Best Airline Credit Cards in April 2024

Amanda Claypool

Writer

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

When you're planning a trip, little travel perks can make all the difference. And many airlines offer their own credit cards with such perks to encourage you to stay loyal to their brand.

Airline credit cards allow you to earn points on travel as well as on everyday purchases — which you can then redeem for flights with that airline. They also offer perks like priority seating and free checked bags that can make your next trip even better. 

Erika's Picks for Best Airline Credit Cards

  • Best for United: United Explorer℠ Card
  • Best for American: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Best for Delta: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
  • Best for Southwest: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
  • Best for general travel: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

. . .

Best for United Airlines: United Explorer℠ Card

  • Rewards rate: 2x miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays booked direct, and purchases from United, including tickets, Economy Plus®, inflight food, beverages and wifi; 1x mile per $1 on everything else
  • Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Annual fee: $95 ($0 in your first year)

. . .

United Airlines has 210 domestic destinations and over 130 destinations abroad. If you’re a frequent United flyer, the United Explorer℠ Card is good to keep in your wallet, since you can earn bonus miles on your United flights as well as get discounts on United purchases.

You can earn 2x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on dining (including delivery), 2x miles on hotel stays (when booked directly with the hotel), and 1x miles on everything else. However, the United Explorer Card doesn't have boosted rewards for other types of travel, like local commuting, rideshare services, or rental cars — something that some other travel cards do offer.

There are two welcome offers. Firstly, after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, you'll earn 50,000 bonus miles. Secondly, the annual fee is waived during the first year.

The card includes travel perks like two one-time United Club access passes each year for your card anniversary, as well as one free checked bag for you and a companion, priority boarding, and a credit of up to $100 for your Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or Nexus application fee.

You also get a 25% discount on purchases of food, drinks, and wifi on board United flights, provided to you as a statement credit.

Among the particularly nice perks of this card are that there are no blackout dates, your miles never expire, and you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees for using your card abroad.

Why we chose it

While there are other United credit cards out there, we chose the United Explorer as the best option since it has an affordable annual fee (reduced to $0 in your first year) while still offering a substantial welcome bonus and perks.

If you'd prefer a card that never charges a fee, you may want to consider the United Gateway℠ Card instead — just keep in mind it has a much smaller welcome bonus. Or, if United is the only airline you fly (and you fly it a lot), you may be interested in one of United's premium cards, like the United Club℠ Infinite Card or United Quest℠ Card, both of which have a very high annual fee but also bigger rewards.

Learn more about the United Explorer Card.

Best for American: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

  • Rewards rate: 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and at restaurants and gas stations; 1 mile for every $1 on everything else
  • Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,500 in the first 4 months
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $99

. . .

American Airlines has hubs in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago, and flies to 350 destinations. If you frequently fly with AA, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® may be right for you.

You'll earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and at restaurants and gas stations. You’ll also earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.

Like the United Explorer Card, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select offers only a few categories to earn miles in, limiting the total rewards you could earn from your purchases. However, the welcome offer is generous, with 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,500 in the first four months.

Other travel perks make this card worthwhile, too. You’ll get your first checked bag free on domestic flights for you and up to four travel companions. If you’re traveling as a family, this can save a lot of money. You’ll also benefit from preferred boarding and save 25% on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

Why we chose it

There are other American Airlines credit cards to choose from, like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp® Mastercard®. However, the Executive card has a very high annual fee (but with premium perks) and the MileUp has no annual fee, but is lacking in perks.

The annual fee on the Platinum Select is reasonable (and waived in the first year) and simply avoiding checked bag fees will more than make the fee worth it. Plus, with no foreign transaction fees, you can use this card abroad without attracting additional charges.

Best for Delta Air Lines: Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express

  • Rewards rate: 2x miles on Delta purchases; 2x miles at U.S. grocery stores; 2x miles at restaurants worldwide and on U.S. takeout and delivery; 1x miles on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first six months
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $150 (rates and fees)

. . .

Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta flies to all major cities in the United States, with international hubs in places like London, Paris, and Seoul. If you fly Delta often, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express is a must-have. 

You'll earn 2x miles on travel booked directly with Delta, 2x miles at grocery stores, 2x miles at restaurants, and 1x miles on all other purchases. On top of that, you get a 15% discount when you book travel on delta.com using your points.

You can also check your first bag for free and get priority boarding and 20% off eligible in-flight purchases. If you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year, you’re eligible for a $200 Delta Flight Credit for future travel. And if you’re traveling abroad, there are no foreign transaction fees.

The card comes with a welcome offer of 70,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first six months. The annual fee is waived during the first year. 

Read our full review of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express.

Why we chose it

While there are other Delta credit cards out there, we've chosen the SkyMiles Gold given it comes with an affordable annual fee (reduced to $0 in your first year) while still offering a great welcome bonus and significant perks.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card doesn't have an annual fee at all (rates and fees), but has a much lower welcome bonus and doesn't include perks like free checked bags. The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is a premium card with an even bigger welcome bonus and higher rewards rate, but its annual fee (rates and fees) makes it less accessible than the SkyMiles Gold.

If you're looking for lounge access, you’ll need the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card — which comes with a $650 annual fee (rates and fees) — to become a Delta SkyClub member. This will give you access to Delta’s lounge network plus a pathway toward getting Medallion Status. 

Learn more about the Delta Skymiles® Gold American Express Card.

Best for Southwest Airlines: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

  • Rewards rate: 3x points on Southwest Airlines purchases; 2x points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental purchases; 2x points on local transit, rideshare, internet, cable, phone, and select streaming; 1x points on everything else
  • Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Annual fee: $149
southwest rapid rewards priority credit card

. . .

Southwest is one of the top economy airlines and its Companion Pass makes it easy to bring a partner or friend on your next flight. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card gives you a 10,000-point boost that you can put toward the 135,000-point minimum to qualify for a Companion Pass.

You'll earn 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare, 2x points on internet, cable, and phone services, as well as select streaming services, and 1x points on all other purchases.

The card comes with several travel perks, including up to four upgraded boardings, a $75 annual travel credit, 7,500 bonus points every anniversary, and 25% back on in-flight purchases. You also get to check a bag for free and your points never expire.

The Rapid Rewards Priority also includes travel protections like baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and travel accident insurance. Plus, you’ll get an auto rental collision damage waiver when hiring a rental car and roadside dispatch.

But before choosing this card, think about your travel plans. While Southwest is a great domestic airline, it has limited destinations outside of the U.S. 

Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

Why we chose it

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card does come with a higher annual fee than other Southwest cards, but it also has the best perks, such as upgraded boardings and a bigger anniversary bonus. So while it is pricier, we chose it as our top pick because of great benefits for a still fairly affordable annual fee.

If you'd prefer a lower-cost card and don't mind giving up a few perks, you may want to consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier. Both of these have cheaper annual fees.

Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.

Best General Travel Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Rewards rate: 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠; 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries; 2x on all other travel purchases; 1x on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 points — worth $750 in travel — after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • Annual fee: $95
chase sapphire preferred

. . .

While a credit card for a specific airline can be great to have if you’re a frequent flyer, it limits your options. A general travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives you more flexibility to choose flights across different airlines — and get the best price, too. 

Unlike some of the airline-specific cards, you’ll have more opportunities to earn points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. You can earn 5x total points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠ (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit) and 2x on other travel purchases. You can also earn 3x points on dining. Purchases outside of these categories are rewarded at 1 point per dollar spent.

You’ll get access to other travel perks, too. Preferred cardholders can earn a $50 annual statement credit for hotel stays purchased through Chase Travel℠. Points used to book travel through Chase Travel℠ are also worth 25% more value. For example, the 60,000 sign-up bonus is worth $750 toward travel booked through Chase Travel℠.

One reason this is a great card to have is because it includes a 1:1 point transfer with popular airline and hotel travel partners. You’ll also be eligible for primary rental car coverage, lost luggage insurance and trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Why we chose it

There is no shortage of general travel credit cards to choose from, but we've found that the Sapphire Preferred consistently stands out. While it does have an annual fee, it's relatively low compared to premium travel cards, and its great sign-up bonus and perks can outweigh the card's annual cost.

Plus, since you can transfer points to your favorite airlines, you can use it across multiple airlines without worrying about being loyal to any one carrier. The Sapphire Preferred also comes with trip cancellation insurance, emergency assistance services, and no foreign transaction fees, making it an ideal card to keep in your wallet while you're on the road (or in the skies).

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.


How to Choose an Airline Credit Card

When comparing travel credit cards, you want to compare the benefits against the cost. And with airline credit cards, you also need to consider location and travel destination before committing.

For example, it won’t make sense to get an Alaskan Airlines credit card if Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly into the airport you regularly use.

Which carrier do you want to fly? 

Before you compare cards, create a list of your top airlines. This could be based on where you live, your status with a specific carrier, or your personal preference. For example, if you regularly fly Delta, it would make sense to get a co-branded card to maximize the points you earn. 

What benefits does each card offer? 

Aside from earning miles, airline credit cards offer other benefits you’ll want to consider. Is there a large sign-up bonus? Does it offer a reimbursement for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee? Can it make your flight experience better?

Important benefits include a free checked bag, priority boarding, free wifi, companion tickets, discounts, and lounge access.

Do you want to manage your card? 

You might earn higher rewards for specific categories depending on the type of card you get. While these categories can help you rack up points faster, keeping track of them and managing your points can take a lot of work. This is especially true if you have multiple credit cards.

While a generic card with flat-rate rewards won't build points as fast, it's easier to manage and can save you time in the long run.

Are you willing to pay an annual fee? 

Most of the premium airline credit cards charge an annual fee. The benefits may outweigh the costs depending on the card and how often you travel. Do some calculations to make sure a card’s benefits are worth the cost for you.

How to Maximize an Airline Credit Card

Making the most of an airline credit card requires some planning. Here are some simple ways to ensure you maximize your points or miles.

If you are already a loyal member of a particular airline, you may already get perks like priority boarding or points that you can redeem to reduce the price of your flight.

To make the most of your airline credit card, use it in a way that complements perks you already get — or don't get. For example, you can pay for a flight with loyalty miles, but maybe the miles alone won’t get you a free checked bag. That’s where an airline credit card can come in handy.

Pay attention to how you book

Airline credit cards might give you a higher reward rate when you use your card to book a flight directly on their website instead of a third-party travel website. Understand how you’ll earn points so you can use your card wisely.

Understand the point value

Each airline has its own point system, and the value of points for one airline might be drastically different from another. Make sure you understand how points are earned and how they can be redeemed so that you're getting the most bang for your rewards bucks.

Make sure you can use it

Some cards can hook you with a great sign-up offer. But if you choose an airline that doesn’t fly out of your local airport or doesn’t have good flight options, it probably won’t be worth it. It may be obvious, but to get the most out of any airline credit card, make sure you can actually use it.

Pros and Cons of Airline Credit Cards

Earning rewards to help offset the cost of flights for your next vacation is very appealing. But it’s equally important to consider potential drawbacks when choosing an airline-branded credit card.

Pros

  • Earn points for flights: If you already frequently fly with a particular airline, it makes sense to start earning points for those flights.
  • Extra perks: Airline credit cards have extra perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and lounge access. 
  • Status: An airline credit card can be a shortcut to getting preferred status and scoring upgrades on your next flight, like a better seat or extra legroom.
  • Travel protection: Airline credit cards often come with insurance or travel assistance.

Cons

  • Requires airline loyalty: Airline credit cards generally provide the best rewards when you travel with that airline — so you won’t be able to use Southwest miles to book your next Delta flight. 
  • Limited redemptions: You might find it hard to redeem miles for non-airline purchases like gift cards or a credit on your next statement.
  • Less flexibility: Depending on the airline, there might be limitations on redeeming your points, like blackouts during peak travel times.

Airline vs. General Travel Card: Which Should You Get?

Choosing between an airline credit card or a general travel card will come down to your travel preferences and spending habits. You want a card that will help you get the most out of it while allowing you to earn points on purchases you’re already planning to make.

For casual vacationers, a general travel card will likely be a better option. This way, you can earn points in various categories, including everyday expenses like gas and groceries. Plus, general travel cards often have more options when it comes to redemption. For example, instead of booking with a specific airline, you can select a flight with any airline that works best for you.

On the other hand, frequent flyers and business travelers may benefit more from an airline credit card. Perks like lounge access and free checked bags will be useful if you fly frequently. Plus, if you consistently book your flights with the same airline, maximizing the rewards you can earn with that airline can be a fast track to elite status. 

FAQs 

How much are airline miles worth?

It depends on the airline, the flight cost, and the transfer rate (if applicable). Generally speaking, a mile is worth around 1 to 2 cents.

One way to look at value is to compare the miles you’d have to redeem for a flight to the flight itself. If United, for example, requires you to redeem 50,000 miles for a $500 flight but Southwest charges 30,000 for a comparable flight, you’ll get more value for your points from Southwest.

Are airline cards worth the annual fee?

An airline credit card can be worth the annual fee, depending on how often you travel. For frequent flyers, there are enough perks like lounge access and priority boarding to justify the cost. For casual vacationers, the benefits of these perks probably won’t outweigh the cost of an annual fee. A no-fee card that still allows you to earn points might be a better option.

Final Thoughts

If there's an airline you love or that you fly frequently, you may want to add an airline credit card to your wallet. But these cards are only useful if you actually use the airline enough to cancel out the annual fee (if there is one). Otherwise, you'll be earning rewards and perks that you'll rarely take advantage of.

Depending on the airline you prefer, the above-listed cards will give you the most value for your flights, and all have an affordable annual fee.


Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.