If you’re a traveler, even an infrequent one, an airline credit card is probably a good idea. You can earn “miles,” which can be redeemed for travel or cash, plus other travel-related perks. The only catch: there are so many airline credit cards to choose from. We’ve weeded out the best ones.
Best Overall Travel Credit Cards
These are the top two overall travel credit cards, great for travelers who aren’t necessary partial to a particular airline, or who may use their travel card for everything.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Best for: Those who will spend enough to earn the bonus points and who will book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a generous, albeit complicated, structure for earning and redeeming points. With Chase Ultimate Rewards, each point is worth $0.01 when redeemed for cash, but $0.0125 — so 25% more — when redeemed for travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You’ll earn an impressive 5x points on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. This card also offers 3x points on dining and on eligible takeout and food delivery services, 3x points on most online grocery purchases and some streaming services, 2x points on travel purchases not booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
You also get annual credits up to $50 when you book hotel reservations through Chase Ultimate Rewards — but note that this means the first $50 of eligible hotel purchases will not earn points.
- Sign-on bonus: New cardmembers who spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months earn 60,000 bonus points
- APR: APR
- Annual fee:
Capital One Venture Rewards Card
Best for: Those who will charge at least $9,500 per year to offset the annual fee and who use the card for things other than travel
With one of the most generous — and straightforward — rewards schedules, the Capital One Venture Rewards card is a solid choice for frequent travelers. You get two miles per dollar on every purchase and five miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars that you book through Capital One Travel. Miles are unlimited and never expire, and you can redeem them for travel or for cash back.
As a Capital One Venture Rewards Cardholder, you’ll get reimbursed for the $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee when you use the card to pay the fee. You also get two free visits per year to a Capital One airport lounge or over 100 partner lounges.
If you travel less, Capital One also has a VentureOne card with no annual fee that gives you 1.25x miles.
- Sign-on bonus: Spend $4,000 in the first three months and earn 75,000 bonus miles
- APR: APR
- Annual fee:
Discover it Miles
Best for: Those looking for a card with no annual fee, or travelers who want just one card
Discover it Miles looks more like a regular credit card than a travel card, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It has the most straightforward rewards program of any travel card: 1.5 miles on every dollar you spend, with no limit. You can redeem miles for a statement credit toward a travel purchase or for cash.
- Sign-on bonus: None, but Discover matches all the miles you earn at the end of your first year, one for one
- APR: Introductory 0% APR for 15 months, then APR
- Annual fee: $0
Best Airline-Specific Cards
Many major airlines have affinity cards issued by banks they partner with. These cards usually offer extra perks when you travel on that specific airline, so if you have one carrier you typically fly, take a look at their card to see if it’s the best deal for you. Note that most airline cards only let you use your miles for travel — you can’t get cash back.
United Explorer Card
Best for: United frequent flyers
If you’re a frequent flyer on United Airlines, this may be the card for you. You’ll earn 2x miles on purchases from United, which can include tickets, upgrades, in-flight food, beverages and Wi-Fi, and other charges. You’ll also get 2x miles on dining, including some delivery services, and on hotels when you book directly with the hotel. You get one mile per dollar spent on everything else.
You and a companion each get a free checked bag on United-operated flights, plus priority boarding. You can also get reimbursed up to $100 every four years for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS. When you use your card to purchase Wi-fi, food, or beverages on United flights, you get 25% back.
- Sign-on bonus: When you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months, you earn 60,000 bonus miles. If you spend another $3,000 — $6,000 total — in the first six months, you get another 10,000 miles.
- APR: 17.99 – 24.99% variable APR
- Annual fee: $95, waived for the first year
Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Best for: Those who will only redeem their miles for travel
With the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, you earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, including food and beverages at the American Airlines Admirals Club, and at restaurants and gas stations. You earn one mile per dollar on all other purchases.
You and up to four companions get one free checked bag and preferred boarding. You also get a 25% savings on in-flight food and beverages when you use your card. Each year that you spend $20,000 or more and renew your card, you’ll get a $125 American Airlines flight discount.
Miles can only be redeemed for flights on American or any partner airline, flight upgrades, car rentals, hotels, activities and tours. You can’t get cash back.
- Sign-on bonus: 50,000 miles when you make $2,500 in purchases in the first three months
- APR: APR
- Annual fee: $99, waived for the first year
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
Best for: Delta frequent flyers who want an American Express® Gold card
With the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express® card, you earn 2x miles on Delta purchases made directly with Delta; dining, including U.S. takeout and delivery; and groceries purchased at U.S. supermarkets. You earn one mile per dollar on all other purchases.
Miles cannot be redeemed for cash. You can use them for flights, upgrades, Delta Sky Club memberships and Delta gift cards.
When you fly Delta, you get your first checked bag free and 20% back on in-flight purchases. If you spend $10,000 on your card in a calendar year, you get a $100 credit on future Delta travel.
- Sign-on bonus: 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months
- APR: APR
- Annual fee: $99, waived for the first year
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
Best for: West coast travelers
Having a credit card for Alaska Airlines may not seem like the optimal choice for folks in the “lower 48 states,” but Alaska Air has almost 1,200 daily flights to 115 destinations, with hubs in Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card offers a robust 3x miles on Alaska Airlines purchases, plus one mile per dollar on everything else. You and up to six companions get a free checked bag, and you get 20% back on in-flight purchases. You’ll also get a companion fare for just $99 plus taxes and fees every year on your account anniversary.
- Sign-on bonus: When you spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days, you get 40,000 bonus points and one ticket for just taxes and fees when you buy one ticket.
- APR: 18.24% – 26.24% APR
- Annual fee: $75
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card
Best for: Those who want a sign-on bonus but don’t want to have to charge a lot to get it.
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card, you’ll earn 3x points on Southwest flights, gift cards and inflight purchases, 2x points at hotel and car rental partners, local transit and some internet, cable, phone and streaming services and one point per dollar on everything else. While you can’t redeem your points for cash, you can use them for gift cards and merchandise.
After your cardmember anniversary, you’ll get 7,500 points. You’ll also get a $75 Southwest travel credit and four upgraded boardings each year.
- Sign-on bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months
- APR: 17.49% – 24.49% variable APR
- Annual fee: $149
Best for: Anyone who flies on JetBlue
JetBlue is upping the ante when it comes to points earned for travel. You’ll earn 6x points on tickets, goods and services purchased from JetBlue directly. You’ll also earn 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points can be redeemed for travel only.
When you redeem your points for travel on a JetBlue-operated Award Flight, you’ll get 10% of your points back after your trip. Each year, you get 5,000 bonus points after your account anniversary.
- Sign-on bonus: 50,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
- APR: 18.24%, 22.24%, or 27.74% variable APR, based on creditworthiness
- Annual fee: $99
If you have one airline you fly almost exclusively, the choice of an airline credit card can be an easy one. If you base your flight choices on other things, like flight times or prices, a non-specific travel card may be your best choice.
- Which credit cards offer airline discounts?
- Airlines like United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and Alaska Airlines have affinity credit cards that offer points or miles you can use to pay for travel.
- Which credit card is best for air ticket booking?
- Use the credit card for the airline you're booking on if you want the best service and prices.
- Which credit card is good for mileage?
- The JetBlue Plus credit card offers 6x points, the highest number of points or miles per dollar spent of any of the major airline credit cards.
- Are air miles cards worth it?
- They can be if you travel frequently. Most air miles credit card websites have a calculator you can use to determine how many rewards points or miles you'll earn. Make sure you are at least covering the annual fee by earning points.
Rates, offers and requirements are subject to change; unless otherwise noted, rates are updated periodically. All other information on accounts is accurate as of Aug. 9, 2022.
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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, ratings or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. American Express credit card products are not available through GOBankingRates.com.