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Credit Cards

Best airline credit cards of January 2023

Airline credit cards are a great tool to earn miles on your purchases, which can be redeemed for flights.

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If you frequently fly with the same airline, using the right credit card can earn you increased rewards and special perks when you travel. After all, loyalty should count for something, right?

There are dozens of airline cards on the market, and they are definitely not all created equal. In order to cut through the noise, Select analyzed a number of popular options using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your travel habits.

The best airline credit cards

Here are Select's picks for the top airline credit cards:

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Best for American Airlines

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0 first year, then $99

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • Preferred boarding for eligible credit cardmembers
  • First checked bag free
  • Priority boarding

Cons

  • No special 0% financing offers
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated miles earned after 1 year: 78,138
  • Estimated miles earned after 5 years: 190,690

Rewards totals incorporate the miles earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® offers a whole host of benefits for American Airlines loyalists, including a strong rewards program and welcome bonus. Cardholders earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

New cardmembers can earn 50,000 miles after they spend $2,500 within the first three months from account opening. High spenders can also take advantage of a $125 American Airlines credit when you spend $20,000 within the first year (you must renew your card to qualify).

As a cardmember, you get your first checked bag free (along with 4 guests on the same reservation), preferred boarding and a 25% rebate on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

While there is no 0% introductory APR period, the first year's $99 annual fee is waived. There are no foreign transaction fees.

Best for JetBlue

JetBlue Plus Card

Information about the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    6X points on every $1 spent on eligible JetBlue purchases; 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores; 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Limited time offer: 70,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee

  • Annual fee

    $99

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 24.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary
  • 10% rebate on all redeemed TrueBlue points
  • First checked bag free for you and up to three companions
  • 50% off in-flight purchases

Cons

  • $99 annual fee
  • No special 0% financing offers
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated points earned after 1 year: 72,872
  • Estimated points earned after 5 years: 204,360

Rewards totals incorporate the miles earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? JetBlue Plus Card cardholders earn the highest rewards rate on airline purchases compared to the other cards on this list. Earn 6X points for every $1 spent on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1X points on everything else. What gives this card a leg up on other airlines is you get a 10% rebate on all the TrueBlue points you redeem. So if you redeem 20,000 TrueBlue points for a qualifying flight, you'll get 2,000 points back.

The card also comes with a welcome bonus: For a limited time, spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and pay the $99 annual fee and you'll earn 70,000 points. After you spend $50,000 in the first year, you can qualify for TrueBlue Mosaic status, which comes with a number of perks, including no fees for changing or canceling a reservation, early boarding and one complimentary alcoholic beverage per flight.

Cardholders also receive 5,000 bonus points on their card account anniversary, 50% off in-flight purchases and an annual $100 statement credit after you purchase a JetBlue vacation package of $100 or more.

Best for Delta

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 3X miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels; 2X miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets; 1X miles on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 6 months.

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    19.99%-28.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Who's this for? Delta frequent fliers who don't mind paying for perks should consider the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. While its $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) is a tad steeper than most mid-tier airline cards, the card benefits make up the difference. You just have to be prepared to navigate the somewhat complicated world of Delta's frequent flier rewards program.

New cardmembers earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 6 months.

Rewards redemptions are: 3X miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels; 2X miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets; 1X mile on all other eligible purchases. Plus, Delta offers ways to accelerate your path to Medallion Status with Status Boost® and ways to earn bonus MQMs.

The difference between MQMs and bonus miles is this: Bonus miles are everyday rewards points that you can redeem for Delta airlines tickets and more. MQMs are the points you acquire in order to achieve top status as a Delta SkyMiles member. You need 25,000 MQMs to achieve Silver status (the first tier).

Beyond the welcome offer, this card offers members several perks: an annual companion travel certificate, first checked bag free on Delta flights for you and your companions on the same reservation (maximum nine waivers per reservation) and priority boarding. There's also car rental loss and damage insurance and baggage insurance plan, plus a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

With this card, you gain lounge access to the Delta Sky Club for you and up to two guests at a discounted rate of just $39 when traveling on a Delta flight. You also 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.

Best for Southwest Airlines

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases, 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare; 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services, and select streaming; 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 

  • Annual fee

    $149

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 27.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Southwest upgraded boarding on up to 4 tickets per year
  • 7,500 bonus points on each account anniversary
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • 4 upgraded boardings per year when available

Cons

  • $149 annual fee
  • No special financing offers

Who's this for? If you frequently fly Southwest and want to reap the benefits of a loyalty membership, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is worth considering, thanks in part to the annual $75 Southwest statement credit and 7,500 bonus points you earn each account anniversary.

Cardholders can earn 3X points per every $1 spent on Southwest flights. Plus, earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare, 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, select streaming as well as 1X point for all other eligible purchases.

Currently, when you sign up for this card, you can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Cardmembers can also take advantage of up to four priority boarding upgrades per calendar year, 25% rebate on in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.

Best for United Airlines

United℠ Explorer Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases; 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, eligible delivery services and hotel stays; 1 mile earned on every $1 spent on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • Annual fee

    $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.74% - 27.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Up to $100 statement credit to cover Global Entry and TSA PreCheck® application fees or NEXUS fee credit every four years
  • Two one-time United Club lounge passes per year
  • Priority boarding for primary card members and their travel companions when upgrades are available

Cons

  • No special financing offers
  • Estimated miles earned after 1 year: 111,967
  • Estimated miles earned after 5 years: 219,836

Rewards totals incorporate the miles earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? For those who prefer flying United, the United℠ Explorer Card offers a variety of impressive benefits with its rewards program.

Cardholders earn 2X miles per $1 spent on United purchases; 2X miles per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services) and at hotels; 1X miles earned on every $1 spent on all other purchases. The welcome bonus allows new to cardholders to earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

It's one of the few airline travel cards that comes with some lounge access: you can take advantage of two United Club one-time passes per year. That's a value of over $100 per year and helps offset some of the cost of the annual fee ($0 first year, then $95).

There are a host of nice perks for travelers: Users can get a 25% rebate back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights and on Club premium drinks when you pay with their Explorer Card, their first bag is checked for free (and for one traveling companion) and priority boarding. There's also an auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and trip delay reimbursement.

Perhaps the best perk offered by the United℠ Explorer Card is you can get up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. While this is becoming a standard benefit of many travel rewards cards, it's not something frequently offered by airlines.

Best for Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

  • Rewards

    Earn unlimited three miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases, 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible gas, local transit (including ride sharing), cable and select streaming services and one mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    Limited time offer: Get 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

  • Annual fee

    $75

  • Intro APR

    N/A

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 28.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% of each transaction (minimum $10)

  • Foreign transaction fees

    None.

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

Terms apply.

 

Who's this for: While Alaska is geographically far from the continental U.S., Alaska Airlines has a wide array of flights throughout the country. And with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, you can save on your next flight with its benefits.

When you're approved for the card, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

These miles are extremely valuable as you can also book American Airlines flights using Alaska miles right on the Alaska website. Additionally, the card gives you free checked bags for yourself and up to six guests on the same reservation. Plus, you'll get another companion certificate every time you renew the card.

The card has a modest $75 annual fee.

Best for flyers not loyal to one airline

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 27.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to leading frequent travel programs at a 1:1 rate, including: IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™ and World of Hyatt®
  • Travel protections include: auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No introductory 0% APR

Who's this for: Most consumers are not loyal to one particular airline, but are just looking for the cheapest flight that best fits their schedule.

In this case, a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card may be a perfect fit as you'll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which are transferable to several domestic and international airline loyalty programs, as well as three hotel loyalty programs. And you can get a great jump forward as the card currently has an 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

And if you don't want to transfer your points to an airline, you can book travel through the Chase Travel Portal, which allows you to book any flight, hotel or car rental with no black out dates. 60,000 Chase points are worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

What's more is the card has a modest $95 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, comprehensive travel insurance and extensive bonus spending categories.

Best airline card with no annual fee

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Information about the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores (including grocery delivery services), earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases. 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    20.24% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% or $5, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Valuable welcome offer
  • Authorized users at no additional cost
  • 25% savings on inflight purchases

Cons

  • Limited spending categories
  • 3% fee on purchases made abroad

Who's this for: The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Mastercard® is a solid choice for someone looking for a no annual fee credit card that earns airline miles. To start, you can earn a welcome offer of 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

As you spend on the card, you will earn: 2X miles per $1 spent on American Airlines flights and at grocery stores and earn 1X mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

While card is limited in its benefits, it can make a great addition to someone's wallet who wants to earn American Airlines miles without any pesky annual fee. American Airline miles are good for domestic travel, as you can use them to book flights on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.

Airline credit card FAQs

How to choose an airline credit card

When you're looking for an airline rewards credit card, consider the additional travel perks that best suit your needs — whether it's free checked bags for you and your companions, lounge access, in-flight food and beverage discounts or priority boarding. You'll also be able to earn free flights with the miles you get from spending on the card. Many cards offer multiple perks, so decide what's most important to you before making a choice.

In addition, if you're based in a city that is dominated by one airline (for example, Atlanta is a major hub for Delta Air Lines), having a credit card attached to that airline could be useful. For instance, the free checked bag benefit could save you hundreds of dollars a year — even if you don't travel too often.

If you're not loyal to a specific airline, you might want to take a look at our list of the best travel credit cards, which provides alternative cards that offer competitive rewards rates on broader travel purchases, such as hotels and cruises, in addition to airfare. These cards offer travel insurance, more flexibility and often allow points to be transferred to frequent flyer programs of your choice.

Is an airline credit card worth it?

In many cases, yes. Even if you only fly two to three times per year and pick a credit card with free checked bags, an airline credit card can save you hundreds.

Find the best credit card for you by reviewing offers in our credit card marketplace or get personalized offers via CardMatch™.

Do airline credit cards typically charge an annual fee?

Most airline credit cards have an annual fee, but the benefits and features in many cases can outweigh the fee.

Should you consider a no-annual-fee airline card?

If you want to avoid paying an annual fee, there are several no-annual-fee airline credit cards available. However, they may not have the features or benefits you're looking for.

Is it worth renewing an airline credit card?

Airline credit cards have great benefits, but they are mostly catered to people who fly regularly. If your travel habits have changed, reexamine your perks to see if you're taking advantage of them.

Do airline miles expire?

Each airline loyalty program has different rules about mileage expiration. For example, Southwest miles do not expire, while American Airlines miles expire after two years of inactivity in your account.

How can you maximize your airline credit cards?

You can maximize your airline credit cards by using them on your everyday purchases to earn as many miles as possible, and by using the benefits of the cards when you fly.

Do airline credit cards typically charge an annual fee?

Typically, yes. However, many of the best airline credit cards for regular travelers have modest annual fees of around $100 per year.

Bottom line

Whether you travel once or twice per year, or you're an avid flyer, an airline credit card can help you save on each part of your travels. From paying for your flight, to checked bag fees and even ordering food onboard, each of these cards can save you money along your travels.

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, Select evaluated dozens of popular rewards credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join and offer bonus rewards on airline-related purchases. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses. Select used this budget to compare cards that reward specific purchases and estimate how many rewards the average consumer might earn.

We then estimated how much the average consumer could earn in rewards (in the case of airlines cards, it's usually "points" or "miles") over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases.

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.

Information about the Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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