BEST OF

Best Airline Credit Cards of August 2022

Aug 8, 2022

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One of the most important considerations in choosing an airline credit card — if not the most important — has nothing to do with the card. It’s where you live. If your local airport is dominated by a single airline — like Atlanta’s is by Delta, for instance, or Denver's by United — then that airline’s card might be your only practical option. Other airports have more competition, giving you a choice of cards.

NerdWallet's Best Airline Credit Cards of August 2022

Best Airline Credit Cards From Our Partners

Our pick for

Flexible redemption + big sign-up bonus

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-5x

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

It's not a branded airline card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card works a lot like one — and is in some cases better. You earn elevated rewards in several popular spending categories, including travel and dining. Plus, the points are more valuable and more flexible than many airlines' frequent flyer miles.

Pros

  • You earn 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout), select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 points per $1 spent on travel not purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for travel booked through Chase — any travel, with any airline or hotel. You can also transfer them at a 1:1 rate to several airlines’ frequent-flyer programs, including United, Southwest, JetBlue, British Airways, Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic. Plus, the card comes with a generous sign-up bonus.

Cons

  • As a general-purpose travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card doesn't offer free checked bags, preferred boarding or other perks offered by credit cards that carry an airline's brand.

Read full review
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories

  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.

  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

Our pick for

American Airlines

Apply now

on Citibank's application

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

4.9

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $99

Rewards rate

1x-2x

Miles

Intro offer

50,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

Between the sign-up bonus, extra miles on several kinds of purchases and cardholder perks, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® offers good value if you frequently fly American for domestic flights. It’s also not a bad choice for use abroad, because it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Pros

  • You get a free checked bag for you and up to four other people on your reservation, priority boarding on domestic flights and a discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases. When using the card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent with American Airlines, at gas stations and at restaurants, and 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere. There’s a sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. You can earn a $125 flight discount if you put $20,000 on the card in a year. And when you redeem miles, you’ll receive 10% of those miles back, up to 10,000 miles per calendar year.

Cons

  • When redeeming your miles for travel, you’re limited to American Airlines or other Oneworld partner airlines.

Read full review
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases

  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases

  • Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation

  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights

Our pick for

Alaska Airlines

Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Annual fee

$75

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Miles

Intro offer

40,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card is a solid choice for those who can fly the airline regularly. Its Companion Fare alone makes it well worth the modest $75 annual fee.

Pros

  • This card's Companion Fare allows you to get a ticket for a traveling partner for as little as $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) once a year. Also valuable: a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation. As for rewards, you earn 3 miles per dollar spent directly on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. There's also a nice bonus for new cardholders.

Cons

  • Although Alaska Airlines' acquisition of Virgin America expanded the airline's footprint, it still doesn’t fly to every state, making its credit card a poor choice for some. And the annual fee is not waived for the first year, as it is with some other airline cards.

Read full review
  • LIMITED TIME ONLINE OFFER – Buy One Get One is Back! Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ + 40,000 Bonus Miles.

  • Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) and receive 40,000 bonus miles with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

  • Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™. Every year on your credit card account anniversary you’ll receive a companion fare which allows you to book a companion flight from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22). Valid on all Alaska Airlines flights booked on alaskaair.com.

  • Free checked bag for you and up to 6 guests on the same reservation – that's a savings of $60 per person roundtrip!

  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. And, your miles don’t expire on active accounts.

  • With oneworld® Alliance member airlines and Alaska’s Global Partners, Alaska has expanded their global reach to over 1,000 destinations worldwide bringing more airline partners and more ways to earn and redeem miles.

  • Flexibility with no blackout dates on Alaska Airlines flights when booking with miles or a companion fare.

  • Plus, no foreign transaction fees and a low $75 annual fee.

  • This online only offer may not be available elsewhere if you leave this page. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.

Our pick for

Delta Air Lines + Best domestic airline card

Apply now

on American Express' website

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express' website

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $99

Rewards rate

1x-2x

Miles

Intro offer

40,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

With double miles not just on Delta purchases but also everyday spending categories, you can pile up rewards fast with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. And the top-notch checked-bag benefit can save hundreds of dollars a year if you travel often and not necessarily light.

Pros

  • You'll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Terms apply. There's a great bonus offer for new cardholders, too. And if you like to travel as a group, this card provides a free checked bag for yourself and up to eight other people traveling on your reservation. You also get priority boarding.

Cons

  • As with other co-branded airline cards, if you’re redeeming miles for flights, your options are limited. You won’t pay foreign transaction fees, but it’s an American Express card, and AmEx isn't as widely accepted outside the U.S. as Visa and Mastercard.

Read full review
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.

  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at U.S. Supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.

  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

  • $100 Delta Flight Credit: After you spend $10,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, receive a Credit to use toward future travel.

  • Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99.

  • Terms Apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Southwest Airlines

Apply now

on Chase's website

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

4.2

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$149

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card comes with an array of perks that not only make up for its annual fee, but actually make it a better value than the airline's lower-priced cards.

Pros

  • This card offers the same (excellent) sign-up bonus and earns the same rewards as Southwest cards with annual fees that are $50 to $80 lower. But its perks quickly make up the difference: a $75 annual credit for Southwest purchases, up to four free upgraded boardings every year (worth $30 to $50 apiece), a 7,500-point annual bonus, 20% off in-flight purchases, and a boost toward elite "A-List" status. Rewards: 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases; 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting (including ride sharing services), internet, cable, phone services and select streaming; 1 point per dollar on other purchases.

Cons

  • Many airline credit cards waive the annual fee the first year, but this one does not. Like to travel abroad? Southwest provides service to only a limited number of international destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Read full review
  • New Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

  • 7,500 anniversary points each year.

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.

  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.

  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Our pick for

No-annual-fee airline card

Apply now

on Citibank's application

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

3.9

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Annual fee

$0

Rewards rate

1x-2x

Miles

Intro offer

10,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

For occasional but loyal American Airlines flyers, the no-annual-fee American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is a cost-effective way to earn not only miles but also credit toward elite frequent-flyer status.

Pros

  • The card earns 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1 AAdvantage mile for every $1 spent on other purchases. It also offers a sign-up bonus, plus a discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases made with the card. Starting in January 2022, it also earns loyalty points toward elite status on the airline.

Cons

  • The card doesn't offer free checked bags, and its 3% foreign transaction fee could get costly if you frequently travel internationally.

Read full review
  • 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.

  • No Annual Fee.

  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services.

  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.

  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

  • Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights.

Our pick for

Premium airline card

Apply now

on American Express' website

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express' website

Annual fee

$550

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Miles

Intro offer

50,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

Every airline has a premium card that gets you into its airport lounges, but the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card gives you that AND an annual companion certificate that's good even in first class.

Pros

  • The card gets you into Delta's Sky Clubs (an annual membership costs $545), and you can also use it to access American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta. Every year, you get a companion certificate, which lets you bring someone with you on a domestic flight, regardless of what fare class your ticket is. Rewards: 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. And don't forget the sterling bonus offer. Terms apply.

Cons

  • You'll have to be a frequent Delta traveler to justify paying an annual fee of $550. Lounge access is only valuable if you use it, and to use a companion certificate, you have to pay full price for a ticket for yourself.

Read full review
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

  • Earn up to 60,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 15,000 MQMs up to four times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.

  • Receive a domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or domestic Main Cabin round trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.

  • Complimentary access into the Delta Sky Club® for you when travelling on a Delta flight.

  • Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book a Delta flight with your Reserve Card.

  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.

  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.

  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.

  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.

  • $550 annual fee.

  • Terms Apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Allegiant Air Vacation Travelers

Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Allegiant World Mastercard®

3.7

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Annual fee

$59

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

15,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

Low-cost carrier Allegiant Air caters to budget-minded vacation travelers. If that describes you, the Allegiant World Mastercard® can deliver good value, assuming Allegiant flies where you want to go.

Pros

  • You earn 3 points per $1 spent on Allegiant, including vacation packages booked through the airline; 2 points per $1 spent on dining; and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Each point is worth 1 cent toward Allegiant travel. Cardholders who book certain vacation packages through Allegiant, such as a trip with four hotel nights, can get a companion's round-trip airfare for free. You also get priority boarding and a free drink on each flight.

Cons

  • Allegiant's route network is limited and oriented primarily around vacation destinations like Las Vegas, Florida and Southern California; it's not an "everyday" airline. The card's value depends on how closely your travel style aligns with Allegiant's offerings beyond the route map, such as vacation packages. Perhaps the biggest drawback of this card: Despite charging an annual fee, it doesn't get you a free checked bag.

Read full review
  • 15,000 Bonus Points online offer – equal to $150 off a future Allegiant trip, after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

  • Buy one, get one free airfare — anytime you use your card to purchase a vacation package from Allegiant with 4 or more hotel nights or 7 or more rental car days on the same itinerary.

  • Earn 3 points per $1 on Allegiant purchases (air, hotel, and car rental), 2 points per $1 on qualifying dining purchases, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.

  • Points can be redeemed for airfare, hotels and car rentals on Allegiant.com.

  • No blackout dates, no destination restrictions and no minimum points redemption.

  • Complimentary priority boarding every time you fly Allegiant when you present your Allegiant credit card.

  • One free beverage every time you fly Allegiant when you present your Allegiant credit card.

  • No foreign transaction fees and a low $59 annual fee.

  • This online only offer may not be available elsewhere if you leave this page. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.

Our pick for

Airline card for small business

Small-business credit cards aren't just for people with storefronts or offices. If you're a freelancer, have a "side hustle" or do gig work, you may a good candidate for a small-business credit card, too. Having a dedicated card for your money-making enterprise helps you keep business and personal finances separate.

Apply now

on American Express' website

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

4.9

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express' website

Annual fee

$550

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Miles

Intro offer

60,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

If your business has you on the road a lot, you'll appreciate the airport lounge access on the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card. The annual companion certificate — which is good even in first class — and the checked-bag benefit adds considerable value, too.

Pros

  • The card gets you into Delta's Sky Clubs (an annual membership costs $545), and you can also use it to access the American Express Centurion Lounge or Escape Lounge — The Centurion Studio Partner — when flying Delta. Every year, you get a companion certificate, which lets you bring someone with you on a domestic flight, regardless of what fare class your ticket is. Rewards: 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases (rising to 1.5 miles per dollar after you spend $150,000 in a calendar year). There's a super bonus offer, too. Terms apply.

Cons

  • All the perks come at a cost, and a high one: The annual fee is $550. That fee can be a deductible business expense, though, and if you use this card as intended, you'll get your money's worth.

Read full review
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

  • With complimentary access into Delta Sky Club®, you can relax before your Delta flight, or find downtime between connections. You’ll also receive two Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes each year so you can share the experience with others when you’re traveling together.

  • When you purchase a Delta flight with your Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, you will receive complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge or Escape Lounge – The Centurion® Studio Partner.

  • After you spend $150,000 on your Card in a calendar year, you earn 1.5 miles per dollar (that’s an extra half mile per dollar) on eligible purchases the rest of the year. If your purchase qualifies for a category that has a higher mileage accelerator, only the higher accelerator will apply (ex. you would earn 3X miles on purchases made directly with Delta instead of 1.5X).

  • Plus enjoy 3X miles per dollar on all eligible Delta purchases.

  • With Status Boost®, earn 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to 4x per year getting you closer to Medallion Status.

  • Terms and limitations apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS: BEST AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.

Our pick for: Flexible redemption + big sign-up bonus:

For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns bonus rewards (up to 5X) on travel, dining, select streaming services, and select online grocery purchases. Points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. The sign-up bonus is stellar, too. Read our review. 

Our pick for: Delta Air Lines + best domestic airline card 

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card pays bonus rewards not only on Delta flights but also at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, making it the rare airline card that's great for everyday spending. A best-in-class checked-bag benefit (first bag free for you and up to eight others on your reservation), priority boarding and the opportunity to earn a flight credit each year make this card a bargain for Delta stalwarts. Read our review.

Our pick for: American Airlines

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® delivers offers solid value if you frequently fly American Airlines. Enjoy bonus rewards at gas stations and restaurants, a fine sign-up bonus, a checked-bag benefit, priority boarding and more. Plus, each purchase with the card earns points toward elite status. Read our review.

Our pick for: United Airlines 

The United℠ Explorer Card earns bonus rewards not only on spending with United Airlines but also at restaurants and on eligible hotel stays. And the perks are outstanding for a basic airline card — a free checked bag, priority boarding, lounge passes and more. Read our review.

Our pick for: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines' priciest card is also its best. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card doesn't offer richer rewards or a significantly better sign-up bonus than the carrier's lower-fee cards, but it comes with an annual travel credit, a great anniversary bonus and other perks that justify (and offset) its annual fee. Read our review.

Our pick for: Alaska Airlines

If you're a committed Alaska Airlines flyer, or you travel enough on the West Coast that you could become one, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card is very nearly a must-have. The annual Companion Fare benefit alone can more than make up for the reasonable annual fee. Read our review.

Our pick for: JetBlue

Because of its relatively limited footprint, JetBlue isn't an option for everyone. If you do fly the airline, though, take a good, long look at the JetBlue Plus Card. This card gives you high-value miles — and a lot of them — plus a checked bag benefit, a generous anniversary bonus and other perks. Read our review.

Our pick for: Allegiant Air vacation travelers 

Allegiant Air caters to budget-minded vacation travelers. If you're regularly booking vacation packages in places like Orlando, Las Vegas and Southern California, this card might be a good fit. Like the airline, though, the card is no-frills. Read our review.

Our pick for: No-annual-fee airline card

For occasional but loyal American Airlines flyers, the no-annual-fee American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is a cost-effective way to earn not only miles but also credit toward elite frequent-flyer status. Read our review.

Our pick for: Premium airline card

Every airline has a premium card that gets you into its airport lounges, but the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card also gets you into American Express's Centurion Lounges when flying Delta, and it comes with an annual companion certificate that's good even in first class. Read our review.

Our pick for: International airline card 

Terrific rewards rates, generous bonus opportunities, a leg up on elite status and a raft of other perks make the Aeroplan® Credit Card worth a look for those who travel regularly in Canada and/or on the Star Alliance network. Read our review.

Our pick for: Airline card for small business

If your business has you on the road a lot, you'll appreciate the airport lounge access on the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, which includes both Delta's own Sky Clubs and American Express's Centurion Lounges when flying Delta. The annual companion certificate — which is good even in first class — and the checked-bag benefit add considerable value, too. Terms apply. Read our review.

• • •

OTHER RESOURCES

By Gregory Karp, NerdWallet

How much is an airline mile worth?

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.

To better understand what miles are worth, NerdWallet researched the cash prices and reward-redemption values for hundreds of flights. Our results, along with the value of points in hotel programs:

Keep in mind that the airline values are based on main cabin economy tickets and exclude premium cabin redemptions. See our valuations page for business class valuations and details about our methodology.

Our valuations are different from many others you may find. That’s because we looked at the average value of a mile based on reasonable fare searches that anyone can perform, not a maximized value that only travel rewards experts can expect to reach.

You should therefore use these values as a baseline for your own redemptions. If you can redeem your points and miles for the values listed, you are doing well. Of course, if you are able to get higher value out of your miles, that’s even better.

— Sam Kemmis, NerdWallet travel rewards expert

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-annual-fee airline card might not include free checked bags.

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

Should you consider a no-annual-fee airline card?

The three biggest domestic airlines all offer credit cards with no annual fee:

  • American: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card.

  • Delta: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card.

  • United: United Gateway℠ Card.

No-annual-fee airline cards are best for people who don't travel regularly but still want to earn airline miles — those who get a psychological boost from "getting closer to a trip" with each purchase. NerdWallet doesn't recommend no-annual-fee airline cards for frequent flyers because while they earn miles (often at comparable rates to annual-fee cards) and sometimes entitle you to a discount on in-flight food and entertainment, they lack the most valuable benefits of carrying an airline card:

  • Annual-fee airline cards generally include a free checked bag for you and at least one other person traveling on your reservation. With $30 bag fees now standard, this perk alone can save a couple $120 on a single roundtrip, more than enough to make up for the typical $95 annual fee. As a rule, no-annual-fee cards do not include free bags.

  • Annual-fee airline cards usually give you preference in boarding. Some airlines call this "priority boarding," others call it "preferred boarding." It generally means that you're allowed to board the plane after the passengers with elite frequent-flyer status but before everyone else. No-annual-fee cards don't give you and head start on boarding.

  • Annual-fee airline cards offer richer bonuses. New cardholder bonus offers on cards with fees are typically hundreds of dollars more than on no-annual-fee cards.

For hardcore travelers, top-of-the-line cards with annual fees in the $450 range may offer all of the above plus VIP service, access to the airline's airport lounges and other luxury perks.

If you fly a single airline a couple of times a year and you regularly check bags, you'll easily save more money with an annual-fee card than with a no-annual-fee option. But if you're dead-set against paying annual fees in any case, consider skipping an airline card entirely. Consider a no-annual-fee general-purpose travel credit card whose rewards can be used on any airline (or any other travel expense), or get a good cash-back credit card and save your cash rewards for your next trip.

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.

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.

To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, see this page.

Last updated on August 8, 2022

Methodology

NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best airline credit cards based on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of consumers and for flyers loyal to a specific airline. Factors in our evaluation include each card's annual fee, rewards earning rates, redemption options, bonus offers for new cardholders, and noteworthy perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding, free or discounted companion fares, in-flight privileges or discounts, and airport lounge access. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.

Frequently asked questions