Nerdwallet’s best airline credit cards

Best for … Card
Flexible redemption & large bonus Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Frequent domestic travelers (tie) Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Frequent international travelers British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Budget travelers Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Frequent hotel guests Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Our pick for

Flexible redemption and a large bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
Good 690-719
We like it for
Foreign travel Flexible rewards Large sign-up bonus Restaurants

Benefits

Unlike cards tied to a specific airline, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides rewards that can be used in many ways. You earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Points are worth 25% more when you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, or you can transfer them at a 1:1 rate to several frequent flier programs, including United, Southwest, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Plus, the card comes with a big-time sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Drawbacks

Bottom line


Our pick for

Frequent domestic travelers (tie)

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Apply Now

on Citibank's secure website

Bonus value
$300
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
We like it for
American Airlines travelers Sign-up bonus Foreign travel

Benefits

The biggest advantage of an airline-specific card is often the perks you get when you fly. With this card, you get a free checked bag for you and up to four other people on your reservation, Group 1 boarding on domestic flights, and a discount on in-flight food and beverages. When using the card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile per $1 spent elsewhere. There is a sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*. When you redeem miles, you’ll get 10% of those miles back, up to 10,000 miles per calendar year.

Drawbacks

Bottom line


Our pick for

Frequent domestic travelers (tie)

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$300
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
We like it for
United Airlines travelers Sign-up bonus Foreign travel

Benefits

With the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, you get a free checked bag when you fly, priority boarding, and two one-time passes each year to United’s airport lounges. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 point per $1 on everything else. There is a sign-up bonus: Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Cardholders who spend at least $25,000 in a year enjoy a 10,000 points bonus. If you can reach this spending level, your rewards rate will effectively increase.

Drawbacks

Bottom line


Our pick for

Frequent international travelers

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$95
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
We like it for
British Airways travelers American Airlines travelers Foreign travel Sign-up bonus

Benefits

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card has a high sign-up bonus with a comparatively low spending requirement: 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. With no foreign transaction fees, it’s 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

Bottom line


Our pick for

Budget travelers

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$99
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
We like it for
Southwest Airlines travelers Loyalty rewards Foreign travel

Benefits

While most airline cards give you extra rewards only when you buy plane 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 sign-up bonus is low: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. The card also offers a 6,000-point anniversary bonus, regardless of spending, and it has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s a solid card for overseas purchases.

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

Bottom line


Our pick for

Frequent hotel guests

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express's secure website

Bonus value
$250
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
Excellent 720-850
Good 690-719
We like it for
Starwood customers High earnings rate Many point transfer partners Frequent travelers

Benefits

You can turn your Starwood hotel spending into free flights by transferring your points to more than two dozen frequent flier programs. Still, hotel stays are the highest value redemption option for this card. You get up to 5 Starpoints per $1 spent at participating SPG locations and 1 Starpoint on all other purchases. Plus, the card comes with a sign-up bonus: Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply The bonus is worth $575 due to the exceptionally high value of SPG points.

Drawbacks

Bottom line


Cards for airline loyalists

AIRLINECREDIT CARD
(CLICK FOR FULL DETAILS)
ANNUAL FEE
American Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®The annual fee is $95, waived for first 12 months*
American Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®The annual fee is $450
British Airways British Airways Visa Signature® CardThe annual fee is $95
Delta Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressThe annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95
Hawaiian The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®The annual fee is $89
JetBlueThe JetBlue CardThe annual fee is $0
JetBlueThe JetBlue Plus CardThe annual fee is $99
Southwest Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit CardThe annual fee is $99
United United MileagePlus® Explorer CardIt has a $0 for the first year, then $95
Virgin America Virgin America Visa Signature® CardThe annual fee is $49

Our methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects 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 win in multiple categories.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter:@vcmcguire.