Airline Credit Cards: Everything You Need To Know

Airline Credit Cards: Everything You Need To Know

Airline credit cards are a great way to save money and get better service when flying with your favorite airlines.

Not all airline cards are created equal, of course, and the habits you develop with your airline credit card decide if you earn your way to free flights around the globe.

Today we are going to answer some frequent questions about airline credit cards and help you understand what you need to know to get the best results.

What to look for in an airline credit card

With so many great airline credit cards available, it may be overwhelming to choose the right one for you. When you consider the most important criteria, however, it is easy to get down to a list of the best cards for your needs:


  • The airline you like the most - Do you have a favorite airline that you always fly? If so, that’s probably the best airline card for you regardless of the other criteria. If you fly based on lowest cost and don’t have as much loyalty, focus more on the rest of the list.
  • Airlines that serve your city - Do any airlines have a hub in your city or a major presence? Airlines that offer the most routes to and from your most common destinations make it easier to use your miles.
  • Rewards program - Not all rewards programs are created equal. Before signing up, make sure you will be able to redeem your miles for flights you actually want to take. Consider blackout dates, the average number of points per flight, and how easy it is to search for and book your flights.
  • Perks and benefits - Free checked bags anyone? Every card has different perks and benefits. Look for features like rental car insurance, travel insurance, lost luggage insurance, purchase protection, and extended warranties.
  • Costs and fees - The most rewarding travel credit cards have annual fees of $450 to $550. Some airline cards have no annual fee. Also, consider interest costs if you will carry a balance. Some cards have 0% APR introductory periods, but look out for cash advance and balance transfer fees.


How to know: are airline credit cards are a good fit for you

Now that you know the main criteria to consider, you can zero in on the best airline credit card for you.

Some of the best airline credit cards include the United MileagePlus Explorer, American Airlines AAdvantage Mastercard, and Southwest Visa. But the very best travel cards do not come from an airline at all.

Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Barclays Arrival Plus, American Express Platinum, and Capital One Venture can get you even more free flights along with great benefits.

Which airline has the best credit card?

You can view our list of the best airline credit cards here. For airline-branded cards, our favorites include credit cards from United, American, and Southwest Airlines.

For even better rewards, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclays Arrival Plus cards.

Which credit card gives the best travel rewards?

The best travel rewards come from two elite tier cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum. These cards carry a $450 and $550 annual fee respectively.

Both cards include benefits like travel lounge access, extensive travel and purchase protection benefits, and valuable rewards currency.

At a lower price point, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclays Arrival Plus, both of which have a fee around $100 per year.

Are airline credit cards worth it?

The value of airline credit cards depends a lot on your personal finances, spending habits, and credit history.

If you can use a card for regular daily spending and pay it off in full every month before the due date, you’ll most likely get much more value from rewards than the cost of an annual fee.

If you can’t stay on top of credit card bills, however, the interest charges may outweigh the benefits. Further, if you don’t have the credit to qualify, you may not be approved for some of the best airline credit cards.

Which airline credit card is easiest?

The easiest credit card to use for redeeming air travel rewards is either the Barclays Arrival Plus or the Capital One Venture card. Barclays Arrival Plus, for example, gives you an option to redeem points for any travel purchase.

To redeem, make a purchase with the card at any major airline, hotel, cruise, train, or travel agency. Then login to your Barclays account to redeem by reimbursing yourself for the purchase as a statement credit.

That effectively removes the charge from your account before you have to pay it.

Best airline credit card for free checked bags

Southwest may offer the best credit card for free checked bags, as you get two free bags on any Southwest flight. But you get that even without the credit card.

United MileagePlus Explorer offers a first bag checked free for you and a companion. The AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard offers a free checked bag for you and up to four companions. That may be the most valuable offer to get a discount on baggage fees.

Best airline miles credit card with no annual fee

Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express may be the best airline branded card with no annual fee. It offers decent rewards for regular spending, plus a discount on in-flight purchases on Delta flights.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated April 16, 2019 but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommmend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Article Staff

Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel, and technology writer in Ventura, California. He is a former bank manager and corporate finance professional who left his day job in 2016 to take his online side hustle full-time.

Eric has written for sites such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Kiplinger, Mint, and Money.

Eric has two finance degrees (BSBA from the University of Colorado and MBA from the University of Denver) and has professional work experience as a bank manager and in corporate finance and accounting in the telecom and payments industries.

He has in-depth experience writing about banking, credit cards, investing, and other financial topics, and is an avid travel hacker.

When away from the keyboard, Eric enjoys exploring the world, flying small airplanes, discovering new craft beers, and spending time with his wife and little girls. You can connect with him at Personal Profitability or

Editor Jenna Holtz
Researcher Ronnie Langston
Art Director Cherry Barbacena

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Airline Credit Cards: Everything You Need To Know

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