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What are the Best Credit Cards for Airline Miles?

If you fly frequently, especially on a particular airline, you may be aware of the fact that having an airline credit card can be a handy option. Even if you do not fly frequently, still having either a co-branded or travel credit card can be useful, since each card type has its own benefits as well as limitations.

In this travel guide prepared by Treknova, we will take an in-depth look at some of the best credit cards for airline miles.

Airline Credit Cards – What are they?

Airline credit cards offer a wealth of perks that make the whole process of flying a heck of a lot easier, and cheaper too. A few of these cards even offer a sign-up bonus to you. There are many situations that make airline cards worthwhile, particularly because some of them offer card reward standbys like balance transfer, a welcome bonus for new cardholders and a cash advance.

Travellers that are frequent flyers use airline cards that allow them to earn and redeem travel points or miles. Basically, an airline credit card serves quite a lot of purposes that a traveller may seek during his or her travel. This also includes availing reward points, waiving baggage fees, getting discounts on purchase of merchandise and/or services at the airport and in-flight, and many more benefits.

Airline credit cards generally come in two different types. These are:

(i) Co-branded credit card

(ii) Travel credit card

Co-branded credit card: A co-branded credit card is usually issued by an airline and a bank as a joint initiative to reward users with frequent flyer miles. Such airline cards offer plenty of perks, a few of which include waived checked bags, complimentary companion fares, discounts on premium Wi-Fi in-flight and a lot more.

Travel credit card: A travel credit card, on the other hand, is categorised as a general travel card that offer plenty of options for redeeming points.

Thus, from the above, it will seem pretty clear as to which type of airline card will be best for you, considering your travel needs and expenses.

A few common benefits of an airline credit card include the following:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Priority boarding
  • Lounge access (during some, not all itineraries)
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits
  • Sign-up bonus

In the following section, we will also provide you a couple of airline credit cards that you can add to your wallet when planning your holiday or business trip.

Best Airline Credit Cards for your Travel

Here are a few best airline credit cards picked for you. These co-branded and general travel credit cards are listed in order of the cost of their annual fee.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card from Bank of America is the only airline card offered by Alaska Airlines, but it’s a good one. The annual $99 companion fare and 4% return on Alaska spending can translate into valuable savings for an Alaska frequent flyer. It’s the only card we found that offers free checked bags for up to six companions, so families will obviously benefit from those waived fees.

The rewards rate is also substantial, and paired with a lower-than-average annual fee of $75, this card can save Alaska Airline loyalists a significant amount of money.

New member bonus: 40,000 miles; $100 statement credit; Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days.

Reward rates: You earn 3x miles on Alaska Airlines, and 1x miles on every other purchases.

Annual fee: $75

United Explorer Card

United Explorer card is on the low end for co-branded airline credit cards at 2%, but it does offer decent value through its new card member sign-on bonus and waived baggage fees. In many cases, you’d be better off with a no-fee cash back credit card, like the Wells Fargo Propel, if you spend less than $10,000 annually on travel and dining. But if you value priority boarding and check a bag every time you fly United, the Explorer card is worth considering.

Generally, United’s credit cards don’t compare well to the other airlines when it comes to overall value, so this recommendation is really the best of not-so-great options.

New member bonus:70,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Reward rates:You earn 2x miles on United Airlines, 2x miles on restaurants and hotels, and 1x miles on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$95

JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue Plus card has the best rewards rate of any airline card on this list and its other features, perks, and bonuses are on par with category averages, including its fairly standard $99 annual fee.

It’s a good card for JetBlue loyalists and even a good option for those who fly JetBlue only a few times a year, but who can take advantage of the sign-on bonus, and free checked bags.

New member bonus: 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, and 50,000 additional points after spending $6,000 in the first year; 5,000 annually after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.

Reward rates: You earn 6x points on JetBlue Airways; 2x points on dining and groceries, and 1x points on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$99

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard from Barclays, with its free checked bags for up to four others, is ideal for families who travel together often. It only takes one round-trip flight with the whole family and a cart-load of bags to earn back for the $99 annual fee. It is also the card with the lowest spending threshold to earn the 60,000 airline mile sign-on bonus.

New member bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles; Anniversary companion certificate at $99 after spending $20,000 on purchases. You have to make one purchase, and pay the annual fee within 90 days.

Reward rates: You earn 2x miles on American Airlines and 1x points on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$99

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

The Priority card is co-branded with Chase and offers the best value among Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. With an 80,000 points welcome bonus for new card members (worth around $580 in Southwest travel) after spending $2,000 in the first three months, a decent reward rate of 3% and a $75 annual travel credit, this card pays for itself fairly quickly.

Though Southwest already gives flyers their first two checked bags for free and does not have airport lounges, this rewards credit card saves Southwest loyalists money in other ways.

New member bonus:80,000 points; 7,500 points annually after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Reward rates: You earn 2x points on Southwest Airlines, and 1x points on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$149

Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Credit Card

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card from American Express is the best airline rewards card for most Delta flyers. This credit card offers an annual companion pass, a generous sign-on welcome bonus for new card members, and a moderate annual fee.

Those who check bags often and travel with a companion (domestic route) at least annually can save a substantial amount of money. Add that to the $1,150 in value from the first-year bonuses and loyal Delta flyers can realize a lot of Delta purchase value out of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card.

New member bonus:5,000 MQMs + 70,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Reward rates: You earn 3x miles on Delta and hotels; 2x miles on restaurants and supermarkets; and 1x miles on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$250

Best for Overall

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel reward credit card, meaning you earn points on any travel or dining purchase, not just with a single airline card issuer, and your redemption options are much more flexible and transferable.

This reward card is great for those who want more flexibility but still want to use rewards to book future travel. It is also great for those who value additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel discounts and freebies, and lounge access. Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great value for anyone spending around $12,000 or more annually on travel (flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, buses, taxis) and dining (restaurants, cafes, bars) combined.

New member bonus:50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.

Reward rates: You earn 3x points on travel and dining which begins after earning $300 credit and 1x point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Annual fee:$550

Best for Non-loyalty flyers

American Express The Platinum Card

The Platinum Card from American Express offers frequent flyers the highest potential reward rate of any travel rewards card. Even if you’re loyal to one airline, if you spend more than $10,000 annually on flights and hotels you’ll get a better return on spending with the Platinum card than you would with a co-branded airline credit card. It’s an excellent choice for those who value premium travel perks like lounge access and hotel upgrades, or who want the flexibility to redeem rewards with a larger roster of airlines.

New member bonus:75,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.

Reward rates: You earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels that are booked directly with the airline carrier or using Amex Travel.

Annual fee:$550

Best for First Class flyers

Conclusion – Best Credit Cards for Airline Miles

If you do not always fly the same airline, it almost certainly makes sense to pick up a flexible points card, at least if you are only looking to add one card to your wallet. If you already have status with an airline, you are unlikely to pick up much in terms of benefits from a mid-tier airline-specific credit card as many of the benefits, such as free checked bags, are also benefits of status. Some credit cards include various types of travel insurance as a benefit of using the card to book your tickets. If this is something you think you can benefit from, choose a card that offers protection.

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