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Best airline credit cards of June 2024

Updated May 13, 2024

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An airline credit card can be a useful traveling companion for the frequent flyer, offering discounted flights, upgrades, companion fares and more. You might be able to earn points without even booking a flight. Compare the best airline cards available from our partners and let us help you make your next business or leisure trip more rewarding (or affordable).

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Best for flexible travel rewards

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.9 stars out of 5
4.9
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Intro offer

Info

Earn 75,000 miles

$1,275 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

2 Miles - 5 Miles

Annual fee

$95

Regular APR

19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)

Best starter travel card

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.1 stars out of 5
4.1
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Intro offer

Info

20,000 miles

$340 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1.25 Miles - 5 Miles

Annual fee

$0

Regular APR

19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)

Best for travel rewards on dining

Bankrate score

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
5.0
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Intro offer

Info

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points

$1,200 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

3X - 4X

Annual fee

$250

APR

See Pay Over Time APR

Best flat-rate travel card

Bankrate score

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
5.0
Info
Recommended credit score: 740 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Intro offer

Info

75,000 miles

$1,275 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

2 Miles - 10 Miles

Annual fee

$395

Regular APR

19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)

Best overall Southwest Card

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.3 stars out of 5
4.3
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site

Intro offer

Info

Earn 85,000 points

$1,275 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1X - 3X

Annual fee

$149

Regular APR

21.49% - 28.49% Variable

Best for Delta Air Lines perks

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.7 stars out of 5
4.7
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Intro offer

Info

Earn 85,000 miles

$1,020 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1X - 3X

Annual fee

$350

APR

20.99%-29.99% Variable

Best Delta starter card

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.4 stars out of 5
4.4
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Intro offer

Info

Earn 65,000 Miles

$780 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1X - 2X

Annual fee

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $150.

APR

20.99%-29.99% Variable

Best Southwest starter card

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
4.5
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site

Intro offer

Info

Earn 85,000 points

$1,275 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1X - 2X

Annual fee

$69

Regular APR

21.49% - 28.49% Variable

Best companion discount

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
4.5
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on Bank of America's secure site

Intro offer

Info

60,000 bonus miles

$660 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1 mile - 3 miles

Annual fee

$95

Regular APR

20.24% - 28.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Best for Delta Sky Club fans

Bankrate score

Rating: 4.3 stars out of 5
4.3
Info
Recommended credit score: 670 - 850
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Intro offer

Info

Earn 95,000 miles

$1,140 value
Info

Rewards rate

Info

1X - 3X

Annual fee

$650

APR

20.99%-29.99% Variable

Compare Bankrate’s top-ranked airline credit cards

Card name Our pick for Card Highlights Bankrate review score

Flexible travel rewards

5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel

2X miles on every purchase

Flexible miles can be redeemed for statement credits toward eligible travel purchases within the last 90 days

4.9 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Best starter travel card

5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel

1.25X miles on every purchase

No annual fee

4.1 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Travel rewards on dining

4X points at restaurants (including eligible U.S. delivery, such as Uber Eats) and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1X points)

3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on American Express Travel

5.0 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Best flat-rate travel card

 

10X miles on hotel and rental car purchases booked through Capital One Travel

5X miles on flights through Capital One Travel

2X miles on all other purchases

10,000 bonus miles each year on your account anniversary and $300 Capital One travel credit can help offset the annual fee

5.0 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site

Overall Southwest card

3X points on Southwest purchases

2X points on hotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting (including rideshares) along with internet, cable, phone and select streaming services

Southwest perks, including a $75 annual travel credit, boost toward Southwest Companion Pass and four upgraded boardings each year

4.3 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site

Delta Air Lines perks

3X miles on Delta flights, Delta Vacations® and direct hotel purchases

2X miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worldwide (including U.S. delivery and takeout)

Delta perks, including a renewing companion certificate, potential annual Delta flight credit, priority boarding, and more

4.7 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Best Delta starter card

2X miles at U.S. supermarkets, restaurants worldwide (including U.S. delivery and takeout) and on Delta purchases

Delta perks, including a potential annual Delta flight credit, priority boarding, free first checked bag, discount on reward-booked Delta flights and more

$0 intro annual fee the first year (then $150)

4.4 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

Southwest starter card

2X points on Southwest purchases, Southwest hotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting (including rideshares) along with internet, cable, phone and select streaming services

3,000-point annual bonus on your account anniversary, two EarlyBird Check-In boardings each year, a boost toward Companion Pass and other perks

$69 annual fee

 

4.5 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site

Best companion discount

3X miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases

2X miles on eligible gas, cable, streaming services and local transit (including ride share purchases)

$99 Companion Fare (plus taxes and fees from $23) each account anniversary after $6,000 in purchases the prior year

4.5 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on Bank of America's secure site

Delta Sky Club fans

3X miles on Delta flights and Delta Vacations®

Complimentary Delta Sky Club lounge access and two free one-time guest passes annually (then 15 complimentary Delta Sky Club visits per year starting Feb. 1, 2025)

4.3 / 5

Info
(Read card review)
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply

What to know about airline credit cards

An airline credit card is a type of rewards card, often co-branded with a major issuer like American Express or Citi, that offers rewards and perks for people loyal to a specific airline. Typically, these cards earn airline miles for purchases made directly with the airline, but they can sometimes earn rewards in other categories as well.

You can use airline credit cards just like any credit card. There are defined credit limits and interest rates that apply to your purchases. However, with airline credit cards, you earn travel rewards specific to an airline and can participate in that airline’s rewards program. For example, Delta SkyMiles cards earn miles you only can redeem for Delta flights, while Southwest card rewards can only be redeemed for flights with Southwest.

Most airline cards have higher rewards rates for purchases you make directly with the airline, but that doesn't mean you can't use them elsewhere. Many cards earn miles on everyday purchases, including groceries, gas, dining and other categories.

You might even think of an airline credit card as a sort of VIP airport pass. The best airline rewards cards routinely include perks such as access to airport lounges, priority boarding, free checked bags and more.

Airline credit cards vs. travel credit cards

Both airline credit cards and travel credit cards typically reward you with points or miles. But there are a few key differences.

  • Travel

    Airline credit cards

    These co-branded cards are tied to a specific airline — like American Airlines, Delta, Southwest or United — and reward your loyalty with exclusive perks you won’t find with general travel cards. Typical benefits include free checked bags, priority boarding, companion tickets and even accelerated elite status. Unfortunately, airline card rewards aren’t as flexible since they can usually only be redeemed for plane tickets with that specific airline.

  • Credit Card

    General-purpose travel credit cards

    General-purpose credit cards are not tied to specific airlines. Although they don’t normally carry airline-specific perks, general travel cards are typically more versatile since they let you earn and redeem rewards with a variety of airlines and on general travel, including hotels, rentals and more. You might also be able to transfer your rewards to airline and hotel programs (sometimes at a higher value) or redeem your points or miles for cash back, gift cards and merchandise (though the value may not be as high as when you redeem for travel). Some premium travel cards also provide complimentary access to airline-branded airport lounges.

Comparing top credit card and airline rewards programs

Rewards Program Bankrate value* Estimated value of 50,000 points/miles
American Express Membership Rewards 2.0 cents $1,000
Capital One miles 1.7 cents $850
Delta SkyMiles 1.2 cents $600
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1.1 cents $550
Southwest Rapid Rewards 1.5 cents $750

*Based on weighted average of median point/mile values across economy and first/business class fares.

As you can see, American Express Membership Rewards are some of the most valuable points out there. Although it’s not solely an airline rewards program, Amex Membership Rewards points can be transferred to many airline and hotel partners for a redemption value of over 1 cent per point (the base value you’d get by redeeming for travel with Amex).

If you want to look exclusively at the best airline rewards programs, Delta SkyMiles, Alaska Airlines AAdvantage points and Southwest Rapid Rewards points carry some of the best redemption value. These values bolster the rewards rates and perks offered on each airline’s co-branded credit cards.

According to Bankrate’s points and mile valuations, Southwest Rapid Rewards are about 36 percent more valuable than Alaska Airlines miles, but only 25 percent more valuable than Delta SkyMiles. However, comparing these programs can be difficult since Southwest and Alaska Airlines offer fewer routes.

To choose the right card or rewards program for you, consider which airlines you fly with most and how much flexibility you need with how you can use your rewards.

Pros and cons of airline credit cards

Before applying for a new airline credit card, it's important to consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • Checkmark

    Earning rewards. You’ll earn miles or points that you can apply to travel expenses or redeem towards future trips.

  • Checkmark

    Extra perks. The best airline credit cards usually come with benefits that make traveling easier, such as lounge access, priority boarding, free checked baggage and more.

  • Checkmark

    Loyalty benefits. With a co-branded card, your loyalty to your favorite airline translates to actual monetary benefits.

Cons

  • No airline flexibility. If you have a bad experience with your airline of choice and decide to never fly with that carrier again, your co-branded airline card loses value. Likewise, your rewards usually won’t translate to other travel programs if your travel plans need to change.

  • Annual fees. Like travel cards in general, the annual fees for airline cards can range from less than $100 to more than $500.

  • Fewer intro offers. Not many airline credit cards offer 0 percent intro APR offers for purchases or balance transfers, making them unsuitable for managing debt.

An airline credit card is a good idea for…

Not everyone can benefit from an airline credit card, but those who can are likely to make it the most valuable addition to their wallet. Here are some types of cardholders who would be a great fit for airline cards:

  • Airline loyalists: If you’re already a fan of a particular airline, it makes sense to get a co-branded card that earns rewards you can redeem for flights with that airline. Not only can you boost the number of miles you earn for your spending, but most airlines offer valuable perks and benefits with their cards that make flying easier.
  • Frequent flyers: Air travel is expensive, but that cost creates opportunity. By rewarding every dollar spent on tickets and other eligible purchases, an airline credit card can help your travel dollar go further. Airline cards also provide perks to make your travel smoother, comfier or even less expensive — such as priority boarding, in-flight discounts, reduced baggage costs or credits for expedited screening.
  • Business travelers: Some of the top airline and travel cards are designed with business travel in mind. They have features and perks similar to those of consumer cards, but the rewards categories are more tailored to business-related expenses.
  • Luxury travelers: Top-tier airline credit cards help travelers upgrade their travel experience by offering airport lounge access, elite hotel status and other perks. While these cards typically carry higher annual fees, travelers with a taste for luxury might find the expense worthwhile.
  • Travel beginners: If you're new to the travel rewards game, a travel card for beginners could be a valuable teaching tool. You can use it to learn the ins and outs of rewards programs, airline perks, redemption values and more. See related: How to start traveling with points, miles and credit cards.

An airline credit card is not ideal for…

  • Credit-builders: If you’re building credit, rewards and point values should be the last things you’re concerned about when it comes to your credit card. Focus your efforts on establishing a good credit score before thinking about the rewards you can gain from using credit.
  • People new to credit: Like credit-builders, people new to credit should focus on building strong credit habits to increase their score. Points, miles and reward valuations may distract you from the important routines you should be establishing, like paying on time and in full.
  • People who rarely travel: If you don’t travel frequently, you can’t make the most of an airline credit card. These cards reward generously for purchases with the airlines they’re branded with. Unless you’re spending thousands of dollars each year on a specific airline, you may be better off with a cash back credit card or another rewards card.

What people are saying about airline rewards cards

As people gear up for peak travel season, potential travel card applicants are taking to the internet for advice to prepare, resurfacing the question: Is an airline-branded credit card worth it for me?

This is the big question users on Reddit, YouTube and other forums are focusing on. One Reddit user sums up airline rewards cards up nicely: co-branded airline cards’ main value comes from the perks that save you time, money and sanity when you travel with that airline, and general-purpose cards are better for racking up more flexible rewards and broad travel credits.

Other users in the thread agree, and the airline perks that are the most useful in their experience are airport lounge access, baggage delay insurance, lost baggage reimbursement and — most popularly, like this Reddit user reports — free checked baggage.

“If you have two kids and a [significant other], and you all have to check bags for the family vacation, then the [discounted] baggage fees alone make the card worth it.”

Like users in this myFICO forum attest, determining which of these two cards is the best fit for you depends on factors like where you travel, how often and where you travel, as well as what perks you value (like savings, airport lounge access, priority boarding and etc.).

For general-purpose travel, the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (mainly the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve) are often recommended by users, but the Capital One Venture X and the Wells Fargo Autograph are also popular recommendations. On the flip side, the Delta SkyMiles Gold, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority and United Club℠ Infinite Card were popular co-branded airline choices.

*The quotes and citations included on this page have been verified by our editorial team and are accurate as of the posting date. Outlinked content may contain views and opinions that do not reflect the views and opinions of Bankrate. Please see the issuer’s website for updated terms and conditions.

Tips on choosing the best airline credit card for you

Getting an airline credit card can be exciting, but it’s important to make sure you can make the most of it. Here are some tips:

Check your credit score

Any type of travel card typically requires a good-to-excellent credit score (a FICO score of 670 to 850, or a VantageScore of 661 to 850). If your credit score isn’t quite there yet, work on building your credit before you begin your search for an airline credit card.

Consider your preferred airline

If you’re already a member of an airline loyalty program or you have a preferred airline, choosing a co-branded card is a good move. You can earn free or discounted flights with your preferred airline when you choose a co-branded airline credit card.

Evaluate perks you’d use

Many airline credit cards offer great perks like free lounge access or discounted in-flight purchases. However, airline credit cards tend to come with higher annual fees, so these perks come at a cost. An elevated travel experience might be worth it if you travel often, but be sure you’re willing to spend the extra money for the benefits.

Calculate potential rewards

If you’re not a frequent traveler but still looking to save money on the occasions that you do travel, look for an airline credit card that allows you to earn points on everyday purchases. This makes it possible to earn points and free or discounted airfare, even if you’re not regularly spending on flights or hotels. Conversely, if you do spend a lot on travel, you might be best served by a card that offers a lucrative return on travel-related expenses, including airfare.

Keep these factors in mind when searching for the best airline credit card to add to your financial arsenal. You can also use comparison tools like CardMatch™ to shop for cards you may qualify for and review issuer offers to find one that works for you.

Here’s how one Bankrate expert chose their airline card

Senior Bankrate editor and credit card reviewer Nouri Zarrugh initially chose a lower-tier Southwest card, but he compared the value to the annual fee and eventually upgraded to a higher-tier airline rewards card for its stronger features.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card was one of the first cards I got after I’d built credit history. At the time, I wasn’t thinking much about long-term value and I couldn’t have told you the difference between a general travel card and a co-branded airline card. I just wanted to get a big sign-up bonus and earn rewards on my Southwest flights.

And the card got the job done there. I’d use it for most purchases, and every so often I’d find I’d earned enough points for a free ticket.

But as the years passed and I learned more about credit card rewards, I started to wonder if the card was the best fit for me. I’d added a few everyday rewards cards to my wallet and so was only using the Rapid Rewards Plus for Southwest purchases, limiting my earnings. I also wasn’t flying enough to be sure I could offset the annual fee with rewards, so I considered closing the account altogether.

But then I compared the Rapid Rewards Plus card’s features and annual fee with those of the higher-tier Southwest cards. I was surprised to find that the higher-fee cards could actually be more lucrative for me.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card stood out. It offered a pair of annual bonuses that were valuable enough to offset its annual fee entirely: 7,500 bonus points each year on your account anniversary and a $75 annual Southwest travel credit. Assuming a 1.5-cent-per-point valuation, 7,500 points would be worth around $112; combined with the $75 credit, that’s a total annual value of around $187. So as I saw it, as long as I took one Southwest flight a year, I’d at least break even.

I couldn’t say the same for the Rapid Rewards Plus card. It charged a $69 annual fee but only offered 3,000 anniversary bonus points, with no travel credit. Even if I assumed a 1.5-cent-per-point value, that bonus would only be worth around $45.

I ended up switching to the Rapid Rewards Priority card and I’ve been happy with it since. While the $149 annual fee sounds intimidating, I know that it can essentially be made up for by those annual perks. It’s just on me to take one trip a year via Southwest – and I could use the nudge!

— Nouri Zarrugh, Senior Credit Card Editor at Bankrate

Expert advice for airline credit cards

Airline cards provide the most value when used strategically with other cards and are especially useful for the travel-specific perks they offer, such as priority boarding, seating upgrades and companion fares. Owning an airline credit card while being a member of the airline's frequent flyer program can also help you get maximum value. But you can’t set and forget your rewards with these cards, like you can with some automatic redemption cash back cards. You’ll need to develop a strategy to make the most of your airline card.

Maximizing airline rewards

Along with your card’s ongoing rewards rate in its highest-earning categories, a sign-up bonus or welcome offer from a new airline card could be worth several hundred dollars or more in travel costs. Keep track of your progress toward the spending requirement and start thinking about how you might use those bonus miles once you’ve earned them.

Make sure you use your card to book flights with your preferred airline and follow through making the most of those points by taking a look at Bankrate’s points and miles valuations.

Pair travel and airline cards

Let’s say you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. Because Southwest is a Chase travel partner, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. This 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.

Travel off-peak

Some airlines restrict when you can use miles to book flights during busy traveling periods. On the other hand, they also may heavily discount award flight costs during off-peak travel periods. Keep track of these fluctuations in cost to maximize the value of your miles.

How we assess the best airline credit cards