15 Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

15 Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

credit card advice

Aaron Crowe
By: Aaron Crowe
Updated: July 10, 2019
Opinions expressed here are ours alone, and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by any issuer. Our articles follow strict editorial guidelines and are updated regularly.

More than 30 years after airline credit cards were first offered to consumers, you would think finding the best airline credit card would be easier. After all, the math is pretty simple: the fewer points or miles needed to earn a reward, the better.

But credit card companies and airlines have thrown all kinds of perk curveballs at consumers, requiring them to consider such options as annual fees, how many miles are needed for a free flight, lounge access, free checked bags, and earnings beyond the standard one mile per $1 spent.

Without going into credit card jargon and fees — which you should research on your own when comparing credit cards, especially if you carry a balance — we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best airline credit cards based on the value and perks offered.

Overall | Miles | Points | No Annual Fee | Co-Branded Cards | FAQs

Best Overall Airline Credit Cards

One of the top draws of having an airline credit card is to earn a free flight. That’s the aspirational selling point of the cards — imagining yourself on the beach after getting there for free in what can be the most costly part of a vacation, the flight.

The more miles you earn from a credit card, the quicker you’ll get the free flight you covet. Look for a card that offers at least one mile or point for every dollar spent and gives you a lot of miles upfront or at the end of your first year. If the card has an annual fee, weigh it against the extra perks you get versus how much the fee lowers the value of those perks.

Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Discover it® Miles card will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 miles, you get 70,000 miles. The card also gives unlimited 1.5x miles for every dollar spent on all purchases with no annual fee. The miles are easy to redeem, with no blackout dates and the ability to fly any airline or stay at any hotel by redeeming miles as a statement credit toward travel purchases.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
$450
Good/Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card has a hefty annual fee, which is offset by the many extra perks it offers. The card issues a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to the card. Cardholders earn 3X points on travel purchases after earning the travel credit, and points can be transferred to leading airline and hotel programs at a 1:1 ratio.

3. Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express is an elite travel rewards card. Cardholders earn 5X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.

Platinum Card® from American Express

  • $550 annual fee
  • $200 annual airline fee credit
  • Access to 1,200+ airport lounges across 130 countries
  • $15 Uber Cash each month good toward Uber Rides

The card also offers a $100 annual hotel credit and reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® to get through airport security faster.

Best Airline Miles Credit Cards

Another important detail to consider is how far the miles you earn from a credit card will get you.

If you fly a certain airline often, such as Alaska Airlines, look up its mileage award chart to see how many miles you’ll need to get a free flight. Airline awards charts can change at any time and should be checked regularly to make sure they still offer a deal you’re willing to save miles for. A penny per mile is about what most airlines charge. You should also check with the credit card you’re thinking of getting to see if it allows miles to be used on any airline or is tied to one airline and its partners.

Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

The Discover it® Miles card will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 miles, you get 70,000 miles. You can fly on any airline or stay at any hotel with no blackout dates. Miles are easily redeemed as a statement credit toward travel purchases.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.9/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Excellent, Good

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers a miles signup bonus that should be attainable for most new cardmembers. No blackout dates for airlines or hotels are imposed, and miles can be transferred to more than 12 travel loyalty programs. The annual fee is waived the first year.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 14.24% - 24.24% variable APR after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card awards 1.25X miles per $1 spent on all purchases. There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fees with this card, and miles can easily be redeemed for a statement credit toward the cost of travel purchases. Rewards never expire.

Best Airline Points Credit Cards

The value of points and miles from a credit card is an ever-changing currency with variables, such as fees, change and cancellation policies, blackout dates, and other things airlines can change without much notice. Even the experts can have difficulty determining how much a point from an airline credit card is worth.

When looking for an airline credit card that offers the most point value, look for points that are valued at 1 cent or more. A simple equation detailed in The New York Times can tell you how much a point is worth: the cost of the item divided by the number of points or miles spent to redeem it.

So, 30,000 points or miles for a plane ticket that would have cost $300 is a value of a penny per mile: $300 divided by 30,000 equals 0.01, or one penny.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★★
4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
19.24% - 26.24% Variable
$450
Good/Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, has a high redemption rate at 1.5 cents per point. For example, redeeming points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel center portal would be worth $750 for the usual 50,000-point signup bonus. We also list it as one of the best overall airline credit cards outlined above. Using the Chase travel center gives you half a penny more per point.

POINTS & GIFTS RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
$95
Good/Excellent

For a $95 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is a great points card, though it offers fewer travel perks and points earned than the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card. It offers a signup bonus that should be attainable for many people and gives 2X points for each dollar spent on travel and dining out.

9. Platinum Card® from American Express

For a high annual fee, the Platinum Card® from American Express offers a lot of travel benefits. Airline and hotel charges are worth 5X Membership Rewards points.

Platinum Card® from American Express

  • $550 annual fee
  • $200 annual airline fee credit
  • Access to 1,200+ airport lounges across 130 countries
  • $15 Uber Cash each month good toward Uber Rides

It’s also worth noting the Platinum Card® is a charge card, so it does not extend a traditional line of credit. Instead, it requires cardholders to pay their full balance every month.

Best No-Annual-Fee Airline Credit Cards

Paying an annual fee for a credit card can seem like a pain in the neck and money wasted. If you’re just looking for no-fuss miles or points and don’t travel enough to use the other perks that come with cards that charge annual fees, then a no-fee airline credit card may be perfect for your needs.

Expect to receive fewer rewards with a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee, but some excellent options that offer plenty of opportunities to earn travel rewards are still available.

Discover it® Miles Review

at Discover Card'ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
5.0

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • UNLIMITED BONUS: Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases all with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Miles Pay You Back. Easily redeem Miles as a statement credit for travel purchases. Or get cash.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 14 months
10.99% for 14 months
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

For a card with no annual fee, the Discover it® Miles card has a lot of benefits. Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 miles, you get 70,000 miles. That’s $700 towards travel!

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★
4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 14.24% - 24.24% variable APR after that
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 12 months
N/A
14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is the no-annual-fee counterpart to the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Without the fee, rewards drop to 1.25X per $1 spent, though cardmembers still earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels through 2020.

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has no annual fee and a signup bonus that should be attainable for most people. It offers 3X points on common vacation purchases: dining, gas, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals, as well as popular streaming services. There are no blackout dates on air travel when points are redeemed through the Wells Fargo travel portal, Go Far® Rewards.

  • Receive 0% APR on new purchases and balance transfers for 12 months
  • Earn 3x points on eating out and ordering in, gas, and travel
  • Pay $0 annual fee

While this card operates on the American Express network, as its name implies, the card is issued by Wells Fargo. This means that the card is accepted anywhere that accepts American Express, but you’ll actually deal with Wells Fargo and log into your Wells Fargo account to pay your bill, use your rewards, and track your purchases.

(The information related to Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected by CardRates.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.)

Best Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards

If you often fly with a specific airline, then a co-branded card can help you earn more miles with your airline of choice. These cards usually offer more points for buying an airline ticket with the airline they’re tied to, so business travelers and others who prefer one airline can rack up points quickly.

If you’re a member of the airline’s frequent flier program, you’ll likely be able to transfer rewards points you earn on the card to the program. In addition to booking free flights, you may also be able to use points in the frequent flier program to upgrade your seats and board early, among other perks. Sometimes rewards can even be redeemed with the airline’s alliance partners for more flight options.

13. United℠ Explorer Card

The United℠ Explorer Card through United Airlines waives the annual fee for the first year. Two miles are awarded for each $1 spent at restaurants, hotels, and on United purchases.

The United ℠ Explorer Card

  • 25% back on United inflight wifi, food, and drink purchases
  • $0 intro annual fee, $95 each year thereafter
  • Miles never expire
  • No blackout dates

The primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation each get one bag checked for free on each way of the trip. A statement credit of up to $100 is given every four years for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

14. Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express earns two miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. The card also gives cardmembers priority boarding in the main cabin, free access to the Delta Sky Club, and one free checked bag on Delta flights for up to a family of four.

Delta Reserve® Credit Card

  • Earn 2 Miles per $1 spent on purchases with Delta, 1 mile for everything else
  • Complimentary Sky Club® Access
  • $450 annual fee

This card also comes with a bevy of important travel protections, such as roadside assistance, rental car loss and damage insurance, travel accident insurance, baggage insurance, no foreign transaction fees, and much more.

15. JetBlue Plus Card

The JetBlue Plus Card is issued by Barclays Bank. New cardmembers can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

JetBlue Plus Card

  • 6X points on JetBlue purchases
  • 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, 1X on everything else
  • Free first checked bag
  • $99 annual fee

Points can be redeemed for any seat at any time on JetBlue-operated flights. There are no blackout dates and rewards never expire.

Which Credit Card Gives the Best Travel Rewards?

If you don’t travel much and are only looking for a free flight for an annual vacation, then a no-fee credit card is probably best for you. But since you’re reading this story, let’s assume you fly often enough to make an annual fee worthwhile. Most cards with annual fees have enough perks to validate the cost while still leaving you enough free perks to enjoy.

The next question is: How big of an annual fee are you willing to pay?

If you’re a frequent flier, a travel rewards cards with a high annual fee may be worthwhile. To make the most of any credit card, pay off the balance each month. Otherwise, the interest charges will wipe out the rewards you’re earning.

Best Airline Credit Cards Comparison Chart

If you can justify a high annual fee and can afford to spend the minimum amount required to qualify for the signup bonus, then the Platinum Card from American Express can be a great card for earning travel rewards.

If you can’t justify an annual fee of several hundred dollars, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which waives the annual fee for the first year, is a good choice. Cardholders also receive up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® fee credit for quicker security walk-through and miles that never expire.

Are Airline Credit Cards Worth It?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before applying for an airline credit card to see if it’s worth having:

  • What’s your credit score? If you have good to excellent credit, meaning 670 or higher, then you should qualify for most airline credit cards. A “fair” credit score of 600 or so may qualify for some cards. The more perks a card offers, the more likely you’ll need an excellent credit score. Chase Sapphire® Preferred cardholders, for example, have an average credit score of 736.
  • Do you fly often? If not, then you may want a card without an annual fee so you can accumulate points or miles for a yearly flight without the fee eating into the cost of the flight.
  • What annual fee is comfortable for you? Annual fees are common with cards that provide the best benefits and can range from $95 to $550. Some of the lower-fee cards waive the fee in the first year. There are also some great cards that have no annual fee, such as the Discover it® Miles.
  • Are the perks worth the fee? Add up the value of the perks you’ll use for an airline card you want to apply for. Are they worth more than the annual fee? Do you fly often enough to use them? The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, for example, has a high annual fee, but offers free use of Delta Sky Club lounges, which costs $495 per year for unlimited access alone.
  • Are you willing to charge everything to your airline card? The more you spend on the card, the more rewards you can rack up. If you can control your spending, then paying with an airline card for everything you’d buy anyway is a good way to earn rewards fast.
  • Can you pay your credit card bills in full each month? If not, then you’re paying interest charges that ultimately take away from the value of the rewards. Earning 2X miles doesn’t mean much if you’re paying 18% annual interest.

Remember: credit card companies profit off airline cards despite the rewards offered. As Ron Lieber reported in The New York Times, 21% of American Express’ outstanding credit card loans at the end of 2017 belonged to people with a Delta credit card. Don’t let the allure of free flights cause you to overspend.

How Many Miles Do You Need for a Free Flight?

Finding out how many miles you’ll need for a free flight is simple: Go to the website of the airline that flies where you want to go and find its award chart. Click on your departure area, such as North America, and then on where you want to go, such as Europe, and you’ll see how many miles are needed to fly in economy and first class.

On United Airlines, as little as 10,000 miles can get you a one-way ticket across North America, including to Canada and Alaska. Longer routes cost 12,500 miles, and upgrading to a premium cabin costs about 25,000 miles each way. Flying from the U.S. to Europe can cost 30,000 miles for an economy seat each way and 60,000 miles for business class.

Those numbers may be changing soon. Some big airlines are getting rid of predictable awards charts. As of Nov. 15, 2019, United Airlines is following Delta’s move to dynamic pricing of reward tickets. Other airlines that use a variable pricing model, in which the miles needed for a free flight can fluctuate based on demand, are Southwest Airlines and JetBlue.

American Airlines and a few international carriers, such as Aer Lingus, still offer fixed price awards, according to Forbes.

What does this change mean for travelers?

  • Qualifying United Chase cardholders and United MileagePlus members with Premier status can continue to book award travel without blackout dates, according to United. The airline’s website doesn’t detail what “qualifying” means. For others, “most award flights that are available today” will continue to be available under the new program, United says.
  • Flights that are in low demand may require fewer rewards points/miles, while the most in-demand flights will likely require more.

Being flexible with your travel plans will help. Flying at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday to a popular destination could be cheaper than flying at noon on a Friday, for example.

Which Credit Cards Have Airport Lounge Access?

Lounges often charge fees to get in, so getting unlimited lounge access at airports can be expensive if you don’t have a credit card with this perk.

When deciding between airline credit cards, check the airport you normally fly out of to see which lounges are available and which cards will grant you access to it. Some cards offer access to a variety of lounges, but others only offer access to those tied to its airline. For example, United Airlines has six lounges at San Francisco International Airport, but SFO has 17 total lounges.

Here are some of the cards we recommend with airport lounge access:

  • Chase Sapphire® Reserve Card: The high annual fee gets you plenty of perks, including access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide after enrolling in Priority Pass Select.
  • Platinum Card from American Express: With a $550 annual fee, you’d expect some type of airport lounge with this card. It delivers, with access to Centurion Lounges plus 1,200 different worldwide lounges.
  • Delta Reserve Card from American Express: The annual fee gets you into the Delta Sky Club for free, which is great if you fly Delta Airlines often. There are more than 50 Delta Sky Club locations, in addition to partner and third-party lounges worldwide.
  • United℠ Explorer Card: The annual fee, which is waived for the first year, gets you two United Club one-time passes each year. The key words here are “one time.” You and a travel companion can use the passes once a year. United Clubs are at almost every major airport in the U.S.

Check online before your flight to make sure the lounge you want to use will be open — not all lounges are open 24/7 and are sometimes closed for renovations.

Swipe Your Way to Free Flights

An airline credit card can be a great way to earn free flights. If nothing else, your next flight won’t cost you anything, so you have more money for a hotel room, food, and fun activities.

To get the most out of an airline credit card, use it to charge everything you normally buy. Just be sure to pay off the balance each month so you’re not charged interest that can lessen the value of the rewards.

How to Earn Credit Card Rewards

Expect to pay an annual fee to get the most travel perks. The cards that offer the best perks will pay for themselves.

Redemption rules change rapidly in the airline industry, so using the points you earn as quickly as you can is the best way to avoid a rule change later. If your airline has dynamic pricing, keep your travel plans fluid and try to fly at times and days that aren’t so busy. And book early — some airlines allow booking up to a year in advance with rewards points.