Best Airline Credit Cards of 2018

Gregory Karp

Last updated on November 26, 2018

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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

You don’t have to just wing it. The right card can get you where you’re going — with some pretty fly upgrades.

Our pick for

Flexible redemption and sign-up bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's secure website

on Chase's secure website

Annual Fee

$95

Waived first year

Regular APR

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best domestic airline card and best for United

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

on Chase's secure website

on Chase's secure website

Annual Fee

$95

Waived first year

Regular APR

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best checked bag benefit and best for Delta

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

on American Express's secure website

Rates & Fees

on American Express's secure website

Rates & Fees
Annual Fee

$95

Waived first year

Regular APR

17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best for American Airlines

Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card

on Citibank's secure application

on Citibank's secure application

Annual Fee

$99

Waived first year

Regular APR

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best for Southwest Airlines

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

on Chase's secure website

on Chase's secure website

Annual Fee

$99

Regular APR

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best for Alaska Airlines

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature®  Credit Card

on Bank of America's secure website

on Bank of America's secure website

Annual Fee

$75

Regular APR

16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Best premium airline card

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

on Citibank's secure application

on Citibank's secure application

Annual Fee

$450

Regular APR

17.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Summary of Best Airline Credit Cards of 2018

Credit CardBest ForIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

on Chase's secure website

Flexible redemption and sign-up bonus

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on Chase's secure website

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

United℠ Explorer Card

on Chase's secure website

Best domestic airline card and best for United

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on Chase's secure website

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

on American Express's secure website

Best checked bag benefit and best for Delta

N/A

17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on American Express's secure website

Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

on Citibank's secure application

Best for American Airlines

N/A

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

$99

Waived first year

on Citibank's secure application

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

on Chase's secure website

Best for Southwest Airlines

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$99

on Chase's secure website

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature®  Credit Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

on Bank of America's secure website

Best for Alaska Airlines

N/A

16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$75

on Bank of America's secure website

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

on Citibank's secure application

Best premium airline card

N/A

17.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$450

on Citibank's secure application

Credit CardBest ForIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeLearn More
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

on Chase's secure website

Flexible redemption and sign-up bonus

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on Chase's secure website

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

United℠ Explorer Card

on Chase's secure website

Best domestic airline card and best for United

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on Chase's secure website

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

on American Express's secure website

Best checked bag benefit and best for Delta

N/A

17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR

$95

Waived first year

on American Express's secure website

Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

on Citibank's secure application

Best for American Airlines

N/A

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

$99

Waived first year

on Citibank's secure application

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

on Chase's secure website

Best for Southwest Airlines

N/A

17.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$99

on Chase's secure website

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature®  Credit Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

on Bank of America's secure website

Best for Alaska Airlines

N/A

16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

$75

on Bank of America's secure website

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

on Citibank's secure application

Best premium airline card

N/A

17.74% - 25.74% Variable APR

$450

on Citibank's secure application

ALSO NOTEWORTHY

Best no-fee airline card:
United℠ TravelBank Card

» TO APPLY: Applications accepted only through the airline and the issuer. Here's Chase's page for the card.

Benefits

You earn an unlimited 2% back in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on United airline tickets and 1.5% back on other purchases. You also get 25% back as a statement credit on food and beverage purchases on United flights. Redeem $1 in TravelBank cash for $1 toward a United ticket — no fussing with award seat availability or blackout dates. There's also a decent sign-up bonus.

Drawbacks

You won’t receive free checked bags or priority boarding with this card — or any no-fee airline card. Your rewards also aren't part of the regular United MileagePlus frequent-flyer program, so there’s no chance for scoring outsized value when redeeming them. And unlike general travel cards, you can spend your rewards on United flights only.

Bottom Line

You won’t get the robust airline perks featured by higher tier airline cards with annual fees, but United packs considerable value into its no-fee card aimed at leisure travelers. It has an easy-to-understand loyalty program with healthy rewards on non-United purchases and no foreign transaction fees.

(Information about the United℠ TravelBank Card was collected by NerdWallet and has not been provided or reviewed by the issuer of this card.)

OTHER RESOURCES

Major airline credit card bonuses

The following credit cards for major U.S. airlines are available through NerdWallet. (Some airlines offer additional cards, such as for occasional flyers, bargain hunters or higher-end travelers. Check the airlines' websites for other options.)

Airline Card (annual fee) Bonus offer
Alaska Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card ($75) Buy 1 ticket, get 1 for just the taxes and fees with Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ Offer. Get 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more within the first 90 days of your account opening.
American American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card ($0) NEW: Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
American Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® ($0 for the first year, then $99) Earn up to 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles: 40,000 AAdvantage® miles after making $2,000 in purchases in first 3 months and 10,000 after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in first 12 months of account opening*
Delta Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express ($0) Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
Delta Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express ($0 for the first year, then $95) Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
Delta Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express ($195 (This offer is no longer valid on our site)) Limited Time Offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires on 9/19/2018. (This offer is no longer valid on our site)
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card ($69) Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 within your first year.
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card ($99) Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 within your first year.
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card ($149) Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 within your first year.
United United℠ Explorer Card ($0 for the first year, then $95) 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.

How to choose an airline credit card

The first step in choosing an airline credit card is determining whether an airline card even makes sense for you, especially compared with a general travel credit card whose rewards aren't tied to a specific carrier. An airline card can be a good choice if you regularly fly the same airline and do so often enough that the benefits you get from the card justify the annual fee.

The more you fly a particular airline, the more able you are to rack up enough miles for a free flight or seat upgrade and use those rewards for a flight you want. Checked bags are a big consideration because most major airline cards include a checked bag fee waiver, which can be valuable and quickly make up for the annual fee.

If you fly mostly one airline, choose a card from that carrier. If you regularly fly a couple of airlines, you might even consider getting cards for both. In choosing among a major airline’s credit cards, a primary differentiator is airport lounge access. If you think lounge access is worth it, get the premium card but be prepared to absorb a hefty annual fee. Beware that a lower-tier, no-fee airline card might not include free checked bags.

For more, see our guide to choosing an airline credit card.

How to make the most of your airline credit card

Make sure to link your airline card with your frequent-flyer account — that’s how some airlines determine whether you qualify for free checked bags. And with some airlines, notably United Airlines and JetBlue Airways, you must use your airline card to pay for your tickets in order to qualify for free checked bags.

Many airline cards have no foreign transaction fees, so can be a good choice to use while traveling abroad. Because airline cards typically give you accelerated rewards for airline purchases — often 2 miles or more per dollar spent — use the card for airfare, in-flight purchases and other airline-related expenses. More generally, optimize your card by learning not only all its features but also details of the frequent-flyer program it’s linked to.

For more, see our guides to airline frequent flyer programs.

Other cards to consider

Travel enthusiasts have multiple options besides airline cards, notably general travel credit cards. These cards provide travel rewards without tying you to a single airline. Their rewards usually apply to a wide range of travel-related expenses. And general travel cards tend to be simpler than airline-specific credit cards. So if you spread your flying among several airlines or don’t fly that much, a general travel card may be a better choice than an airline card.

You might not need a travel card at all, if a different kind of rewards credit card is a better fit. Indeed, a 2016 NerdWallet study found that most people — including many travelers — would get more in rewards with a cash-back card than with any travel credit card.

Finally, if you fly different airlines but prefer a particular hotel chain — or if you would just prefer free nights to free flights — consider getting a hotel credit card.

Methodology

NerdWallet's credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.

Last updated on November 26, 2018

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Airline Credit Cards of 2018