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.
GET.com's Best Airline Credit Cards
|Best For||Credit Card|
|Matched Miles||Discover it® Miles - Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card|
|Double Miles||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card|
|Signing Bonus||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card|
|All Round||BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card|
|Free Airport Lounge Access||The Platinum Card® from American Express|
|Domestic & Overseas Travel||United MileagePlus® Explorer Card|
|Delta Rewards||Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express|
Here are GET.com's Best Airline Credit Cards:
Best for Matched Miles the First Year: Discover it® Miles - Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card
Best for Double Miles on Any Purchase: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Best for Signing Bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best for Free Airport Lounge Access: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for Frequent Domestic Travel: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®
Best for Domestic and Overseas Travel: United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Best for Delta Air Lines Rewards: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Best for Budget Travel: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Best for Fast Rewards: JetBlue Plus Card
Best for Budget Flights with $0 annual fee: JetBlue Card
Best General Travel Card for All Purchases: BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card
What is an Airline Credit Card?
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.
Here we highlight some of the most popular credit card rewards programs:
1. Chase Ultimate Rewards
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.
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).
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.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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