Best Airline Credit Cards of January 2019

NerdWallet

Last updated on January 17, 2019

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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

Alaska Airlines and best domestic airline card

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

17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

Delta Airlines and best checked bag benefit

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

17.99% - 26.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

United Airlines

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

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

18.24% - 26.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick 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

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

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Our pick for

No-fee airline card

United℠ TravelBank Card

Why we like it: You won’t get the robust airline perks offered by 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.

Pros: 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. Cons: 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.

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

(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

How much is an airline mile worth?

By Joe Cortez, NerdWallet point and miles expert

Airline credit cards earn frequent-flyer program miles every time you use the card, but the value of these miles depends both on the airline and how you redeem the miles. As a general rule, airline miles go further if you use them for business- and first-class accommodations on international flights.

To better understand what miles are worth, NerdWallet researched the cash prices and reward-redemption values for hundreds of flights. The table below shows average values derived from that research.

Average value per point/mile, in cents
Airline Domestic International Overall
American 1.0 5.0 2.6
United 1.3 3.3 2.1
Delta 1.4 2.7 2.0
Southwest 1.6 1.9 1.7
JetBlue 1.5 1.7 1.6
Alaska 1.2 1.1 1.2
Frontier 0.8 1.1 0.9
Spirit 0.4 0.7 0.5

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.

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 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 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 Companion Pass and 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Offer ends 2/11/19. Companion Pass is promotional and will be valid through 12/31/19.
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card ($99) Earn Companion Pass and 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Offer ends 2/11/19. Companion Pass is promotional and will be valid through 12/31/19.
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card ($149) Earn Companion Pass and 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Offer ends 2/11/19. Companion Pass is promotional and will be valid through 12/31/19.
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.

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 January 17, 2019

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Airline Credit Cards of January 2019