Edited by: Juan Ruiz
& Keri Stooksbury
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This guide provides a detailed look at the best airline credit cards available in 2023, and an analysis of their rewards and benefits, to help you decide which is the best airline credit card for you.
American Airlines’ AAdvantage loyalty program is the largest frequent flyer program and one of the longest-standing programs still around. With so many members, card issuers Barclays and Citi designed several co-branded credit cards to meet the needs of a variety of American flyers.
You’ll find credit cards with lounge access offer free checked bags for you and your traveling companions, discounts on inflight purchases, and even the ability to earn elite qualifying miles for a faster path to elite status.
Here’s a look at some of the best credit cards American offers and each card’s related benefits.
One of the most important aspects of an airline credit card is the ability to earn frequent flyer miles that can be redeemed for award flights.
All American Airlines cards listed below earn at least 2 miles on American. A few cards also have bonus spending categories.
|American Airlines Credit Card||Loyalty Points|
|AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®*||5,000 bonus Loyalty Points after spending $20,000 on the card, 5,000 additional bonus Loyalty Points after spending $40,000, and another 5,000 Loyalty Points after spending $50,000, for a total bonus of 15,000 Loyalty Points, by February 28, 2023|
|AAdvantage Executive World Elite card||10,000 bonus Loyalty Points after spending $40,000 on the card by February 28, 2023|
*The AAdvantage Aviator Silver card is not available for new applications. However, the card is available as an upgrade to cardholders who have an eligible AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.
All AAdvantage credit cardmembers earn 1 AAdvantage Loyalty Point for every dollar spent (plus bonus earnings) on Citi or Barclays American-branded credit cards.
American Airlines-branded cards issued by Barclays come with several useful shopping and travel protections including, but not limited to, car rental insurance, baggage insurance, purchase protection, and extended warranty.
The AAdvantage Aviator Red card and AAdvantage Aviator Silver card offer a $99 companion ticket benefit (plus taxes and fees) that is good for 1 companion after spending $20,000 each card anniversary year. The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® and AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard® offer a $99 companion ticket benefit after spending $30,000 each card anniversary year.
Based on the number of miles earned when using their card, cardholders of the AAdvantage Aviator Business card can also earn a 5% AAdvantage mileage bonus each year after their account anniversary date.
We have a lot more information to share with you regarding American Airlines’ credit cards. To learn more about all the benefits and to compare, explore our best travel rewards cards for American Airlines flyers.
Each Delta Air Lines credit card featured below earns at least 2 miles on the airline, at varying rates. Depending on the card, some cards offer bonus earnings on everyday spending.
Delta Medallion Elite status requires flying a specific number of miles or flight segments each calendar year, spending Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) on Delta flights, and/or spending on a Delta credit card to waive the MQD requirement.
All of the Delta credit cards featured in this article allow you to waive the MQD requirement for elite levels up to Platinum Medallion by spending $25,000 each calendar year. You can waive the Diamond MQD requirement by spending $250,000 in a calendar year.
The Delta Reserve card, the Delta Platinum card, and the business versions of each of these cards offer a buy-1-get-1 companion ticket benefit each year for travel within the lower 48 U.S. The cardholder pays only for the taxes and fees on the companion ticket.
The Pay with Miles benefit allows you to use SkyMiles to offset the cost of your paid ticket. Each 5,000 miles equals $50 in credit towards the cost of your flight.
For a complete breakdown, explore our best credit cards for Delta flyers, including our flexible travel rewards card recommendations for Delta flyers.
All of the United-branded credit cards featured here earn at least 2x miles on United purchases, and some cards have bonus earning categories that result in elevated earnings on specific purchases. Cards, unless otherwise specified, earn 1 mile for every dollar purchased.
Like American Airlines (EQD) and Delta Air Lines (MQD), United has a requirement that you must spend a certain amount of money each year on airline tickets to qualify for United elite status. United’s revenue requirement is referred to as Premier Qualifying Points (PQP).
However, each United card offers a way for you to spend your way to additional PQPs for the program year. Cardholders of the United Explorer card, United℠ Business Card, and the United Club℠ Business Card can earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 1,000 PQPs in a calendar year. United Quest card and United Club Infinite cardholders can earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 3,000 PQPs in a calendar year.
For a comprehensive overview of all United Airlines’ credit cards, you’ll want to check out our best credit cards for United flyers guide.
Alaska Airlines loyalists are passionate about flying their favorite airline. If you’re a frequent Alaska Airlines traveler, having a branded credit card can help you earn miles faster, plus save you money with free checked bags for you and up to 6 traveling companions and the $99 Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare. Our recommended Alaska-branded credit card is the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card.
The Alaska Signature card is issued by Bank of America and is a great card for frequent Alaska Airlines travelers.
You’ll receive 3x miles for Alaska Airlines purchases, 2x miles on eligible gas, cable, streaming services and local transit purchases, and 1x miles on all other purchases.
Cardholders earn 3x points on Southwest purchases. You’ll also earn 2x points on local transit and commuting, internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming, plus 1x points on all other purchases. The card also gives you 7,500 bonus anniversary points each year.
Cardmembers can take advantage of the $75 Southwest annual travel credit, 4 Upgraded Boardings per year, and 25% back on inflight purchases.
Southwest has 3 tier levels of status: A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. You can reach A-List by flying 25,000 miles per year or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points by spending on Southwest. A-List Preferred can be achieved by flying 50,000 miles annually or by earning 70,000 tier qualifying points. You will need 110,000 points in a calendar year to earn a Southwest Companion Pass.
You can earn tier qualifying points for all elite levels, including Companion Pass, by also spending on any Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.
If you fly on British Airways or its partner Oneworld alliance airlines, such as American Airlines, Qantas, Japan Airlines, or Cathay Pacific, you’re sure to have use for its Avios frequent flyer points. While redeeming Avios for long-haul premium flights is a solid option, the redemption sweet spot can be realized on short flight redemptions. Flights of 650 miles or less start at just 4,000 Avios for an off-peak one-way flight.
Our recommended British Airways-branded card is the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. The British Airways Visa card doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles, but it does allow you to earn Avios, receive discounts on British Airways flights, and earn a valuable Travel Together Ticket potentially worth thousands of dollars.
Chase issues the British Airways Visa card that earns 3x Avios (miles) on British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and LEVEL. You can also earn 2x Avios on hotel accommodations, then all other purchases earn 1x Avios.
If you travel on British Airways and/or its partner airlines, have use for a premium companion ticket, or want to have a stash of Avios on hand for booking short-haul flights, the card will bring you value.
If you’re a JetBlue fan, you may find value and earn lots of rewards with a JetBlue-branded credit card. Barclays issues 3 JetBlue-branded cards including The JetBlue Card, The JetBlue Plus Card, and The JetBlue Business Card.
We especially like The JetBlue Plus card for its elevated earnings and its benefits.
Those who are fans of the flagship carrier of Canada will love that it now has a U.S. credit card option via Chase, the Aeroplan® Credit Card.
Plus, you’ll earn 500 bonus points for every $2,000 spent in a calendar month (up to a maximum of 1,500 points per calendar month).
An airline credit card is a credit card that earns points or miles with a specific airline, along with offering perks and benefits when flying with that airline.
Airlines miles are the rewards currency you earn when participating in an airline’s frequent flyer program. You’ll earn them when flying with the airline, using the airlines co-branded credit card, and/or participating in other programs like the airlines shopping portal or dining program.
While many frequent flyer programs use the term miles to refer to their rewards currency, others use points instead, but they are functionally the same thing. For instance, American Airlines refers to its loyalty currency as AAdvantage Miles, and Delta uses the term SkyMiles. Alternatively, programs offered by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, use the terms Rapid Rewards Points and TrueBlue points, respectively.
This is an age-old question, and it can be difficult to answer as deciding what the mile of any given program is “worth” can be quite subjective.
That said, some airline programs make it easier to decipher than others. Southwest is a good example here as its Rapid Rewards Points will almost always get you somewhere around ~1.3 cents per point toward the cash cost of your ticket.
For loyalty programs that set their pricing based on an award chart, or a dynamic pricing model, pinning down exactly what a mile is worth is a bit difficult.
Take American Airlines for instance, where you can redeem 70,000 miles to book a one-way ticket in Qatar QSuites between the U.S. and Doha, a ticket that can cost ~$10,000 if you were to pay with cash. On the other hand, a domestic economy ticket for you to fly home for the holidays might be priced at 40,000 miles, even if the cash fare is $500-$600.
Due to this variation, when we set our points and miles valuations at Upgraded Points, we do so based on what our redemption experience shows that one can reasonably expect to receive on a regular basis.
Whether or not your airline miles will expire comes down to the specific program. In some programs, your miles will expire in 12-24 months without any sort of qualifying activity to extend them. In other programs, your miles will never expire so long as your account remains open.
Hot Tip: For a program-by-program breakdown of milage expiration policies, read through our dedicated guide to learn if your frequent flyer miles expire.
If you’re struggling to decide which is the best airline credit card for you, here are some tips to help you decide.
When deciding on an airline credit card, the key question to ask yourself is which airline do you fly with the most?
Put simply, it can make little sense to hold a co-branded airline card for an airline that you hardly ever fly with — especially if that card charges an annual fee.
In order to make the most of the airline miles you’ll be earning, and the perks that the card offers, you want to make sure you chose an airline card for the airline that you fly most often with.
Once you’ve settled on a chosen airline, the next thing to consider is how often you plan to fly with the airline. Will you fly the carrier a couple of times a year to go on vacation and visit family? Or do you travel for work which will have you flying significantly more?
Since some airlines offer multiple varieties of credit cards at annual fees that can range from $0 to $550, you’ll want to make sure you’re flying enough to justify whichever card you choose.
As mentioned, some airlines carry 4 or more co-branded credit card options, so narrowing down what perks and protection you are looking for will help you decide which is the best fit for you.
For instance, do you need a card to include checked baggage benefits, priority boarding, airport lounge access, or even trip delay insurance? These are all things you’ll want to consider to help you get maximum value out of your new card.
Naturally, one of the primary benefits of using an airline credit card is using it for as many purchases as you can, to earn as many miles as possible, so that you can then redeem them for your next award ticket.
That said, that does not mean that you should spend frivolously just for the sake of earning rewards, and you should also be certain to pay your balance off in full each month as paying interest on your purchases will negate the value of the miles you receive.
Many airline credit cards include perks that can either save you money, or improve your experience flying the airline. These may include items like free checked bags, priority boarding, complimentary upgrades, airport lounge access, and more.
However, you want to be aware of the terms around these benefits to ensure you’re able to use them to their full potential. For instance, many airline credit cards require you to pay for your flight with your airline credit card in order to receive the checked baggage benefit.
Most airlines offer a shopping portal and dining program that allows you to earn even more points for purchases you were planning to make anyway. Better yet, the points you earn through these programs are on top of the miles you earn when spending with your airline credit card.
The primary difference between airline co-branded credit cards and general travel cards are that airline cards offer rewards and perks that are tied to a specific airline, while travel rewards cards usually earn flexible rewards that can be redeemed for a wide variety of travel purchases through its native travel portal, transferred to airline and hotel partners, and more.
Due to this, the rewards earned with a transferable travel rewards credit card are significantly more flexible, but might lack the level of perks with a specific airline that one might want if you are a frequent flyer of that airline.
One benefit of airline credit cards is that they usually come with a generous welcome bonus you can earn when you initially secure the card and complete the minimum spending requirement. Welcome bonuses can be as much as 100,000 miles and provide enough rewards to book at least a business class flight.
Welcome bonus aside, however, the best airline credit card for you may not be an airline-branded credit card but a travel rewards-earning credit card. Or you may find that a combination of an airline-branded card and a travel rewards card will work for even greater earnings and elevated travel benefits.
The right card combination can give you the highest earnings on every airline you fly (including your preferred airline), flexible redemption options beyond your frequented airline, luxury travel benefits, and travel and shopping protections that add value.
The information regarding the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the United Club℠ Business Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding The JetBlue Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding The JetBlue Plus Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding The JetBlue Business Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.
The best airline credit card will likely be the one co-branded with the airline you fly on most frequently.
This is because you could receive benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, the possibility of a faster path to elite status, and even airport lounge access.
Another good choice for an airline credit card will be one that has a large welcome bonus that you could subsequently use to redeem for award flights. This may be an airline-branded credit card that isn’t tied to your most frequented airline.
The best credit card for airline purchases, however, may not be branded by the airline. For example, the best card could be a flexible rewards-earning credit card that may offer up to 5x points on all flight purchases versus an airline co-branded card that just earns 2x miles on only its own flights.
Plus, with a flexible rewards-earning card, you will not be limited to redeeming your rewards on a specific airline or airline alliance.
If you frequently fly (and sometimes even just a few times a year) with a specific airline, then yes, holding an airline credit card for that airline with likely be worth it.
This is because airline credit cards not only help you earn miles faster, but also offer perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, inflight discounts, and more.
That depends entirely on the airline. Some airline miles will never expire so long as your frequent flyer account remains open, while others will expire in a period between 12-24 months without any qualifying activity that extends them.
Some airline credit cards do not charge an annual fee, but most of the best airline credit cards do charge an annual fee since they offer significantly more benefits and elevated mileage earnings.
Yes, the majority of the best airline credit cards include free checked bags as a benefit. In fact, many also offer free checked bags for your traveling companions as well, which can amount to significant savings on each flight if you travel with your family.
No, you do not have to be a frequent flyer to have an airline credit card. In fact, even if you only fly with an airline a few times a year you might still benefit from holding an airline credit card thanks to the perks they offer.
That said, if your airline credit card has an annual fee, you’ll want to make sure you are flying often enough to receive more value from the card than the fee you pay.
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