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If you spend a good chunk of your annual travel on a particular airline, it’s usually a smart move to apply for one of its cobranded credit cards. But that’s not the only reason to add an airline card to your wallet. Some benefits can apply well beyond travel on that particular carrier, especially when you consider each airline’s partners and redemption perks. Here are the best airline cards for all different kinds of travelers.

The best airline credit cards of 2019

Comparing best airline credit cards offers

CREDIT card Best for Annual fee Bonus value**
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Earning miles across all airlines $95, waived the first year $700
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Beginner travelers on all airlines $95 $1,200
CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard American business flyers $99 (waived the first 12 months) $980
Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard Partner award redemptions $90 Up to $1,200
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Occasional Delta flyers $95 (waived the first year) $410
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Regular Delta flyers $195 ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (see rates and fees) $520
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® Admirals Club access $450 $700
United Explorer Business Card United business flyers $95 Up to $1,300
United Explorer Card United flyers $95 (waived the first year) $845
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card Earning Alaska Airlines miles $75 $720
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card Southwest fanatics $199 $1,050
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express Elite Delta flyers $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) (see rates and fees) $480
JetBlue Plus Card JetBlue flyers $99 $520

**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

How we chose the top airline credit cards

When we assembled our list of the best airline credit cards for this year, we took into account the extra value each card can bring to flyers with different travel needs and preferences. In this post, we’re looking at consumer airline and business airline credit cards.

If you know what airline you want to travel on, it makes choosing an airline credit card much easier. You can review the best and worst airlines here — TPGers all have our favorites and there is no right or wrong preference. Most major airlines offer multiple cobranded options to fit the needs of a wide range of customers. The other major criteria in putting together our list included the annual fees, travel perks, offer bonuses and spending requirements.

The best airline credit cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $700, according to TPG valuations

Rewards: 2x miles on all purchases.

Why we like it: Flexibility is hard to find in an airline card but the Venture makes it easy to earn and redeem miles. You use miles earned to “erase” any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile or you can transfer your miles to one of Capital One’s transfer partners. Cardholders also get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years (up to $100), which is a rare benefit for a card with a $95 annual fee.

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Further reading: Capital One Venture card review

Learn More: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations

Rewards: Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining

Why we like it: We’ve long suggested the Chase Sapphire Preferred for those who are new to earning travel rewards because it lets you earn valuable, transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points with strong bonus categories and a reasonable annual fee. It’s particularly useful as an airline credit card, since the points earned on this card can transfer to United, Southwest, British Airways and six other airlines. If you apply for this card now, you can earn the bonus in time to book your spring break travel in 2020. When those points hit your account after three months, it’ll be like a Christmas present to yourself.

Annual fee: $95

Further reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred card review

Learn More: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Welcome bonus: 70,000 miles after you spend $4,000 in the first four months — worth $980, according to TPG valuations

Rewards: 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and on telecommunications services, cable and satellite service, car rentals and gas purchases; 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: If you and your employees fly American frequently for business, this card helps smooth your travels as well as allowing you to earn higher miles on business-friendly categories. You’ll get a first bag checked free for you and up to four companions on the same reservation. You can also earn an American Airlines companion certificate for a domestic main cabin flight after spending $30,000 each card membership year you renew (account must remain open at least 45 days after anniversary date).

Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

Further reading: CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard credit card review

Learn More: CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Courtesy of The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 60,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening, plus an additional 5,000 miles for adding two authorized users and an additional 15,000 miles after you spend a total of $25,000 within your anniversary year. This total bonus is worth up to $1,200, according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: Earn 3 miles per dollar spent directly with Virgin Atlantic and 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Why we like it: With this card’s current offer, you can earn up to 80,000 bonus miles within your first year when you include the primary sign-up bonus, the authorized users and the anniversary bonus. That’s 10,000 miles fewer than the highest offer we’ve ever seen on this card but the required spend is a lot less than usual — in this case, you only need to spend $2,000 to earn two-thirds of the bonus miles. Plus, TPG valuations place the earning rate for this card at a 4.5% return on Virgin Atlantic purchases and a 2.25% return for everything else. A lot of cards stop offering bonus miles after the initial three-month welcome period, so it’s nice to see a card offering ways to earn additional points throughout the year.

Annual fee: $90

Further reading: Virgin Atlantic Mastercard review

Learn More: Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard

Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first three months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months. This bonus is worth up to $410, according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: The Gold Delta SkyMiles card is the cheapest of the three credit cards in Delta’s lineup with a $95 fee waived the first year. With this card, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees and 20% in savings on inflight purchases. You won’t be able to use this card to earn a waiver of the Medallion Qualification Dollars elite-status requirement after the benefits change on Jan. 30, 2020, but if you’re an occasional Delta flyer who wants a way to earn bonus miles while enjoying a few elite-status-like perks, this might be the card for you.

Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

Further reading: Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex card review

Learn More: Gold Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express

Platinum Delta SkyMiles from American Express

Welcome bonus: 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months. This bonus is worth up to $520, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: It’s not the top-tier card in Delta’s credit card lineup, but the Platinum Delta still offers solid value for regular Delta flyers. The benefits of this card will be changing as of Jan. 30, 2020, but you’ll still be able to use this card as a way to get Delta’s MQD requirement for elite status waived (up to the Platinum level) when you spend $25,000 on it in a calendar year. You can also earn 10,000 MQMs when you spend $25,000 in a year, and another 10,000 MQMs if you spend $50,000 in a year. So if you need just a little help hitting your desired elite status, this card is one way to help you get it.

Annual fee: $195 ($250 if application is received on or after Jan. 30, 2020) 

Further reading: Platinum Delta SkyMiles card review

Learn More: Platinum Delta SkyMiles from American Express

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Admirals Club / Katie Genter/The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months — worth $700, according to TPG valuations

Rewards: 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: If you fly American frequently, this card is worth having for the perks it provides. You’ll get priority check-in, airport screening and boarding when flying American, a first bag checked free for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application-fee credit (up to $100). Not to mention a way to earn EQMs towards AAdvantage status when you spend $40,000 on the card in a year.

Annual fee: $450

Further reading: Citi AAdvantage Executive Card review

Learn More: Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

United Explorer Business Card

Courtesy of The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 50,000 United MileagePlus miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 50,000 miles after you spend $25,000 total in purchases in the first six months of account opening. This bonus is worth up to $1,300, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on United purchases and at gas stations, office supply stores and restaurants

Why we like it: We’ve never seen a 100,000-mile bonus before on this card, so this sign-up offer makes it a card to consider seriously — if your business expenses generally add up to the high $25,000 spending requirement. Even though United is removing its fixed award chart for flights after Nov. 15, 2019, you can still find excellent value through the airline’s Star Alliance partnerships and take advantage of access to additional award space on United flights.

Annual fee: $95

Further reading: United Explorer Business card review

Learn More: United Explorer Business Card

United Explorer Card

Courtesy of The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: For a limited time, earn up to 65,000 bonus miles; 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open. The full bonus is worth $845 according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on United purchases and at restaurants and hotels, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: The entry-level United personal credit card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, hotels and United purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The main perks include a free checked bag for you and one companion on the same reservation, as long as you purchase your ticket (or any taxes and fees on an award ticket) from United using the Explorer Card. You’ll also get priority boarding, two, one-time United Club passes each year, a 25% discount on inflight United purchases — including Wi-Fi, food and beverages — and access to additional award space.

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Further reading: United Explorer Card review

Learn More: United Explorer Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Welcome bonus: 40,000 miles, plus Alaska’s companion fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22), after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — worth $720, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 3x miles on Alaska purchases, 1x mile on everything else

Why we like it: There is a lot to love about the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. First, you’re getting a solid welcome bonus that includes a companion fare (which potentially adds hundreds of dollars in value). In addition, you get your first checked bag free, 50% off Alaska Lounge day passes and the companion fare from $121 each year after your account anniversary. It’s a no-brainer for anyone who flies Alaska or its partners throughout the year.

Annual fee: $75

Further reading: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card review

Learn More: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

Southwest Airlines / Patrick T. Fallon/ The Points Guy

Welcome bonus: 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. According to TPG valuations, this bonus is worth up to $1,050.

Rewards: 3x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, 2x points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services and 1x point on everything else

Why we like it: If you’re a Southwest fanatic (like TPG’s Benet Wilson), this card helps you rack up Rapid Rewards points along with the best lineup of Southwest-specific benefits among the airline’s five cards. You’re getting four upgraded boardings to use each year, lowering your chances of getting stuck in an undesirable seat, 9,000 points every year on your cardmember anniversary, up to $100 every four years to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fee and 365 $8 Wi-Fi credits per year. You can also earn tier-qualifying points (TQPs) toward A-List status by hitting annual spending requirements. This card comes with the highest annual fee of Southwest’s business credit cards, but at $199 it’s still incredibly affordable for anyone who frequently flies with Southwest.

Annual fee: $199

Further reading: Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card review

Learn More: Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: 40,000 miles, plus 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. This bonus is worth $480, according to TPG valuations.

Rewards: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Why we like it: The Delta Reserve Card is the airline’s most expensive, with a $450 annual fee that will be rising to $550 if your application is received on or after Jan. 30, 2020. That means now is a great time to get it, since you’ll get the lower annual fee for the first year while still being able to take advantage of the card’s new benefits that roll out on Jan. 30, 2020. Even before that, the card comes with a free Sky Club lounge membership (you can bring up to two guests for $29 per person per visit), a free checked bag and priority boarding for up to nine travelers on the same reservation as the cardmember, no foreign transaction fees and 20% in savings on inflight purchases.

This card can also help you achieve Delta elite status, since you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year (with further 15k MQM bonuses available at $90,000 and $120,000 in spending starting at the end of January 2020). You also receive a domestic first class, Delta Comfort+ or domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year you renew the card. So if you’re a regular Delta flyer who wants the luxury perks that come with a card targeting elite travelers, this is your card.

Annual fee: $450 ($550 if application is received on or after Jan. 30, 2020) 

Further reading: Delta Reserve Amex card review

Learn More: Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

JetBlue Plus Card

Welcome bonus: 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days — worth $520, according to TPG’s valuations.

Rewards: 6x points on JetBlue purchases and at restaurants and grocery stores, 1 mile per dollar on everything else

Why we like it: If you’re looking to use credit card spending to hit elite status with JetBlue, the JetBlue Plus Card can help. You’ll earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status after you spend $50,000 each year with the card. If you’re about to book domestic holiday travel, the card provides an easy way to earn JetBlue points while hitting the welcome bonus requirements. The JetBlue Plus also comes with some nice benefits when you fly JetBlue, including a free checked bag and 10% rebate when you redeem points.

Annual fee: $99

Further reading: JetBlue Plus card review

Learn More: JetBlue Plus Card

Airline credit cards with no annual fee

The best airline credit cards offer a panoply of perks that save travelers time, money and stress. The benefits that most airline cards confer seem fairly standard at this point, with only slight variations from one product to another.

Those incentives typically include free checked bags, some measure of priority in the boarding process, the ability to earn multiple miles per dollar on airfare and other purchases and even airport lounge access and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application-fee reimbursements at the higher echelons.

Unfortunately, the airline credit cards that offer these advantages often charge annual fees ranging from $95-$450. Sensing an opportunity to attract younger customers who might be just be getting started with credit, as well as potential customers who prefer earning miles over elite-style benefits, several airlines have introduced new no-annual-fee credit cards with pared-down perks.

These cards may not carry the same rewards as their more expensive counterparts but they are worth considering, especially if you are looking to hang onto a credit card for several years without having to shell out hundreds of dollars for the privilege.

Airline card Welcome Bonus Bonus value**
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months $190
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (see rates & fees) 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within three months of account opening. Terms apply. $120
JetBlue Credit Card 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days $130
United TravelBank Credit Card $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months $150

**Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

Welcome bonus: 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases within three months of account opening

Rewards: 2x AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases but also at grocery stores (including delivery services); 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

Why you should consider it: The MileUp Card is a decent option to start earning in the AAdvantage program without having to fly much or pay an annual fee. Though its sign-up bonus is low, applicants don’t have to worry about hitting high minimum spending requirements. Likewise, travelers who already enjoy travel benefits on American thanks to elite status but want a card that makes earning on ticket and grocery purchases easier might find this card useful.

Fees: There’s no annual fee, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Learn More: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases within three months of account opening

Rewards: This card offers you double miles at U.S. restaurants as well as on all Delta purchases, including Sky Club membership or passes, Delta Vacations packages, seat upgrades and inflight purchases of food, beverages and audio headsets. You earn 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere.

Why you should consider it: If you want a major mileage haul and benefits that mimic Medallion status, you’re better off carrying one of the more premium Delta credit cards. However, if you already enjoy elite status or simply want to rack up miles on everyday purchases including a bonus at restaurants, all without an annual fee, the Blue version might be a good choice for you. You’ll get a few new benefits starting at the end of January 2020, when this card will add 2x miles at restaurants worldwide (instead of just in the U.S.), access to Pay with Miles and drops its foreign transaction fees.

Fees: There’s no annual fee, but there is a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions until Jan. 30, 2020.

Learn More: Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

JetBlue Credit Card

Welcome bonus: 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days

Rewards: 3x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere

Why you should consider it: Both the JetBlue Card and the JetBlue Plus Card are great products. If you don’t mind paying a $99 annual fee, the JetBlue Plus offers several extra benefits, including a higher welcome offer, anniversary bonus points, redemption refunds, statement credits and a shot at Mosaic status. But if the majority of your spending is on non-JetBlue purchases and you prefer a card with no annual fee, you might as well get the regular JetBlue Card since it earns the same number of points on non-airline spending.

Fees: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

United TravelBank Credit Card

Welcome bonus: $150 in United TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening

Rewards: Earn 2% of your spending back in TravelBank cash on tickets purchased from United. You also earn 1.5% in TravelBank cash spent on all other purchases. Unlike miles, a dollar of TravelBank cash equals a dollar of credit that you can use toward the purchase of a ticket on flights operated by United, but not for flights operated by Star Alliance carriers or other partners. TravelBank cash can be used alone or combined with select forms of payment during the purchase.

Why you should consider it: The TravelBank Card’s two main attributes are its lack of an annual fee and a solid 1.5% earning rate on everyday purchases. However, the fact that you can only redeem the cash back you earn for United tickets limits its usefulness. The United Explorer Card is probably a better all-around choice for most frequent flyers thanks to its travel benefits, its multiple bonus earning categories and the usefulness of United MileagePlus miles for awards not only on United flights, but also on flights of its Star Alliance and other partners.

Fees: No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

The information for the United TravelBank Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Do you need an airline credit card?

Cobranded airline credit cards usually don’t offer the highest return on spending for airline purchases, so if you’re simply looking to maximize your spending, you’d do better with a card that earns valuable transferable points. But airline credit cards are worth looking at for the airline-specific perks they offer.

Just about every type of traveler can take advantage of an airline card, whether you’re a beginner to the points-and-miles game or a seasoned frequent flyer. Most airline credit cards include benefits like a free checked bag, early boarding and sometimes even discounts on inflight purchases.

Airline credit cards of a more premium nature can also include the option to earn elite-qualifying miles for those pursuing airline status and even lounge access in some cases. Those who need a little help hitting elite status or want to enjoy elite status-like benefits while they work to hit a tier can benefit from an airline card and its perks.

In short, having an airline credit card can make your flight experience more enjoyable (and even less expensive) if you frequently fly with a specific carrier. Those who simply pick the cheapest fare available may be better served by a card that earns transferable points, but even those travelers could consider an airline credit card if they’re looking for miles to book a specific award itinerary this fall or holiday season.

The difference between airline and travel credit cards

We included two travel credit cards — the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture — in our list because of their flexibility. Both of these cards are great for beginners, but luxury travelers who want to maximize airfare purchases should consider a card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers 5x on airfare booked directly with the airline (a 10% return on spending according to our valuations).

As a rule, credit cards that earn transferable points (such as Amex, Capital One, Chase or Citi points) get you a better return on spending. They don’t usually have airline-specific perks or a way to earn elite status on airlines, but they do allow you to transfer points to a specific carrier’s loyalty program.

How to maximize your airline credit cards

The simple answer is to study every perk and benefit that comes with an airline credit card and use it. If you check luggage on flights, you can save $60 round-trip with the free checked bag that comes with a card. If the card comes with statement credits, do the spending required to get them. Use fee credits to cover expenses such as airport lounge access, seat upgrades or inflight food and beverage purchases.

For those chasing airline elite status, see if your credit card offers a way to help achieve it. If it does, consider doing the spending required to get it — but remember the TPG Golden Rule of paying off your credit cards every month to get the maximum benefit. Take advantage of free companion certificates to take a friend or loved one on a trip with you.

Finally, don’t overlook benefits such as extended warranty coverage and purchase and return protection.

Bottom line

Most airline credit card users will be better off paying an annual fee to enjoy far more benefits from their card, but there are some exceptions. For example, the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express is a great choice for infrequent travelers and elite flyers who want to earn double miles at restaurants. Likewise, the AAdvantage MileUp Card lets you earn double AA miles at supermarkets and on grocery delivery services. Even the no-annual-fee JetBlue card from Barclays offers you double points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 3x points for JetBlue purchases.

Every one of the airline cards with an annual fee offers at least one unique benefit not available on any other credit card, so if one of those perks fits your travel needs, you’ll want to consider paying an annual fee for an airline card. Just make sure your choice fits your travel goals. And of course, if you’re a regular flyer on one of these airlines, definitely take a hard look at these cards to see if one of them can make your time in the air cheaper or more comfortable, or both.

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