Our pick for

Flexible redemption

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
690
850
Good - Excellent
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 United fliers

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now

on Chase's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$95
Recommended credit score
720
850
Excellent
We like it for
United Airlines travelers Sign-up bonus Foreign travel Free checked bags

Benefits

The biggest advantage of an airline-specific card is often the perks you get when you fly. 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: Special offer: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. 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 American fliers

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®

Apply Now

on Citibank's secure website

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
720
850
Excellent
We like it for
American Airlines travelers Sign-up bonus Foreign travel Free checked bags

Benefits

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: For a limited time, earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 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 Delta fliers

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express's secure website

Bonus value
$300
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
690
850
Good - Excellent
We like it for
Delta Air Lines travelers Sign-up bonus Free checked bags

Benefits

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is similar to co-branded cards of other major network carriers, with an especially generous checked-bag perk that applies to up to nine passengers traveling on the same itinerary. Cardholders get priority boarding and discounted lounge access. The card offers 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Plus, it offers a sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

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
720
850
Excellent
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

Premium perks and rewards

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Bonus value
$500
Annual fee
$450
Recommended credit score
720
850
Excellent
We like it for
Sign-up bonus Annual travel credits Airport lounge access Restaurants

» APPLY AT CHASE’S WEBSITE

Benefits

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ is potentially the most lucrative credit card on the market, starting with its sign-up bonus: New! Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® . You earn 3 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. Points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for travel through Chase, or you can transfer them to nearly a dozen airline and hotel partners (including United, Southwest, British Airways, Air France, Marriott and Hyatt) for potentially even more value per point. Adding to the allure: You receive a $300 credit each year for travel expenses.

Drawbacks

Bottom line

» APPLY AT CHASE’S WEBSITE

Top airline miles credit cards for loyalists

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 Dec. 31, 2016

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart