The information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
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.
In this guide:
Compare Bankrate’s top-ranked airline credit cards
|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)
|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 on your new Card in your first 3 months.
||4.6 / 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 on your new Card in your first 3 months.
||3.7 / 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 Rewards Credit Card
||Flexible travel rewards
||2x miles on every purchase
||4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
||American Airlines frequent flyers
||Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases and at gas stations and restaurants
||4.2 / 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)
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
||Overall Southwest card
||2 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 on your new Card in your first 3 months.
||4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card
||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
||3.7 / 5
(Read full card review)
A closer look at our best airline credit cards
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 (summer 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.
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 on your new Card 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.
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? Spending just $1,000 in your first 3 months to earn the of 40,000 bonus miles is a low hurdle to clear for a generous reward, especially among airline cards. 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.
- 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.
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.
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? You can link your Capital One Venture card to your Amazon.com account and pay with rewards, which could be a convenient way to turn miles into a travel pillow or a new set of luggage.
- Is this card worth it? When you look at the $95 annual fee, you should also consider the rewards-earning potential (2X miles per $1 on all eligible purchases, not just those directly related to travel) and the flexibility offered by the transfer program. Don’t forget the opportunities for extra miles value with certain travel partners.
Read our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Best for American Airlines frequent flyers
- This card is best for: Frequent travelers who choose American Airlines first and lavish travel experiences last.
- This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who are loyal to American but also attached to elite-level perks. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, for example offers complimentary Admirals Club® Membership.
- What makes this card unique? American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards discounts could save you thousands of miles on qualifying award flights.
- Is this card worth it? The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum offers a middle-of-the-road compromise between no-frills and all the bells and whistles. The rewards and benefits are competitive for a card of its caliber, and the comparatively low $99 annual fee is waived the first year.
Read our Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® review.
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.
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.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Best overall Southwest card
- This card is best for: Southwest flyers looking to load up on perks, including 20% 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 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year).
Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card review.
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.
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.
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 earn 2X points on travel and dining (including eligible delivery services) and you aren’t limited to redeeming points within a certain list of airlines. The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card earns 3X points on travel, at gas stations and on transit costs.
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
Don’t apply for an airline card, or even start shopping, until you’ve considered the advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of airline cards
- 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 of airline cards
- 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:
Frequent air travel costs a lot, but that cost also creates opportunities. By rewarding every dollar spent on tickets and other eligible purchases, an airline credit card can help your travel dollar go further.
Some of the top airline and travel cards are designed with business travel in mind. They have features and parks similar to those of consumer cards, but the rewards categories are more tailored to business-related expenses.
Top-tier airline credit cards help travelers upgrade their travel experience by offering airport lounge access, elite hotel status and other perks. While these cards typically carry higher annual fees, travelers with a taste for luxury might find the expense worthwhile.
If you’re new to the travel rewards game, an airline credit card could be a valuable teaching tool. You can use it to learn the ins and outs of rewards programs, redemption policies, transferring to travel partners and more.
CardSmart: Which trusted traveler security program is best for you?
Expedited 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 tremendous source of value and convenience. You’ll get the best results if you choose the card that offers the closest fit for your travel habits, consumer preferences and budget. Here are some guidelines to help you make the right choice:
- Look for a match with your preferred airline. Most airlines offer co-branded cards in partnership with credit card issuers. If you have a favorite airline, choosing a card affiliated with that brand is an obvious choice.
- If you’re already a member of an airline loyalty program, a matching co-branded airline card is a natural fit to help you maximize your rewards.
- If you aren’t loyal to one particular airline, consider a non-branded travel card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the American Express Gold Card. You’ll still earn rewards on eligible airfare purchases and you’ll have the flexibility of booking flights with multiple airlines.
- Decide how much perks matter to you. Many cards offer preferred boarding, discounts on in-flight purchases, free checked bags and similar benefits, but it often comes at the cost of a higher annual fee. Your choice depends on how much you want to enhance the overall travel experience and how much you’re willing to pay for it.
- Travel cards usually require a good or excellent credit score (670-850), so choose a card that’s within your range. If your credit needs work, make a plan to improve your credit score before you start shopping for an airline card.
- Look for opportunities to match rewards categories with your spending and shopping habits. A number of today’s best airline cards earn rewards on purchases that aren’t directly related to travel, including gas and groceries. These cards make it easy to earn miles or points on everyday purchases in addition to airfare.
Use these tips to zero in on the best airline card for you. To further narrow your search, with no impact to your credit score, you can also use tools like Bankrate CardMatch™ to find and compare prequalified offers.
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
, have dining programs that let you earn additional points at participating restaurants.
How to maximize the value of your airline miles
As travel restrictions being to 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.
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?
It’s safe to say that the last year hasn’t been the year of travel. And though U.S. travel restrictions may loosen soon, you might be wondering whether it makes sense to apply for an airline credit card right now. It depends on which card you want, but if you’re looking forward to a post-pandemic getaway, there are plenty of options that can help you start working toward that goal today.
Some airline cards only reward you for travel-related purchases, which wouldn’t serve you well if you’re not traveling at the moment. But there are plenty of airline cards that offer points or miles for everyday purchases, like your grocery bill or your morning coffee. Plus, it often takes several months of spending to accumulate enough rewards to book a flight, so it makes sense to go ahead and start earning now so that you can take flight as soon as you’re able.
Read more: Will I need a vaccine passport to book a flight?
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:
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.
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.
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.