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NerdWallet’s Best Airline Credit Cards 2015

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Best Airline Credit Cards

With the right card, not only can frequent fliers accumulate miles and points they can redeem for travel, they can also enjoy perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and signup bonuses.

Here are the Nerds’ favorite airline credit cards:

Best for frequent fliers and foodies: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Earn 2X points on dining out and travel; 1 point on every $1 spent on everything else; points discount on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening; authorized user bonus; no foreign transaction fees; Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has great travel redemption options. You can either use your points through the Ultimate Rewards site to get a value of 1.25 cents per point — which is better than the industry standard of 1 cent per point — or transfer them to a participating frequent flier program at a rate of 1:1. This gives you redemption flexibility that most co-branded cards simply can’t.
  • Many people who travel also spend on dining out. After all, the lack of kitchen in hotel rooms preclude most from cooking on trips. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll rack up two miles for every dollar you spend on restaurants and most bars.
  • You’ll get 5,000 points for adding an authorized user and making a purchase in the first three months. This is a special perk from Chase, so you won’t likely find it elsewhere.
  • With no foreign transaction fees, an EMV chip and almost universal international acceptance of Visa, this card is great for international and domestic purchases.

Drawbacks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • As a general travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lacks the special perks — like free checked bags and priority boarding — that many co-branded airline cards offer. If you frequently fly on a particular airline, you may want to opt for its co-branded card for these benefits.

The bottom line:

For high rewards when you travel and dine out, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is an excellent card. It offers a signup and an authorized user bonus, better rewards redemption rates than similar cards, and ideal features for overseas usage. The card doesn’t offer airline perks like some of the co-branded cards, but flexible redemption options and double points on more purchases make up for it for the right cardholder.

Best for frequent domestic travelers (TIE!): Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Earn double miles on American Airlines purchases; 1 mile per $1 spent on other purchases; For a limited time, earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*; free checked bag; Group 1 boarding; in-flight food and beverage discount; up to 10,000 redeemed miles back each year; annual fee is $95, waived for first 12 months*.

Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card
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Benefits of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®:

  • The signup bonus is currently one of the biggest among airline credit cards.
  • You’ll get 10% of your redeemed miles back — up to 10,000 miles per calendar year — which is a nice perk not offered by many cards.

Drawbacks of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®:

  • Many travel cards don’t charge fees for overseas purchases, but the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® has foreign transaction fees of 3%.
  • When redeeming your miles for travel, you’re limited to using your miles for American Airlines or other oneworld partner flights.

The bottom line:

Between the signup bonus, extra miles on ticket purchases and in-flight perks, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® offers a good value if you frequently fly American for domestic flights. Due to its foreign transaction fees, however, it’s not ideal for travel overseas.

Best for frequent domestic travelers (TIE!): United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Earn double miles on United ticket purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else; Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months; free checked bag; priority boarding; bonus for adding an authorized user; 10,000 mile bonus each year you spend $25,000; two annual one-time passes to United Club; $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Benefits of the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card:

  • The signup bonus isn’t the best in the business, but the spending requirement is low.
  • Chase offers a rewards bonus for adding an authorized user with several of its consumer cards, but you won’t see this kind of bonus with most airline cards.
  • Cardholders who spend $25,000 or more each year will enjoy a 10,000 points bonus. If you can reach this spending level, your rewards rate will effectively increase.

Drawbacks of the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card:

  • If you’re redeeming miles for flights, you’re limited to United and other StarAlliance partners. With a general travel card, you may have more redemption options.

The bottom line:

Frequent United fliers will enjoy the extra rewards, bonuses and  perks with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. Since it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, this card is a good choice for use overseas.

Best for frequent international travelers: British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Earn 3 Avios on every $1 spent on British Airways purchases; 1 Avios per dollar spent on everything else; 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening; get a Travel Together ticket each year you spend $30,000 or more on your card; no foreign transaction fees; $0 Intro Annual Fee The First Year, Then $95

Chase British Airways Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Benefits of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card:

  • The British Airways Visa Signature® Card has a high signup bonus, the spending requirement for which is comparatively low.
  • With no foreign transaction fees and an EMV chip, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is an ideal card for international travel.
  • Those who spend more than $30,000 a year can use their Travel Together ticket to bring a companion on a flight they purchase with Avios. The only costs for the companion ticket are applicable taxes and fees.

Drawbacks of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card:

  • Your Avios can be used to redeem flights through oneworld partners, which has limited domestic carriers. That said, there are plenty of options for international trips.
  • British Airways tends to have higher fuel surcharges than other airlines. So you could spend hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees for award flights.

The bottom line:

Frequent international fliers will appreciate the British Airways Visa Signature® Card’s high rewards rate and lack of foreign transaction fees. Cardholders who spend more than $30,000 a year will benefit from the annual Travel Together ticket. But if you’re looking to avoid high fees, or want more choices for redeeming rewards for domestic flights, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Best for travelers on a budget: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Earn double points on Southwest Airlines purchases made from the airline, as well as Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases; 1 point per dollar spent on everything else; anniversary bonus; use points earned with the card to get to Companion Pass status faster; no foreign transaction fees; annual fee is $99

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card
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on Chase's
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Benefits of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card:

  • While most airline cards only give you extra rewards on flight tickets, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card also gives you extra points when you book hotel stays and car rentals through one of Southwest’s partners, like Hertz and Hyatt.
  • The spending requirement for the signup bonus is low.
  • The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers a 6,000-point anniversary bonus, regardless of spending.
  • By completing 100 qualifying one-way flights or earning 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, you can earn Companion Pass status. This allows you to bring a guest with you on Southwest flights for free, and is valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which you qualify and the year after.

Drawbacks of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card:

  • Like the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees and an EMV chip, so it’s a solid card for overseas purchases. Unfortunately, Southwest only provides service to a limited number of international destinations as of April 2015.
  • Many travel credit cards waive the annual fee the first year, but the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card doesn’t. But find solace in the fact that the anniversary bonus will partially cover this yearly cost.

The bottom line:

Annual fee aside, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a solid option for travelers on a budget. The spending requirement for the signup bonus is low, and there’s no spending requirement for the anniversary bonus. Plus, you’ll get extra points on more purchases than you would with other co-branded cards. And achieving Companion Pass status with points earned with the card is a major coup for those who fly often or spend a lot.

Best for frequent hotel guests: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Earn up to 5 points on every $1 spent at Starwood hotels and resorts; 1 point on every dollar spent elsewhere; Limited Time Offer: Earn 30,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.; transfer points to dozens of frequent flier programs, typically at a rate of 1:1, plus a 5,000 point bonus for transferring 20,000 points; foreign transaction fees of 2.7%; annual fee is waived the first year and $95 every year thereafter

American Express Starwood Credit Card
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on American Express's
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Benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:

  • You can turn your SPG hotel spending into free flights by transferring your points to more than two dozen frequent flier programs.
  • If you choose to redeem your points for hotels instead, the value of each point is higher than most hotel cards. Hotel stays are the highest value redemption option for this card, so to get the most out of your rewards buck, use them to stay at your favorite SPG properties.
  • The more you stay at SPG hotels, the more points you can earn. It takes 10 stays or 25 nights to reach Gold status and 25 stays or 50 nights to reach Platinum status — both of which come with extra points per swipe of your Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and luxury hotel perks. This is great for frequent travelers, such as those who take regular business trips.

Drawbacks of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:

  • The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express isn’t ideal for international travelers for two reasons: First, it charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee; and second, American Express isn’t widely accepted worldwide at this time. Domestic travelers will be spared the fees and are more likely to find merchants that accept AmEx.
  • Transferring miles to the Air New Zealand, Gol Smiles and United MileagePlus programs requires more than 1 point per mile. If one of these is your primary frequent flier program, and you don’t want to use your rewards points for hotels, you may want to pass on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

The bottom line:

If you frequently stay at hotels, you can rack up serious SPG points with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and transfer them to your favorite frequent flier program, typically at a rate of 1:1. Or you can use them for free hotel stays if you want an even better redemption rate. We recommend that you reserve the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express for purchases in the United States, not overseas.

Name Signup Bonus Annual Fee Rewards Rate Major Perks
General travel cards
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit towards travel purchases. $0 1.5 miles per $1 No foreign transaction fee
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel $0 intro for first year; $59 after that 2 miles per $1 No foreign transaction fee
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. $89 - Waived first year 2 miles per $1 No foreign transaction fee, PIN capable
Discover it® Miles-Double Miles your first year Exclusive Double Miles Offer: At the end of your first year—when other Miles cards charge an annual fee—Discover doubles all the Miles you’ve earned. $0 1.5 miles per $1 No foreign transaction fee
Rewards platform travel cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out, 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere No foreign transaction fee
 Citi Prestige® Card   50,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account  $450 3 ThankYou points per $1 spent on airfare and hotels, 2 points per $1 on dining out and entertainment, 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere No foreign transaction fee, $250 air travel credit each year
The Platinum Card® from American Express   Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. $450  1 Membership Rewards point per $1 No foreign transaction fees, $200 annual airline fee credit
Wells Fargo Propel World American Express  40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in net purchases in the first 3 months annual fee is waived the first year and $175 every year thereafter 3 points per $1 spent on airline tickets, 2 points per $1 spent on hotel stays, 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere No foreign transaction fees, $100 annual airline incidentals credit
Airline-branded credit cards
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months. annual fee is waived the first year and $95 every year thereafter 2 miles per $1 on Delta, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere First checked bag free, priority boarding
The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® Earn 35,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days* $89 2 miles per $1 on Hawaiian, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere First checked bag free for primary cardmember, $100 off a companion ticket once a year
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® For a limited time, earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening* $95, waived for first 12 months* 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines, 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere First checked bag free, priority boarding, 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
Holland America Line Credit Card 5,000 Holland America Points Bonus annual fee is $0 2 points per $1 on Holland America, 1 point per $1 elsewhere None
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Earn 25,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account. $99 2 miles per $1 spent on Southwest, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere 6,000-mile anniversary bonus
US Bank LANPASS Visa Card 15,000 LANPASS Miles Bonus - with first purchase annual fee is waived the first year and $45 every year thereafter 1 mile per $1 4,000 bonus miles with annual renewal
US Bank LifeMiles Visa Card 15,000 LifeMiles Bonus - with first purchase, and 3000 bonus LifeMiles with each annual renewal. annual fee is waived the first year and $45 every year thereafter 1 mile per $1 3,000 bonus miles at renewal, 25% excess baggage discount
Virgin America Visa Signature® Card Get 10,000 bonus reward points after you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days as a cardholder; that's up to $200 toward no-blackout reward flights on Virgin America. $49 3 points per $1 on Virgin America, 1 point per $1 elsewhere $150 discount on one companion ticket annually, no blackout dates
General business credit cards
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months $0 intro for first year; $59 after that 2 miles per $1 No foreign transaction fees
Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business Earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months $0 1.5 miles per $1 spent No foreign transaction fees
Airline-branded business credit cards
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months. annual fee is waived the first year and $95 every year thereafter 2 miles per $1 on Delta, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere First checked bag free, no foreign transaction fees
Asiana Visa® Business Card 10,000 Asiana Airlines Miles Bonus - after first purchase annual fee is $80 2 miles per $1 on Asiana, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere None
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening* $95, waived for the first 12 months* 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines and select office supply stores, telecom providers, and car rental agencies; 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere Free checked bags for cardholder and up to 4 travel companions, priority boarding
SKYPASS Visa® Business Card 10,000 SKYPASS Bonus Miles with your first purchase annual fee is waived the first year and $75 every year thereafter 2 miles per $1 on Korean Air, 1 mile per $1 elsewhere 2,000 bonus miles at renewal, two Korean Air VIP lounge coupons annually

Last updated April 6, 2015

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @Erin_Lindsay17 and on Google+.


Image via iStock.

  • Dominique McKenzie Johnson

    I am new to traveling. I was considering to get a card to purchase my first plane ticket to St. Marteen in Aug. I will so be going to DR in November. Going forward I only plan to take a plan about three to four times a year unless I found a job that pay me to travel (Lord I wish). Do you think get a card would be beneficial.

    Thank you in Advance

    • TonyGray

      A card with a good sign-up bonus may enable you to get all or part of a ticket to DR for free.

      You can use the reward calculator at CredítCardTuneUp. com to find which cards will pay you more in reward value (including bonus) for your expenses.

  • AI

    Hello,
    I recently found out that my Alaska Airlines account has closed (I signed up for a payment plan end of last year and didn’t realize that the account will close once the payment was completed). I am planning on doing some travelling to Asia in November of this year and wanted to know which card would be my best option. My credit history isn’t as great as it used to be (back when I applied and got approved for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature), but it’s not terrible either. I am not planning on using my new credit card too much for anything other than travel, any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

  • S S

    I am trying to decide which card would be best for me, I do not want a airline affiliated card because when I travel domestic I normally fly discount airlines( jetblue, frontier etc…) but over the next 2 to 3 yrs I am planning on going to Italy, Dubai, and New Zealand. My credit score is mid to high 600’s. I was thinking Capital one or maybe Citi Thankyou. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. I was planning on applying in the next couple of days.

    • TomAtkinson

      You can use the reward calculator at CreditCardTuneUp. com to see which cards will pay you more in reward value for your expenses.

    • scott

      get the capital one venture card very good card they give you $2 for every dollar purchased plus no blackout dates you set up your own airline travel using the card and they pay you back by taking it off the card

  • Lulu1010

    Which credit card would be best for me? I don’t travel much but would like to see a sick friend in Missouri. I live in Calif. I’m a disabled senior on a low income but with great credit. I was thinking Southwest?? They have an annual fee thou but no fee for luggage. Can I cancel before the next annual fee? Any help is greatly appreciated!

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks for reaching out to us! Someone from the NerdWallet team will follow up with you directly. Look out for our email soon :)

  • John Kent

    Hi, myself and my wife travel each year from Bali to America and back (usually on Korean Air) and from America we travel to the UK and Turkey at least once a year (with BA or Virgin or Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa/Delta), plus one other international flight either within Europe or from America to central or Southern America. I am not sure if getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or go for a number of branded cards (e.g. the SkyPass card) and the Wells Fargo Propel World American Express card (I have an account with them) or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the choice. Any help would be greatly appreciated.