An airline credit card that gives you airline miles or points whenever you use your card is an unbeatable option for the avid traveler. Broadly speaking, such credit cards can be divided into two categories: (1) credit cards co-branded with specific airlines, and (2) credit cards not aligned with specific airlines. For the first group, co-branded airline credit cards let you earn miles which are credited directly into your account with that airline's frequent flyer program. For the second group, such credit cards offer flexibility in the sense that the reward points you earn can either be used to offset your travel purchases, or be transferred to frequent flyer programs of your choice. I used both types of airline credit cards to help me reach my One Million Air Miles goal in 2016 which I used to redeem for US$54,000 worth of air tickets.
Here, we at GET.com have done the research to pick the best airline miles cards this season.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a fantastic miles card that has a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles ($400 in travel) when you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. What we love most about Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is you earn 2 miles (unlimited) per $1 spent on any purchase, which means that your mileage will increase twice as fast. You can book travel when you want, with no blackout dates. There's a $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $59 after that. Here's our Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a highly recommended travel rewards credit card that offers you 50,000 bonus points worth $625 in travel rewards after you spend just $4,000 in the first 3 months. Plus 5,000 bonus points after adding the first authorized user and making a purchase within the first 3 months of account opening. You earn 2 points per dollar for travel and restaurant purchases around the world, and 1 point per dollar for everything else. What we really love about Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is that you can redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for airline tickets which are good for any airline, hotel stays, cash, merchandise and other rewards. There are no travel restrictions or blackout dates when redeeming for travel. You can also do a points transfer to participating frequent flyer programs at a 1:1 rate! There's an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. $0 foreign transaction fee. You can read more about the 4 reasons why Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is ideal for a traveler or expat, or read our Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express, a GET.com advertiser, is a great Card that lets you travel in style and earn points quickly if you love traveling more than anything else. This Card gives you free access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide across 120 countries, including the International American Express lounges, The Centurion® lounge network, Airspace Lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs. Plus, you get to enroll in Priority Pass™ Select for free, courtesy of American Express. Additionally, besides rewarding you with 5X points for flights booked with American Express Travel or flights booked directly with airlines and on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com, The Platinum Card® from American Express lets you earn 60,000 points after you use your new Card to spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Terms Apply. The Platinum Card® from American Express has a $550 annual fee. Read our review of The Platinum Card® from American Express here to learn more about the card.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, a partner card, is a great airline credit card for those who fly with American Airlines as you can earn a limited time offer of 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This Citibank card gives you double AAdvantage miles for each dollar you spend on (eligible) purchases from American Airlines, and 1 AAdvantage mile for every dollar you spend on other purchases. After redeeming your miles you will earn back 10% of the AAdvantage miles you redeem, up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year. When flying with American Airlines on domestic itineraries, your first eligible checked bag will be free. There is a $95 annual fee (waived for the first 12 months). Here's our Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® review. We love Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® for its many benefits.
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card lets you earn double miles on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. Start with 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. There is no limit to the miles you can earn, they do not expire as long as your credit card account is open and can be redeemed for air tickets, hotel stays and car rentals. Extra perks of United MileagePlus® Explorer Card include getting 2 complimentary one-time passes to the United Club, United's airport lounge, every year and getting your first bag checked in for free. When redeeming miles for flights, you're limited to United and other StarAlliance partners. You will also receive up to 10,000 bonus miles per year if you spend more than $25,000 in net purchases annually on your card and 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months. Here's our United MileagePlus® Explorer Card review. There's a $95 annual fee.
Earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios: 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, plus an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening, and 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening.
50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios.
Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.
Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you'll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card is an exclusive airline credit card that is now offering new cardholders the chance to earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. After you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening you can earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios. If you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening you can earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios. This Visa card has no foreign transaction fees, which makes it ideal for those of you who travel abroad or make purchases in other currencies. When purchasing British Airways flights you will earn 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Upon spending $30,000 in one calendar year you will earn a Travel Together Ticket for a travel companion that can be used within two years of booking. British Airways Visa Signature® Card has smart chip technology, which will allow you to make purchases around Europe where some credit card terminals only accept credit cards with a microchip. You can still use your card normally at home. Here's our review of British Airways Visa Signature® Card. This card has a $95 annual fee.
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, a partner card. With this card, you can earn a limited time offer (offer ends 7/5/2017) of 60,000 bonus miles after using your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. You can also get a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with your new Card within the first 4 months of card membership. Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per $1 spent on other eligible purchases. One of the highlights of this card is that it lets you get your first bag checked in for free on Delta flights for you and companions booked on the same reservation (up to 9 waivers per reservation) when purchasing your tickets with this card. Why is this perk so notable? Because just using this card to book round-trip tickets for a family of 4 can save you $200! You will also benefit from priority boarding and other premium travel perks. There is a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. Terms Apply. See our full review of Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express to find out more.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is one of our favorite travel credit cards in the U.S. as it lets you earn points on all your purchases. Here's how it works: earn 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest® purchases and participating Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental partners. You will earn 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases. This chip technology card has a great bonus point promotion which allows you to earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Points don't expire as long as your account is open. Points can be redeemed as travel credit against travel booking on airlines as well as hotels, vacation packages, cruises or car rentals, and can also be redeemed for gift cards. You will also receive 3,000 points yearly after your Card Anniversary. There's a $69 annual fee.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card is one of our favorite travel credit cards in the U.S. as it lets you earn points on all your purchases. Here's how it works: earn 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest® purchases and participating Hotel and Car Rental partners. You will earn 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases. This chip technology card has a great bonus point promotion which allows you to earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Points don't expire as long as your account is open. Points can be redeemed as travel credit against travel booking on airlines as well as hotels, vacation packages, cruises or car rentals, and can also be redeemed for gift cards. You will also receive 6,000 points yearly after your Card Anniversary. $0 foreign transaction fee. See our review of Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. There's a $99 annual fee.
Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days
Earn 6 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 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
50% savings on eligible inflight purchases like cocktails and food & the primary cardmember's first checked bag is free on JetBlue-operated flights
Enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
Enjoy a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more with your JetBlue Plus Card
JetBlue Plus Card is a powerful airline credit card for JetBlue flights. You earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 90 days after account opening. Plus, you earn 5,000 bonus points annually after your account anniversary each year. You earn 6 points for every $1 of JetBlue purchases, which is a very high earning rate. But you also earn 2 points per $1 you spend on purchases at grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. That means you can chalk up miles just by using this card for everyday spending. Every time you redeem your points, you get 10% of your points back to use toward your next redemption. Benefits include 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases (including food, cocktails, and more), first checked bag free on JetBlue operated flights, upgrade to TrueBlue Mosaic for 1 calendar year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases after your anniversary date, and a $100 statement credit when you purchase a Jetblue Vacations package of $100 or more using this card. You also get a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening followed by 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74% variable APR. You pay a $99 annual fee. Read our review of JetBlue Plus Card here.
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
JetBlue Card has an offer which lets you earn 5,000 bonus points by spending $1,000 on purchases using this card in the first 90 days after your account is opened. JetBlue purchases earn 3 points per $1. Plus you get 2 points for each $1 of purchases you make at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases. These broad categories help you earn TrueBlue Points fast on regular everyday spending. Your points don't expire, so you can collect points for as long as you like. Family Pooling options mean you can earn and share points together. Benefits include no foreign transaction fees and 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases (food, cocktails). This card has a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening, after which the standard 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74% variable APR applies. What makes this airline credit card stand out is that it has a $0 annual fee!
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card lets you earn 1.5 points per 1 dollar spent on all purchases. Points do not expire and there is no limit to the total amount of points you can earn. Redeem points for statement credit toward travel purchases you make with this card. Bank of America customers with an active Bank of America® checking or savings account will benefit from an additional 10% customer points bonus on each purchase. That bonus can increase to 25%-75% if you're a Preferred Rewards client. Earn 20,000 online bonus points when you use your new credit card account to make at least $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of opening your account (that can be a $200 statement credit towards travel purchases). Here's our BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card review. No foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.
There are many airline credit cards that give you special airline privileges and let you earn miles or points through the airline loyalty program. If there are 1 or 2 airlines that you always fly with, then using an airline-specific credit card can be a good way to earn miles fast. Most of these cards let you earn miles on every purchase you make.
If you always fly with different airlines, then a more general travel credit card like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could work better. This card lets you earn points (2X points per $1 spent on travel and restaurant dining worldwide, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases) that can be redeemed to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs at full value (1:1 point transfer). So 1,000 points converts to 1,000 frequent flyer miles/points with partner airlines.
Airline-branded cards usually let you earn actual frequent flyer miles or points with one airline. Other more flexible travel cards have more complicated miles reward programs.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is one of the best rewards programs in the US. Only certain Chase credit cards participate in this program. You get 1:1 point transfer when you convert the points you earn with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to frequent flyer programs such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air SKYPASS and British Airways Executive Club. This means you get to enjoy flexibility of your points without them losing value.
Alternatively you can also convert points to Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Hyatt Gold Passport.
Transfer to frequent flyer programs cannot be reversed, so only convert your points to miles when you are sure which airline you are flying with. You can also choose to redeem your points for gift cards, merchandise, or cash back. And points never expire as long as your account is in good standing. All things considered, Chase Ultimate Rewards is a pretty good travel rewards program.
2. Capital One® Rewards
This rewards program is used by certain Capital One® travel cards like Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. You can choose to book travel through the Capital One rewards program. You can also choose to book travel yourself, and then just redeem your miles for a statement credit towards the cost of your travel purchases.
That makes this a very flexible travel rewards program to use. But the rate of miles to dollars is 100 miles to $1, or 1 mile per cent. That means redeeming 100,000 miles would get you $1,000 worth of travel. So your miles aren't worth quite as much as frequent flyer miles with airlines, as they don't convert 1 to 1. It may help to look at the miles you earn through this program as cash back or points rather than actual frequent flyer miles.
On the whole, this is a very flexible program that also lets you redeem miles for merchandise, gift cards (minimum 1,000 miles to redeem for a $10 gift card) or cash back.
3. FlexPerks℠ from U.S. Bank
This program lets you earn FlexPoints℠, which can be redeemed for airline tickets, travel gift certificates, cash back, merchandise and gift cards. You will have to book your tickets through the FlexPerks Rewards Center (powered by Travelocity®) when redeeming points for flights. It's easy and convenient, but you have to redeem points for travel through FlexPerks only, so it isn't as flexible as other programs.
But you can book tickets with no blackout dates on over 150 airlines as long as you have a minimum of 20,000 FlexPoints. FlexPerks has 16 different redemption tiers which let you get up to 2 cents in value for every point you redeem. That means you could redeem 20,000 points for an airline ticket that costs up to $400.
If you redeem 30,000 points, you can receive up to $600 in airfare. You can get a lot of travel for your points if you play these cards right. Most other programs give you 1 cent for every 1 point you redeem, which would only be $200 in airfare for 20,000 points.
With FlexPerks, you can get up to double that amount. Unfortunately, FlexPoints have a lifespan of 5 years, after which they expire. So if you want to save up a huge amount of points for a world tour, this may not be the program to use.
4. Citi ThankYou® Rewards
This rewards program actually earns points that can be redeemed in many different ways. One big travel perk that you get with some Citi cards such as Citi Prestige® Card is that you can convert points to these frequent flyer programs at a 1:1 rate (minimum 1000 points): Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer, Etihad Guest, EVA Air Infinity MileageLands and Asia Miles, Flying Blue Award Miles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Qatar Airways Privilege Club, Qantas Frequent Flyer.
Airline Card Benefits
First Checked Bag Free
Some airline credit cards let you get a certain number of checked bags free when you use them to pay for your booking. For example, if you purchase your ticket in full with United MileagePlus® Explorer Card you'll be able to check your first bag for free (for you and one traveling companion in your same reservation), saving you as much as $100 each round trip.
When you pay for travel bookings using some airline credit cards, you automatically receive travel insurance coverage for your trip. The most common types of coverage you receive are travel accident insurance (covers death or severe injury on a common carrier) and a secondary auto rental collision damage waiver which adds coverage above what your auto insurance policy gives you.
Better cards give you more comprehensive insurance coverage. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, gives you trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance and a primary auto rental collision damage waiver.
Here is a summary of what types of travel insurance coverage you might want to look for when choosing an airline credit card.
Travel Accident Insurance
This type of travel insurance is offered by many credit cards. If the plane, cruiseship or other common carrier you travel on is involved in an accident, you can receive compensation for injuries, loss of mobility and more. For example, Chase Freedom® gives you up to $250,000 coverage for accidental death or dismemberment, and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card provides up to $250,000 in travel accident insurance.
Trip Interruption/Cancellation Coverage
This is one of the most useful types of travel insurance to have. Unfortunately not very many cards give you this coverage. This insurance covers you if a qualifying emergency like an unexpected illness of you or a family member/business partner forces you to cancel your trip.
This insurance may also refund certain expenses like hotel stays or restaurant meals when a trip is interrupted unexpectedly (unexpected bad weather or technical difficulties, for example). This coverage and reimbursement only applies to purchases made with your card.
If you have the Visa Signature version of Chase Freedom®, you can get reimbursed for up to $5,000 of non-refundable, pre-paid travel expenses (passenger fares, tours, hotels) per trip. Using the right card to pay for your bookings means you probably won't need to buy additional travel insurance.
Luggage Loss/Damage Insurance
This is pretty self explanatory. If your luggage gets lost or damaged by a common carrier, you will get reimbursed up to a certain limit. For example, Chase Freedom® provides up to $3,000 of coverage per passenger with the Visa Signature version).
Rental Car Loss/Damage Waiver
Rather than paying extra for auto rental insurance when you rent a vehicle, just pay for the rental using a credit card that gives you this insurance coverage. Many airline cards give you secondary auto rental insurance, and this may be limited to only a certain amount of coverage.
But some cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card give you primary coverage up to the actual cash value of the vehicle. In every case, this coverage applies to collisions (and usually theft), but may not include things like windscreen damage or mechanical breakdowns.
But some cards give you primary coverage up to the actual cash value of the vehicle. In every case, this coverage applies to collisions (and usually theft), but may not include things like windscreen damage or mechanical breakdowns.
Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance
This is a very useful insurance to have, but here again, this coverage only comes with a few credit cards. When you use a card that offers this insurance to pay for your travel bookings, you will be covered for the cost of transporting you to certified medical facility or even back to the US for care.
How we rate Airline Credit Cards
At GET.com, we look at the miles you earn, if miles expire or not, and how much those miles are really worth in travel. We also look at the airline benefits that these cards offer, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, lounge access and on-board credit. We pay a lot of attention to bonus offers as well.
Other important factors are flexibility in how you can earn and redeem rewards, and introductory low APR periods. Other benefits like travel insurance, shopping perks and travel discounts also feature highly in our rating process.
We also consider the annual fee, standard APR, foreign transaction fees and compare these to the benefits the card offers to give you a clear picture of what each airline card really gives you.
Pedro Pla is co-founder of GET.com. He has been around the globe several times and considers collecting air miles and points from credit cards to be a hobby, if not, an obsession. Email: email@example.com.
Editorial Disclosure: Any personal views and opinions expressed by the author in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of GET.com. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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At GET.com we compare credit cards and rate them objectively based on the credit card's features, interest rates and fees.
Cards are rated by our team based primarily on the basis of value for money to the cardholder. The GET.com team rates each card based on its annual fee, rewards, benefits, bonus, introductory APR, ongoing APR, flexibility (in how its benefits can be used and how rewards are earned and redeemed), and other card features.