These Are the Best Airline Credit Cards for Travelers

And the benefits of each card.

The best airline credit cards offer the chance to rack up rewards with your favorite airline every time you fly. Free checked baggage, discounts on in-flight purchases, and priority boarding are typical perks on offer, but some cards go above and beyond with privileges like discounted airport lounge access, companion fares, and more. As you consider some of the best airline credit cards on the market, here are some of the top options — and the benefits of each — to help you choose the right card for you.

Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card

If you live in or frequently travel to the Pacific Northwest or Alaska, the Alaska Airlines Visa credit card from Bank of America could be a solid option. The card offers:

  • 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days from account opening.
  • 3 miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • A companion fare certificate worth up to $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months and every year after your first.
  • One free checked bag for you and up to six guests on your reservation.
  • 20% back on Alaska Airlines in-flight purchases and a 50% discount on day passes at the Alaska Lounge.

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

Many top airline cards charge annual fees under $100, but some cards charge a higher fee in exchange for more benefits. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is one of those cards, charging $250 a year.

Considering that Delta Air Lines is one of the largest airlines in the world, it can be a smart choice for people who want to travel domestically, internationally, or both, if they live near a Delta hub. Here's what card holders will get:

  • 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2 miles per dollar at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and at U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles toward elite status when you spend $25,000 on your card in a calendar year (card holders can earn this bonus no more than twice per year).
  • An annual domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate. There's no limit on the value of the certificate, but you will be required to pay taxes and fees of up to $75 for the ticket.
  • An application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, worth up to $100, every four-and-a-half years.
  • A discounted rate of $39 for Delta Sky Club visits.
  • One free checked bag for you and up to eight others on your reservation.
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases with Delta.
  • Priority boarding.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

If you want a Delta credit card with a lower annual fee, consider the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.

Airlines plane and ticket with credit cards
Kaitlyn Collins

United Explorer Credit Card

The United Explorer Credit Card from Chase is another solid option for both domestic and international travel. With no annual fee the first year (then $95 after that), users have the opportunity to essentially see if the card is right for them before the fee kicks in. (That said, please note that opening and closing credit cards may have implications for your credit score, which should be researched before opening and closing any card.) Here's what you'll get:

  • 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
  • 2 miles per dollar on purchases with United, dining, including eligible delivery services, and hotel stays booked directly with hotels and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • 500 Premier Qualifying Points toward elite status for every $12,000 you spend on the card, up to 1,000 PQPs per calendar year.
  • An application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, worth up to $100, every four years.
  • Two United Club lounge passes every year when you pay the annual fee.
  • Complimentary premier upgrades on tickets booked with miles, when available.
  • One free checked bag for you and one other person on your itinerary.
  • 25% back on United in-flight purchases.
  • Priority boarding.

If you want more benefits and are comfortable with a higher annual fee, consider the United Quest Card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Unlike other airline credit cards, Chase Southwest's cards don't offer free checked bags, but that's because the airline offers two free checked bags to all its passengers. That said, the airline doesn't have a big international presence outside of the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.

If most of your travel is domestic or to those regions, here's what the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card can offer:

  • 40,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
  • 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and rental car partner purchases, local transit and commuting (including rideshare), and on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming services, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • 6,000 bonus points every year when you pay the card's $99 annual fee.
  • Two EarlyBird Check-In passes each year.
  • 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points toward elite status for every $10,000 you spend.
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases.

Southwest also offers the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, which have varying benefits and annual fees.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

For travelers who aren't keen on a large minimum spend requirement to get a sign-up bonus, look no further than the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard from Barclays — you'll earn the welcome offer with just one purchase. And because American Airlines is the largest airline in the world, it's a solid choice for all travelers. Here's what the card offers:

  • 50,000 bonus miles when you make your first purchase and pay the card's $99 annual fee in full, both in the first 90 days.
  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • An annual companion certificate worth up to $99 plus taxes and fees when you spend $20,000 in an anniversary year, and your account remains open for at least 45 days after your anniversary date.
  • One free checked bag for you and up to four others on your itinerary.
  • Up to $25 in statement credits each anniversary year on in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.
  • 25% back on in-flight food and drink purchases.
  • Preferred boarding.

If you want to compare this option with a similar American Airlines credit card, consider the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.

JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue Airways has a strong presence on the East Coast, the Caribbean, and northern South America, as well as a handful of destinations along the West Coast. But it's not an international heavyweight, and the majority of middle America is skipped entirely.

With that in mind, the airline offers free Wi-Fi and more legroom than any other domestic airline. Here's what you'll get with the JetBlue Plus Card from Barclays:

  • 60,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days (limited-time offer).
  • 6 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • 5,000 bonus points every year on your anniversary.
  • A $100 statement credit when you book a JetBlue Vacation Package worth $100 or more.
  • JetBlue Mosaic elite status when you spend $50,000 in a calendar year.
  • One free checked bag for you and up to four companions on your reservation.
  • 50% savings on in-flight food and drink purchases.

How to Choose the Right Airline Credit Card for You

There's no credit card out there that's right for everyone, and that's especially true for airline credit cards, because most are tied to just one airline. While you can also book flights with that airline's partners, it's still important to think carefully before you apply.

Start by considering which airlines have a large presence at your local airports and whether you prefer to travel domestically, internationally, or both. Be sure your preferred destinations align with the flights on offer at your closest airports and your most frequent destinations. Also, take a look at each card's annual fee and which benefits it provides to make up for it. The important thing is that you consider your travel and financial goals and research which card will do the most to help you achieve them.

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