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      Best Airline Credit Cards for Airfare, Upgrades, Points, & Status for 2022

      Josh Patoka
      Best Airline Credit Cards

      “Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired.

      Airline credit cards offer a host of benefits that reward your loyalty with only a couple of flights. Most airlines offer several options with different annual fees and benefits that cater to most travel frequencies.

      This guide can help you spot the best credit card for your preferred airline. As a result, you can unlock the most benefits with an affordable annual fee.

      How Do Airline Credit Cards Work?

      Branded airline credit cards sync with your loyalty account for that specific carrier. Then, you earn frequent flyer miles on card purchases that deposit into your loyalty account monthly. 

      Your card may also offer these benefits:

      Many credit cards now let you earn bonus miles on non-airline purchases. The enhanced rewards programs make using this card as your primary rewards card easier.

      However, these feature-packed cards can also be excellent secondary cards that you only break out when buying tickets to unlock these perks. Then, you can use your favorite travel rewards card for your daily purchases to book award travel more frequently.

      Tip: It’s not uncommon for the air travel benefits to only be active when you buy the ticket for you and your travel companions with the branded credit card. Review the benefit terms and conditions before applying to decide if the card is worth using.

      Best Delta Air Lines Credit Cards

      American Express currently offers three consumer and three small business cards to maximize your Delta SkyMiles loyalty. Unfortunately, the $0 annual fee Delta SkyMiles Blue Credit Card currently isn’t accepting new applications.

      The Delta SkyMiles credit cards have generous free first checked bag allowances for the basic cardholder and up to eight companions plus 20% in-flight savings. It’s also possible to get complimentary or discounted Delta Sky Club access or fast-track Medallion status.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card$0 for the first year, then $99 (see Rates & Fees)Up to 2x SkyMiles on purchases
      Free first checked bag
      Earn a $100 flight credit
      Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card$250 (see Rates & Fees)Up to 3x SkyMiles on purchases
      Up to 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs)Discounted Delta Sky Club Access
      Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
      Annual companion certificate
      Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card$550 (see Rates & Fees)Up to 3x SkyMiles on purchases
      Complimentary Delta Sky Club access
      Centurion Lounge access
      Premium annual companion certificate
      Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business Card$0 for the first year and then $99 (see Rates & Fees)2x SkyMiles on Delta and select business purchases
      Free first checked bag
      Up to $100 Delta flight credit
      Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business Card$250 (see Rates & Fees)Up to 3x SkyMiles on purchases
      Discounted Delta Sky Club access
      Annual companion certificate
      Cell phone protection
      Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business Card$550 (see Rates & Fees)Delta Sky Club access
      Centurion Lounge access
      Annual companion certificate
      Status Boost (up to 60,000 bonus MQMs per year)

      The small business versions of these cards have similar fees and card benefits.

      Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

      Best for Casual Delta Flyers

      The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is best for periodically flying on Delta. You can enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee and then pay $99 per renewal.

      Featured card benefits include:

      • First checked bag is free for you and 8 companions
      • $100 Delta Flight Credit after $10,000 in annual card purchases
      • Earn 2x miles on Delta, U.S. restaurant, and U.S. supermarket purchases
      • $50 off flight costs for every 5,000 SkyMiles you redeem

      Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

      Best for Frequent Delta Travelers

      The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is a premium card with a $550 annual fee. However, it can be well worth the price if you want airport lounge benefits or an easier time achieving Medallion status.

      You get complimentary access to Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge locations when flying with Delta. It’s possible to share two one-time Sky Club passes each year with friends.

      To reach Delta SkyMiles Medallions status sooner, you can enjoy these benefits:

      • Status Boost: Earn 15,000 MQMs after $30,000 in annual purchases (up to 4x per year)
      • Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver: Spend at least $25,000 per year and waive the annual MQDs requirement for Platinum, Gold, or Silver Medallion status.
      • Upgrade Priority: Can receive flight upgrades before either Medallion members. Non-Medallion members also get first preference after Medallion passengers receive upgrades.

      Two other benefits of note include a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit and an annual companion certificate. Each card anniversary, the certificate provides a domestic first-class, Comfort+, or a main cabin round-trip flight for no more than $75.

      Best United Airlines Credit Cards

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      Photo: pixabay.com

      United Airlines offers several personal and small business cards through Chase. 

      Card benefits can vary but typically include free first checked bags, complimentary United Club visits, and earning 25% back on United in-flight purchases.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      United Gateway Credit Card$0Up to 2x United miles
      No blackout dates for Mileage Plus members
      25% in-flight savings
      United Explorer Card$0 for the first year, then $95Up to 2x United miles
      Free first checked bag
      2 United Club one-time passes each year
      Up to 1,000 Premier qualifying points (PQPs)
      United Quest Card$250Up to 3x United miles
      $125 annual United purchase credit
      Up to 3,000 PQPs
      Free first and second checked bags
      United Club Infinite Card$525Up to 4x United miles
      United Club membership
      Free first and second checked bags
      Up to 4,000 PQPs
      United Business Card$0 for the first year, then $99$100 annual United flight credit
      Free first checked bag
      2 United Club one-time passes each year
      Up to 1,000 PQPs
      5,000-mile better-together anniversary bonus
      United Club Business Card$450United Club membership
      Free first and second checked bags
      Up to 1,000 PQPs
      Premier Access® travel services

      United Gateway Card

      No Annual Fee United Credit Card

      The United Gateway Card is one of the few airline credit cards without an annual fee. You won’t pay a foreign transaction fee either.

      This card is a good fit if you want to earn airline miles on purchases but don’t need free checked bags, lounge passes, etc.

      You will earn 2x MileagePlus miles on United, gas stations, and local transit or commuting purchases. Other notable card benefits include redeeming your miles as a statement credit for award flights and 25% in-flight savings.

      United Quest Card

      Best Mid-Tier United Credit Card

      The United Quest Card is more expensive than the other mid-tier card ($250 annually vs. $0 then $95 for the United Explorer Card) as it features more benefits.

      Some of the most valuable perks include:

      • $125 in annual United statement credits
      • Two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits
      • Free first and second checked bags for you and one companion
      • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit

      You might prefer the United Explorer Card if you want a lower annual fee and two one-time United Club passes each year. However, you miss out on the $125 United statement credit and 5,000-mile flight credits.

      United Club℠ Infinite Card

      Complimentary United Club Lounge Access

      The premium United Club Infinite Card is your best bet if you want unlimited access to the United Club network. This benefit alone costs up to $625 and the card’s annual fee is only $525.

      Other excellent benefits include:

      • Free first and second checked bags
      • Premier Access travel services
      • Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS
      • Earn up to 4x miles on purchases
      • Earn up to 4,000 PQPs per year
      • 10% discount on United Economy Saver Awards
      • IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status
      • Avis President’s Club status

      Best American Airlines Credit Cards

      The branded American Airlines credit cards are available from Citi and Barclays. Citi offers four of the six available cards and Barclays provides the two “Aviator” products.

      All cards can earn 1 Loyalty Point per mile you earn to earn AAdvantage elite status quickly.  

      Most cards offer a free checked baggage allowance for the primary cardholder and up to four companions. However, the premium Citi/AAdvantage Executive extends the free first checked bag to eight companions.

      Additionally, several cards provide the opportunity to earn a $99 domestic companion certificate for each card anniversary. Depending on the card, the annual spending requirement is between $20,000 and $30,000.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Mastercard (Citi)$0Up to 2x miles on purchases
      Earn 1 Loyalty Point per $1
      25% in-flight savings on food and beverage
      Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®$0 for the first year, then $99Up to 2x miles on purchases
      $125 flight discount after $20,000 in annual purchases
      Free first checked bag for up to 4 companions
      AAdvantage® Aviator®Red World Elite Mastercard®(Barclays)$99Up to 2x miles on purchases
      25% savings on in-flight food and beverages
      Up to $25 in annual statement credits for in-flight wifi
      First checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions
      $99 companion certificate each card anniversary
      Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®$450Complimentary Admirals Lounge access
      Free first checked bag for you and up to 8 companions
      Enhanced airport experience
      Earn AAdvantage status sooner
      AAdvantage® Aviator®World Elite Business Mastercard®$95Free first checked bag for you and up to 4 companions
      5% AAdvantage mileage bonus
      $99 companion certificate after eligible purchases
      CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select®$0 for the first year, then $99Up to 2x miles on purchases
      Free first checked bag
      25% savings on in-flight food, beverage, and wifi purchases
      American Airlines Companion Certificate

      Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard®

      Best Mid-Tier American Airlines Credit Card

      The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is the best consumer credit card for American Airlines. Its annual fee is $0 for the first year and then $99 each renewal.

      Your card benefits include:

      • Earn 2x miles on American Airlines purchases (1x for everything else)
      • 1 Loyalty Point per mile on purchases
      • 25% savings on in-flight food and beverages
      • Free first checked bag for you and up to four companions
      • $125 American Airlines flight discount after $20,000 in annual purchases and renewing your card 

      Unfortunately, this card doesn’t provide lounge passes like competing cards from other airlines.

      Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® 

      Free Admirals Lounge Access

      Regular American Airlines passengers should consider the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard to get complimentary Admirals Lounge access. None of the other American Airlines credit cards provide lounge access.

      This card can also be a great option if you have a large travel party as the free checked bag perk extends to eight companions (vs. four with other cards). 

      If you make lots of card purchases, you earn 10,000 additional loyalty points after $40,000 in annual spending. You already earn 1 point per mile earned on card purchases.

      Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards

      Best Southwest Airlines Credit Cards Airfare

      Photo: pixabay.com

      Chase Bank is the exclusive issuer of the Southwest Airlines credit cards, arguably the most popular discount airline. Each card has an annual fee but you receive an anniversary points bonus on each renewal. 

      Many Southwest enthusiasts time their card application to have a better shot at qualifying for the Companion Pass benefit. You see, the signup bonus and purchase rewards help reach the annual requirement of 125,000 qualifying points. 

      As a passholder, the ticket price is only the cost of fees and taxes for one designated companion when you purchase your ticket with points or cash. 

      The card benefits differ somewhat from the legacy airline credit cards (i.e., American, Delta, and United) as Southwest already offers two free checked bags on every ticket.

      All cards offer 25% off in-flight purchases and bonus points on each card anniversary.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card$692 EarlyBird Check-In per year
      3,000 bonus points each card anniversary
      25% back on inflight purchases
      Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card$992 EarlyBird Check-In per year
      6,000 points each card anniversary
      Earn unlimited Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs)
      Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card$149$75 Southwest annual travel credit
      4 Upgraded Bookings per year
      7,500 bonus points each card anniversary
      Earn unlimited TQPs
      Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card$992 EarlyBird Check-In per year
      6,000 bonus points each anniversary
      Earn unlimited TQPs
      $500 fee credit for points transfers
      Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card$1994 Upgraded Bookings per year
      Up to 365 InFlight WiFi credits per year
      9,000 bonus points each card anniversary
      Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit 

      Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card

      Best Consumer Card for Southwest Airlines

      The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card can be your best option as it provides the most benefits and its annual fee isn’t much higher than the other two alternatives ($149 vs. $99 vs. $69).

      Each year, you receive a $75 Southwest travel credit to offset your first flights each year. You also get up to 4 Upgraded Bookings per year and 7,500 card anniversary bonus points. 

      You also earn up to 3x Rapid Rewards on purchases:

      • 3x on Southwest purchases
      • 2x with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
      • 2x on local transit and commuting, internet; cable; and phone services, and select streaming services
      • 1x on remaining purchases

      Best Alaska Airlines Credit Cards

      There is a single personal and small business card available for Alaska Airlines. Bank of America issues both cards.

      You might consider this card if you can use this discount airline for affordable airfare across the U.S. west coast to accumulate points quickly. Alaska purchases earn 3 points per $1 and all remaining spending earns 1 point per $1.

      It’s also possible to redeem your MileagePlan miles with Oneworld Alliance partners, such as American Airlines if Alaska doesn’t serve your destination.

      Another reason to consider this card is for its Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ anniversary bonus. Each renewal, you receive one domestic companion flight for as low as $121 ($99 fare plus $22 in taxes and fees). 

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card$75Free checked bag for you and up to 6 companions
      $121 Companion Fare each card anniversary
      20% in-flight savings
      50% off Alaska Lounge day passes
      Alaska Airlines Business Credit Card$50 (primary card) and $25 per additional cardFree checked bag for you and up to 6 companions
      $121 Companion Fare each card anniversary
      20% in-flight savings
      50% off Alaska Lounge day passes

      Best JetBlue Credit Cards

      The JetBlue rewards cards can help you achieve Mosaic status sooner and also enjoy 50% off qualifying in-flight purchases. 

      Infrequent flyers also have access to a $0 annual fee credit card which makes it easy to earn TrueBlue points without buying plane tickets.

      Barclays offers all three branded credit cards. The JetBlue Plus Card ($99 annual fee) can be the best option for leisure travel as it offers free checked bags along with several opportunities to receive bonus points and discounts.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      The JetBlue Card$0Earn up to 3x points on purchases
      50% savings on in-flight food and drink
      No foreign transaction fee
      The JetBlue Plus Card$99First checked bag free for you and up to 3 companions
      10% of redeemed points back on JetBlue-operated award flights
      5,000 bonus points each card anniversary
      Get Mosaic benefits after $50,000 in annual spending
      The JetBlue Business Card$9910% of redeemed points back on JetBlue-operated award flights
      5,000 bonus points each card anniversary
      Get Mosaic benefits after $50,000 in annual spending

      Best Aeroplan Credit Card

      The Aeroplan® Card is the only Air Canada credit card available directly to US residents. 

      Aeroplan can be an excellent rewards program for booking international flights and also flying to Canada.

      Featured Aeroplan Card benefits include:

      • Earn up to 3x points on purchases
      • 500 bonus points for every $2,000 you spend each month
      • Automatic Aeroplan 25k Status
      • Free first checked bag for you and up to eight companions
      • Preferred pricing on reward flights
      • Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS application fee credit

      The annual fee is $95 and there is no foreign transaction fee.

      The Vacationer Recommendation

      Best Avios Credit Cards

      There are three airline credit cards for the Avios rewards program (Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia). The better option can depend on your preferred airline.

      There are many similarities, such as earning bonus Avios when booking flights from the three Avios airlines instead of just for your preferred airline. But, as you might expect, each card offers airline-specific benefits that don’t carry over to the other Avios partners.

      In most situations, the British Airways Visa Signature Card provides the most valuable benefits in reducing travel expenses.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      Aer Lingus Visa Signature® Card$95Priority Boarding on Aer Lingus flights
      Commercial Airline Companion Ticket after $30,000 in annual purchases
      Earn up to 5x Avios
      British Airways Visa Signature® Card$9510% off British Airways flights starting in the US
      Up to $600 in yearly Reward Flight Statement Credits
      Travel Together Ticket after $30,000 in annual purchases
      Iberia Visa Signature® Card$9510% on qualifying airfare bookings
      $1,000 Airfare Discount Voucher each year after $30,000 in purchases

      General Travel Credit Cards for Airline Benefits

      General Airfare Credit Cards

      You may not be loyal to a particular airline and rely on airline-specific benefits. If this is you, a general travel rewards credit card lets you earn and redeem bonus points for many carriers. 

      The air travel benefits can also apply no matter which airline you fly. In a nutshell, flexibility is critical with these cards.

      Card NameAnnual FeeNotable Benefits
      Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card$395Priority Pass and Capital One Lounge access
      Annual $300 Capital One Travel credit
      1:1 airline and hotel point transfers
      Chase Sapphire Reserve®$550Annual $300 travel credit
      Priority Pass Select
      50% award travel redemption bonus
      1:1 point transfers
      The Platinum Card® from American Express$695 – (see Rates & Fees)$200 annual airline fee credit
      Airport lounge benefits
      Private jet travel perks
      1:1 airline and hotel point transfer

      Capital One Venture X Rewards

      Premium Perks and a Low Annual Fee

      The Capital One Venture X Rewards is one of the most affordable premium travel credit cards. The primary card is only $395 and up to four authorized users are free.

      Air travel benefits include:

      • Annual $300 Capital One Travel statement credit
      • Priority Pass Select lounge access
      • Capital One Lounge access
      • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
      • 1:1 airline and hotel point transfers

      This card also provides 10,000-anniversary bonus miles ($100 value) and you can earn up to 10x miles on Capital One Travel purchases.

      Chase Sapphire Reserve

      Most Valuable Redemption Options

      The Chase Sapphire Reserve costs $550 per year plus $75 per additional card. This card earns up to 10x Ultimate Rewards on purchases (up to 5x for flights).

      Your points are worth 50% more (1.5 cents) when booking award travel. You can also transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to airlines including, United, Southwest, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines.

      Other valuable air travel benefits include:

      • Annual $300 travel credit (reimburses your first travel spending each year)
      • Priority Pass Select airport lounge access
      • Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS application fee credit

      You can also enjoy valuable credit card travel insurance benefits like trip cancellation/interruption and emergency evacuation.

      The Platinum Card® from American Express

      Luxury Travel Benefits

      The Platinum Card from American Express can satisfy your luxury travel cravings as it features the most airline and hotel perks.

      Amex Platinum Card airline benefits include:

      • Annual $200 airline fee credit
      • Wheels Up private jet program discounts
      • American Express Global Lounge Collection
      • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
      • CLEAR application fee credit
      • 1:1 airline and hotel point transfers
      • Earn up to 5x Membership Rewards on flights

      This card also offers several lifestyle and entertainment benefits.

      The annual fee is $695 for the basic card and up to three additional cards cost $175. Your fourth or more additional card costs $175 each.

      The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts

      There are so many airline credit cards to choose from and narrowing your list to your favorite five can make the comparison process more manageable. 

      Consider your travel frequency and air travel needs for that particular airline to find the best card. While you will most likely pay an annual fee, the ongoing benefits can easily help you save more than the yearly fees and access elite travel perks.

      And don’t forget to also carry a flexible travel rewards credit card in your wallet. These cards can help you get bonuses when another airline offers a better itinerary for your travel dates. Finally, see our list of the best hotel credit cards to get the most out of your next stay.

      Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

      Josh Patoka The Vacationer Bio

      By Josh Patoka

      Josh Patoka writes about maximizing travel rewards for The Vacationer. As well, he contributes to several personal finance sites specializing in making money, paying off debt, and investing.