Home Credit Cards The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023

The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023

The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023
Photo / Alyssa Powell / Business Insider

The best airline credit cards are designed to cater to both frequent and infrequent travelers, offering a plethora of benefits that enhance the overall travel experience. Notably, some of these cards provide elite-status perks solely through credit card spending, making it easier to attain a higher status with the airline. Even if you’re not loyal to a specific airline, having an airline credit card can still be advantageous as it can boost your points balance significantly.

When searching for the right airline credit card, it’s essential to consider your travel goals and how the card aligns with them. Will it help you save on checked bag fees or provide companion tickets? Perhaps you’re eyeing a welcome bonus substantial enough to fund your dream trip to Europe. By addressing these questions, you’ll be better equipped to identify the card that best suits your needs.

To present you with the most comprehensive options, we conducted an extensive analysis of a wide range of credit cards offered by various issuers. Here are our top picks from this selection.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is highly recommended for travelers who wish to earn miles with multiple airlines while maintaining only one credit card. With 11 airline partners and three hotel programs in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, cardholders enjoy unparalleled flexibility when it comes to redeeming points. Furthermore, the card offers attractive earning rates on everyday spending, making it a top contender on various “best of” lists.

One of the most enticing features of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is its generous welcome bonus. New cardholders can earn a whopping 60,000 points by spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. On top of that, the card has a reasonable annual fee of $95, making it accessible to many.

When it comes to rewards, the card truly shines. Cardholders can earn 5 points per $1 on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per $1 on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target, and wholesale clubs), 2 points per $1 on all other travel purchases, and 1 point per $1 on all other transactions. This diverse rewards structure ensures that you can earn points on various aspects of your daily life.

Travelers will also appreciate the fact that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has no foreign transaction fees. This feature makes it a reliable companion for international trips without incurring additional charges.

Apart from its rewards and travel perks, the card offers valuable benefits such as an annual $50 hotel credit through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Additionally, it provides trip cancellation/interruption insurance, which can be incredibly useful in uncertain times. If you ever encounter issues with your luggage during travel, the baggage delay coverage will reimburse you up to $100 per day for up to five days.

However, it’s worth noting that the card does come with a $95 annual fee, which might not be suitable for those who don’t take advantage of its recurring perks or earn enough points to offset the cost. It’s essential to evaluate your travel and spending habits to determine if the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the right fit for you.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card comes with a $395 annual fee, but it offers valuable benefits that can justify the cost for frequent travelers. One of the highlights is its generous welcome bonus, allowing you to earn 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

When it comes to earning miles, the card provides various opportunities. You can earn 2 miles per $1 on general purchases, 5 miles per $1 on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and an impressive 10 miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel.

One of the advantages of this card is its flexibility in how you can use your miles. If you enjoy traveling and want a premium credit card that allows you to earn airline miles, this card could be an excellent choice for you.

Moreover, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card comes with some other useful benefits. For instance, it has no foreign transaction fees, which is beneficial for international travelers. Additionally, the card offers an annual statement credit of up to $300 through Capital One Travel, along with 10,000 bonus miles every card anniversary.

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Furthermore, cardmembers receive unlimited access to Capital One Lounges and Priority Pass membership. Plus, there’s an added perk of an up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit every four years, making your travel experience even smoother.

United℠ Explorer Card

The United℠ Explorer Card is a popular choice for travelers who are either loyal to United or looking to accumulate points for international flights. As a part of the Star Alliance, United provides access to a wide range of award space on international carriers, making it easier to fulfill your travel dreams.

With a welcome bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, this card offers a compelling incentive to get started. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95 thereafter.

Cardholders enjoy a rewarding points system, earning 2 miles per $1 on dining (including eligible delivery services), hotel stays, and United purchases, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. One of the standout features is the absence of foreign transaction fees, making it ideal for international travel.

The United Explorer Card comes with several valuable perks for United flyers, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, two annual United Club passes, and a 25% rebate on inflight purchases. Additionally, cardmembers have the opportunity to qualify for Global Entry, TSA Precheck, or NEXUS credit every four years, along with the potential to earn elite status through credit card spending.

However, it’s worth noting that while the card offers exceptional benefits, including the ones mentioned above, one drawback is that it earns airline miles, which are not as flexible as transferable rewards offered by cards like the Sapphire Preferred and Venture X. This limitation may impact the ways in which you can redeem your miles.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

For those seeking an airline card without an annual fee, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is an excellent option that covers all the essentials without additional charges.

The welcome bonus for this card allows you to earn 20,000 miles after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. The card doesn’t have an annual fee, making it an attractive choice for budget-conscious travelers.

The rewards program offers 2 miles per $1 on all purchases, 5 miles per $1 on flights booked through Capital One Travel, and 10 miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One Travel. Furthermore, there are no foreign transaction fees, making it a favorable card for international travel.

Additional benefits include travel accident insurance, auto rental collision coverage, and an introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 months. While the welcome bonus and earn rate might be relatively lower compared to other cards, it’s important to remember that this is a no-annual-fee card, which compensates for the lower rewards rate.

Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard®

The Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® is designed to offer generous rewards and recurring benefits to frequent travelers. With an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, which later becomes $79, this card is an attractive option for those living in a Spirit hub.

The welcome bonus presents an opportunity to earn 50,000 points and a $100 Companion Flight Voucher after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

The rewards program provides 3 points per $1 on eligible Spirit purchases, 2 points per $1 on eligible dining and grocery store purchases, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. Furthermore, there are no foreign transaction fees, making it suitable for international travelers.

Cardmembers benefit from various perks, including a $100 annual Companion Flight Voucher (after spending at least $5,000), zone 2 boarding, and waived fees on award redemptions. Additionally, for every $10 spent, cardholders earn 1 Status Qualifying Point (SQP), which can help in achieving elite status.

It’s essential to consider that Spirit Airlines is more appealing for those living within its route network, as it might not be the best option for travelers who want to accumulate miles for international flights outside of Spirit’s network.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express is renowned for its luxury travel perks, providing over $1,500 in travel and entertainment credits, elite status perks, and travel protections. New cardmembers can earn 80,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first six months.

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The card’s rewards program offers 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, 5 points per $1 on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, and 1 point per $1 on other purchases. There’s no foreign transaction fee, but the card’s annual fee of $695 may be steep for some, especially if they don’t fully utilize all the statement credits.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card provides elite treatment and valuable perks even before earning status. With benefits like free checked bags, inflight purchase discounts, upgrade list priority, and access to Delta and Amex Centurion lounges, this card is appealing to frequent Delta travelers. The welcome bonus offers 85,000 miles after spending $6,000 in the first six months.

The rewards program includes 3 miles per $1 on Delta purchases and 1 mile per $1 on other eligible purchases. While the $550 annual fee may seem high, it’s a worthwhile choice for those aiming to achieve elite status, as it waives the Medallion® Qualification requirement and allows for the earning of Medallion Qualification Miles.

Aeroplan® Credit Card

The Aeroplan® Credit Card is well-rounded, offering a generous welcome bonus and attractive earn rates. Cardmembers can earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months and receive 3 points per $1 on dining, takeout, eligible delivery services, grocery stores, and direct Air Canada purchases. All other purchases earn 1 point per $1.

With a reasonable annual fee of $95, cardholders also benefit from preferred pricing on award flights and the potential to earn elite status through credit card spending. The card’s foreign transaction fee is $0.

JetBlue Plus Card

For JetBlue flyers aiming for extra perks on their way to elite status, The JetBlue Plus Card is a suitable choice. With a welcome bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee within the first 90 days, this card provides opportunities to earn 6 points per $1 on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and eligible grocery stores, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. The card comes with a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Cardmembers enjoy various benefits, such as a 50% discount on inflight food and drink, a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to three companions, and a $100 JetBlue Vacations credit. The card also offers the potential to earn Mosaic elite status through credit card spending. However, it may not be suitable for individuals living outside a JetBlue hub due to the limited partner network for point redemption.

Should you get an airline credit card?

Airline cards have become essential for frequent flyers who stick to specific carriers. These cards may offer lower miles per dollar spent compared to travel credit cards, but they make up for it with attractive perks. Cardholders enjoy benefits such as free checked bags, flight credits, inflight discounts, and priority at security checkpoints and boarding. Accumulating miles through airline cards can also contribute towards achieving elite status, enhancing the overall travel experience. According to Benet J. Wilson, a seasoned writer in the aviation travel and credit card industry, airline cards are a great choice for these reasons.

For individuals who are loyal to a particular airline but find it challenging to earn elite status, an airline credit card can prove to be a valuable addition to their wallet. By availing of airline-specific perks, cardholders can enjoy benefits similar to those offered to elite members. Additionally, the generous welcome bonuses associated with airline credit cards can substantially boost their rewards balance. However, it’s important to note that these bonuses come with limitations on how they can be used.

One potential concern with airline credit cards is the possibility of airlines devaluing their miles without warning. This devaluation can result in a sudden decrease in the value of the rewards balance accumulated by the cardholder.

To safeguard against such devaluations, individuals might consider investing in transferable rewards currencies offered by cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. Unlike airline-specific rewards, these points retain their value as they can be transferred to a diverse range of airlines and hotels. Therefore, if one transfer partner undergoes a devaluation, cardholders have the flexibility to transfer their points to a different airline. A key strategy is to delay the point transfer until the moment of redemption to effectively protect against program devaluations.

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How to choose the best airline credit card for you

When it comes to choosing the best airline credit card, your decision should be based on the airline you frequently fly with. For example, if you often travel with Spirit Airlines and live near one of their hubs, the Free Spirit Travel More World Elite Mastercard® can offer you significant benefits. It provides advantages such as saving money on the award redemption fee waiver and an annual Companion Flight Voucher.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to use miles for international travel, you should opt for an airline credit card associated with a legacy carrier like American Airlines, Delta, or United. These airlines have extensive partner networks that allow you to redeem miles for travel around the world. The United Explorer Card, for instance, offers a great choice for travelers aiming to use their miles for flights abroad, thanks to its vast partner network that can take you to various international destinations.

Annual fee vs. no-annual-fee airline credit card

Annual fee cards and no-annual-fee airline cards have distinct benefits. While airline cards with annual fees provide more travel perks and protections, the no-annual-fee cards may lack some of these advantages. For frequent travelers who often fly with a specific airline, the benefits offered by annual fee cards, such as waived checked bag fees and priority boarding, can make the annual fee worthwhile.

One significant advantage of airline cards with annual fees is the absence of foreign transaction fees, which are usually charged by cards with no annual fees. For instance, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® does not have foreign transaction fees, whereas the no-annual-fee American Airlines AAdvantage® Mile Up® card imposes a 3% foreign transaction fee.

For travelers who spend a considerable amount abroad, the foreign transaction fees on the no-annual-fee card can add up to a substantial amount. In such cases, upgrading to a card with an annual fee like the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Card could be a more cost-effective option, especially considering the additional perks it offers.

How do airline miles work?

Airline miles serve as rewards provided by airlines, offering a wide range of redemption options, including award flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and various other perks. These miles can be earned through multiple channels, such as flying, dining at partner restaurants, online shopping, and credit card spending. When it comes to maximizing the value of airline miles, using them for flights, particularly for short domestic trips or luxurious international first-class travel, is often the most advantageous strategy.

The methods of utilizing airline miles can differ among airlines. Some carriers provide award charts that clearly indicate the number of miles required for a specific flight, ensuring transparency and predictability. In contrast, others adopt dynamic pricing, where the miles needed are dependent on factors like the cash price of the ticket and demand at the time of booking. This dynamic system may offer flexibility but might require travelers to remain attentive to find the best deals.

Are airline credit cards worth it?

Airline credit cards can be highly valuable when you have a specific award redemption in mind. For instance, if your goal is to book an American Airlines award ticket to Asia, and you find yourself a few thousand miles short, obtaining an American Airlines card can be an excellent way to top up your miles and achieve your desired redemption. Unlike some major credit card programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One Venture, and Membership Rewards, American Airlines isn’t a transfer partner. Therefore, opting for a co-branded airline card can be a strategic move to earn those miles efficiently.

Even if your preferred airline does have transfer partnerships with major credit card programs, acquiring an airline-specific credit card can still be beneficial. This is especially true if you frequently fly with the airline but don’t fly enough to attain elite status. In such cases, an airline credit card can offer money-saving perks and enhance your overall travel experience. From benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding to companion passes, these airline credit cards provide added value that can make them worth having.