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Best airline credit cards of February 2024

Updated February 07, 2024

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

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Best for flexible travel rewards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Rating: 4.9 stars out of 5
4.9
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
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Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

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$1275

Offer valuation

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2 Miles - 5 Miles

Rewards rate

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Annual fee

Regular APR

Best starter travel card

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Rating: 4.1 stars out of 5
4.1
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Intro offer

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$340

Offer valuation

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1.25 Miles - 5 Miles

Rewards rate

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Annual fee

Regular APR

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awards-badge
2024 Bankrate Awards Winner
Best for travel rewards on dining

American Express® Gold Card

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
5.0
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
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Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

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$1200

Offer valuation

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3X - 4X

Rewards rate

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Annual fee

Regular APR

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awards-badge
2024 Bankrate Awards Winner
Best flat-rate travel card

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
5.0
Info
Apply now Lock
on Capital One's secure site
Excellent (740 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

Info

$1275

Offer valuation

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2 Miles - 10 Miles

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

Best overall Southwest card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
4.5
Info
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Intro offer

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$450

Offer valuation

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1X - 3X

Rewards rate

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Annual fee

Regular APR

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Best for Delta Air Lines perks

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Rating: 4.7 stars out of 5
4.7
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

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$1080

Offer valuation

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1X - 3X

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

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Best Delta starter card

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Rating: 4.4 stars out of 5
4.4
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

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$840

Offer valuation

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1X - 2X

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

Best Southwest starter card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Rating: 4.7 stars out of 5
4.7
Info
Apply now Lock
on Chase's secure site
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Intro offer

Info

$450

Offer valuation

Info

1X - 2X

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

Best companion discount

Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card

Rating: 4.7 stars out of 5
4.7
Info
Apply now Lock
on Bank of America's secure site
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Intro offer

Info

$770

Offer valuation

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1X - 3X

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

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Best for Delta Sky Club fans

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Rating: 4.3 stars out of 5
4.3
Info
Apply now Lock
on American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit
Info

Intro offer

Info

$1200

Offer valuation

Info

1X - 3X

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

Compare Bankrate’s top-ranked airline credit cards

Card name Our pick for Card Highlights Bankrate review score

Flexible travel rewards

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

2X miles on every purchase

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

4.9 / 5

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

Best starter travel card

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

1.25X miles on every purchase

No annual fee

4.1 / 5

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

Travel rewards on dining

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

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

5.0 / 5

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

Best flat-rate travel card

 

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

5X miles on flights through Capital One Travel

2X miles on all other purchases

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

5.0 / 5

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

Overall Southwest card

3X points on Southwest purchases

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

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

4.5 / 5

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

Delta Air Lines perks

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

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

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

4.7 / 5

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

Best Delta starter card

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

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

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

4.4 / 5

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

Southwest starter card

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

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

$69 annual fee

 

4.7 / 5

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

Best companion discount

3X miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases

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

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

4.7 / 5

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

Delta Sky Club fans

3X miles on Delta flights and Delta Vacations®

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

4.3 / 5

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

A closer look at our best airline credit cards

Image of Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel rewards

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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. Plus, the ability to redeem miles for statement credits toward travel purchases made within the past 90 days adds a unique dimension of flexibility compared to other flat-rate cards.

Travelers who want the freedom to earn boosted miles on any eligible purchase and transfer miles to different travel partners without being tied to a single airline or hotel chain (there are more than 15 Capital One transfer partners).

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could provide 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 when redeemed through Capital One Travel. 

Image of Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

BEST STARTER TRAVEL CARD

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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.

Travelers who don’t want to pay an annual fee (See Rates & Fees) but want the flexibility to transfer miles to one of Capital One’s airline and hotel transfer partners. In fact, this is one of the only major no-annual-fee travel cards that can transfer rewards for potentially more than a 1 cent value.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® also charges no annual fee but gives cardholders at least 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases and unlimited 3 percent cash back on dining and drugstore purchases. You can also use rewards for cash back, travel and more without sacrificing point value, making this card a great travel rewards alternative if you want to avoid annual fees but aren’t impressed by the VentureOne’s low rewards rate.

Image of American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Best for travel rewards on dining

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On top of its uniquely high 4X rewards rate at both restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1X points), the Amex Gold offers foodies plenty of perks and annual statement credits, the value of which can easily exceed the card’s $250 annual fee. In fact, the annual dining and Uber Cash credits alone could nearly cover the card’s yearly cost.

Big spenders who want to leverage their travel and food spending into generous Amex Membership Rewards points toward flights.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a competitive rewards program that also rewards dining and earns points worth 25 percent more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This might be a better fit for foodies who love to travel and are more comfortable with a lower annual fee ($95).

Image of Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

BEST FLAT-RATE TRAVEL CARD

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It’s packed with luxury travel benefits, such as Priority Pass Select lounge access, valuable annual credits and excellent travel insurance — all for a $395 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). Other popular travel cards with similar features charge over $500 annually and feature an extensive list of benefits many cardholders may not use. Meanwhile, the Venture X keeps the same flat-rate rewards and flexible redemption as other popular Venture cards.

People who are looking for a more affordable luxury travel experience than those provided by other premier travel cards and still want the benefit of flat-rate rewards.

Frequent flyers may squeeze more value from elite cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Though it comes with a higher annual fee of $550, the Reserve card offers the extra value needed to justify it, including a higher rewards rate in categories like travel and dining. On top of a potentially better rewards value, the Sapphire Reserve also offers equal Priority Pass Select membership and up to $300 of annual travel purchase credits.

Image of Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Best overall Southwest card

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This card offers more than enough features to make up for the $149 annual fee, including a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, upgraded Boardings, Delta’s biggest annual point bonus and a faster path to the companion pass. These perks make this the ideal card if you want the best Delta travel experience possible.

Loyal Southwest flyers looking for top value on domestic Southwest flights.

Travelers looking for more flexibility in the airlines they fly and how they earn and redeem miles will want to look at a general-purpose travel card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Image of Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Best for Delta Air Lines perks

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A generous welcome offer and the annual domestic companion certificate each year after renewing your card make it easy to quickly offset the $350 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.

Regular Delta flyers looking to save on airfare and other travel costs can squeeze plenty of value out of the SkyMiles Platinum card and its loyalty status opportunities.

If you don’t mind flying with airlines other than Delta, the American Express Gold Card is worth a look thanks to its supersized rewards earning potential and dining credits that may help compensate for its lack of Delta-specific perks. The Gold Card’s rewards program offers greater flexibility in how you can redeem points (you can even transfer them to Delta) and more everyday opportunities to earn rewards, including at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants.

Image of Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Best Delta starter card

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Delta SkyMiles Gold benefits like a free checked bag, Main Cabin 1 priority boarding and $200 annual flight credit after spending $10,000 within a calendar year give this card a big enough edge over its no annual fee sibling and make it a more valuable choice for first-time Delta cardholders.

Budget-conscious travelers who fly frequently with Delta and are looking for a streamlined airline rewards card — especially those who plan to use their card for at least $10,000 in purchases per year to qualify for the card’s annual flight credit.

The SkyMiles Gold card’s rewards rates aren’t especially impressive for a premium travel card. If you’re more focused on rewards than Delta perks, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It carries similar reward categories, but offers higher rewards rates (plus a few additional categories). The card also boasts more flexible redemption and Sapphire Preferred travel perks carry a ton of extra value.

Image of Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Best Southwest starter card

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Thanks to its relatively low annual fee, solid rewards rates, airline perks and anniversary bonus, even occasional Southwest travelers can get plenty of value out of this starter airline card.

Budget-conscious domestic travelers who aren’t worried about loyalty status perks and are looking to sample Southwest travel benefits, including a solid rewards program, sign-up and anniversary bonuses, as well as travel and purchase protections.

Regular Southwest passengers may get even more value from the upgraded perks and loyalty status shortcuts that the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Rapid Rewards Priority card offer. Plus, the annual anniversary loyalty bonus of 6,000 points — worth around $90 in Southwest travel based on Bankrate’s latest point valuations — covers most of the card’s $99 annual fee.

Image of Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card

Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card

Best companion discount

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Fans of this West Coast-based airline will get a lot of value from this $95 annual fee card. The sign-up bonus, free checked bag, discounts on in-flight 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.

Loyal Alaska Airlines flyers who frequently travel with friends or family members. They could easily save hundreds of dollars with Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) each account anniversary after you spend $6,000 or more on purchases within the prior anniversary year. 

Alaska Airlines routes are limited, so the card may not be a good fit unless you’re based on the west coast. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card lets you earn unlimited miles on purchases from any airline and earn miles that can be redeemed for all sorts of additional travel expenses. 

Image of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Best for Delta Sky Club fans

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Delta packs in plenty of premier features that justify the steep $650 annual fee, including complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs and an annual companion certificate. Just keep in mind that, effective Feb. 1, 2025, this card’s perks are changing: Cardholders will only receive 15 complimentary Delta Sky Club visits per year instead of unlimited access.

Loyal Delta flyers looking to travel in comfort and style.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is the only general-purpose travel card that also provides complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges. It has a sky-high $695 annual fee, but the Amex Platinum’s perks (including access to other airport lounges) may help make up for the fee. Similar to the SkyMiles Reserve, the Amex Platinum card’s Sky Club access will also be limited (to six annual visits) in February 2025.

What to know about airline credit cards

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

You can use airline credit cards just like any credit card. There are defined credit limits and interest rates that apply to your purchases. However, with airline credit cards, you earn travel rewards specific to an airline and can participate in that airline’s rewards program. For example, Delta SkyMiles cards earn miles you can redeem 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 a sort of VIP airport pass. The best airline rewards cards routinely include perks such as access to airport lounges, priority boarding, free checked bags and more.

Airline credit cards vs. travel credit cards

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

  • Travel

    Airline credit cards

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

  • Credit Card

    General-purpose travel credit cards

    In contrast, these credit cards are not tied to specific airlines. Although they generally don’t carry airline-exclusive perks, general travel cards are more versatile and let you earn and redeem rewards in a variety of ways. These options often include different airlines, hotels, car rentals and even transfers to partner airline or hotel reward programs. 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. Some premium travel cards also provide complimentary access to airline-branded airport lounges.

Pros and cons of airline credit cards

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

Pros

  • Checkmark

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

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

  • Checkmark

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

Cons

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

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

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

An airline credit card is a good idea for…

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:

  • Airline loyalists: If you’re already a diehard fan of a particular airline, it makes sense to get a co-branded card that earns miles redeemable with it. Not only do you boost the number of miles you earn on your spending, but most airlines offer valuable perks and benefits with their cards that make flying easier.
  • Frequent flyers: 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. Airline cards also come in handy for regular passengers since they typically provide perks to make your travel smoother, comfier or even less expensive — such as priority boarding, in-flight discounts, reduced baggage costs or credits for expedited screening.
  • Business travelers: Some of the top airline and travel cards are designed with business travel in mind. They have features and perks similar to those of consumer cards, but the rewards categories are more tailored to business-related expenses.
  • Luxury travelers: Top-tier airline credit cards help travelers upgrade their travel experience by offering airport lounge access, elite hotel status and other perks. While these cards typically carry higher annual fees, travelers with a taste for luxury might find the expense worthwhile.
  • Travel beginners: If you're new to the travel rewards game, picking a beginner’s travel card geared toward airlines 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.
    See related: How to start traveling with points, miles and credit cards.

An airline credit card is not ideal for…

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

Tips on choosing the best airline credit card for you

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

Check your credit score

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

Consider your preferred airline

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

Evaluate perks you’d use

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

Calculate potential rewards

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

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

Here’s how one Bankrate expert chose their airline card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Nouri Zarrugh, Senior Credit Card Editor at Bankrate

Expert advice for airline credit cards

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

Maximizing airline rewards

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

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

Pair travel and airline cards

Let’s say you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card. Because Southwest is a Chase travel partner, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. This way, you can rack up points to use for Southwest flights between both cards, but you aren’t stuck redeeming with Southwest if you find a better award price for your Ultimate Rewards points elsewhere.

Travel off-peak

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

How we assess the best airline credit cards

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perks evaluated

When evaluating the best airline cards, we consider a mix of factors, including how cards score in our proprietary card rating system and whether cards offer features that fit the priorities of a diverse group of cardholders, from earning rewards in popular categories to scoring a large sign-up bonus or high-value perks. Whenever possible, we also feature cards that are available at various credit levels and price points. 

We analyzed over 150 of the most popular cards and scored each based on its rewards rate, estimated annual earnings, welcome bonus value, APR, fees, perks and more to determine whether it belonged in this month’s roundup of the best airline cards.

Here are some of the key factors that we considered:

Frequently asked questions about airline credit cards