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Best travel credit cards for airlines in 2024


This series of articles about credit cards, points and miles, and budgeting for travel is brought to you in partnership with The Points Guy.

Advertiser Disclosure: This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. This relationship may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. All information about Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority credit card has been collected independently by Lonely Planet. These cards are not available through Lonely Planet.

Imagine planning the ultimate dream trip to say, New Zealand, and not having to worry about paying for any of your flights, hotels, sightseeing tours or rental car. The good news is, that’s entirely possible if you develop a credit card strategy to make your everyday purchases work in your favor.

When it comes to choosing the perfect airline credit card, there are two ways to go about it. You could sign up for a travel credit card that lets you earn flexible rewards points, which can be then redeemed for free flights with various partner airlines.

Or, you could choose a cobranded credit card that lets you earn and redeem miles with a single airline, a great option if you’re striving for status with a particular carrier or you’re based near a certain airline’s hub.

In our search for the best airline credit cards, we considered several factors: the welcome bonus, travel protections, elite status perks and annual benefits. Additionally, none of the cards listed have foreign transaction fees.

While many of them have high annual fees (ranging from $95–$695), using all the included credits and benefits will help offset them.

Here’s our list of the best travel credit cards for airlines, a mix of flexible travel cards and the cobranded credit cards of four popular US airlines: American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

How to get started with travel points and airline miles

Best travel credit cards for airlines for 2023

The best travel credit cards for 2023

The Chase Sapphire Card © Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy

Best travel credit card with a low annual fee: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the most popular travel credit cards on the market, thanks to the many opportunities it offers for earning and redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points. There are 14 airline and hotel transfer partners, and points can be switched over at a 1:1 ratio.

Besides its modest annual fee and lucrative welcome bonus, cardholders receive an annual $50 statement credit toward hotels booked via Chase Ultimate Rewards. Points redeemed via the Chase travel portal are worth 1.25 cents per point, and you’ll score a 10% points bonus each year based on how many points were earned the previous year. 

Cardholders can also access partner benefits, including a complimentary six-month subscription to Instacart+ with up to $15 in statement credits quarterly through July 2024 and a free membership to DoorDash and Caviar.

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 5X points on travel reserved via Chase Ultimate Rewards, not counting hotel stays that qualify for the annual $50 hotel credit; 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2025; 5X points on Peloton purchases over $150 (up to 25,000 points) through March 2025; 3X on dining and online grocery shopping (except Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 3X points on streaming services; 2X points for travel expenses; and 1X points on all other purchases.

Airline transfer partners: Aer Lingus, Air Canada, British Airways, Emirates, Air France / KLM, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Travel benefits: Auto rental collision damage waiver; baggage delay, trip cancellation and interruption insurance; trip delay reimbursement and emergency travel assistance.

Credit score: Good to excellent.

Annual fee: $95. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Generous welcome bonus providing $750 worth of travel when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Many options for redeeming rewards, including 14 airlines and three hotels (Hyatt, IHG and Marriott).
  • Modest annual fee considering all the included travel benefits.

Cons

  • Approval is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you won’t be approved if you’ve opened five credit cards within 24 months.
  • There is no airport lounge access offered as an included perk.

Chase Sapphire review: an in-depth look at the card loved by travelers

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve © The Points Guy

Best premium travel credit card: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

For travelers who expect premium-level service and benefits, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a top choice, though it does carry a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

That said, it’ll almost pay for itself if you use all the perks — a $300 annual travel credit; Priority Pass lounge membership; a $100 credit toward Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS enrollment; access to The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection; and exclusive sports, dining and entertainment events via Reserve by Sapphire. 

Redemptions are worth 1.5 cents per point when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and you can transfer them to any of Chase’s 14 airline and hotel partners. Cardholders also receive one free year of Instacart+ service with up to $15 in statement credits per quarter through July 2024, plus free membership to DoorDash and Caviar.

Welcome bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 10X points on car rentals and hotels, not counting The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after the $300 annual travel credit); 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2025; 10X points on Peloton purchases over $150 (up to 25,000 points) through March 2025; 10X points on Chase Dining purchases; 5X points on flights reserved through the Chase travel portal (after the $300 travel credit); 3X points on dining; and 3X points on all other travel purchases (after the $300 annual travel credit).

Airline transfer partners: Aer Lingus, Air Canada, British Airways, Emirates, Air France / KLM, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Travel benefits: Lost luggage and trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay and travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, trip interruption and cancellation insurance, emergency travel and roadside assistance, emergency transportation and evacuation services and emergency dental and medical benefits.

Credit score: Excellent.

Annual fee: $550. See see rates and fees.

Pros

  • Complimentary access to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide thanks to the included Priority Pass membership.
  • The $300 annual travel credit and $100 credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS registration help to offset the annual fee.
  • A lucrative welcome bonus that’s worth $900 in travel when redeemed via Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Cons

  • High annual fee.
  • Approval is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you won’t be approved if you’ve opened five credit cards within 24 months.

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners: How to get the best value in 2023

The Amex Platinum
The Amex Platinum Card © Ryan Patterson / The Points Guy

Best credit card for lounge access: The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card offers a ton of premium travel benefits, including access to The American Express Global Lounge Collection, a $200 hotel credit on Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection stays booked via American Express Travel, a $200 airline fee credit for incidental charges made with a specific airline and a $189 credit for a CLEAR Plus membership.

Cardholders also receive a $240 digital entertainment credit to cover up to $20 per month spent with certain streaming platforms, a $155 credit for a monthly Walmart+ membership and a $100 statement credit when you shop at Saks Fifth Avenue ($50 per six-month period).

Additional perks include $200 worth of Uber Cash annually — $15 per month, plus an extra $20 in December — and a $300 Equinox credit.

Welcome bonus: 80,000 points after spending $8,000 within the first six months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 5X points on flights booked directly with the airline or via American Express Travel (up to $500,000 per year); 5X points on hotels reserved via AmexTravel.com, including The Hotel Collection; 1X points on all other purchases.

Transfer partners: Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air France / KLM, ANA, Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic.

Travel benefits: Baggage insurance, secondary coverage on standard rental car insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, access to a global emergency assistance hotline, evacuation and medical transport service in an emergency and medical assistance.

Credit score: Good to excellent.

Annual fee: $695. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Many transfer partners, including 17 airlines and three hotels (Marriott, Hilton and Choice Hotels).
  • Generous statement credits are offered for various travel, dining and shopping charges.
  • Lucrative welcome bonus that’s worth $1,600 in travel when points are redeemed through American Express Membership Rewards.

Cons

  • High annual fee.
  • Secondary car insurance, whereas the aforementioned Chase cards offer primary car insurance via the auto rental collision damage waiver.

Traveling to Europe using points and miles

The American Airlines Business Class on a flight from Rome to JFK
The American Airlines Business Class on a flight from Rome to JFK © Clint Henderson / The Points Guy

Best American Airlines credit card: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

American Airlines loyalists will love the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, which includes free entry to the Admirals Club as well as the carrier’s partner lounges. You’ll also get one free checked bag for you and up to eight companions on the same reservation.

Cardholders receive 25% off in-flight food and drinks and priority boarding, screening and check-in when flying on American Airlines. You’ll also earn a $100 statement credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment and statement credits for Avis and Budget car rentals (up to $120 per year), GrubHub (up to $120 per year) and Lyft (a $10 credit each month once you take three eligible rides).

Welcome bonus: 70,000 miles after spending $7,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 10X miles on car rentals and hotels booked via American Airlines; 5X points per dollar for the rest of the year once you hit $150,000; 4X miles on American Airlines purchases; 1X miles for all other purchases. You’ll also earn 10,000 bonus points once you reach 50,000 points in a status qualification year, plus another 10,000 points if you reach 90,000 points within that same year.

Travel benefits: Trip delay, interruption and cancellation insurance; lost baggage protection; and car rental coverage.

Credit score: Good to excellent.

Annual fee: $595. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Points earned with the card count toward AAdvantage elite status.
  • The included membership to the Admirals Club is worth $850, making that benefit alone well worth the $595 annual fee (see rates and fees) — if you use it.
  • Day-of travel benefits, like a free checked bag and priority boarding.

Cons

  • High annual fee, especially if you don’t visit the Admirals Club lounges.
  • Limited opportunities to earn miles outside American Airlines purchases.

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Best United Airlines credit card: United Club℠ Infinite Card

United Club℠ Infinite Card members receive a free United Club membership, which also provides access to select Star Alliance partner lounges worldwide. Cardholders score special treatment at the airport, with priority services for check in, security, boarding and baggage handling.

Additional perks include up to two free checked bags for you and a companion; a $100 statement credit to put toward Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS enrollment; 25% back in statement credits for onboard United purchases; up to 8,000 Premier Qualifying Points, which count toward Premier status, for every $12,000 spent with the card; and a complimentary one-year membership to DoorDash and Caviar. 

Welcome bonus: 80,000 miles after spending $5,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 4X miles on United purchases, including flights, Wi-Fi and in-flight food and drinks; 2X miles on travel and dining; 1X miles for all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Automatic Platinum Elite status with IHG One Rewards for hotels and Avis President’s Club for car rentals; access to The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection; baggage delay insurance and lost luggage reimbursement; trip delay, interruption and cancellation insurance; auto rental collision damage waiver; and concierge services through Visa Infinite.

Credit score: Excellent.

Annual fee: $525. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • The complimentary United Club membership is worth $650, already making it worth the annual fee if you visit frequently.
  • Day-of travel benefits like priority boarding and two free checked bags.
  • The ability to earn Premier Qualifying Points, which count toward elite status.

Cons

  • Limited opportunities to earn miles outside United Airlines purchases.
  • Approval is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you won’t be approved if you’ve opened five credit cards within 24 months.

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Inside Delta's Airbus A220-300
Inside Delta’s Airbus A220-300 © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Best Delta Air Lines credit card: The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

While Delta offers several cobranded cards, The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card offers the widest variety of benefits for frequent flyers, plus complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges.

One of the main draws for this card is the companion certificate you’ll receive each year upon renewal, which you can use to score a free economy, Delta Comfort+ or Domestic First Class ticket for a friend or family member. Cardholders also receive their first checked bag free, 20% back on in-flight purchases, priority boarding and upgrade priority (for Medallion members). The Companion Ticket requires payment of the government-imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights and no more than $250 for roundtrip international flights (both for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Baggage charges and other restrictions apply.

The card offers complimentary Delta Sky Club access to primary cardholders (Note: You must be traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. You will receive four Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes each year. After that, you may bring up to two guests at a per-visit rate of $50 per person, per location. Reserve Card Members will receive 15 visits per year to the Delta Sky Club; to earn an unlimited number of Visits each year starting on 2/1/25, the total eligible purchases on the Card must equal $75,000 or more between 1/1/24 and 12/31/24, and each calendar year thereafter.)

Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months.

Rewards: 3X miles on Delta purchases, 1X miles on all other purchases.

Travel benefits: 15% off award flights, a $100 statement credit to cover your Global Entry application (or $85 for TSA PreCheck), one free checked bag for you, priority boarding, access to a global emergency assistance hotline, expert Concierge services.

Credit score: Good to excellent.

Annual fee: $650. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges, despite some limitations, as well as American Express Centurion lounges.
  • Day-of travel perks like priority boarding and a free checked bag.
  • Cardholders save 15% when booking award flights.

Cons

  • High annual fee.
  • Several perks are disappearing or changing in 2025.

Best travel credit cards for hotels

One of Southwest's Boeing 737s
One of Southwest’s Boeing 737s © Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty

Best Southwest Airlines credit card: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

While a number of cobranded credit cards are offered by the carrier, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has the most benefits for a reasonable annual fee.

For starters, cardholders earn 7,500 points to commemorate each anniversary and all the points you pick up by using this card count toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass, which provides free travel for a friend or family member for a year, for just the cost of taxes and fees.

Welcome bonus: 75,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Rewards: 3X points on Southwest Airlines purchases; 2X points on transit, commuting and rideshare services; 2X points for hotels and car rentals booked via Southwest Rapid Rewards; 2X points for cable, internet, phone and streaming services; 1X points for all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Four upgraded boardings per year; 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points annually; a $75 Southwest annual travel credit; 25% back on in-flight purchases; and 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points, which count toward A-List elite status each time you spend $10,000.

Credit score: Good to excellent.

Annual fee: $149. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Reasonable annual fee with a decent welcome bonus.
  • Ability to earn points toward A-List elite status and the Southwest Companion Pass.
  • Many opportunities to earn points outside of airline-related purchases.

Cons

  • Secondary car rental insurance and a lack of the usual travel insurance and delay protections.
  • Approval is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, so you won’t be approved if you’ve opened five credit cards within 24 months.

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Who should get an airline credit card?

Anyone who enjoys earning points to redeem for free flights — or, as with airline-specific cobranded cards, special perks like free checked bags, lounge access or the ability to earn status — can benefit from an airline credit card.

The best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2023

How to choose the best airline credit card

If you’re loyal to a particular airline — maybe you’ve always flown with it or you’re based near its airport hub — a cobranded credit card might make more sense. Otherwise, if you’re open to flying any carrier and its airline partners, a flexible travel rewards credit card could be more beneficial.

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Flying over the Hamilton Islands, Australia
Flying over the Hamilton Islands, Australia © Matthew Micah Wright / Getty

FAQ

Are airline credit cards worth it?

It depends on what your end goal is. Are you trying to earn enough points to score a free flight to Hawaii or to transfer points to your favorite airline and fly to Australia for free? If so, a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card could be a good pick for its flexible rewards points.

If, however, your goal is to always fly with free checked bags or enjoy complimentary upgrades and other perks with a specific airline, a cobranded card with your preferred carrier would definitely come in handy.

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Why should I consider getting a flexible travel rewards credit card instead?

It all comes down to your personal travel preferences. If you’re a creature of habit who only travels with one carrier, consider that you also have access to its partner airlines, not only through its airline alliance but its credit card loyalty program. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders, for instance, have access to 14 partners within the Chase Ultimate Rewards network, while those with The Platinum Card can choose from 17 partners through American Express Membership Rewards.

How to travel to New Zealand with points and miles in 2023

Do you need a credit card to book a flight?

While a credit card does make things easier in terms of paying for your purchases online and earning rewards points toward future trips, you can also opt to pay for a plane ticket with a debit card, gift card or through a payment service such as PayPal, if available through the booking site.

Traveling to Hawaii with points and miles for 2023

*Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

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.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.



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