Here are the best airline credit cards:

Best for flexible redemption

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: 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®
  • What our experts like about it

Best for frequent United fliers

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • What our experts like about it

Best for frequent American fliers

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
Apply Now on Citibank's secure site

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

Apply Now on Citibank's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • What our experts like about it

Best for frequent Delta fliers

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: 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.
  • What our experts like about it

Best for budget travelers

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $99
  • Bonus offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • What our experts like about it
Our pick for

Flexible redemption

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99%, Variable

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Bonus Offer

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®

  • 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®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Bonus value
$0
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

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99%, Variable

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Bonus Offer

Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don't expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
Bonus value
$400
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
690
850
Good - 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: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 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®

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

Apply Now on Citibank's secure site

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.99% - 24.99% Variable APR
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24%, Variable

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Bonus Offer

For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*

  • For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • 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*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases¹
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Bonus value
$600
Annual fee
$95
waived first year
Recommended credit score
690
850
Good - 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, priority 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 60,000 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

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.74% - 25.74% Variable APR
  • Penalty APR: 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 26.24%, Variable

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Bonus Offer

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.

  • 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.
  • Earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • View Rates and Fees
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 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.

Drawbacks

Bottom line


Our pick for

Budget travelers

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.99% - 23.99% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.99%, Variable

Annual Fee

$99

Bonus Offer

Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, Bags fly free® and no change fees
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events and more
Bonus value
$400
Annual fee
$99
Recommended credit score
720
850
Excellent
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 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 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 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

Top airline miles credit cards for loyalists

AIRLINECREDIT CARD
(CLICK FOR FULL DETAILS)
ANNUAL FEE
American Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®$0 for the first year, then $95
American Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®$450
British Airways British Airways Visa Signature® Card$95
Delta Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express$0 for the first year, then $95
Hawaiian The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®$89
JetBlueJetBlue Card$0
JetBlueJetBlue Plus Card$99
Southwest Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card$99
United United MileagePlus® Explorer Card$0 for the first year, then $95
Virgin America Virgin America Visa Signature® Card$49

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