Best Airline Credit Cards For Passionate Travelers

If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll want to get more for a good chunk of your money than just an airline ticket to somewhere. It’s just the smart thing to do. However, getting the right airline credit card isn’t going to be easy. Each one offers varying benefits ranging from priority boarding and primary rental car insurance to checked bag benefits and redemption points. The one that works best for you won’t necessarily be the best for everyone else. With that in mind, we’ve listed down the best airline credit cards as well as the best one offered by each airline. If you’re in the market for a credit card that will make travel expenses more than worth their weight in gold, then this list is exactly what you need.

*Please note that while we do everything in our power to provide accurate information with recommendations that we came up with during our research, this article does not constitute financial advice. As of now we do not earn any commission from you clicking and purchasing anything from any of these companies, however we do plan to add that feature.

Top 9 Airline Credit Cards of 2018 Reviewed

1. United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

United Airlines’ MileagePlus Explorer Card is our top pick for those who prefer this carrier. You get 40,000 bonus miles after you use the card for $2000 worth of purchases within the first three months of opening the account. Each time you purchase tickets from United, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent. All other purchases earn you 1 mile per $1 spent. One of the great things about this card is that your miles won’t expire as long as your credit card account is still open. And, there is no mileage cap.

You get to earn as much as you want. You also get a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year which becomes $95 every year afterward. Best of all, cardholders get to enjoy increased award availability which means you can access more award flights compared to people who are members of the frequent flyer program but do not have the card. One thing to take note is this: cardholders do get check their first bag for free along with one other person on your trip when the card is used to buy the ticket. However, other airline credit cards offer this benefit to more travelers on your trip.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.49% – 24.49% Variable APR $0 for the first year, then $95 Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. 690-850

Travel Perks:

  • One free checked bag when the ticket is purchased using the card.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Two United Club passes each year.
  • Primary rental car insurance.
  • Access to additional award space on flights with United.

2. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Best Airline Credit Card Delta

If Delta is your carrier of choice, the best co-branded card you can get is the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. The sign-up bonus is 30,000 bonus miles once you spend $1000 in purchases within the first three months. You also get a $50 statement credit once you make a Delta purchase within the same amount of time using the card. All eligible purchases made directly with Delta will earn you 2 miles per dollar spent. All other purchases will earn you 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent.

Compared to all other major airlines, Delta allows the highest number of people in a group who can check their first bag for free – nine. The card from American Airlines only allows four while United allows only two. You can enjoy no blackout dates on Delta flights when you redeem your miles. However, American Express isn’t as widely accepted internationally compared to Visa and Mastercard so you may not be able to always use this card outside of the country.  This Delta card is definitely perfect for individuals who travel frequently with a large group.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.24% – 26.24% Variable APR $0 for the first year, then $95 Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. 690-850

Travel Perks:

  • Priority Boarding
  • Free checked bag for up to 9 people on your itinerary.
  • Discounted lounge access ($29 per person)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% off in-flight purchases

3. Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

There are a lot of perks offered by Southwest Airlines through their co-branded card. The first of which is that you get 40,000 bonus points when you get the card and spend $1000 on purchases within 3 months of opening the account. You earn 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases and 1 point for every dollar spent on all other purchases.

These points don’t expire as long as your account remains open. And these points can be used for flights, hotel stays, events, gift cards, etc. Enjoy no blackout dates or seat restrictions when booking your award flight. After a year, the cardholder is awarded a 6000-point bonus on his/her anniversary. No spending required. And if he/she is able to earn 110,000 qualifying points within the calendar year, he gets Companion Pass – allowing you to have a friend fly with you for free for a year.

Aside from all that, you can also earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on the card each calendar year, up to 15,000 annually. These points can help you reach elite status faster (called A-List or A-List Preferred status). However, the annual fee isn’t waived in the first year like it is with other airline credit cards. You don’t get to enjoy luxury benefits such as lounge access. Also, there are a limited number of flights provided from the US to Latin America and the Caribbean. If your frequent travels are mostly within the US of A, then Southwest’s card should be one of your top choices.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.49% – 24.49% Variable APR $99 Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. 720-850

Travel Perks:

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Two free checked bags per person
  • Redeem points for flights, hotel stays, and car rentals through Southwest’s partners

4. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Best Airline Credit Card For Miles

If you’re from Portland or Seattle, then you would probably be a frequent flyer with Alaska Airlines. For those who prefer this airline, the best card would be the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card. It comes with 30,000 bonus miles and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ which you qualify for once you spend $1000 within the first 90 days of opening the account.

The Companion Fare™ is a buy one ticket, get one for just taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22). Every year afterward, you can enjoy another Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) on your account anniversary valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights booked on alaskaair.com.

You get to earn 3 miles for every $1 spent directly with Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. You get 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. There is no cap on how many miles you can earn and you can use them to travel with no blackout dates. However, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America do not fly to every state which makes options limited in comparison with other airlines. The annual fee is also not waived for the first year, unlike other airline credit cards. If you frequently fly with someone on Alaska Airlines, it is well worth your money to get this card.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 16.49% – 24.49% Variable APR $75 Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. 690-850

Travel Perks:

  • Mo foreign transaction fees
  • Free checked bag on Alaska and Virgin America flights (you + 6 other passengers on the same reservation)

5. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Best Airline Credit Card Lounge Access

If you want a lot of high-value perks to go along with your airline credit card, you definitely can’t go wrong with this one. The most significant of the travel benefits you get is access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club lounges for you and your travel companions. You can even authorize up to 10 people to be able to access the lounge without you present. Yes, the $450 annual fee is huge but the membership fee of the Admirals Club is actually $550 a year so you’re getting a bargain there.

You also get first checked bags for free for you and up to 8 travel companions. Other travel benefits include priority check-in, priority airport screening, and priority boarding privileges for you and 8 other people in your itinerary. Need help with your travel needs? You also get a Dedicated Concierge as a perk with this card. In case we forget, the sign up bonus is 50,000 American American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles once you spend $5000 in purchases within the first three months. You earn 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

For all other purchases, you earn 1 mile for every dollar spent. If you’re a big spender, you can even earn 10,000 AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles if you spend $40,000 within a year, taking you that much nearer to elite status. If you have the cash to spend and really plan on using the lounge regularly, this is definitely the card for you.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.24% – 25.24%* (Variable) $450 either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater 720-850

Travel Perks:

  • Dedicated Concierge
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority airport screening where available
  • Priority boarding privileges
  • First checked a bag free on domestic American Airlines (up to 8 travel companions)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Admirals Club® membership

6. British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Best Airline Credit Card For International Travel

If you regularly fly with British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, then you should definitely avail of the British Airways Visa Signature Card. You can earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios within the first year. You can earn the first 50,000 after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first three months. You get an additional 25,000 bonus Avios if you spend $10,000 on purchases within the first year. And you get another 25,000 bonus Avios if you spend a total of $20,000 on purchases within the first year.

You also earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on purchases with British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. And you earn 1 Avios for every $1 for all other purchases. Other perks include membership in the Executive Club and travel & purchase coverage which includes Purchase Protection, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and Baggage Delay Insurance. If you make $30,000 in purchases using the card, you can even earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years. This means that you can use the Travel Together Ticket to fly with a companion in the same cabin that you redeemed using your points.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.49%–24.49% variable APR. $95 Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. At least 741

Travel Perks:

  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Baggage Delay Insurance
  • Purchase Protection
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement
  • Extended Warranty Protection
  • Travel Together Ticket

7. JetBlue Plus Card

Best Airline Credit Card Bonus

When it comes to earning points for your purchase, no airline credit card can beat JetBlue’s card. You can earn 6 points for every dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, 2 points for every dollar spent in restaurants and grocery stores, and 1 point for every dollar spend on all other purchases. You also get 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days. And that’s not all.

The travel perks aren’t bad either. You can get a free checked bag for you and three other companions on the same reservation. If you redeem your TrueBlue points, you can get a 10% rebate on your points which doesn’t have an annual cap. With a $50,000 in annual spend, you can earn JetBlue Mosaic elite status on this card. And at each anniversary, you get 5,000 bonus points after you pay the $99 annual fee. By the way, these points don’t expire. You can even earn and share points with family pooling. If you’re worried about your card getting hacked while traveling, don’t be. The JetBlue Plus card comes with $0 Fraud Liability protection.

JetBlue Plus Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.49%, 21.49% or 26.49% $99 Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. At least 700

Travel Perks:

  • 50% savings on eligible in-flight purchases including cocktails and food
  • Free checked bag for up to four travel companions (including you)
  • 10% rebate on all redeemed TrueBlue points
  • No blackout dates and seat restrictions
  • $100 statement credit after you purchase a Vacations package with your card

8. AeroMexico Visa Secured Card

Best Airline Credit Card for Bad Credit

If you have a low or bad credit score, you don’t have to do without an airline credit card. With the AeroMexico Visa Secured Card, you can enjoy the travel benefits and earn points for your purchases at the same time. The annual fee is only $25. You get 3,500 first use bonus miles plus Complimentary Companion Certificate. And upon renewal, you also get a $99 companion certificate with renewal.

You earn double miles on Aeromexico Ticket purchases and on gas and grocery purchases. For all other eligible purchases, you earn 1 mile (1.6 Premier Points) per eligible net. When traveling, you get complimentary baggage, zero fraud liability, emergency cash and card replacement, and easy cash access to your account through more than 1 million ATMs worldwide. One great thing about this card is that the airline is part of the SkyTeam airline alliance which means you can redeem your miles with partner airlines such as Delta, Air France, and KLM. However, you do get charged foreign transaction fees: 2% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in U.S. Dollars and 3% of each foreign purchase transaction or foreign ATM advance transaction in a Foreign Currency.

AeroMexico Visa Secured Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 24.49% $25 Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater. Bad to low

Travel Perks:

  • Companion Certificate
  • Complimentary checked bag
  • Protected by zero fraud liability
  • Emergency Cash and Card Replacement
  • Easy Cash Access

9. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best Travel Credit Card

Unlike all of our other picks, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is not an airline credit card. Instead, it is a general travel card. But it offers a great deal of valuable and flexible rewards that we just had to include it on our list. If you’re not tied down or loyal to one particular airline, then this is the card for you. The sign-up bonus of this card is 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4000 on purchases within the first three months. This equals to $625 toward travel if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You can earn twice the points when using the card on travel and dining. All other purchases will earn you 1 point per dollar spent.

If you add the first authorized user, you can earn 5,000 more bonus points as long as you make a purchase in the first 3 months. And if you spend $30,000 on purchases within your first year, you get an additional 30,000 bonus points. What’s great about this travel card is that it offers a 1:1 point transfer with leading airline and hotel loyalty programs which include United, Southwest, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. And you get to enjoy no blackout dates and travel restrictions when you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. However, since this is not an airline-specific card, you don’t get travel perks like priority boarding, free checked baggage, and lounge access.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Intro APR Regular APR Annual fee Balance Transfer Fee Recommended credit score
N/A 17.49% – 24.49% Variable APR $0 for the first year, then $95 Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. 690-850

Travel Perks:

  • Purchase Protection
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver
  • Baggage Delay Insurance
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement
  • Purchase Protection
  • Extended Warranty
  • No foreign transaction fees

Airline Credit Card Buying Guide

Anyone who travels more than a couple of times a year will benefit from an airline credit card or a travel rewards card. Not only will you get to earn redemption points with every swipe, you can get lots of travel perks while saving money. Of course, there’s no one airline credit card that can be deemed the best of the best. This is because everyone has different needs and lifestyles. If you’re wondering which airline credit card is for you, we’ve got just the guide to help you.

What is an airline credit card?

Airline credit cards are co-branded credit cards that allow you to accrue more miles with your carrier of choice (i.e. United, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines). Through the airline’s frequent flyer loyalty program, you can exchange or redeem the accumulated miles for free travel.

With an airline credit card, you should be able to get high-value rewards along with exclusive perks to make it worth your while. Travel perks may include free checked bags, priority boarding, and companion tickets.

Airline credit card or general travel card?

Both types of credit cards earn you miles/points that can be used to pay for travel-related expenses. However, there are major differences between the two. The most important consideration is flexibility. A general travel card is directly owned by the credit card company that issued it and allows you to earn points and redeem them through any airline frequent flyer program, hotel programs, and the like. An airline credit card, on the other hand, is more focused on building brand loyalty.

You earn double or triple the miles per dollar spent when purchasing through the airline and a mile per dollar spent for everything else. These miles can only be redeemed for award flights through that specific airline. In comparison, the overall redemption points you earn is lower. However, an airline credit card provides you with certain travel perks that can make it worth your while. Airline credit cards can provide you with companion passes, waived baggage fees, priority boarding, and seat upgrades. It also can accelerate your journey to elite status.  

Table of differences

Airline Credit Card General Travel Card
Usually has an annual fee Sometimes has no annual fee
Double or triple rewards for airline-based earnings Earnings from all purchases (broader rewards categories)
Variable redemption rates Points are typically worth a flat rate
Fly with a single airline and its partnership brands Fly with any airline
Sign up bonus Sign up bonus
May be subject to blackout dates and restrictions on destinations No blackout dates
Comes with travel perks such as free checked bags and priority boarding Points can be redeemed as merchandise, used in other programs in 1:1 ratio, or used as cashback
Typically no foreign transaction fees No foreign transaction fees

A general travel card is for you if…

  • You don’t travel frequently (less than four times a year)
  • You don’t fly exclusively with one airline.
  • Most of your charges come from everyday items such as gas, groceries, and restaurants
  • You prefer flexibility when redeeming your points for rewards.
  • You want a redemption rate that has a constant value.
  • You want to redeem your miles for other travel-related expenses such as hotel stays and car rentals.

An airline credit card is for you if…

  • You travel often and can use the perks
  • You mostly fly one airline.
  • You check bags frequently.
  • You have a good FICO credit score – at least 670.
  • You are able to pay off your balance every month.

How do I choose which airline credit card fits me?

The very first step in choosing an airline credit card (once you figure out if it’s a good fit for you) is to find out which airline you use the most and has a hub at your local airport. If you already know the answer to this one, then your search is pretty much over. It doesn’t really matter if the sign-up bonus of another airline credit card is better. You won’t be able to benefit from it much if it’s from an airline you never fly or one that doesn’t have a hub in the airport where you live.

For example, individuals living in Atlanta would get more value if they choose Delta as their carrier of choice. If you regularly fly out from O’Hare airport in Chicago, then you can choose between American Airlines and United which have hubs in that location.

You may also use this key consideration when choosing which airline to go with: where do you fly? Look at the destinations you most frequently go to and check which airlines provide nonstop and/or connecting flights to those places. The ones that fit this requirement are the airlines that would give you the most value. For example, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines make repeated trips to Dallas. If you are a frequent visitor there, then it makes sense to choose between these two airlines for your co-branded credit card.

If you already have an airline in mind, the next step would be to choose between the offerings from that particular airline which is typically a basic card and a premium one. Among major airlines, the premiere card has an annual fee worth hundreds of dollars but it also offers more benefits.

The biggest of the benefits is access to its exclusive airport lounges that offer free snacks, drinks, Wi-Fi, and comfortable seats. The co-branded credit cards of other airlines such as Southwest Airlines feature more subtle differences between their offerings. But in choosing between the basic and the premium, the solution remains the same: choose the card which offers benefits you will use often enough that you are more than able to make up for the annual fee.

What if there are multiple airlines that serve the airport/s where I am located (i.e. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago)?

If you have a choice of airlines due to the location of your preferred airport, you’ll want to choose the airline that dominates that particular location. For example, if you’re traveling from Seattle, the carrier that has the most flights is Alaska Airlines. You can easily check that by visiting the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If the airport does not have a single airline that dominates, your choice will be based on where you’re going.

Of course, if you are going to be choosing various airlines for different flights, then you’re going to benefit more with a general travel card. However, if you prefer two airlines, some travel experts do recommend getting both airline credit cards. Why? Well, if you’re really a frequent flyer on both airlines, the perks and points just may be more than enough to recoup the two annual fees you’ll be paying. This is especially true if you can save money on checked bag fees.

If you can’t afford two airline credit cards, you can also choose the airline credit card that allows you to use your miles with other airlines that you also prefer to use. Another consideration would be whether you plan to use the card internationally. If so, keep in mind that Mastercard and Visa are more internationally accepted than American Express.

To help you out, we’ve created a comparison table for the three major airlines below:

If you really can’t choose between the airline’s credit cards available, then it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty details. It’s time to start calculating.

Calculate your earning potential

Airline credit cards are designed to promote brand loyalty. This means that they typically provide greater rewards for purchases made directly with their airline. For example, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card earns 3 miles for every dollar spent on Alaska Airlines purchases and Virgin America purchases. Everything else earns 1 mile per dollar. However, some airlines offer bonus spending categories such as dining out and groceries. For example, the JetBlue Card earns you 3x the points for direct purchases with the airline and 2x the points for purchases made in restaurants and grocery stores. Some airline credit cards are designed to cater to businesses, providing bonus categories that are business-related such as office supplies or business travel expenses (i.e. car rentals and gas).

Breakdown of what the earning potential for our picks is

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Direct Purchases with the Airline Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta Earn 2 Points per $1

spent on Southwest Airlines® purchases made directly with the airline.

Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent directly on Alaska Airlines purchases. Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
Bonus Spending Categories None None Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotels and car rental partner purchases None None
Everything else Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
British Airways Visa Signature® Card JetBlue Plus Card AeroMexico Visa Secured Card Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Direct Purchases with the Airline Earn 3 Avios on purchases with British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. 6X points per $1 spent

on JetBlue purchases

One Mile (or 1.6 Premier Points) per eligible net $1 spent Earn 2X points on airfare
Bonus Spending Categories None Earn 2X points per $1 spent at restaurants and grocery stores Double Miles on Gas and Groceries Earn 2X points on travel (i.e. hotels) and dining at restaurants
Everything else Earn 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1x points per $1 spent

on all other purchases

One Mile (or 1.6 Premier Points) per eligible net $1 spent Earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Calculate the sign-up bonus

Take note that you’ll only get this bonus if you were able to meet the spending requirement.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Sign up bonus 40,000 bonus miles 35,000 Bonus Miles and a $50 statement credit 40,000 points 30,000 bonus miles

Special Introductory Offer: Buy 1 ticket, get 1 for just the taxes and fees with Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ Offer.

50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles
Spending Requirement Spends $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after opening the account Spend $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months Spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months Spend $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. Spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
British Airways Visa Signature® Card JetBlue Plus Card AeroMexico Visa Secured Card Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Sign up bonus 50,000 bonus Avios 40,000 points 3,500 Bonus Miles (5,600 Premier Points) 50,000 bonus points
Spending Requirement $1,000 in the first 90 days After you pay your annual fee or use your card for purchases. Spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn 5,00year spends points after you add the first authorized user

Learn the redemption value of your earned miles

After doing all of this comparison, you’ll need to learn about the redemption value of your earned miles or points. The equivalent cash value of each mile you earn typically varies between 1 to 5 cents. It can be a bit difficult to calculate the number of miles you’ll need to get a free flight to your preferred destination because rates cannot be consistent due to the changing availability of award flights, flight prices, demand, routes, etc. Fortunately, some airlines such as United and American do publish their award charts to make it easier for consumers to understand their point system and how it works.

Take into account the annual fee

Most airline credit cards feature an annual fee. The trick is to find the one that offers you the most perks that will make offset the cost of paying that fee. For example, a free checked bag can save you almost $100 round-trip with United which has an annual fee of $95 after the first year. You are not charged an annual fee during the first year.

Check the travel benefits

The travel benefits provided by airline credit cards are usually the same, often including:

  • Free checked baggage
  • Priority boarding
  • Car rental insurance
  • Discounts on purchases made inflight
  • Companion tickets
  • Lounge access

Aside from travel benefits, airline frequent flyer programs often have membership tiers. The more points or miles you earn, the higher your membership tier will be. And the higher your tier is, the better your additional perks will be. Some of the perks provided to elite cardholders include seat upgrades, access to restricted dates and flight times, priority boarding, and additional free checked bags.

If you still can’t make up your mind, then maybe you can stick with the major airlines first. Below is a comparison table of all their various features so you can make the choice best suited to your travel needs.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Regular APR 17.49% – 24.49% Variable APR 17.24% – 26.24% Variable APR 17.24% – 25.24%* (Variable)
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95 $0 for the first year, then $95 $450
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Credit Score Required 690-850 690-850 720-850
Direct Purchases with the Airline Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United Earn 2 miles per dollar spent for purchases made directly with Delta Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
Bonus Spending Categories None None None
Everything else purchases Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
Sign up bonus 40,000 bonus miles 35,000 Bonus Miles and a $50 statement credit 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles
Spending Requirement Spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after opening the account Spend $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months Spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Travel Benefits
  • One free checked bag when the ticket is purchased using the card.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Two United Club passes each year.
  • Primary rental car insurance.
  • Access to additional award space on flights with United.
  • Priority Boarding
  • Free checked bag for up to 9 people on your itinerary.
  • Discounted lounge access ($29 per person)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% off in-flight purchases
  • Dedicated Concierge
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority airport screening where available
  • Priority boarding privileges
  • First checked a bag free on domestic American Airlines (up to 8 travel companions)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Admirals Club® membership

The bottom line

If you’re looking for an airline co-branded card for your travel expenses, you’ll need to choose the one you frequently use, that has flights in your local airport, offers travel benefits that you can use, and its perks offset the annual fee it charges. If you’re not loyal to one particular airline or travel less than 4 times a year, just go with a general travel card.

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A blogger, personal finance enthusiast with slight “addiction” of planning and organizing whether it’s budget, business or just life in general. When you run into an article around the web you can clearly tell it’s Michael’s work,as it can never be mixed with anyone else's , because of his very unique own voice. Finances, real estate, budgeting, new technological solutions are not the only talking points, that he has his heart set on. Passionate about life he studies and writes about environmental changes, human rights and quality of life. Being a true humanist he draws inspiration from the simple thing as an everyday life and the matters one come across on daily bases doing his best and above to help everyone around.