Best for flexible travel rewards

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro offer
75,000 miles 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
16.24% - 24.24% (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
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 1.25X Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro offer
20,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
15.24% - 25.24% (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
See if you're pre‐approved for this card with CardMatch™
Rewards rate
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • 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 offer
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
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 5X 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
Intro offer
75,000 miles 
Annual fee
$395
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)
Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 3X Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
Intro offer
Earn 40,000 points. 
Annual fee
$149
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% 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 in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 1X Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
Intro offer
50,000 miles 
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
16.49%-25.49% 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 in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 1X Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Intro offer
40,000 Miles 
Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99
Regular APR
16.49%-25.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Rewards rate
  • 2X Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
  • 1X Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Intro offer
Earn 40,000 points. 
Annual fee
$69
Regular APR
16.24% to 23.24% 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 worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • 2X Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
  • 1X Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Intro offer
10,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49%-25.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
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 offer
$100 Statement Credit + 40,000 Bonus Miles 
Annual fee
$75
Regular APR
16.24% - 24.24% 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 offer
50,000 miles 
Annual fee
$550
Regular APR
16.49%-25.49% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

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 4.0 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel miles with no annual fee 1.25X miles on every purchase 3.8 / 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 4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card Overall Southwest card 3 points per $1 on Southwest purchases 3.7 / 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 $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. 4.0 / 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. 3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card Southwest starter card 2 points per $1 on Southwest purchases 3.8 / 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 3.8 / 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. 4.0 / 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

  • What we love about the Venture Rewards card: Capital One makes it easy for travelers to earn both a high rewards rate (on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel) and a generous flat rate of 2X miles on all other purchases.
  • Who this card is good 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.
  • Alternatives: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides better value. Points are worth 1.25 cents when booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal—25 percent more than the value of the Venture Rewards mile.

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

  • What we love about the VentureOne Rewards card: With a decent sign-up bonus and a straightforward way to earn miles, this entry-level travel card gives budget travelers a no-frills introduction to travel rewards.
  • Who this card is good for: Travelers who don’t want to pay an annual fee but want the flexibility to transfer miles to one of Capital One’s airline and hotel transfer partners.
  • Alternatives: The Chase Freedom Unlimited also charges no annual fee but gives people more bonus rewards categories and a slightly higher flat rate. This cash back card may be more appealing to people not ready to invest in a mid-level travel rewards card that charges an annual fee.

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

American Express Gold Card: Best for travel rewards on dining

  • What we love about the Amex Gold Card: On top of the high bonus rewards categories for restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and flights booked directly with airlines or on AmexTravel.com, Amex offers cardmembers plenty of perks and annual statement credits to help offset the high $250 annual fee.
  • Who this card is good for: Big spenders who want to leverage their enthusiasm for travel and food into generous Amex Membership Rewards points.
  • Alternatives: The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a competitive rewards program with points earning 25 percent more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This might be a better fit for people looking for a more affordable annual fee of $95.

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

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best Capital One travel card

  • What we love about the Venture X card: It’s packed with luxury travel benefits, such as lounge access, a credit worth up to $100 on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and more—all for a $395 annual fee. Other popular travel cards with similar rewards structures charge over $500 annually.
  • Who this card is good for: People who are looking to try out a more affordable luxury travel experience than those provided by other premier travel cards.
  • Alternatives: Loyal and frequent Delta flyers in search of luxury will want to invest in the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card instead. Access to the Delta Sky Club lounges, an annual companion certificate and a chance at elite status are only a few of the perks that can help offset the $550 annual fee.

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

  • What we love about the Rapid Rewards Priority card: There are plenty of features to help offset the $149 annual fee. Perks include 25 percent back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi, a yearly cardmember anniversary bonus of 7,500 points and a chance to earn a companion pass.
  • Who this card is good for: Loyal Southwest flyers looking for top value on domestic Southwest flights.
  • Alternatives: Travelers looking for more flexibility in the airlines they fly as well as with how they earn and redeem miles will want to look at a general-purpose travel card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

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

  • What we love about the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card: A generous welcome offer and the annual domestic companion certificate each year after renewing your card make it easy to quickly offset the $250 annual fee. Cardholders still have plenty of other features to take advantage of, including free first checked bag on Delta flights, priority boarding on Delta flights, in-flight savings and lots of travel and shopping protections.
  • Who this card is good for: Regular Delta flyers and even the occasional traveler looking to save on yearly domestic vacation costs can squeeze plenty of value out of the SkyMiles Platinum card.
  • Alternatives: If you’re not loyal to Delta, the American Express Gold Card comes with supersized rewards earning potential and dining credits that may help offset the lack of Delta-Specific features. The Gold Card also comes with Amex’s impressive Membership Rewards program, which offers greater flexibility in how you redeem points.

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

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card: Best welcome offer

  • What we love about the SkyMiles Gold card: The $0 intro annual fee for the first year (then $99) gives you time to take advantage of an impressive welcome offer and see if the features and benefits it comes with are enough for you.
  • Who this card is good for: Budget-friendly travelers looking for a no-frills credit card will appreciate perks like free first checked bag on Delta flights, priority boarding on Delta flights, in-flight discounts and chance for a $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year.
  • Alternatives: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has greater flexibility. It lets you earn an unlimited 2 miles per dollar on all of your purchases. Rewards can be redeemed for a broad range of travel purchases, and Capital One Miles can be used for a variety of valuable redemption options.

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

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Best Southwest starter card

  • What we love about the Rapid Rewards Plus card: Even with a low annual fee of $69, select travelers can get a lot of value out of this starter card.
  • Who this card is good for: Budget-friendly domestic travelers looking to sample Southwest travel benefits, which include a solid rewards program, sign-up and anniversary bonuses, as well as travel and purchase protections.
  • Alternatives: Thanks to a high bonus travel miles category, sign-up bonus and a variety of travel perks, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a standout alternative that rivals this card.

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

  • What we love about the SkyMiles Blue card: This starter Delta SkyMiles card lets travelers rack up unlimited miles while also sampling a few other perks.
  • Who this card is good for: Occasional travelers who want to fly Delta with the help of a no-frills, no-annual-fee travel rewards card that can help them earn SkyMiles.
  • Alternatives: If you want a few more perks than the SkyMiles Blue offers, the Delta SkyMiles Gold adds U.S. supermarkets to the list of categories you can earn rewards and offers free first checked bag along with priority boarding on Delta flights. And to top it off, the intro annual fee is $0 (then $99 annually).

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

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card: Best companion discount

  • What we love about the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card: Fans of this West Coast-based airline will get a lot of value out of this $75 a year card. The sign-up bonus, free checked bag, discounts on inflight purchases and day passes for Alaska Airlines lounges, as well as a chance at a discounted companion fare every year are some of the standout features.
  • Who this card is good 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 just $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22).
  • Alternatives: Not ready to commit to one airline? The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card lets you earn unlimited miles on all of your purchases that can be redeemed for all sorts of travel costs beyond just airline.

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

  • What we love about the SkyMiles Reserve card: Delta packs in plenty of premier features that justify the steep $550 annual fee. Fans of complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs and annual companion certificates should have no trouble offsetting that annual fee.
  • Who this card is good for: Loyal Delta flyers looking to travel in comfort and style.
  • Alternatives: The Capital One Venture X has a lower annual fee ($395) and more chances to earn unlimited miles on everyday spending. Those miles can then be transferred to a number of hotel and airline partners.

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 people loyal to a specific airline. Typically, these cards earn airline miles for purchases made directly with the airline but can sometimes earn miles in other categories. Then, those miles are redeemed for award airfare with that specific 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?

Airline credit cards work just like regular credit cards—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 redeemable only for Delta flights, while Southwest Priority Rewards card rewards are used for Southwest airfare.

Most airline cards have higher rewards rates for purchases made directly with the airline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used 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.

Airline loyalty programs and transfer partners

Some credit card issuers offer general travel rewards cards that aren’t tied to a specific airline. Instead, they partner with airlines for more flexibility in redeeming points for airfare. While airline loyalty programs let you earn miles only with that airline, issuers will let you exchange points for miles with their transfer partners. Here are major airline loyalty programs and issuers with airline transfer partners:

Loyalty program guides

Airline transfer partner guides

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.

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

In contrast, travel credit cards are not tied to specific airlines. Although you won’t earn the exclusive perks, travel rewards cards are more versatile and let you earn and redeem in a variety of travel-related ways. This includes different airlines, hotels and car rentals. Depending on the travel credit card, you might also be able to redeem your points or miles for cash, gift cards and merchandise, though the value may not be as high as when you redeem for travel.

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

  • Earning rewards. You’ll earn miles or points that you can apply to travel expenses, saving money and getting more value out of your travel budget.
  • 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.
  • 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 on your airline of choice and decide to never fly with that carrier again, your co-branded airline card loses value.
  • 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.

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:

Still unsure if an airline credit card is right for you? Check out our Credit Card Spender Type Tool where you can get personalized credit card recommendations based on your credit score, spending habits and daily needs.

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.

Keep these questions 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 that you may qualify for and review issuer offers to find one that works for you.

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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.

3 ways to maximize your airline miles’ value

Once you’ve accumulated thousands of airline miles, it’s time to redeem them for your next vacation or trip. When earning and using airline miles, here are some things to keep in mind to reap maximum value:

  1. Pair airline cards and 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Track blackout dates and off-peak times. 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.
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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 2022?

Travel in 2022 may be increasing—especially from the U.S. to Europe, but Covid-related trip cancellations and interruptions are still a distinct possibility.

If travel is a bit farther down your to-do list, it may still make sense to get an airline card. 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 airline credit cards

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 small businesses and credit. Mariah is a lifelong writer, but joined the Bankrate team in 2019, excited by the opportunity to help people make good financial decisions. Send your questions to mackary@bankrate.com

* 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.