Best Airline Credit Cards of 2017

Our favorite travel rewards cards cover everything from bonus miles to bag check.
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If you travel often with the same airline, it makes sense to consider that airline’s credit card. The right airline card can help you earn free flights, seat upgrades and more. Many airline cards boast excellent rewards and signup bonuses. If you have an airline of choice, the right card can convert your customer loyalty to savings.

Travel infrequently or with several different airlines? Then a specific airline card might not be your best option. Travel rewards cards usually offer more favorable rewards rates on everyday purchases. They also tend to give you more options when redeeming rewards. That’s why our top pick for travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, year after year. (It offers 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, with 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs!)

Not sure which type of card is best for you? Browse our lineup of top travel cards to find the perfect fit.

Our Favorite Airline Credit Cards for 2017

Most flexible travel rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Rewards Summary2x points for travel and dining
Annual Fee$95 (Waived first year)

Foreign Transaction Fee0%
Signup bonus50,000 points
Travel perks No blackout dates or travel restrictions.
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • 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®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 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

Our two cents

Who should get it

You travel and dine out regularly. For busy professionals, this card just makes sense – especially if you’re already a Chase customer. (Points are transferrable between cards, so you can earn rewards faster!)

How to use it
  • Use this card when you book travel or dine out, both in the States and abroad.
  • Pair with Chase Freedom® (a popular cash back card) to collect points on everyday spending. Then combine your points!
  • Redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and enjoy a 25% point bonus.
  • Transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to popular hotel or airline loyalty programs without a penalty.
Consider this

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges a $95 annual fee after your first year. Despite the upfront cost, you should make up the annual fee quickly if you travel often. If you’d prefer a travel card with no annual fee, consider the Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card.

Why you'll love it

Easy point transfers. Flexible reward options. An incredible signup bonus. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card boasts one of the best rewards programs out there. It’s the perfect fit for frequent travelers who want to rack up rewards—and choose how to spend them.

Start your application now

Best travel rewards for everyday spending

Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card
Rewards SummaryUnlimited 1.5x rewards on every purchase
Annual Fee$0

Foreign Transaction Fee0%
Signup bonusN/A
Travel perks Mile-for-mile rewards match ; $30 in-flight Wi-Fi credit
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • Unlimited 1.5x rewards on every purchase, every day. For every $1 you spend, you earn 1.5x Miles.
  • Get a mile-for-mile match of all the rewards you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Redeem your rewards in any amount for cash or a travel credit. You’ll always get $1 for every 100 Miles you’ve earned.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service. Talk to a real person any time.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match® details & other information.

Our two cents

Who should get it

You want to earn unlimited miles on everyday purchases without conditions or restrictions. It’s a great fit for anyone looking for flexibility when redeeming travel points.

How to use it
  • Buy everything with this card, especially in the first 12 months. You can earn 1.5x miles on every purchase, every day, with no restrictions. The more you spend, the more you’ll get back at the end of the year with Discover’s mile-for-mile match promotion.
  • Pay off any large purchases during the 14 month, 0% intro APR period to avoid interest payments.
  • Monitor your FICO® Credit Score for free online or on your monthly statements.
Consider this

Since the Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card isn’t technically an airline card, it doesn’t come with a juicy signup bonus up front. And while the mile-for-mile match at the end of your first year is a huge perk, you won’t be able to cash in on travel rewards upfront. Further, the miles you earn with this card aren’t transferable to airline or hotel loyalty programs, so you can’t pool points with your other accounts. If you’re looking for a card with a great signup bonus and points transfer, check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Why you'll love it

The Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card offers incredible earning potential on the things you buy every day — with no limits and no annual fee. Get this card if you’d rather collect travel rewards in cash (statement credits) than be tied to a specific airline.

Start your application now
Apply Now on American Express's secure website.

Best travel perks

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
See Rates & Fees
Rewards Summary2x miles for Delta purchases
Terms apply
Annual Fee$95 (Waived first year)

Foreign Transaction Fee0%
Signup bonus30,000 miles
Travel perks Starwood Crossover Rewards, priority boarding, and more
Highlights Provided by American Express Show Highlights
  • Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within 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 per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible 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 in sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

Our two cents

Who should get it

You often travel with Delta. Frequent Delta fliers will find it easy to make up the $95 annual fee with baggage fee savings alone. Plus, you’ll get great perks including in-flight discounts, free bag check, and priority boarding.

How to use it
  • Use this card to buy Delta airfare and to take advantage of promotional point purchases from partners.
  • Pair this card with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to pool your points.
  • Enjoy free bag check, priority boarding, seat upgrades, and other in-flight perks when you fly with Delta.
Consider this

After your first year, you’ll be charged a $95 annual fee (fairly standard for airline and travel cards). If you aren’t a frequent traveler or you don’t live near a Delta hub, you might have trouble justifying the annual fee. The Discover it® Miles – Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card may be a better option if you want reward flexibility without an annual fee.

Why you'll love it

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is made to benefit frequent travelers. Between the lucrative Starwood Hotels Crossover Rewards program and travel perks like free checked baggage, you’ll save big while traveling in style.

Start your application now

Great signup bonus

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Rewards Summary2x points for Southwest® and Rapid Rewards® purchases
Annual Fee$69

Foreign Transaction Fee3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.
Signup bonus40,000 points
Travel perks No blackout dates, seat restrictions or change fees
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your account is open
  • 3,000 points after your Cardmember anniversary every year
  • 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest® and participating Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental partners purchases
  • 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Bags fly free®
  • No change fees

Our two cents

Who should get it

You travel in the U.S. often and prefer to fly Southwest. This card is also a great option if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. These two cards work well together since you can transfer rewards points 1:1.

How to use it
  • Book all your Southwest airfare on this card to rack up points.
  • Pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account to earn free flights faster.
Consider this

Unlike many other airline cards, the $69 annual is not waived for the first year. Also, watch out for foreign transaction fees abroad. If you’re looking for an airline card without foreign transaction fees, check out the JetBlue Card.

Why you'll love it

It’s tough to beat a 40,000-point signup bonus. But with double points on select travel expenses and an annual anniversary bonus, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card keeps the rewards coming, even after the first three months.

Start your application now

Fewest fees

JetBlue Card
Rewards Summary3x points for JetBlue purchases; 2x points on dining and groceries
Annual Fee$0

Foreign Transaction Fee0%
Signup bonus5,000 points
Travel perks No blackout dates ; 50% off in-flight purchases
Highlights Provided by Barclaycard Show Highlights
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
  • No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue-operated flights. Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking.
  • Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don't expire.
  • Earn and share points together with Family Pooling.
  • 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food on JetBlue-operated flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip technology & $0 Fraud Liability protection

Our two cents

Who should get it

You love JetBlue, you fly often, and you want to avoid fees. With no annual fee or foreign transaction fee, this is a great option for anyone looking to cash in on frequent travel – both domestic and international.

How to use it
  • Book all your JetBlue airfare on this card for 3x points.
  • Meet the spending requirement in the first 3 months to collect your signup bonus.
Consider this

Considering a balance transfer? Be careful—you’ll be charged a $5 fee or 3% of each balance transfer amount. Before transferring, confirm that your interest savings will be higher than the expected charge. Remember that your 0% introductory APR will increase after the first 12 billing cycles. It’s best to pay your balance in full every month anyway, but be extra diligent to avoid interest charges after your first year.

Why you'll love it

The JetBlue Card is one of the few airline credit cards that doesn’t charge an annual fee. If you fly JetBlue often, there’s no reason not to get this card. You’ll earn triple points for booking and double points for everyday shopping —and you can use the card free of charge overseas.

Start your application now

Our Favorite Airline Credit Cards: Summed Up

Research the Best Airline Credit Cards

Below is a directory with the most popular airline miles credit cards available today. The directory is updated on a weekly basis to reflect any new changes, to add new cards, and to remove expired cards. The airline credit cards directory is a component of the rewards credit cards directory. This custom directory highlights the most important features for each airline card.

Airline Credit Card Directory

In order to rank and value each of these airline cards, certain features were analyzed based on overall importance to the prospective cardholder. The most heavily weighted features of an airline card are Signup Bonus, Rewards Rate, and Perks. Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best airline credit card for you.
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Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
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Common Filters Good Signup Bonus
Great Ongoing Rewards
Great Perks
No Annual Fee
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Credit Card
Annual Fee
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Annual Fee
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Rating Methodology

After studying every airline credit card, I made the decision early on that the best airline miles credit cards wouldn’t be based solely on the amount of rewards you can earn. While rewards are still the most important factor, the perks and benefits from airline credit cards should not be overlooked. Sign-up bonuses, travel benefits, companion fares, and the actual airlines are all important to judging the quality of the card. You’re not getting an airline card for low interest rates — you’re getting it for miles and benefits — so APRs shouldn’t matter as much.

Signup Bonus

Signup Bonus is the amount of extra points the card offers to a new cardmember. Airlines tend to offer high Signup Bonuses, many of which range between 25,000 and 50,000 points. Depending on how you use airline points, that means that a 40,000 point bonus translates to at least $400 with that airline or its partners. In many cases, it can be significantly more. Signup Bonus carries a high importance rating because the bonus can knock off a chunk of money on an upcoming flight. Don’t wait until the last minute to act on a Signup Bonus, however. There are usually certain spending requirements you need to fulfill before you actually earn the points and can use them. It is common for credit card issuers to require you to spend $3,000 in the first three months you have the card before the Signup Bonus kicks in.

Rewards Rate

The next high importance feature is Rewards Rate, which is the actual rate at which your purchases on the card earn you airline points. It is common to see an airline card earn 2% in points for travel-related spending with that airline or its partners. Airline cards also usually have a base rate. This base rate is typically 1% and applies to all other purchases you make with that card. If you travel often, but are not loyal to one airline, you can get a higher Rewards Rate in more spending categories by picking up one of the best travel credit cards. The main difference is that the best travel cards generally give you better rewards in more categories, and offer you more flexibility for redeeming points with different airline carriers.


Benefits refers to other perks or programs that make the airline card stand out. Many airline cards offer priority check-in, free checked bags, seat upgrades, or lounge access. With the state of travel these days, the extra Benefits you receive as an airline credit card holder will be the deciding factor when Rewards Rate or Signup Bonus features are similar between comparable cards. This is why Benefits carries a high importance rating.

Redemption Options

For airline credit cards, Redemption Options can dramatically impact how much flexibility you have for where you redeem points on travel. Airline credit card points are always redeemable for flights or other perks with the specific airline. Traditionally, this has been your only option. However, airlines have developed their own partner networks, and in many cases you can “transfer” your points from one airline to another within the same network. For instance American Airlines miles can be exchanged for British Airways Avios through the oneworld network. The result is that you are not as constrained in your airline options. The largest airline networks are oneworld and Star Alliance. Other airlines create their own partner networks and join forces with hotels and rental car companies to try and give the customer more options for redeeming points.

Rewards Categories

Rewards Categories are the spending categories in which your credit card earns greater than 1%. Rewards Categories carry a low importance rating for airline cards and are not factored in to our ratings as much. The main reason is that when airlines issue credit cards, they usually issue higher rewards for travel booked on their airline and a 1% base rate for all other purchases. In contrast, some of the best travel credit cards have enhanced rewards in spending categories like dining or hotels, which helps you capitalize on other spending to rack up rewards you can use for travel. Two of the best travel cards offer different Rewards Categories. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2x miles on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards platforms and 2% for dining out. That card earns 1% on all other purchases. The Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® has the same structure — 2x miles on travel booked through Barclaycard and 2x miles on dining. Both of these cards are talked about in more detail in my colleague’s post on the best travel credit cards.


The APR on airline cards also carry low importance. I never recommend signing up for a credit card if you plan on carrying a balance, as you should pay off your balance each month. If you plan to carry a balance on a credit card, look for low APR cards or a balance transfer card to avoid interest during the grace period. Interest charges destroy the value of any points you may accumulate, so it never makes sense to have any type of rewards card if you plan to carry a balance.

Using An Airline Card Strategically

Business travelers who are on the road (technically, in the air) 80% of the time know the value of a good airline card. For them, there’s no problem relying on one airline or a partner network because the points are king. They know how to max out points by taking inconvenient flights, standbys, or extra flights. But what about you? Personally, I fly whatever airline gets me there the quickest (#1), has the best times (#2), and is the cheapest (#3). I find it very difficult to be loyal to one airline, but I can certainly see the advantages for many people. For those of you who see the value of owning an airline credit card, I’m going to outline some key things to be aware of.

Airline Rewards Programs

Significant Rewards Rate and Rewards Category Differences

The reason I always say that you should never own an airline card as your first card is because you miss out on additional rewards when using it to make everyday purchases. At a minimum, you’re cutting your rewards in half, and probably more. If you do the math, the difference is pretty significant between settling on 1% versus 2% on all purchases (assuming an airline point is worth $0.01). Say you’re a busy professional and you spend $1,000 per month over the course of two years dining out. Assume every airline credit card has a rewards rate of 1% or 1X miles on all purchases away from the airline. At that rate, you’ll accumulate $240 worth of rewards after two years in this category. Now, let’s say you make the same purchases with a 2X rewards card. That card will get you $480 worth of rewards. That’s probably a free flight just for using the right card!

Airline Loyalty Programs

When you own an airline credit card, you’re attached to that airline’s rewards program. Your rewards are not tied to a superb travel rewards program, which gives you flexibility to book any airline or hotel. With a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your points are tied to the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform that has tons of flexibility. You also have the option to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points on a 1:1 basis to several frequent flyer programs if needed. Some airline rewards programs have a sketchy history and people aren’t exactly happy with them. There are hundreds and possibly thousands of court cases filed each year against airline loyalty programs. Airline miles and credit cards aren’t overly stable. The bottom line: Airlines can do anything they want with your loyalty program. You never really know what’s going to happen next in the airline industry. In the past few years, we’ve seen bankruptcy, rewards program changes, airline mergers, and random worker strikes. It happened when Northwest merged with Delta and the Northwest Airlines frequent flyers took the brunt of the merger. Their miles transferred over but expired after a shorter time period. The WorldPerks® Visa Card was eliminated. Given all of these warning signs I outline here, I think the airlines have learned from the previous backlash and most programs will be safe moving forward. It’s just something you should be aware of before tying yourself to an airline credit card.

Strategies to Maximize Airline Rewards

Now that I outlined why airline cards aren’t always optimal (several times) as your main credit card, let’s take a look at some strategies for using an airline credit card to supplement your main card.

Personal Rewards Card + Airline Card

My favorite strategy right now is to use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as my main card for everyday spending. As part of the Ultimate Rewards program, you have the freedom to fly any airline and still rack up 2X points on travel. When you redeem the points through Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 25% more. Also, you can transfer these points to any of their airline partner’s frequent flyer programs on a 1:1 basis. Here are your options:
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • United MileagePlus®
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Hyatt Gold Passport®
  • Priority Club® Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards®
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
You can get one of the best airline cards and the best rewards card by combining the The British Airways Visa Signature® Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You can then transfer your points between these two programs on a 1:1 basis. This is important because many airlines put restrictions on how you can transfer your points. British Airways is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner AND part of the oneworld alliance. So you could transfer points between these programs and then transfer them to any other airline in the oneworld program giving you many more options. With this small extra step, you you can boost your rewards with two of the best credit cards around.

Hotel Card + Airline Card

When traveling often, it pays to grab rewards points not only on your airfare but also on your hotel stays. Keep in mind, you should still try to own one of the consistent rewards cards I mentioned earlier. One of my favorite hotel cards is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. For a detailed analysis of this card, check out the best hotel credit cards post. With this card, you earn Starpoints redeemable at any of the 1,300 Starwood properties. Top Starwood brands include Westin, Sheraton, and W Hotels. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to many airlines, including British Airways and American. The important thing to note is that unlike other American Express cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest card earns Starwood Starpoints and NOT American Express Membership Rewards® points. Because of this, one of the best strategies is to pair this card with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. You can link your Skymiles and Starpoints accounts to earn double points when you fly Delta or stay at a Starwood property. I don’t recommend pairing with another AMEX card because, although you can transfer Membership Rewards® points to Starwood, the transfer rate is awful (around 3:1) so it doesn’t make any sense.

Business Card + Airline Card

On The Simple Dollar, we also wrote about the best business credit cards, which would pair well with an airline card if you have a small business or do any freelance work. I highly recommend looking at business cards because they offer more lucrative rewards than personal cards do. For instance, the Chase Ink Bold® card gets 5X points on cable, landline, and cell phone services. It also adds 2X points on gas and hotels (up to the first $50,000 per year). Gas is a large expense for families, who can benefit from earning 2X rewards on this category instead of a category like dining out. I generally recommend keeping your personal and business expenses separate, but if you have a good system to track and account for which expenses go where, you can maximize your rewards by using both a business card and an airline card. The Chase Ink Bold® functions very much like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card in terms of the Ultimate Rewards point transfer (1:1) to partners, and in terms of point redemption for travel. Ultimate Rewards points earned with your Chase Ink Bold® card are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal. So, if you have a small business or are looking for a creative way to earn more points, consider using a business credit card before selecting an airline card as your main credit card. If you still want an airline card, make sure you understand how points transfer between your cards so you don’t get hung out to dry when you try to combine your business and airline points.

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