Best airline credit cards of 2023

Written by Ariana Arghandewal / January 12, 2023
Reviewed by Robin Saks Frankel

The best airline credit cards offer rich perks for infrequent and frequent travelers alike, providing elite-type benefits to improve your travel experience. Some even let you fast-track your way to elite status through credit card spending alone. But you don’t have to be loyal to an airline to benefit from its credit card. An airline credit card can also be a great addition to your wallet if you want to give your points balance a boost.

When you’re looking for an airline card, you should consider your travel goals and how the card can help you meet them. Will it save you money on checked bag fees or companion tickets? Will it offer a welcome bonus big enough for that trip to Europe? Answer these questions for yourself and you’ll have a much easier time deciding which card works best for you.

We analyzed a broad swath of credit cards in this category, from a variety of issuers, to curate a list of the very best. Here are our selections.

Inside this article

  1. Best airline credit cards of 2023
  2. Best airline card overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred
  3. Best premium card for airline miles: Capital One Venture X Credit Card
  4. Best airline card for domestic flights: United Explorer Card
  5. Best airline card for a companion pass: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  6. Best no annual fee card for airline miles: Capital One VentureOne Card
  7. Best airline card for low-cost carriers: Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard®
  8. Best airline card for luxury perks: The Platinum Card from American Express
  9. Best airline card for airline-specific perks: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Card
  10. Best airline card for everyday spending: Aeroplan® Credit Card
  11. Best airline card for fast top-tier elite status: JetBlue Plus Card
  12. Compare the best credit cards for airlines
  13. Should you get an airline credit card?
  14. Methodology
  15. Frequently asked questions

Best airline credit cards of 2023

  • Best airline card overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Best premium card for airline miles: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Best airline card for domestic flights: United Explorer Card 

  • Best airline card for a companion pass: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card 

  • Best no annual fee card for airline miles: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

  • Best airline card for low-cost carriers: Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard®

  • Best airline card for luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Best airline card for airline-specific perks: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

  • Best airline card for everyday spending: Aeroplan® Credit Card

  • Best airline card for fast top-tier elite status: Barclays JetBlue Plus Card

Best airline card overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Why it’s the best

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers generous rewards on everyday spending categories and a substantial welcome bonus. With 11 airline transfer partners, this card offers more redemption flexibility than any airline credit card.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Flexible points that can be transferred to 14 travel partners or redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards at 1.25 cents each

  • $50 annual statement credit towards hotel bookings

  • Valuable travel protections

Cons:

  • $95 annual fee

  • Category bonuses are limited and not competitive against other travel cards

  • Transfer partner list is limited compared to programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou

More details

  • Annual fee: $95.

  • Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: $50 annual Ultimate Rewards hotel credit, trip cancellation/interruption coverage of up to $10,000 per person/$20,000 per trip, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance of up to $100 per day for five days, trip delay reimbursement of $500 per ticket for lodging and meals on delays over 12 hours, travel and emergency assistance services, purchase protection and extended warranty protection.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best premium card for airline miles: Capital One Venture X Credit Card

Why it’s the best

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers premium benefits at a lower annual fee than competing premium cards. With 15 airline transfer partners and over $400 in annual recurring perks, it’s well worth the $395 annual fee.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Flexible redemption options, including multiple travel transfer partners or travel statement credits at one cent each

  • $395 annual fee is largely offset by $300 annual travel credit and 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100)

  • Lounge access

Cons:

  • Transfer partner list lacks hotels and domestic airlines

  • Starting in January 2023, the Priority Pass membership excludes restaurant access

  • $300 travel credit requires booking via Capital One Travel

More details

  • Annual fee :$395

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all eligible purchases, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars when booking via Capital One Travel.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: Capital One Lounge and Priority Pass Select membership (includes access for up to two companions per visit), $300 annual statement credit through Capital One Travel, 10,000 bonus miles every cardmember anniversary, up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee credit every four years.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best airline card for domestic flights: United Explorer Card

Why it’s the best

The United Explorer Card is hard to beat if you want an airline card tied to a domestic legacy carrier. Whether you’re looking to travel abroad or domestically, United miles can get you there, while the card’s various perks can improve your journey, like a free checked bag for you and one companion on your reservation.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Reasonable annual fee of $95, waived the first year

  • Ability to earn elite status via credit card spending

  • Access to United Saver awards

Cons:

  • United miles are more limited in use than transferable rewards like Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • Benefits are not useful for those who don’t often fly United

  • No airport lounge access 

More details

  • Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on dining including eligible delivery services, hotel stays and United® purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: Free first checked bag for the primary cardmember and one travel companion, priority boarding for the primary cardmember and travel companions on the same reservation, two annual United Club passes, complimentary Premier Upgrades on award tickets for MileagePlus Premier members and one companion on the same reservation, earn 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) for every $12,000 spent, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP per calendar year, 25% back on United inflight purchases, up to $100 as a statement credit for Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS every four years.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best airline card for a companion pass: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

Why it’s the best

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card’s $99 Famous Companion Fare is a recurring benefit that far outweighs the already-low $75 annual fee. For just $99 and taxes (around $22), you get to bring a companion along with you and you both earn miles on the fare. It doesn’t get better than that.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Low annual fee, compared to other airline credit cards

  • Vast partner airline network 

  • Generous checked baggage allowance

Cons:

  • Welcome bonus is low compared to other airline cards

  • No category bonuses outside of Alaska Airlines purchases

  • Annual Companion Fare is not useful unless you travel from an Alaska Airlines hub

More details

  • Annual fee: $75

  • Rewards: Earn an unlimited 3 miles per dollar on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare after spending $2,000 within 90 days.

  • Perks and benefits: Free checked bag for the primary cardmember and up to six guests on the same reservation, 20% statement credit on Alaska Airlines inflight purchases.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best no annual fee card for airline miles: Capital One VentureOne Card

Why it’s the best

The Capital One VentureOne Credit Card is an excellent choice for those who want a no-annual-fee card that earns airline miles. Not only does the card earn generous rewards that you can transfer to 15 airline partners, but it doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee when you use it abroad.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • No foreign transaction fees (rare for a no-annual-fee card)

  • Flexibility in how you redeem miles

  • Low spending requirement for the welcome bonus

Cons

  • Lack of category bonuses

  • Other no-annual-fee cards earn higher rewards

More details

  • Annual fee: $0

  • Rewards: Earn an unlimited 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 1.25 miles per dollar on every other purchase.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.

  • Introductory APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers; 19.24% - 29.24% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months. 

  • Perks and benefits: Auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best airline card for low-cost carriers: Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard®

Why it’s the best

The Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard® is great for Spirit loyalists who want extra perks when flying with the low-cost carrier. While cardholders don’t get free checked bags, they do enjoy early boarding and an award redemption fee waiver.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Generous welcome bonus

  • Ability to earn elite status via credit card spending

  • Award redemption fee waiver can add up over time

Cons

  • No free checked bag benefit

  • Spirit’s miles are less valuable than other airlines

More details

  • Annual fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, then $79. 

  • Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar spent on eligible Spirit purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on eligible dining and grocery store purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points, plus a $100 Companion Flight Voucher after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.

  • Perks and benefits: $100 Companion Flight Voucher each anniversary after spending at least $5,000, 1 Status Qualifying Point (SQP) for every $10 spent, Zone 2 boarding on all flights, Award redemption fee waiver, Points pooling benefit, 25% rebate on all inflight food and beverages purchased with your card, points don’t expire  as long as your card is open.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Best airline card for luxury perks: The Platinum Card from American Express

Why it’s the best

The Platinum Card® from American Express is packed with unparalleled luxury travel perks. Cardmembers have access to a wide range of airport lounges, mid-tier hotel elite status and a comprehensive set of travel protections.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Over $1,500 in travel and entertainment credits can offset the annual fee

  • Comprehensive lounge access benefit

  • Generous travel and purchase protections

Cons:

  • High annual fee and spending requirements

  • Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule limits welcome bonus eligibility

  • Annual statement credits have limited use

  • $175 annual fee for additional cardmembers

More details

  • Annual fee: $695

  • Rewards: Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership. 

  • Perks and benefits: $300 yearly statement credit toward a digital or club membership at Equinox, $240 yearly digital entertainment credit valid on Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, Sirius, and The New York Times, $200 annual airline fee credit valid on select carriers, $200 annual hotel credit valid on prepaid bookings through  Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection, $200 Uber Cash in monthly increments, $155 annual Walmart+ credit, $100 credit towards Saks Fifth Avenue purchases ($50 semiannually), $189 annual credit towards CLEAR membership, up to $100 application fee credit towards Global Entry or TSA Precheck every four years, complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, rental car elite status with Avis, Hertz, National, extensive travel and purchase protections, primary rental car coverage.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None

Best airline card for airline-specific perks: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Card

Why it’s the best

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers tons of great perks when flying Delta Air Lines. Arguably the most impressive perk is access to Delta and Amex Centurion lounges, along with an annual companion ticket that’s valid on first-class travel.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Generous Delta benefits that mimic elite status.

  • Lounge benefit includes Amex Centurion lounges.

  • Companion certificate works on first-class tickets.

Cons:

  • High annual fee.

  • Rental car coverage is secondary, while most premium cards offer primary.

  • Delta uses dynamic award pricing, making award space unpredictable and limiting the value of SkyMiles. 

More details

  • Annual fee: $550

  • Rewards: Earn 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months.

  • Perks and benefits: Earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $30,000 in a calendar year (up to four times), waive the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirement toward Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status if you make at least $25,000 in purchases in that year with your eligible Delta Card from American Express, complimentary Sky Club access when flying Delta, plus two annual Delta Sky Club guest passes, Amex Centurion Lounge access when you book a Delta flight with your card, annual companion certificate valid on main cabin, comfort and first-class tickets, upgrade priority over other SkyMiles members with the same status level, free checked bag for the primary cardmember and travel companions, up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee credit, 20% back on in-flight Delta purchases, trip cancellation coverage, baggage insurance plan and trip delay coverage.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None

Best airline card for everyday spending: Aeroplan® Credit Card

Why it’s the best

The Aeroplan® Credit Card offers generous rewards on everyday spending categories like dining and groceries. Beyond earning points, spending with this card helps you earn and maintain elite status.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Ability to spend your way to elite status is rare for a card at the $95 price point.

  • Generous earn rate on everyday spending categories.

  • Discounts on award tickets.

Cons:

  • Aeroplan charges high redemption rates on some award tickets compared to other Star Alliance carrier rates. 

  • The annual fee may be hard to justify for those who don’t regularly fly Aeroplan to take advantage of the airline-specific perks.

More details

  • Annual fee: $95

  • Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar spent on dining, takeout and eligible delivery services, grocery stores and each dollar spent directly with Air Canada including vacations and cruises and 1 point per dollar for all other eligible purchases. Additionally, cardholders earn 500 bonus points for every $2,000 spent in a calendar month (maximum 1,500 points per month). 

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 70,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

  • Perks and benefits: Aeroplan 25K status through the rest of this calendar year and next. Maintain status with $15,000 spent in a calendar year. Existing status holders can upgrade to 35K status with $50,000 in spending per calendar year, first checked bag free for cardmember and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation, up to $100 Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS application fee credit every four years, preferred pricing on award flights, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase protection

  • Foreign transaction fees: None

Best airline card for fast top-tier elite status: JetBlue Plus Card

Why it’s the best

The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card makes it easy to earn top-tier elite status, requiring just $50,000 in annual spending. While that’s not a small sum, it pales in comparison to other airline cards. Throw in some generous recurring perks and this card is definitely a keeper for those seeking Mosaic status.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Free checked bag perk for you and up to 3 traveling companions

  • Low intro APR on balance transfers.

  • Inflight savings is more generous than most airlines.

Cons

  • Partner awards are limited to Hawaiian Airlines and can’t be booked online. 

  • JetBlue TrueBlue’s route network is limited, especially for international travelers. 

  • Relatively low welcome bonus for an airline card.

More details

  • Annual fee: $99

  • Rewards: Earn 6 points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

  • Introductory APR offer: 0% intro APR for 12 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account. opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 20.24%, 24.24%, or 29.24%,based on creditworthiness. A $5 or 5% balance transfer fee applies.

  • Perks and benefits: Mosaic elite status when you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year, annual $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your card, 5,000 bonus points every card anniversary, 50% inflight savings on eligible food and drink purchases, free first checked bag for the cardholder and up to three companions on the same reservation.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None

Compare the best credit cards for airlines

Annual feeRewardsNotable perksWelcome bonus
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card$95 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchasesAnnual $50 hotel credit valid on Ultimate Rewards bookings60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening
Capital One Venture X $3952 miles per dollar on all eligible purchase$300 annual travel credit75,000 bonus miles after
Rewards Credit Card5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars when booking via Capital One Travel10,000 bonus miles every card anniversaryspending $4,000 within three months of account opening
United Explorer Card $0 intro annual fee the first year, then $952 miles per dollar on dining including eligible delivery services, hotel stays and United® purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchasesFree first checked bag for the primary cardholder and one travel companion Two United Club passes annually 25% back on United inflight purchases Premier upgrades on award tickets 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card $753 miles per dollar on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile per dollar on all other purchasesAnnual $99 companion fare 20% back on Alaska inflight purchases 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare after spending $2,000 within 90 days
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card$05 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 1.25 miles per dollar on every other purchase0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard®$0 introductory fee for the first year, then $79 3 points per dollar spent on eligible Spirit purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on eligible dining and grocery store purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases $100 Companion Flight Voucher each anniversary after spending at least $5,000 Zone 2 boarding on all flights 25% rebate on all inflight food and beverages 60,000 bonus points, plus a $100 Companion Flight Voucher after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening
The Platinum Card® from American Express$6955 Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchasesOver $1,500 in travel and entertainment credits Complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status Rental car elite status with Avis, Hertz, National Trip delay and cancellation coverage Primary rental car coverage 125,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card$5503 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchasesMedallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver Delta and Amex Centurion lounge access Annual companion certificate valid on main cabin, comfort and first-class tickets50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months
Aeroplan® Credit Card$953 points per dollar spent on dining, takeout and eligible delivery services, grocery stores and each dollar spent directly with Air Canada including vacations and cruises and 1 point per dollar for all other eligible purchases500 bonus points for every $2,000 spent per calendar month Earn elite status via credit card spending Preferred pricing on award flights70,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months
Barclays JetBlue Plus Card40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full within the first 90 days6 points per dollar on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchasesMosaic elite status via credit card spending Annual $100 credit towards a JetBlue Vacation package 5,000 bonus points every anniversary 50% savings on inflight food and drinks. Free first checked bag for the cardholder and up to three companions $99

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great card if you want to earn miles with more than one airline without having multiple credit cards. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program partners with 11 airlines and three hotel loyalty programs, giving you ultimate flexibility when redeeming points. Factor in generous earn rates on everyday spending with a $50 annual hotel credit (valid on Ultimate Rewards bookings) and it’s easy to see why this card is consistently at the top of every “best of” list.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $95

Rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The Chase Sapphire Preferred includes an annual $50 hotel credit valid through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The card also comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, which is immensely valuable these days. If the airline loses your luggage, the baggage delay coverage will reimburse you up to $100 per day for up to five days. The only real drawback to this card is the $95 annual fee, which is hard to justify if you don’t make use of its recurring perks or earn enough points every year.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is on a roll, offering a generous welcome bonus, an impressive array of transfer partners and recurring benefits that can make the $395 annual fee worthwhile. This is an excellent card if you want a premium credit card that earns airline miles but provides flexibility in how you use them. 

Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $395

Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all eligible purchases, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars when booking via Capital One Travel.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The card offers an annual $300 statement credit through Capital One Travel and 10,000 bonus miles every card anniversary. Cardmembers also get unlimited Capital One Lounge visits and Priority Pass membership, plus a $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit every four years.

United Explorer Card

The United Explorer Card is a great choice whether you’re a United loyalist or looking to save up points for an international flight. As part of the Star Alliance, United gets you access to tons of award space on international carriers so you can start checking off your travel bucket list faster.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening.

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

Rewards: Earn 2 miles per dollar on dining including eligible delivery services, hotel stays and United® purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The United Explorer Card offers lots of perks for United flyers, including free checked bags, priority boarding, two annual United Club passes and a 25% rebate on inflight purchases. Cardmembers also qualify for a Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS credit every four years along with the ability to earn elite status through credit card spending. While these perks are exceptional for a card with a $95 annual fee, there is one drawback: You’re earning airline miles as opposed to transferable rewards with cards like the Sapphire Preferred and Venture X. That means you’re more limited in how you can redeem your miles.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card offers a solid welcome bonus with a recurring companion pass that can help you get your money’s worth for the annual fee. Thanks to its vast partner network, your miles will go far regardless of whether you live in an Alaska hub city or not.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare after spending $2,000 within 90 days.

Annual fee: $75

Rewards: Earn 3 miles per dollar on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The Alaska Airlines Visa doesn’t offer a ton of perks but it prioritizes quality over quantity. The main benefit of this card is the Famous Companion Fare, which lets you book a companion ticket for just $99 and taxes. This can offset the $75 annual fee for a lot of people. The drawback is that the card doesn’t offer perks like free checked bags and priority boarding. But considering that the card isn’t necessarily for Alaska flyers (but rather for those who want to use Alaska miles for international travel), that’s not a significant downside.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a great pick for those who want an airline card without the annual fee. The card covers all the basics without the upcharge.

Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.

Annual fee: $0

Rewards: Earn an unlimited 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 1.25 miles per dollar on every other purchase.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The card’s main benefit is that it charges no foreign transaction fees, which is rare for a card with no annual fees. Cardmembers also get travel accident insurance, auto rental collision coverage and 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases during the first 15 months. The drawback for this card is that its welcome bonus and earn rate are relatively low, but that’s to be expected for a no-annual-fee card.

Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard®

The Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard® is big on rewards and recurring benefits. With a $0 introductory annual fee, it’s a great card to test-drive if you live in a Spirit hub and want to see if the airline is worth committing to.

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points, plus a $100 Companion Flight Voucher after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.

Annual fee: $0 introductory fee for the first year, then $79.

Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar spent on eligible Spirit purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on eligible dining and grocery store purchases and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The biggest perks offered by this card include a $100 annual Companion Flight Voucher (after you spend at last $5,000), zone 2 boarding and waived fees on award redemptions. Cardmembers also earn 1 Status Qualifying Point (SQP) for every $10 spent. The drawback is that Spirit Airlines isn’t a great airline for those who live outside its route network or who want to save up miles for international flights. 

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express sets the standard when it comes to luxury travel perks. Cardmembers enjoy over $1,500 in travel and entertainment credits, elite status perks and travel protections.

Welcome bonus: Earn 125,000 points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership. 

Annual fee: $695

Rewards: Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: This card is all about the perks. Cardmembers receive $200 in annual airline fee credits, along with over $1,000 in other credits. The card also offers Gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott, plus elite status with Avis, Hertz and National. While the perks are plentiful, the card’s $695 annual fee is incredibly steep especially if you don’t max out all the statement credits.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card gets you elite treatment before you’ve even earned status. Not only do cardmembers get valuable perks like free checked bags and discounts on inflight purchases, they get added to the upgrade list and access to Delta and Amex Centurion lounges.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months.

Annual fee: $550

Rewards: Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: No

Other benefits and drawbacks: Though the annual fee is hefty on this card, it’s a great option for those who want to earn elite status. Not only does this card waive the Medallion Qualification (MQD) requirement towards Silver status and higher, but cardmembers can earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $30,000 per calendar year, up to four times. The card also gets you on the upgrade list if you don’t have elite status, which is rare for an airline card.

Aeroplan® Credit Card

From the welcome bonus to generous earn rates and elite benefits, the Aeroplan® Credit Card gets it right on so many fronts. Cardmembers enjoy preferred pricing on award flights and the ability to earn elite status via credit card spending, all at a reasonable $95 annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Earn 70,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

Annual fee: $95.

Rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar spent on dining, takeout and eligible delivery services, grocery stores and each dollar spent directly with Air Canada including vacations and cruises and 1 point per dollar for all other eligible purchases. Additionally, cardholders earn 500 bonus points for every $2,000 spent in a calendar month (maximum 1,500 points per month). 

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: Aeroplan Credit cardmembers receive Aeroplan 25K status through the rest of this calendar year and next. You can maintain status by channeling $15,000 worth of spending in a calendar year. While you’re earning elite status, you’ll also receive  500 bonus points for every $2,000 spent per calendar month. Overall, this is one of the most rewarding airline cards around.

Barclays JetBlue Plus Card

The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card is a great card for JetBlue flyers who want extra perks before they hit their elite status goals. Those chasing elite status will appreciate the ability to earn status purely via credit card spending.

Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Annual fee: $99

Rewards: Earn 6 points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.

Foreign transaction fee: None

Other benefits and drawbacks: The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card offers generous perks when you fly the airline. Cardmembers get an unprecedented 50% discount on inflight food and drink purchases, along with a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to three travel companions. The annual $100 JetBlue Vacations credit and 5,000-point bonus provide added incentive to keep the card long-term. The ability to earn Mosaic elite status from $50,000 of credit card spending is a nice bonus.

The downside to this card is that it isn’t for anyone who lives outside a JetBlue hub. JetBlue still has a limited partner network you can redeem points with, so the card is only beneficial for those who fly JetBlue regularly.

Should you get an airline credit card?

“Airline cards are a must-have for those who are frequent flyers on specific carriers. Although the miles per dollar spent on airline cards can be lower than travel credit cards, these cards come with perks that make them attractive to cardholders. It includes a free checked bag, flight credits, inflight discounts and priority for security checkpoints and boarding. They’re also great because they help flyers earn miles that go toward elite status,”--Benet J.. Wilson, veteran aviation travel and credit cards writer

An airline credit card can be an excellent addition to your wallet if you utilize airline-specific perks. If you’re loyal to an airline but unable to earn elite status, airline credit card perks can mimic some of the elite benefits that can improve your travel experience. Airline credit cards can also give your rewards balance a substantial boost thanks to generous welcome bonuses. The down side to these bonuses? You’re limited in how you can use them. 

Most airlines have partnerships with other carriers so you have a wider route network to use your miles with. But airlines can devalue their miles at any moment without notice. When that happens, you’re stuck with a rewards balance that is suddenly worth a lot less. 

The solution is to invest in a transferable rewards currency issued by cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. These points don’t lose their value because you can transfer them to over a dozen airlines and hotels. So if one transfer partner devalues, you can transfer your points to a different airline. The key is not to transfer points until you’re ready to redeem them—that’s how you effectively protect yourself against program devaluations.

How to choose the best airline credit card for you

Choosing the best airline credit card comes down to which airline you fly with most often. If you live near a Spirit hub, then the Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard® would be a good choice for you. You’ll save money on the award redemption fee waiver and annual Companion Flight Voucher. 

If you’re looking to use miles for international travel, you’ll want to get an airline credit card affiliated with a legacy carrier like American Airlines, Delta or United. These carriers have vast partner networks enabling you to use miles for travel around the world. The United Explorer Card could be a good choice for travelers who want to use their miles for flights abroad, as it has a vast partner network to get you there.

Annual fee vs. no-annual-fee airline credit card

Annual fee cards differ from no-annual-fee airline cards in the benefits they offer. Airline cards with annual fees tend to have more travel perks and protections. These benefits often justify the annual fee, especially if you fly with a specific airline quite a bit. You can save money on things like checked bag fees and get extra perks like priority boarding.

Airline cards with annual fees don’t charge foreign transaction fees which cards with no annual fees usually do. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card waives annual fees while the no-annual-fee MileUp card charges 3%. If you spend at least $3,300 abroad each year, you’ll incur $99 in foreign transaction fees. That’s the same cost as the annual fee on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Card, so you might be better off upgrading to that card and enjoying the extra perks.

How do airline miles work?

Airline miles are rewards issued by airlines that you can cash in for award flights, hotels, rental cars and pretty much everything in between. You can earn airline miles by flying, dining out, shopping online and through credit cards. The best use of airline miles is for flights. You can use them for short-haul domestic hops or travel internationally in first class.

Some airlines publish award charts showing exactly how many miles you need for a specific flight. Others use dynamic pricing, meaning the miles will depend on the cash price and demand. 

Are airline credit cards worth it?

Airline credit cards are worth it if you have a specific award redemption in mind. For example, if you’re saving up for an American Airlines award ticket to Asia and you’re short a few thousand miles, then getting an American Airlines card is a great way to top off your balance. American Airlines isn’t a transfer partner of the major programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One Venture, Membership Rewards. So it makes sense to get a co-branded card if you want to earn those miles.

Even if you’re invested in an airline that does have transfer partnerships, getting an airline card can make sense. If you fly with an airline but not enough to earn elite status, then an airline card can offer money-saving benefits that also improve your travel experience. With perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and companion passes, airline credit cards can be well worth it.

Methodology

Sound Dollar’s credit cards team has spent hours analyzing hundreds of credit cards. We took a deep dive into the details of each product and that analysis, combined with our years of experience covering credit cards, informed us as we developed these credit card rankings.

Frequently asked questions

How do airline cards work?

Airline cards are issued by banks, who buy miles from the airlines and issue them to their customers in exchange for credit card spending. Every time you use your airline card for a purchase, you will earn miles (and sometimes even elite status perks). Airline cards also include other airline-specific benefits, like free checked bags, priority boarding, inflight purchase discounts and others.

How many miles can I earn with an airline credit card?
How much is an airline mile worth?
Can airline credit cards get you into the airport lounge?

About the Authors

Ariana Arghandewal

Ariana Arghandewal

Ariana Arghandewal is a travel hacker and travel rewards expert who leverages credit cards to earn over a million miles every year. She is the founder of Pointchaser, an award-winning blog where she covered rewards travel and credit cards since 2012.

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Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel

Robin Saks Frankel is a credit cards and personal finance writer and editor for Sound Dollar. Previously, she covered credit cards and related content at other national web publications including Forbes Advisor, NerdWallet, Bankrate and HerMoney. She's been featured as a personal finance expert in outlets including CNBC, Business Insider, CBS Marketplace, and has appeared on or contributed to The New York Times, Fox News, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, NPR, International Business Times and NBC, ABC and CBS TV affiliates nationwide.

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