If you fly often, you should consider getting an airline card.
Don’t do it for the miles, do it for the perks.
Priority boarding, free checked bags, lounge access, companion fares. You’ll fly like a VIP with these cards.
And the annual fees can be quite reasonable.
If you’re looking to up your travel game, get an airline card.
The Top 4 Airline Credit Cards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (Best Overall)
- United Explorer Card (Best for United Airlines)
- CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard (Best for American Airlines)
- Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express (Best for Delta Airlines)
Jump ahead to
- The Best Airline Credit Card
- How to Choose The Right Airline Credit Card
- United Credit Card Reviews
- Virgin Atlantic Credit Card Reviews
- Southwest Credit Card Reviews
- Alaska Airline Credit Card Reviews
- American Airlines Credit Card Reviews
- JetBlue Credit Card Reviews
- Delta Credit Card Reviews
The Best Airline Credit Card
This might come as a surprise.
But my favorite airline card… is not an airline card.
It’s the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Which is also the most popular card on the market right now for good reason.
You’ll earn 2X points for every dollar spent on travel and restaurants and there’s no foreign transaction fees.
The best part is you’ll earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. It’s one of the top points programs across all credit cards. These points can easily transfer into a bunch of different airline programs for free flights.
Instead of a dedicated airlines card, I prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred for two reasons:
- I earn a lot more points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns more points on categories that I spend money on. This means a lot more points for me compared to an airline card.
- I get a lot more flexibility. With an airline card, you’re locked into that airline and their direct partners. With Chase Ultimate Points, I can do a 1:1 points transfer into more than a dozen airline mileage programs to get flights with those airlines and their partners too. I end up with a lot more options on flights to choose from.
More points means more free flights. And plenty of transfer partners means tons of options for picking the exact flight that I want.
To really push your points into high gear, there’s an upgraded version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred called the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You’ll earn 3X points instead of 2X, get a few extra perks, and have an annual fee of $450. It’s definitely worth it if you have a higher income and want to earn as many free flights as possible.
So before getting a dedicated airlines card, get a solid travel points card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
How to Choose The Right Airline Credit Card
First, should we ever consider a dedicated airline card?
Yes. If you fly a few times a year, you should consider it. Even if you already have a great travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, it’s worth considering an airline card too.
Every major airline has a credit card that instantly gives you perks that can be easily worth their annual fees.
If you rarely travel, don’t worry about this. But if the thought of getting priority boarding, free companion passes, and free checked bags gets you interested, definitely consider it.
Step 1: Pick Your Primary Airline
I recommend picking the airline that has the most flights at your home airport.
So if you’re in Chicago, make United your primary airline. For Atlanta, go for Delta.
Whichever airline is biggest, go with that one.
Once you pick a primary airline, you’ll want to fly on that airline as often as possible. This will keep your miles concentrated and help you earn elite status tiers that unlock even more perks on that airline. And when you get an airline credit card, you’ll want the perks from your credit card to apply to as many of your flights as possible.
The more flights that an airline has at your airport, the more often you’ll be able to get a good nonstop flight on your primary airline. Then all your perks will apply.
Even if you don’t like a particular airline, I’d still pick that airline if it’s the dominant airline at your airport. I don’t like American Airlines myself, I hate their seats. But I’d switch to them if I lived in Philadelphia.
And if a few of the major airlines are about equal, pick the one that you like the most.
Two other rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- If you mainly fly to major cities or internationally, pick one of the “big three” which includes United, Delta, and American Airlines. With their hub-and-spoke flights, they have a lot of flights between major cities. They also have a lot of international flight partners.
- If you mainly fly domestically between smaller, regional airports, consider Southwest. They have a lot more flights between smaller airports which means you’ll get more nonstop flights than if you go with the bigger airlines.
Once you pick an airline, you’ll try to use that airline as often as possible.
Step 2: Review the Perks for that Airline’s Credit Cards
Now it’s time to review the credit cards themselves.
We have the most popular cards from each airline below. Go through them take a close look at the perks like:
- Free baggage check
- Priority boarding
- Companion fares
- Discounts on in-flight purchases
- Club passes and discounts
Keep a note of all the perks that matter to you.
On most airline cards, the miles-earning power isn’t nearly as good as other travel points cards. You’ll usually get some bonus miles for purchases made with that specific airline. You’ll get a lot more free flights by using a credit card that gets you 2X or 3X points across larger spending categories.
In other words, the benefit of airline cards doesn’t come from their ability to earn you miles. The value comes from perks which is why you want to focus on them.
Step 3: Decide if the Perks are Worth the Annual Fee to You
Deciding whether or not to get an airline card is a personal decision.
For me, paying a $95 annual fee to United gets me a few perks that I love:
- My United miles never expire so it’s one thing I don’t have to think about.
- I get priority boarding on every United flight so I don’t have to worry about running out of overhead space for my carry-on luggage.
- I get 2 United Club passes per year. I know I can get into a United lounge if I’m stranded or get stuck with a horrible layover somewhere.
Even though there’s a few other perks on the card, the perks above are easily worth the annual fee to me. So I have the card.
For other folks, priority boarding might not matter. Or they don’t care about the mile experiations and club passes. The annual fee might not be worth it to them even if they fly United primarily. In that case, I’d recommend that they should skip the card.
Once you have the full list of perks from the card, ask yourself: “Are these perks worth the annual fee to me?” Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll know whether or not you should get the card.
What if the perks aren’t worth the annual fee to you?
Then don’t get any of the credit cards for your primary airline. It’s still a good idea to have a primary airline to consolidate miles from flying but don’t worry about the credit card. Stick with your primary credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
United Credit Card Reviews
United Explorer Card
If you fly United somewhat regularly, I highly recommend getting the United Explorer card.
You’ll get some nice perks on every United flight from here on out:
- First checked bag free as long as you use the United Explorer card to book the ticket
- Priority boarding
I have to say, not having to worry about the checked bag fees or if there will be enough overhead space has been amazing. My stress level from flying has dropped enough to make these easily worth the annual fee of $95.
There’s one more perk that makes this card a standout from other airline cards. Each year, you get 2 one-time passes to the United Club. Most airline cards only give discounts, these passes are completely free.
I don’t spend much time in airline lounges, I mostly fly nonstop and keep my connections fairly short. But I also know how one bad delay can turn into an entire day at the airport. When I get caught next time, I know I’ll be able to seek refuge in the United Club.
The miles earning isn’t too bad either. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, at restaurants, and on hotel stays. The hotel miles only applies when booking directly with hotels though. And one mile on all other spending. It’s not quite as high as other cards but it’s decent.
You’ll also get up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit and a 25% cash back on all United in-flight purchases.
There’s no foreign transaction fees either.
United Business Card
The United Business card is pretty similar to the personal version with a few tweaks for businesses.
This card earns 2 miles per dollar on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores. The office supply spending category is a nice addition for businesses.
Employee cards are also free, helping you earn miles across your entire business.
Otherwise, all of these perks are the same:
- Free checked bag as long as you use your United Business card to purchase the flight
- Two one-time United Club passes each year
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
If you fly United often and need an airline card for your business, this is a great option.
Virgin Atlantic Credit Card Reviews
Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard
Virgin Atlantic has an extremely compelling card if you fly with them regularly.
As long as you spend $25,000 on the card annually, you get a companion reward ticket in the same cabin. On reward flights, this effectively doubles your miles by getting you two reward tickets for the price of one. That’s an incredible deal.
So how do we get to $25,000 in annual spending without giving up a ton of points that other cards could be earning us?
Well, the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard has a very special default miles rate: 1.5 miles per dollar. Most cards only give one mile or point per dollar. Since the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard gives 1.5 miles, it makes an excellent “default spending” card.
Use all your other cards for spending categories that earn bonus points, then use the Virgin Atlantic Elite MasterCard for all other expenses. As long as you average $2,100/month in default spending, you’ll hit the spending requirement for the campion fare. You’ll also be earning 50% more miles along the way compared to other cards.
And you get another 15,000 bonus points when you spend $25,000 a year.
In other words, you get a ton of miles and a companion reward ticket if you average $2,100/month in spending.
You’ll also get 3 miles per dollar on all Virgin Atlantic purchases.
The real downside from this card comes from the limited reach of Virgin Atlantic. You’ll get the most use out of them if you fly between the US and the UK frequently.
Luckily, Virgin Atlantic does have partnerships with plenty of great airlines that you’ll be able to redeem miles with:
- Air New Zealand.
- Virgin Australia.
- South African Airways.
- Air China
- Hawaiian Airlines
There’s also partnerships with SAS and Air France/KLM but you can only earn Virgin Atlantic miles on those airlines, you can’t use Virgin Atlantic miles for flights.
While you won’t automatically get free checked bags and priority boarding like other airline cards, you do earn 25 tier points per $2,500 in purchases (with a maximum of 50 per month). These tier points will accelerate earning status levels at Virgin Atlantic. Depending on your status level, you could get perks like lounge access, free seat upgrades, priority boarding and check-in, discounts on in-flight purchases, and bonus miles when flying. If you’re trying to get Virgin Atlantic status, I’d consider this card indispensable since it’ll accelerate everything for you.
The card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $90.
If you fly regularly between the US and the UK and average $2,100/month in spending, I strongly recommend getting this card. The companion reward ticket and default 1.5 miles on all purchases makes it a fantastic deal.
Southwest Credit Card Reviews
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
If you fly Southwest often, get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card. The benefits easily make up for the annual free.
You’ll get 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary. These are free points in your pocket.
You’ll also get $75 credit for Southwest travel purchases each year.
The main perk on this card compared to the other Southwest cards is the 4 upgrades each year. Upgrade before your flight and the purchase will be reimbursed on your card after the fact.
For those of you chasing Southwest status, this card will be essential. You’ll earn up to 15,000 tier qualifying points per year by getting 1,500 Tier Qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend. This caps out at 15,000 tier qualifying points. The first status tier for Southwest requires 35,000 qualifying points so you’ll still need another 20,000 points after you max out this benefit. Still, this gets you a lot closer.
There’s also the fabled Southwest companion pass. This thing is ridiculous. Once you earn the pass, a designated companion of your choice can fly with you for free on every flight that you purchase or redeem with miles for an entire year. And you can change the companion up to 3 times per year. But you’ll need 110,000 qualifying points or 100 qualifying one-way flights within a year to get it.
Both the points that you earn with this card and the signup bonus (usually 40,000 to 60,000 points with qualified spending) count towards the companion pass.
If I was going for the Southwest companion pass, I’d absolutely get this card. It’ll help a lot.
As for points earning, you get 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases along with hotel and rental car partner purchases. That doesn’t include all hotel and car rentals, just the ones that you use through the partner portal. There’s also 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
The points earning is just okay, not great. So I’d only use this card for regular spending if you were committed to getting the companion pass or status with Southwest.
It also comes with a 20% discount on in-flight purchases and no foreign transaction fees.
All for an annual fee of $149.
Regular Southwest flyers should seriously consider this card.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is really similar to the Rapid Rewards Priority. In exchange for a lower annual fee of $99, you’ll be missing a few perks:
- There’s no annual upgrades.
- No annual Southwest travel credit.
- No in-flight discount.
You do get 6,000 bonus points every year.
And the miles earning is the same. 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and purchases made with hotel and car rental partners. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
There’s no foreign transaction fees.
Honestly, these perks aren’t great for the $99 annual fee. All you get is 6,000 bonus points per year and a lackluster points program. If you fly Southwest often, I’d skip this card and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card instead.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is the entry level Southwest card with even fewer perks.
You do get 3,000 bonus points every year.
And the points earning program is the same as the other Southwest cards:
- 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases along with hotel and car rental partners.
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
But points on this card don’t count towards Southwest A-List status. They do count towards the companion pass though.
There aren’t any other perks, that’s it.
The annual fee is only $69 but I consider it too high for what you’re getting. Again, I’d skip this card and get the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority instead.
Alaska Airlines Cards Reviews
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
This is easily one of the most valuable airline credit cards.
You’ll get a companion fare every year. Alaska Airlines calls it the “Famous Companion Fare” and for good reason. Add a companion to your coach ticket for $121. Depending on the flight, this can be a massive discount. While this only works for coach, you can upgrade normally on your tickets. So you’ll save hundreds of dollars on a trip of your choice once per year. There’s no hoops or weird restrictions to worry about either.
The rest of the perks are pretty good too:
- A free checked bag for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
- 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge.
- 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees.
You’ll also earn 3 miles for dollar spent with Alaska Airlines. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.
While the Alaska Airlines is one of the most valuable airline cards out there, it’s difficult to make Alaska Airlines your primary airline unless you live in Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, or the surrounding areas. If you do, they have an excellent list of international airlines that you can transfer your Alaska miles to.
The only thing this card is missing is priority boarding.
All for a low annual fee of $75. That’s a fantastic deal if you can fly Alaska Airlines regularly.
American Airlines Credit Card Reviews
CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard
This is the main credit card that most American Airlines flyers should consider.
Of course, it comes with some nice perks when flying American Airlines:
- First checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions. Be warned though, this only includes domestic flights on American Airlines.
- Priority boarding
- 25% discount on in-flight purchases when using this card
If I flew American Airlines regularly, I’d absolutely get this card just for these benefits.
The miles-earning is decent. You get 2 miles per dollar at restaurants, gas stations, and American Airlines purchases. 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
It does include one unique benefit. You’ll get a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during the year and renew your card. $20,000 in annual spending is a lot, that’s almost $1700/month. Most folks would need to make this their primary spending card to hit that amount. With the double points on restaurants and gas, it’s not a horrible idea for heavy American Airlines flyers. So only factor in this benefit if you plan to run the majority of your spending through this card.
There’s no foreign transaction fees.
And the annual fee is $99. If priority boarding and free checked bags on American Airlines are worth $99/year to you, get the card.
Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
This is the VIP American Airlines card.
It comes with many of the same perks as the other American Airlines card like free checked bags and priority boarding. In addition to getting priority boarding, you also get priority check-in and security. And you’ll get free first checked bags on domestic American Airlines flights for up to 8 companions instead of just 4.
The 25% discount on in-flight purchases is the same, no changes there.
You do get fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check.
The standout perk on this card is the Admirals Club access. You get full access to the American Airlines lounges by having this card. Focus on this perk if you’re considering this card, the bulk of the card value comes from here.
Oddly, the miles-earning is worse on this card. You’ll only get 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases, no other purchase categories count. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar. So don’t use this for any regular spending, only American Airlines purchases.
The lack of miles-earning power really handicaps another perk on the card: you’ll earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year. Since you’ll only be earning 1 mile per dollar on that $40,000 worth of spending, it’s not a great perk. I’d only consider going after this perk if you’re trying to get status with American Airlines.
As expected, there’s no foreign transaction fees.
It all comes down to the lounge access. If an Admirals Club membership is worth the annual fee of $450, get the card.
JetBlue Credit Card Reviews
JetBlue Plus Card
The JetBlue Plus card earns a monumental 6 points on JetBlue purchases. If you’re spending money with JetBlue regularly, get the card for the points bonus.
You also get these points:
- 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
As the kicker, you’ll get 5,000 bonus points every year on your account anniversary.
The points earning is strong enough that for heavy JetBlue flyers, you could make this your primary card.
But there’s an even bigger benefit for serious JetBlue flyers.
If you’re trying to get JetBlue status, this card is essential.
When you spend $50,000 or more on your card each year, you’ll get Mosaic status with JetBlue. That averages to about $4,200 in spending per month. If you fly JetBlue often and already spend this much every month, I’d seriously consider making this your primary spending card. The Mosaic status perks are extensive:
- Free flight changes and cancellations
- Priority check-in, security, and boarding
- Complimentary alcoholic drinks
- Dedicated customer service line
- 3 extra bonus points on every dollar spent on JetBlue flights
- 15,000 bonus points the first time you qualify for Mosaic
- Two free checked bags
- More rewards space available
Of course, the biggest downside is the same as all regional airlines: you need to live near a hub for that airline. In JetBlue’s case, you really should live near Boston or NYC. If Boston or JFK aren’t your primary airports, you’ll have a really hard time flying JetBlue regularly.
It also comes with a 50% discount on in-flight food and cocktail purchases. And a free first checked bag for you and up to 3 companions when you purchase the tickets with your JetBlue card.
It does have a $99 annual fee but no foreign transaction fees.
Delta Credit Card Reviews
Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express
Most Delta flyers will want this card, the perks are outstanding.
I’m going to warn you, the annual fee is a bit higher than other airline cards. You’ll pay $250 per year for this card.
But you’ll get perks that you can’t find on the other major airline cards.
It also comes with a free checked bag and priority boarding. Plus a 20% discount on all in-flight purchases.
The miles earning power is limited though.
You’ll get 3 miles per dollar on purchases with Delta, 2 miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, and 1 mile on everything else that is eligible.
I wouldn’t make this your primary spending card but it is a great option if you fly Delta a lot.
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
This is the basic credit card for Delta.
At a $99 annual free, you’ll get a few nice perks every time you fly on Delta:
- Your first checked bag fee.
- Priority boarding
The Delta miles aren’t as nice as other cards out there. You will earn 2 miles on all Delta purchases along with 1 mile on everything else. You won’t be able to earn nearly as many miles as other cards so I wouldn’t make this your primary spending card.
There aren’t any foreign transaction fees.
It basically comes down to whether priority boarding and a free checked bag are worth the $99 annual fee to you. If it is, get the card. Otherwise skip it. And for serious Delta flyers, I’d recommend getting the Platinum Delta Skymiles instead of the Gold Delta Skymiles card. The perks are much better.
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