Our favorite cards from our partners and the marketplace.
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The 30-Second Review

The best airline credit cards offer at least 2x points on purchases made within the airline, as well as additional perks like free bag checks and discounted companion flights. The real question, though, is whether you're better off with a general travel card than an airline-specific card. We generally prefer travel cards for their greater flexibility, but we walked through the math and examined the perks to help make your decision a little easier.

Our Favorite Travel Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
2x points that can be redeemed for any travel.

Better for Big Spenders

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
Platinum Card® from American Express
$450-$550 annual fees are offset by the biggest rewards out there.

The Best Airline Credit Cards
  • January 15, 2018 - As of 2018, the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature® Card is no longer available — the program has ended after Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America in 2016. For now, we’ve removed that card from our top picks and updated our other recommended cards with the latest offers and perks. In the coming months, we’ll take a closer look at each of these cards and potential challengers and update our picks accordingly.

The Best Airline Credit Cards

The best airline credit card will depend on how often you travel, where you travel to, whether you regularly stay in hotels, and whether you have the flexibility to book travel with only one airline. For a lot of people, a general travel card is going to be better than an airline-specific card. The rewards are typically better, and they can be redeemed for a much broader range of travel expenses.

We like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. With the Barclaycard, you can earn 2x rewards no matter what you purchase, which can then be redeemed for just about anything travel-related: flights, rental cars, hotels, and more. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the same in reverse. You earn 2x rewards on travel and dining purchases, and then redeem them for anything through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ has even higher rewards potential and bigger bonuses that can likewise be applied to virtually any travel expense – but you’ll have to fork over a sizeable $450 annual fee to take advantage of them. We also took note of the Platinum Card® from American Express, a charge card with a $550 annual fee, but offering hefty air travel rewards that aren’t pinned down to any one airline.

But if you do fly exclusively with one airline, an airline-specific card will help pay for your flights and typically come along with lots of little extras to make the actual traveling part better. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is impressive for international jetsetters — if you spend $30,000 in a year, you score a free companion ticket in the same cabin as your paid-for ticket. For those with smaller-name destinations (think Boise, not Bangkok), the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card has good rewards and the widest swath of travel perks, from free checked bags to free airclub passes. And if avoiding fees is your top priority, we like the JetBlue Card, which offers bonus points on JetBlue and food purchases, all with no annual fee.

Our Picks for the Best Airline Credit Cards

Best Rewards for Most People

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®2x miles per dollar on any purchase, plus 40,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.

We’re starting off with our two favorite travel credit cards — ones that can help you earn points toward air travel, as well as trains, cruises, rental cars, hotels, cabs, and more. We recommend using these cards as a starting point, and comparing their benefits to our other picks. Two of the biggest questions you should ask: Is an airline credit card likely going to get you more or less of the rewards you want? Do you fly often enough to give up the rewards on other types of travel spending?

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® gets you 2x miles on all purchases, which is something you’re not going to get with an airline credit card. (Airline cards tend to offer higher point bonuses on purchases made within the airline and lower point bonuses on everything else.) You also get a nice entry bonus: 40,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. You also get 5% miles back every time you redeem your rewards.

Best Rewards for Most People

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card2x points on travel and dining, plus 50K bonus miles if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gets you the standard 2x points on travel and dining purchases and 1 point on all other purchases, as well as a 50,000-point bonus if you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. The big draw with this card is that your points increase by 25% if you redeem them on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. If you took your 50,000-point bonus and logged into Chase Ultimate Rewards®, that 25% boost would give you a total of 62,500 points to redeem toward flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and more. (You can also transfer your points at a 1:1 rate to top airline and hotel loyalty programs, although you’ll lose your 25% boost since you aren’t redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.)

Both of these cards come with additional travel benefits like trip-cancellation insurance, making them ideal candidates for frequent travelers. They also both have annual fees — $89 for Barclaycard, $95 for Chase — but those fees are waived during the first year, which makes these cards even more attractive options.

  • Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made while traveling abroad
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 17.24%, 21.24% or 24.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • There is a fee for balance transfers.

Highest Rewards Potential for Big Spenders

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠3x points on travel and restaurant, a $300 annual travel credit, and 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.

We also want to highlight two travel cards designed to provide big rewards to big spenders: the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ and the Platinum Card® from American Express.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ is a new entrant into the travel credit card market, and it’s coming with some significant perks: 3x points on travel and dining purchases, 1x points on all other purchases, a $300 annual travel credit, and a 50% bonus on points redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. That’s double the bonus of Chase Sapphire Preferred®, which means a lot more payoff with bigger redemptions. It also offers the opportunity to earn 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months — a $750 value if you redeem those 50,000 points through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

We like this card because you can redeem its rewards on all travel, from trains to planes to automobiles. It’s even more flexible when you consider you can transfer points at a 1:1 rate with many of the top airline or hotel loyalty programs.

Highest Rewards Potential for Big Spenders

Platinum Card® from American Express5x points for flights, a $200 airline fee credit, plus 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is another high-rewards card designed just for air travel. It’s also not a traditional credit card; it’s a charge card, which means you must pay off any balance charged to the card in full every month. As you make and pay off charges, you’ll earn 5x points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, as well as 60,000 bonus points after you make $5,000 in purchases in the first three months. Other perks include up to $200 in airline fee credits per year, $15 in Uber credits each month, complimentary Boingo WiFi access at more than a million hotspots worldwide, and more.

So let’s break it down: To maximize your rewards with the Platinum Card® from American Express, you need to be able to pay the $550 annual fee as well as make about $1700 in purchases every month for the first three months (to get your 60,000 bonus points). You also need to pay off $1,700 in purchases every month for the first three months; you cannot carry a balance on this card.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ has a $450 annual fee but a lower bonus threshold, which makes it a better choice for anyone who isn’t able to put up $5,000 on a single credit card in three months and pay off that balance before it starts racking up interest.

If these cards’ demands are reasonable with your lifestyle, you aren’t going to find any bigger rewards around. If they are a little rich for your wallet (or, like we said, if you fly exclusively with only one airline), keep reading.

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises 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
  • Access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre√®
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions – as long as there’s a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Best for Overseas Travelers

British Airways Visa Signature® Card3x "Avios" for every British Airways purchase, 1 "Avios" for everything else, and 50,000 bonus "Avios" if you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

If the majority of your travel is overseas, you’ll want to explore the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. This card gets you 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases, 1 Avios for every $1 spent on other purchases, and 50,000 bonus Avios if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Cardholders can also earn an additional 25,000 Avios by spending $10,000 within the first year of opening their account.

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card is designed for higher spenders than some airline credit cards — you can tell because you don’t get a free companion fare (a “Travel Together Ticket”) unless you make a whopping $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year. However, that’s a free companion fare, not a discounted companion fare, and your companion gets to ride in the same class as you — which means you could get a free first class international ticket for your companion if you’re also flying first class. (You will be responsible for paying taxes, fees, and carrier charges on the companion fare.) If you’re planning the trip-of-a-lifetime, this card is a good one to help offset the costs.

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
  • In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
  • Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home.

Best for Domestic Travelers

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card2x miles on United tickets, plus 40,000 bonus miles if you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

We’ve looked at what cards you should get if you’re traveling to London or New York, but what if you need to get to Columbus or Boise? In that case, you’re going to want an airline that services as many airports as possible — and an airline credit card that offers the highest possible rewards.

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card will get you to your destination. In addition to offering 2x miles on tickets purchased from United and 40,000 bonus miles if you make $2,000 in purchases within the first three months, you also get to maximize your perks: a free checked bag for both you and your companion, priority boarding, and two complimentary United Club℠ passes per year. On top of that, you get “room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, early check-in, late checkout, and other amenities at more than 900 luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.” You also get the $95 annual fee waived for the first year, which means even more savings.

Why did we choose the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card over its two most comparable cards, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®? It comes down to perks. We’ve put together a chart comparing points and perks, and it’s pretty clear which card comes out on top.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World EliteTM MasterCard®
Base rewards

2x miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United

1x miles per $1 on all other purchases

2x miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta

1x miles per $1 on all other purchases

2x miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases

1x miles per $1 on all other purchases

Bonus rewards

5,000 miles after you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase*

40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months

10,000 miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year

$50 statement credit after you make your first purchase

30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Earn 10% of your redeemed miles back each calendar year, up to 10,000 miles

60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Annual fee $0 for the first year, then $95 $0 for the first year, then $95 $0 for the first year, then $95
Free checked bag (self)
Free checked bag (companion) ✔**
Priority boarding
Discounted in-flight purchases
Airline club passes (discounted)
Airline club passes (free)
Hotel privileges (room upgrades, complimentary breakfast)
Travel accident insurance
Trip cancellation insurance
Trip delay reimbursement
Lost luggage reimbursement
Baggage delay reimbursement

*First purchase must be made within the first 3 months of account opening.
**Free checked bag for up to four companions.

If you fly Delta or American Airlines regularly and are interested in a credit card with a few more perks attached, consider the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express or the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Both of these cards have higher annual fees — $195 and $450, respectively — and come with additional benefits. However, these cards don’t beat the rewards offered by other top travel cards at the same level, like the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, so only consider them if you really love Delta or American Airlines.

For the rest of us, who just want an airline card that’ll get us to a variety of places without charging high fees, the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is a good option. Don’t forget that United flies both domestic and international routes, with more than 300 possible destinations. Earn miles when you visit your folks in Cedar Rapids this holiday season, and then use those points — along with your complimentary United Club℠ passes and your complimentary daily breakfast for two — to make your next vacation more relaxing and luxurious than you ever imagined.

  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don’t expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn

Best No-Fee Airline Card

JetBlue Card3x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points on restaurants and grocery store purchases, and 1x points on everything else.

The JetBlue Card comes with no annual fee and a lot of rewards: 3x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points on restaurants and grocery store purchases, and 1x points on all other spending.

You don’t get as many travel perks with The JetBlue Card as you do with some of our other options — just 50% off eligible in-flight purchases — but you do get the option to earn a lot of points on a variety of purchases without having to pay an annual fee. Although JetBlue doesn’t fly to as many cities as United does, you can still get to a variety of large- and medium-sized cities, so check out JetBlue’s destination map and see if it matches yours.

  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking.
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don’t expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food on JetBlue-operated flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology & $0 Fraud Liability protection

Did You Know?

Is your go-to airline’s card not one of our top picks? Here’s how to see how it stacks up.

We’ve highlighted a few airline credit cards that offer high rewards and perks, but every airline has a loyalty program. If you fly the most with another carrier — say, Alaska — check to see if it offers at least 2x points on purchases made within the airline, as well as a few other attractive perks. If it does (but you’re still unsatisfied), you’re probably better off going with a travel card as opposed to switching to another airline credit card.

Use your airline credit card in combination with another rewards credit card to maximize your points.

All of the airline credit cards (and even some of the general travel credit cards) we’ve highlighted give you maximum points if you make airline-related purchases. Consider getting another rewards credit card to earn maximum points on non-airline-related purchases.

The Bottom Line

Airlines want your business, and they’re ready to offer competitive credit card rewards to get it. Start with our list of top airline credit cards, and then look at the airlines you fly the most frequently. Choose a card with at least 2x rewards for purchases booked through the airline, and consider combining your airline credit card with another rewards card to maximize your rewards potential. If you don’t fly often enough to benefit from an airline credit card, a travel credit card will likely be the better option.

The Best Airline Credit Cards: Summed Up

Airline Credit Card
The Best...
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Travel Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Travel Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
For Big Spenders
Platinum Card® from American Express
For Big Spenders
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
For Overseas Travelers
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
For Domestic Travelers
JetBlue Card
For No Annual Fee