GOBankingRates’ Best Airline Credit Cards

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Whether you’re a frequent flyer or just want to open up an airline credit card for the sign-up bonus miles, there are plenty of options for airline credit cards that can give you what you’re looking for. And if you’re part of the 53% of Americans that use credit cards to pay for travel — as a recent GOBankingRates survey found — opening an airline credit card may be worth your while. But how do you find the best card for you, especially if you’re not loyal to a specific airline?

GOBankingRates has done the research for you and identified the best airline credit cards based on rewards earn rate, foreign transaction fees, annual fees, regular APR for purchases, sign-up bonuses, travel benefits and more. Here are the Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021.

Our Top Airline Card

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

Why we like it: The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card scored No. 1 among GOBankingRates' Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021 for more than one reason. It offers a variety of ways to earn rewards, with its top rewards tier offering 3x miles per $1 spent. It also offers valuable benefits for Delta travelers, such as priority boarding and your first bag checked for free. 

Benefits

  • Earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and hotels and 2x miles on restaurants and supermarkets
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A host of other perks including fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, first checked bag free, priority boarding and more
  • Fly to 300 destinations with Delta

Drawbacks

  • This card has a $250 annual fee

Key Features

  • 3x miles per dollar on Delta purchases
  • 3x miles per dollar at hotels
  • 2x miles per dollar at restaurants
  • 2x miles at US supermarkets
  • 1x miles on all other eligible purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion  Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $3,000 in  purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$250

APR

15.74% to 24.74%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

204,000,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • $39 Delta Sky Club Access per visit/per person
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • First checked bag free
  • Priority boarding
  • Status boost after $25,000 and $50,000 eligible purchases

How To Get This Card

You can apply for the card online here with just some basic personal and financial information (clicking the link will take you to Delta's application page). READ OUR FULL REVIEW

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Best Airline Credit Cards 2021

Keep reading to see the rest of the Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021.

Chase United QuestSM Card

Key Benefits

  • 3x miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on all other travel
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on dining
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on select streaming services
  • 1x miles on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$250

APR

16.495% to 23.49%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

162,443,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • Two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
  • Priority boarding
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Earn 500 PQP (status update points) for every $12,000 you spend on purchases
  • Receive complimentary cardmember benefits at luxury hotels and resorts worldwide
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

Chase UnitedSM Explorer Card

Key Benefits

  • 2x miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on dining
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on hotel stays when booked with the hotel
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

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

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$95

APR

16.49% to 23.49%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

162,443,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • 2 United Club one-time passes per year
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Earn 500 PQP (status update points) for every $12,000 you spend
  • Receive complimentary cardmember benefits at luxury hotels and resorts worldwide
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

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Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

Key Benefits

  • 2x miles per dollar at restaurants
  • 2x miles per dollar at US supermarkets
  • 2x miles on Delta purchases
  • 1x miles on all other eligible purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 70,000 bonus miles after you make $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3  months. Offer ends 11/10/2021

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$99

APR

15.74% to 24.74%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

204,000,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • $100 Delta flight credit, after $10,000 spent in first year
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases
  • First checked bag free
  • Priority boarding
GET DETAILS

On Delta's site

First Bankcard Sun Country Airlines® Visa Signature® Card

Key Benefits

  • 3x miles per dollar spent on Sun Country purchases
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on gas
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on groceries
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 35,000 miles when you spend $1,500 or more in the first three months

Destinations

73

Annual Fee

$69

APR

14.99% to 22.99%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

2,089,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • 1 free premium drink per flight
  • 50% off seat selections & first bag
  • Priority boarding on Sun Country flights
  • 10,000 point anniversary bonus when you spend $10,000 in a year
GET DETAILS

On Sun Country's site

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Chase United ClubSM Infinite Card

Key Benefits

  • 4x miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on all other travel
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on dining
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$525

APR

16.49% to 23.49%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

162,443,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • United Club membership
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Premier Access® travel services
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Earn 500 PQP (status update points) for every $12,000 you spend on purchases
  • Receive complimentary cardmember benefits at luxury hotels and resorts worldwide
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

Chase United GatewaySM Card

Key Benefits

  • 2x miles per dollar spent on United purchases
  • 2x miles per dollar spent at gas stations
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on local transit and commuting
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Destinations

300

Annual Fee

$0

APR

16.49% to 23.49%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

162,443,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • 25% back on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases onboard United
  • Receive complimentary cardmember benefits at luxury hotels and resorts worldwide.
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

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Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Key Benefits

  • 2x miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 60,000 miles after a Net Purchase is made within the first 90 days, as well as the annual fee

Destinations

350

Annual Fee

$99

APR

15.99% to 24.99%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

215,182,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • Up to $25 back as statement credits on inflight Wi-Fi purchases
  • Anniversary Companion Certificate
  • Receive 25% inflight savings as statement credits on food and beverages
  • First checked bag free
  • Preferred boarding
  • Round up your purchases to the nearest dollar so you can get more AAdvantage® miles
GET DETAILS

On Barclays' site

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Key Benefits

  • 3x miles per dollar on dining (first year only)
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Destinations

103

Annual Fee

$149

APR

15.99% to 22.99%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

134,100,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

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Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Key Benefits

  • 3x miles per dollar on dining (first year only)
  • 2x miles per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 1x miles per dollar spent on all other purchases

Sign-Up Bonus

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Destinations

103

Annual Fee

$99

APR

15.99% to 22.99%

Foreign Transaction Fees

0.00%

2019 Enplaned Passengers

134,100,000

Misc. Travel Benefits

  • 6,000 anniversary points each year
GET DETAILS

On Chase's site

FAQs About Airline Credit Cards

Here are the answers to questions you might have while you're on the lookout for an airline credit card.
  • Can you transfer miles between airlines?
    • Unlike many generic travel rewards cards, airline cards are tied to specific airlines. As a result, you can't transfer miles between airlines. However, there's one workaround: You can often use one airline's miles to book reward flights on another carrier in the same airline alliance. For example, you can use United Airlines miles to book reward flights with fellow Star Alliance member Lufthansa.
  • Which card provides the best perks?
    • Airline credit cards can award impressive bonuses in different areas. The JetBlue Plus Card from Barclays, for example, grants six points per $1 spent on JetBlue purchases, which is an outstanding earnings rate. When it comes to sign-up bonuses, the Chase United Quest Card provides $1,000 in value. The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card offers a high number of different travel perks, with a total of nine benefits.
  • Which card is the easiest to get approved for?
    • Getting approved for an airline credit card depends on a number of factors. In most cases, you'll face the best chances for approval if you have a good credit score of at least 720. However, customers with credit scores in the mid-600s have also reported getting approved for various cards. Your chances for approval for any card will go up if you always pay your bills on time and keep your outstanding balances and credit utilization low. Some credit card issuers, including Discover, let you enter basic information to see if you are prequalified for any of their cards.
  • Should I get an airline credit card?
    • You should only get a credit card if you can handle your finances responsibly. Even the best airline rewards credit cards will be detrimental to your overall financial condition if you end up paying 15% or more in monthly interest charges. That being said, many customers -- particularly flyers who are loyal to a particular airline -- can benefit from the freebies offered by airline credit cards. Between the sign-up bonuses and rewards categories that provide additional miles, frequent flyers can earn rewards toward free airfare, even in premium cabins like business and first-class. But, if you're more of a general traveler who will fly on whichever airline offers the cheapest fare, you might be better off with a travel rewards card that isn't tied to a particular airline.
  • Can you earn points for travel and non-travel purchases with an airline credit card?
    • Most airline travel cards provide bonus mileage categories to encourage spending in particular areas. For example, the Chase United Explorer Card rewards you with two miles for every $1 you spend at restaurants, on hotel stays and on United purchases. However, you can also earn miles for non-travel purchases. All of the cards that ranked among GOBankingRates' Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021, for example, will pay you at least one mile per $1 you spend on non-travel purchases.
  • Can you earn points for a balance transfer with an airline credit card?
    • Although individual card promotions are subject to change at any time, you usually can't earn points or miles for a balance transfer from a different credit card. Unlike purchases, balance transfers don't generate any interchange fees for card issuers, so the only benefit you're likely to receive is a promotional balance transfer APR.

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More From GOBankingRates

John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article.

Last updated: Oct. 19, 2021

Methodology: GOBankingRates identified the best airline credit cards by analyzing the following factors: (1)  rewards earn rate; (2) any foreign transaction fees; (3) annual fees; (4) regular APR for purchases; (5) sign up bonuses; (6) airline destinations totals; (7) 2019 enplaned passengers total; (8) total destination locations; (9) 2019 number of enplaned passengers; and (10) miscellaneous travel benefits. Miscellaneous travel benefits include free checked bags, access to airport lounges, priority boarding, any flight discounts, discounted companion fares, access to free Wi-Fi on flights and TSA PreCheck access. All fees and rates are subject to change at the credit card issuers’ discretion. Some offers might no longer be available on the credit card issuers’ websites, depending on how you access the web page. All data was sourced from each financial institution’s or airline’s website or promotional material and is accurate as of Aug. 2, 2021.  Please verify terms and conditions before opening an account.

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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