cards — typically come with higher interest rates. If you aren’t paying off your bill each month, you’re potentially undoing all of the work you just put in to raise your score while also eliminating the benefits of the rewards you’ll earn with the card.

Bankrate’s top picks for the best airline credit cards

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

With American Airlines perks, a great sign-up bonus and access to the Oneworld Alliance, you can find a lot of value with this card. You’ll earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations; plus 1x miles on all other purchases. The card also comes with standard travel protections like travel accident insurance, travel and emergency insurance and car rental insurance

Highlights:

  • Earn 60,000 Aadvantage® miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an American Airlines Companion Certificate for domestic main cabin travel after you spend $30,000 or more each year of card membership and renew your card (fees apply)
  • First checked bag free on domestic flights

Read our full CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard review.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you fly often with Delta, this card would be a great addition to your wallet. Cardholders earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and one mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases. SkyMiles® members can earn an additional 5x miles on tickets, so this is a way to earn even more miles on every trip.

Highlights:

  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
  • Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights, a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four

Read our full Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express review.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

With the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card, you’ll earn unlimited 3 miles for every dollar spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases, plus 1 mile on every dollar spent on all other purchases. After spending $2,000 within the first 90 days of account opening, you’ll also receive a 40,0000- bonus miles and their Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22). For those who frequent travel with friends or family members, you can easily save hundreds of dollars with the Companion Fare™ perk alone.

Highlights:

  • 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days of account opening
  • Free checked baggage for you and 6 guests on the same reservation
  • Cardholders are automatically enrolled in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining Rewards program, which earns up to 5x miles at more than 11,000 restaurants nationwide

Read our full Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card review.

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

For Delta loyalists who want a no annual fee option to help them rack up more SkyMiles, the Blue Delta SkyMiles card might be a great fit. You’ll earn 2x miles at U.S. restaurants and on directly-made Delta purchases, plus 1x miles on all other purchases. While you aren’t getting the same perks that come with higher-tier Delta cards, this card is a great option for those who are newer to the points and miles game.

Highlights:

  • 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within the first 3 months
  • 20% savings in the form of a statement credit for eligible in-flight purchases
  • No annual fee

Read our full Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express review.


Barry Bridges is a senior editor for Bankrate. Before he started writing about personal finance, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.