Best airline credit cards of 2020

An airline credit card can be a useful traveling companion for the frequent flyer, offering discounted flights, upgrades, companion fares, perks and more. Compare the best airline cards available from our partners and start flying smarter with your next trip, whether it's business or leisure.

Best Airline Credit Cards for 2020:

Need more information?

Skip down to read our card profiles and expert advice.

Best for flexible travel rewards

Capital One 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 Capital One's secure website

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Welcome Offer:
50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee:
$95
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for travel rewards on dining

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

American Express® Gold Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
Annual Fee:
$250
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
See Pay Over Time APR

Card Details

  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Best welcome offer

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

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
Annual Fee:
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • New! Earn now. Travel when you're ready. After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to inspire your next travel.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta Flights.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

Capital One 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 Capital One's secure website

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Welcome Offer:
Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
0% intro on purchases for 12 months
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best airline card with no annual fee

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (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

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Rewards Rate:
New! Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide. Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
Annual Fee:
$0
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • New! Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide.
  • Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • New! No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • 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.

Best for Delta Medallion members

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

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Rewards Rate:
New! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
Annual Fee:
$550
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • New! With Status Boost™, earn 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to four times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • New! Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
  • New! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Complimentary access into the Delta SkyClubs® for you when travelling on a Delta flight.
  • New! Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book your Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
  • 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.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for airline-specific perks

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

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Rewards Rate:
New! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels. New! Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets. Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
Annual Fee:
$250
Purchase Intro APR:
N/A
Balance Transfer Intro APR:
N/A
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
  • New! Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card.*Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • New! With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 MQMs after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • New! Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta Flights.
  • New! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms 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.


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 Our pick for … Highlights Bankrate Score
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel rewards 2x miles on every purchase Score
American Express® Gold Card Travel rewards on dining 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide, 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com 4.4/5
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card Best welcome offer Earn 35,000 Bonus Miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months 4.3/5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel miles with no annual fee 1.25x miles on every purchase 4.4/5
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 4.3/5
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Delta Medallion members Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months 4.6/5
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card Airline-specific perks Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights, domestic round-trip free companion certificate after 1 year (taxes and fees apply). 4.5/5
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (not currently available) American Airlines frequent flyers Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases and at gas stations and restaurants 4.2/5
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card (not currently available) Best companion discount Earn Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days 4.7/5

A closer look at our top airline credit card picks

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel rewards

Although the Capital One Venture isn’t connected to a single specific airline, air travelers could still find it useful thanks to the versatile nature of the Capital One Miles program. Capital One has 10+ travel transfer partners, including airlines such as JetBlue, Aeromexico, Air Canada and Air France.

Annual fee: $95

Highlights:

  • 2x miles earned on every purchase
  • Transfer miles to Capital One travel partners, book through Capital One’s portal or redeem for recent travel
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits up to $100

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

American Express® Gold Card

Best for travel rewards on dining

Since it carries a terrific rewards rate not only on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, but also at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets, the Amex Gold Card should offer great flexibility for restaurant lovers and home cooks alike. You can redeem points for travel through the Amex portal or transfer to one of the issuer’s many airline and hotel partners, often at a higher point value.

Annual fee: $250

Highlights:

  • Earn 4X points at restaurants worldwide, 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and 1 point per dollar on other purchases (Terms apply)
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • Annual credits include a $100 airline fee credit, $100 hotel credit and $120 dining credit (up to $10 per month) at participating locations
  • Transfer points to more than 20 airline and hotel partners, most at a 1:1 ratio

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Best welcome offer

This card’s intro bonus offers a generous reward (35,000 Bonus Miles) for a relatively modest effort (a spending requirement of just $1,000 in the first 3 months). You can find a card with a larger welcome offer, but don’t be surprised if you have to spend a lot more to earn it. The rewards program and travel perks also help make this card an attractive option for frequent Delta Air Lines travelers.

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99

Highlights:

  • Earn 35,000 Bonus Miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
  • Spend $10,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year and receive a $100 Delta Flight.
  • Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights so you can stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • 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 review and find out how to apply.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

As the lower-cost version of Capital One’s Venture card, the VentureOne earns less miles per purchase (1.25x compared with 2x) but doesn’t charge an annual fee. You’ll still enjoy the same versatility with using your miles, including the option of transferring them to several Capital One airline partners.

Annual fee: $0

Highlights:

  • 1.25x miles earned on every purpose
  • Transfer Capital One miles to JetBlue, Air France, Air Canada or any other Capital One travel partners
  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within three months of account opening
  • Perks include travel accident insurance and 24-hour travel assistance service

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Best airline card with no annual fee

For Delta loyalists who want a no annual fee option to help them rack up more SkyMiles, the Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card might be a great fit. You’ll earn 2x miles at restaurants worldwide 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.

Annual fee: $0

Highlights:

  • 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within the first 3 months
  • 20 percent savings in the form of a statement credit for eligible in-flight purchases
  • No blackout dates on Delta flights
  • Purchase protection, extended warranty on eligible purchases and other American Express benefits

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Best for Delta Medallion members

This card’s welcome bonus alone gets you 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, for every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, you’ll earn an additional 15,000 MQMs (up to four times per year). Max out this bonus and you could take home 70,000 MQMs in your first year, almost enough for Platinum Medallion status.

Annual fee: $550

Highlights:

  • Earn 4X miles at U.S. supermarkets, 3X miles per on eligible Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on general purchases (Terms apply)
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
  • Earn 15,000 additional Medallion Qualification Miles for every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to 4 times per year
  • Enjoy perks like an annual round-trip companion certificate (valid for domestic first class or Comfort+), a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access and no foreign transaction fees

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Best for airline-specific perks

Delta loyalists will appreciate this card’s generous perks, which more than cover the card’s $250 annual fee. Highlights include discounted Delta Sky Club access for you and two companions, a 20 percent discount on in-flight purchases, priority boarding, preferred seating and, perhaps best of all, an annual companion certificate that allows you to bring a friend or family member along on an eligible round-trip domestic flight.

Annual fee: $250

Highlights:

  • Earn 3X miles on directly purchased Delta airfare, 3X miles on purchases made directly with hotels, 2X miles on restaurant and U.S. supermarket purchases and 1 mile per dollar on general purchases (Terms apply)
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.
  • Earn 10,000 additional Medallion Qualification Miles for every $25,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to 2 times per year
  • Enjoy perks like an annual round-trip companion certificate, first checked bag free, priority boarding, discounted Delta Sky Club lounge access and no foreign transaction fees

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (not currently available)

Best for American Airlines frequent flyers

This card offers several attributes that American Airlines brand loyalists will find attractive. The generous rewards rate on eligible American Airlines purchases, and at gas stations and restaurants, should make it easy to earn the sign-up bonus, especially for frequent flyers who use the card strategically. If you spend $20,000 or more in your first year and renew your card, you can look forward to another reward: a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount.

Annual fee: $99, waived for first 12 months

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases, as well as 2 miles per $1 at gas stations and restaurants.
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 within the first 3 months.
  • Get your first checked bag for free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights.

Read our full review and find out how to apply.

The information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card (not currently available)

Best companion discount

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.

Annual fee: $75

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 review and find out how to apply.

The information about the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

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.

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 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. Here’s how:

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 usually aren’t as flexible as with a travel rewards card.

For example, 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? Consider the following guidelines on airline cards for specific types of travelers:

The travel beginner

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 Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card. 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 restaurants worldwide 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, flying with their airline partners and more. You will also be able to redeem your miles with multiple airlines.

The business traveler

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.

The luxury traveler

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.

CardSmart: Which trusted traveler security program should you choose?

Expedited security programs such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR can greatly reduce your wait time at the airport. Question is, which one works best for you? Here’s some advice from Bankrate on how to choose:

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 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. 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

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.

How credit score affects your choice of airline cards

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.

Five ways 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 don’t 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. Open new lines of credit only 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.
  5. Compensate for a thin credit profile. You can also take advantage of programs such as Experian Boost and UltraFICO. These programs measure good financial habits that might not be reflected by traditional credit scoring models, including reliable payment history for utilities.

Frequently asked questions about airline rewards programs

Do airline miles expire?

The answer depends on your loyalty program. As of this writing, airlines with no-expiration policies include Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United. With most airline loyalty programs, however, miles can expire after 18 to 36 months of account inactivity.

Note the word “inactivity.” For example, you might be able to prolong the life of your unused miles if you make purchases using the program’s online shopping portal or otherwise keep your account active.

Some loyalty programs might offer the chance to buy back miles that you’ve lost to expiration, but be prepared to pay more for them than the value of unexpired miles.

No matter your loyalty program, it’s best to follow three rules of thumb on airline miles:

  1. Check the terms and conditions periodically.
  2. Watch for emails about impending changes.
  3. Use them so you know you won’t lose them.

Expired rewards from loyalty programs represent money left on the table. A Bankrate Credit Cards survey found that nearly half of U.S. adults who take part in airline and hotel rewards programs have let points or miles expire.

‘How many miles would I need for a free flight?’

Your mileage may vary, if you’ll pardon the joke. Airline reward programs differ greatly in the number of miles required to earn what are commonly called “award flights” or “reward flights.” Some programs have fixed prices in miles while others determine prices based on the cash value of tickets. To further complicate matters, not every program has a published chart that explains the number of miles you need for an award flight.

However, you can look to an example from American Airlines AAdvantage® to get a general idea.

Here’s the specific wording on the AAdvantage flight award chart: “If your plans are flexible, MileSAAver awards are available for as low as 7,500 miles each way plus any applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees.”

The hypothetical 7,500-MileSAAver flight has several conditions including:

  • Traveling within the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Canada
  • Less than or equal to 500 miles
  • Valid only on non-stop flights
  • Main Cabin seating

With that 7,500-MileSAAver figure as the baseline, award flights of greater length and different seating class get increasingly expensive.

So, depending on the rewards program and other factors, a free flight is likely to cost several thousand miles. Fortunately, an airline credit card with a lucrative sign-up bonus and generous rewards program could make it much easier to earn the miles you need.

‘Should I purchase airline miles?’

In most cases, buying airline miles doesn’t make financial sense. Redeeming miles earned through a loyalty program is typically much less expensive. The sale price of miles could be two to three times greater than their redemption value.

Possible exceptions include:

  • When the airline is running a promotion selling miles at a deep discount
  • When you need a small number of miles to earn a high-value award flight

If you want to compare sale price versus estimated value, check The Points Guy’s valuation guide to points and miles.

How we chose our list of 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:


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously 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.