Best for flexible travel rewards

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
60,000 miles 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 1.25X Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
20,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for travel rewards on dining

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • 3X Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

BEST CAPITAL ONE CARD FOR TRAVEL

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
Intro bonus
100,000 miles 
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
16.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)
Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3X New! Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • 2X New! Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • 2X New! Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
Intro bonus
100,000 points 
Annual fee
$149
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3X Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • 2X Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 1X Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
Intro bonus
50,000 miles 
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2X Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 1X Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Intro bonus
40,000 Miles 
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2X Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • 2X New! Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • 2X New! Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
Intro bonus
100,000 points 
Annual fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best airline card with no annual fee

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2X Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide.
  • 2X Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
  • 1X Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Intro bonus
10,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3X Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases.
  • 1X Unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
40,000 miles 
Annual fee
$75
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for Delta Medallion members

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3X Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
  • 1X Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Intro bonus
50,000 miles 
Annual fee
$550
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Get ready for takeoff with Bankrate’s best airline credit cards

Airline credit cards can help frequent flyers make the most of their travels. The best airline cards not only help you save money but also make your travel experience more enjoyable, convenient and maybe even a little luxurious.

From bonus miles on airline purchases to discounts while you’re in the air, a top-rated airline credit card is a must-have for the savvy traveler. You can trust Bankrate to help you choose the right one for you and figure out how to use the card to its maximum value.

Compare Bankrate’s top-ranked airline credit cards

Card name Best for Highlights Bankrate review score
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel rewards 2X miles on every purchase 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel miles with no annual fee 1.25X miles on every purchase 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
American Express® Gold Card Travel rewards on dining 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants, 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card Best Capital One travel card 10X miles on hotel and rental car purchases booked through Capital One Travel, 5X miles on flight purchases booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card Overall Southwest card 3 points per $1 on Southwest purchases 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card Delta Air Lines perks Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first 3 months of membership. 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card Best welcome offer Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership. 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Southwest starter card 2 points per $1 on Southwest purchases 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card Best airline card with no annual fee Earn 2X miles per $1 on purchases made directly with Delta Air Lines and at restaurants worldwide 3.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card Best companion discount Earn 40,000 bonus miles plus the Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Delta Medallion members Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership. 4.6 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at our best airline credit cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel rewards

  • This card is best for: Travelers who want the freedom to transfer miles to different travel partners (Capital One has well over 15) rather than being tied to a single airline or hotel chain.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who insist on elite-level perks and benefits and special spending categories that offer elevated rates on certain purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? The generous rewards rate (2X miles on all eligible purchases, not just those directly related to travel) and decent ancillary benefits (which include up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee) provide a lot of value relative to the card’s $95 annual fee.
  • Is this card worth it? The flat-rate rewards on general purchases and flexible redemption options make this card a solid pick if you’re in the market for a travel card, but only vacation semi-frequently.

Read our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

  • This card is best for: Travelers who say yes to transferring miles to travel partners and no to paying annual fees.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who put a premium on earning super-sized rewards rates in multiple categories. The VentureOne earns a flat 1.25X miles per $1 on all eligible purchases.
  • What makes this card unique? Cardholders will soon have access to Capital One Lounges at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (late 2021) and Dulles International Airport (2022), a nice perk for a no-annual-fee card.
  • Is this card worth it? Although the VentureOne is a step down from options like Capital One’s flagship Venture card, the access to transfer partners provides value through versatility.

Read our Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

American Express® Gold Card

Best for travel rewards on dining

  • This card is best for: People who want to leverage their enthusiasm for travel and food into generous card rewards, on trips and at home.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who also have a taste for perks such as complimentary airport lounge access and elite hotel status.
  • What makes this card unique? The high-rewards spending categories and benefits focus on the specific areas of dining, food and travel. When it comes to air travel, you earn 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Is this card worth it? If you look beyond the $250 annual fee, you’ll see plenty of opportunities to offset that cost through the rewards rates, benefits and opportunities to earn credits (including up to $120 annually in dining credits, enrollment required).

Read our American Express® Gold Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Best Capital One travel card

  • This card is best for: Those who are looking for a slightly more affordable luxury travel experience than those provided by the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who may find it tedious to make travel purchases through the card’s travel portal. You’ll need to book through Capital One Travel to get the most out of your rewards rates.
  • What makes this card unique? This card offers many luxury travel benefits, such as lounge access, up to a $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® and more for a $395 annual fee. Other popular travel cards on the market boast similar travel rewards structures for over $500 annually.
  • Is this card worth it? If you don’t mind booking all of your travel-related costs through Capital One Travel, this card will offer you some lucrative benefits. Flat-rate earnings of 2X miles on all other purchases in addition to these boosted rewards make this card one of the best on the market.

Read our Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Best overall Southwest card

  • This card is best for: Southwest flyers looking to load up on perks, including 25% back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi and a yearly cardmember anniversary bonus of 7,500 points.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who don’t fly Southwest often enough to take full advantage of the perks. For example: You get 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available, so anything less than four flights a year means an opportunity squandered.
  • What makes this card unique? All points earned count toward Companion Pass®, a valuable addition to the rewards.
  • Is this card worth it? Despite the card’s relatively modest rewards rate on Southwest purchases, frequent Southwest flyers who make full use of the perks should have little trouble offsetting the $149 annual fee. They’ll also find value in the sign-up bonus (Earn up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months).

Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Best for Delta Air Lines perks

  • This card is best for: Travelers who revel in generous perks, which include priority boarding on Delta flights, preferred seating and discounted Delta Sky Club access for you and two companions when traveling on a Delta flight,
  • This card is not a great choice for: Fee-averse Delta flyers who would recoil at the card’s $250 annual fee. If you’re not eager to calculate the value of the perks vs. the annual fee, the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card might be more your speed.
  • What makes this card unique? You get an annual companion certificate that lets you bring a friend or family member along on an eligible round-trip domestic flight upon renewal of your card (Taxes and fees apply. See terms and conditions for details).
  • Is this card worth it? For frequent travelers who fully leverage the perks and the rewards rates (which include 3X miles on airfare purchased directly through Delta and 3X miles on purchases made directly with hotels), the $250 annual fee should seem less daunting.

Read our Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Best welcome offer

  • This card is best for: Loyal Delta flyers looking to make a big bonus-mile entrance as a new cardholder with a low spending requirement.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who want the fastest possible route to the upper levels of the Delta SkyMiles Medallion program. You don’t get the same Status Boost feature offered by premier Delta cards.
  • What makes this card unique? Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership. The spend requirement for the welcome bonus is a low hurdle to clear for a generous reward, especially among airline cards.
  • Is this card worth it? The welcome offer, and the $0 introductory annual fee for the first year ($99 annual fee), help make this card an intriguing choice for budget-conscious Delta flyers. The rewards rates and perks are also a step up from basic card benefits.

Read our Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Best Southwest starter card

  • This card is best for: Loyal Southwest flyers looking for a way into the world of airline credit cards.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Experienced travelers accustomed to richer perks and bigger cardholder anniversary bonuses.
  • What makes this card unique? The $69 annual fee is the lowest of any Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card.
  • Is this card worth it? It earns the same rate on Southwest purchases (2 points per dollar) as the pricier Rapid Rewards cards. Although the trade-offs include fewer high-level perks and a 3% foreign transaction fee, the Rapid Rewards Plus could be a good choice for the first leg of your journey into the world of travel rewards.

Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Best airline card with no annual fee

  • This card is best for: Loyal Delta flyers who want a no-annual-fee option to help them earn SkyMiles
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who want the same level of perks that come with higher-tier Delta cards, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card.
  • What makes this card unique? If you’re in the mood for audio headsets, food or an adult (or non-adult) beverage, you get a 20 percent discount on qualifying in-flight Delta purchases. These purchases also earn 2X miles per $1.
  • Is this card worth it? If you want your Delta rewards experience to fly but not necessarily soar, the no-annual fee Delta SkyMiles Blue is a viable option.

Read our Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Best companion discount

  • This card is best for: Loyal Alaska Airlines flyers who frequently travel with friends or family members. They could easily save hundreds of dollars with the Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22).
  • This card is not a great choice for: For those who tend to fly solo, the companion fare loses its luster.
  • What makes this card unique? The companion fare, of course. It’s essential to the airline’s brand and, by extension, essential to this card.
  • Is this card worth it? The companion fare isn’t the only opportunity to defray the cost of owning the card. You can save extra with a free checked baggage for you and up to six guests on the same reservation — a perk that could offset the $75 annual fee on just one trip.

Read our Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Best for Delta Medallion members

  • This card is best for: Loyal Delta flyers who want to get on the fast track to elite Medallion Status, with a great welcome offer: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who don’t want to do the mental math of calculating the value of Medallion benefits and rewards rates vs. the $550 annual fee.
  • What makes this card unique? For every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, you’ll earn an additional 15,000 MQMs (up to four times per year – until 12/31/2021) — almost enough to get you to Platinum Medallion status .
  • Is this card worth it? If you leverage the Medallion benefits and luxury perks effectively, the SkyMiles Reserve can be an enriching way to reward yourself for flying Delta.

Read our Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card review.
Jump back to offer details.


What is an airline credit card?

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 those loyal to a specific airline. Typically, these cards earn airline miles for purchases made directly with the airline, and sometimes for other categories as well. You can then redeem those miles for award airfare with the airline.

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 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.

How do airline credit cards work?

Using an airline credit card is, in most ways, just like using a regular credit card. You have a defined credit limit and interest rate, and when you use it responsibly, you build credit.

What makes airline credit cards unique is that their rewards systems work in conjunction with travel loyalty programs, like Delta SkyMiles. You earn miles by using the airline card for eligible purchases and sometimes by spending enough to qualify for the card’s sign-up bonus. Then you redeem the miles you’ve earned, applying them to travel-related expenses.

Most airline cards have higher rewards rates for purchases made directly with the airline, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be utilized 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 sort of a VIP airport pass. The best airline rewards cards routinely include perks such as access to airport lounges, priority boarding, free checked bags and more.

Read our complete guide to learn more about how travel rewards work.

Airline loyalty programs and transfer partners

For airline credit cardholders, taking advantage of loyalty programs and transfer partners are essential parts of the travel toolkit. Both offer the potential for more value, more flexibility and a better overall travel experience.

Here’s a list of informative resources from Bankrate:

Loyalty program guides

Airline transfer partner guides

The difference between airline and travel credit cards

Some airline cards are a little more limited in their rewards offerings, offering bonus rewards only on brand-specific purchases. Plus, your redemption options usually aren’t as flexible as they’d be with a general travel rewards card.

The best travel rewards cards come with a variety of redemption options — like hotel stays, dining expenses and gift cards — in addition to airfare purchases. Also, these cards often feature more ways to earn miles for non-travel purchases.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card allows you to enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more. You aren’t limited to redeeming points within a certain list of airlines.

At the end of the day, choosing a credit card is about finding one that fits your lifestyle. If you’re constantly on the move and live near an airline’s main hub, an airline card is probably your best bet. Anyone interested in travel but not fully committed to one airline could find great benefit from a travel card.

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

  • You’ll earn miles or points that you can apply to travel expenses, saving money and getting more value out of your travel budget.
  • Airlines cards offer benefits that can save you money (discounts or statement credits for in-flight purchases, for example) and make your travel experience more pleasant (such as airport lounge access and priority boarding).
  • With a co-branded card, your loyalty to your favorite airline translates to actual monetary benefits.

Cons

  • Sometimes loyalty cuts both ways. If you have a bad experience on your airline of choice and decide to never fly with that carrier again, your co-branded airline card would lose a lot of its usefulness.
  • Like travel cards in general, the annual fees for airline cards can range from less than $100 to more than $500.
  • Because of issuer approval requirements, you’ll need a good or excellent credit score to qualify for the best airline cards and receive the most favorable APR (annual percentage rate).

Who should get an airline credit card?

Cash back cards benefit shoppers and business credit cards are designed for small business owners, but who should get an airline card? The answer might be you if you fit any of these categories:

CardSmart: Which trusted traveler security program is best for you?

Expert advice on choosing and using credit cards from BankrateExpedited security programs such as TSA Precheck and Global Entry can greatly reduce your wait time at the airport and make the overall travel experience less of a hassle. The question is, which one works best for you? While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for each individual traveler, the general rules of thumb are:

  • TSA Precheck is best for: Those who travel mostly within the United States.
  • Global Entry is best for: Those who frequently travel outside the United States.

If you can’t decide, remember that TSA Precheck is part of the Global Entry program. Both are provided by the Transportation Security Administration. If you enroll in Global Entry, you get the TSA Precheck benefits along with expedited clearance when arriving in the U.S.

It’s more expensive than TSA Precheck alone, but you might consider it a cost of convenience. Also, many travel credit cards offer statement credits to reimburse cardholders for Global Entry or TSA Precheck entry fees.

You also have the option of getting Clear membership. Unlike the other programs, Clear is a private service. Its signature feature is the use of touchless biometric scanners to verify your identity so that you can move to the next stage of the screening process more quickly. You could get Clear as a standalone or use it to complement your TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership.

Here’s some in-depth advice from Bankrate on how to choose the option that fits the way you travel:

More programs and more resources

  • NEXUS — Expedited entry into the U.S. from Canada
  • SENTRI — Expedited entry into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico

How to choose the right airline credit card

An airline credit card can be a great way to make travel more affordable. The best card for you will fit your travel habits and your budget. Getting an airline credit card can be an exciting thing, but asking yourself the right questions about a card is important.

To be sure an airline credit card is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

Do I have a 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.

Do I care about perks?

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

What’s my credit like?

Any type of travel card typically requires a good-to-excellent credit score (670-850). If your credit score isn’t quite there yet start working on building it up before you begin your search for an airline credit card. (Here are some ways to improve your credit score.)

Does this card match my spending habits?

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, like gas and groceries, not just travel-related expenses. This makes it possible to earn points and free-or-discounted airfare, even if you’re not 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.

Try keeping these questions in mind when you search for an airline credit card. To help you with your search, we have tools like Bankrate CardMatch™, which can help you find and compare credit card offers without hurting your credit!

Bankrate insight
If you’re looking for an easy way to earn extra rewards with your airline credit card, look no further than your appetite. Several airlines, including Southwest, United and American, have dining programs that let you earn additional points at participating restaurants.

How to maximize the value of your airline miles

As travel restrictions loosen across the country, many people are ready to use their stockpile of rewards points on travel. 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. You still have several ways to make the most of them.

Pair airline cards with general travel 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.

Pairing an airline card with a complementary rewards card is oftentimes the best way to squeeze value out of your new travel companion. The right combination of credit cards can help you avoid rewards limitations that may come along with an airline card.

Take full advantage of sign-up bonuses

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.

Don’t let unused miles expire or get stale

Airline miles can decline in value over time, and some loyalty program miles even expire after an extended period of inactivity. If you’re willing to put in the work to get the most out of your airline miles, you can save hundreds of dollars on flights and receive additional benefits that make flying more enjoyable.

Explore transfer partners

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. Make sure to read the terms and conditions for any airline rewards credit card you’re interested in to find out about transfer policies.

Bankrate insight
With cards that offer airline companion passes, there’s a lot of variation in how you qualify. Requirements can include completing a number of flights within a certain time period, earning a specific amount of points or spending a required amount of money with your card. It’s another example of how it pays to read the terms and conditions.

Should I get an airline credit card in 2021?

So many things about travel have been uncertain since the start of the pandemic. With so much up in the air, you may be questioning if an airline credit card is a good choice right now. Thankfully, it appears that travel is finally starting to pick up. If you’re looking to plan your first post-pandemic getaway, now is a great time to start racking up rewards points.

If travel is a bit farther down your to-do list, it may still make sense to get an airline card. There are some airline cards that only offer rewards for travel-related expenses, but many reward cardholders for everyday purchases. If you have an airline card that rewards a variety of spending, you can get rewarded for purchases like your daily coffee or gas and use those points to fund travel at a later time.

Read more: Will I need a vaccine passport to book a flight?

How we chose our list of the best airline credit cards

Finding the right airline credit card can be complicated, but Bankrate's independent research helps clear the air so that you can make an informed choice. We review cards from our partners using a 5-star system, and our analysis in the category of airline credit cards focuses on:

Rewards

We evaluate each card's rewards program on its rewards rate (mile per $1 spent and inclusion of non-airline spending categories), as well as the ease of redemption.

Perks

We factor in additional benefits, such as priority boarding or free checked bags, that enhance the travel experience and increase the card's overall value.

Annual fee

We consider the annual cost of owning the card (if applicable) and determine whether the fee is justified by rewards, perks or sign-up bonuses.

More information on airline credit cards

Learn more about airline credit cards using educational resources from Bankrate:


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

Frequently Asked Questions

about the author
Former Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina.
about the editor
Mariah Ackary is a personal finance writer who specializes in credit card rewards and small business credit. Mariah is a lifelong writer, but she began writing about finance in 2018. She joined the Bankrate team in 2019, excited by the opportunity to directly help people make good financial decisions. Send your questions to mackary@bankrate.com ...

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