March 5, 2024

Airline credit cards typically feature rewards and perks like discounts and waived fees with a specific airline. If you’re a frequent flier with Delta, United, American Airlines or Southwest, a co-branded airline credit card could help you save time and money when it’s time to board your next flight.

Since the best airline credit cards typically come with an annual fee, make sure they fit into your budget, or that you can get enough value from the card’s rewards and perks to justify the cost. In exchange for a fee, these travel cards usually include perks that offset the cost, like annual travel credits, airport lounge access and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry access.



CNET’S PICK


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Intro Offer


Earn 50,000 miles



Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.


Rewards Rate


1x
– 3x



Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.; Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.; Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


20.99%-29.99% Variable

With an annual domestic companion certificate (taxes and fees of no more than $80 required), a welcome offer for new card members and a moderate annual fee compared to all it provides, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is the best airline rewards card for most Delta flyers. 

The rewards are fairly average for an airline rewards program, but the card makes up for that with other perks. Its rewards cover a wider breadth than its competitors. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card provides useful perks including a fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, an annual companion certificate and $50 access to the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests (effective Jan. 1, 2024, this benefit will no longer be available). Travelers who check bags often and travel with a companion (domestically) stand to save a substantial amount of money with this one.

Read our full review of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card for more details.

Note: 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.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.99%-29.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A

3x

Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.

2x

Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.

1x

Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.

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



With an annual domestic companion certificate (taxes and fees of no more than $80 required), a welcome offer for new card members and a moderate annual fee compared to all it provides, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is the best airline rewards card for most Delta flyers. 

The rewards are fairly average for an airline rewards program, but the card makes up for that with other perks. Its rewards cover a wider breadth than its competitors. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card provides useful perks including a fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, an annual companion certificate and $50 access to the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests (effective Jan. 1, 2024, this benefit will no longer be available). Travelers who check bags often and travel with a companion (domestically) stand to save a substantial amount of money with this one.

Read our full review of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card for more details.

Note: 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.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.99%-29.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A

3x

Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.

2x

Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.

1x

Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.

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


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Intro Offer


60,000 points



Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®


Rewards Rate


1x
– 10x



Earn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.; Earn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.; Earn 3x points on other travel and dining.; 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


800 – 850

Excellent

APR


22.49% – 29.49% Variable

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel rewards credit card, meaning you earn points on any travel or dining purchase, not just with a single airline card issuer, and your redemption options are much more flexible and transferable. The Chase Sapphire Reserve rewards card is included here for those who want more flexibility but still want to use rewards to book future travel. You earn 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases and 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn 3x points on all other travel and dining purchases (earn elevated rewards on all travel purchases immediately after earning the $300 annual travel credit), and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2025. All other purchases earn 1x points.

This rewards card is even better for those who value the additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel benefits on eligible stays and lounge access.

Check out our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve for more details.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
22.49% – 29.49% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater

10x

Earn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

5x

Earn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

3x

Earn 3x points on other travel and dining.

1x

1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases



The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel rewards credit card, meaning you earn points on any travel or dining purchase, not just with a single airline card issuer, and your redemption options are much more flexible and transferable. The Chase Sapphire Reserve rewards card is included here for those who want more flexibility but still want to use rewards to book future travel. You earn 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases and 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn 3x points on all other travel and dining purchases (earn elevated rewards on all travel purchases immediately after earning the $300 annual travel credit), and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2025. All other purchases earn 1x points.

This rewards card is even better for those who value the additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel benefits on eligible stays and lounge access.

Check out our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve for more details.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
22.49% – 29.49% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater

10x

Earn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

5x

Earn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

3x

Earn 3x points on other travel and dining.

1x

1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


The Platinum Card® from American Express

Intro Offer


Earn 80,000 points



Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.


Rewards Rate


5x
– 5x



Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.; Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


See Pay Over Time APR

The Platinum Card from American Express offers frequent flyers high potential rewards rates. The Platinum Card earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel (third-party sites don’t qualify), and 1x points on other eligible purchases. There is a high annual fee of $695, but there are also benefits like up to a $200 airline fee statement credit per calendar year for travel incidentals at one select qualifying airline, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry every four years or up to $85 for TSA Precheck every 4.5 years) and up to $200 in Uber Cash per year for U.S. rides and eats (up to $15 in Uber Cash each month, plus a bonus $20 in December). The intro offer is also on the high side at 80,000 points when you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Even if you’re loyal to one airline, you may get a better return on spending with The Platinum Card than you would with a co-branded airline credit card. It’s an excellent choice for those who value premium travel perks, or who want the flexibility to redeem rewards with a larger roster of airlines.

Note: 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.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A

5x

Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

5x

Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

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 Platinum Card from American Express offers frequent flyers high potential rewards rates. The Platinum Card earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel (third-party sites don’t qualify), and 1x points on other eligible purchases. There is a high annual fee of $695, but there are also benefits like up to a $200 airline fee statement credit per calendar year for travel incidentals at one select qualifying airline, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry every four years or up to $85 for TSA Precheck every 4.5 years) and up to $200 in Uber Cash per year for U.S. rides and eats (up to $15 in Uber Cash each month, plus a bonus $20 in December). The intro offer is also on the high side at 80,000 points when you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Even if you’re loyal to one airline, you may get a better return on spending with The Platinum Card than you would with a co-branded airline credit card. It’s an excellent choice for those who value premium travel perks, or who want the flexibility to redeem rewards with a larger roster of airlines.

Note: 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.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A

5x

Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.

5x

Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

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


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Intro Offer


Earn 50,000 points



Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.


Rewards Rate


1x
– 3x



Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.; Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.; Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.; Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners.; Earn 1X points on all other purchases.


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


21.49% – 28.49% Variable

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is a great choice for Southwest travelers. It charges a $149 annual fee, but it features a $75 Southwest credit that could go toward covering it. Cardholders will also progress through Southwest’s A-List membership program easier, which unlocks more Southwest-specific perks including priority boarding and 25% extra bonus points on qualifying flight bookings.

And while you’ll earn the most rewards for spending with Southwest, you’ll also earn rewards on your rideshares, your internet and phone service, and select streaming. These bonus categories make the card more flexible than most co-branded airline credit cards.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.49% – 28.49% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater.

3x

Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.

2x

Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

2x

Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.

2x

Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners.

1x

Earn 1X points on all other purchases.



The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is a great choice for Southwest travelers. It charges a $149 annual fee, but it features a $75 Southwest credit that could go toward covering it. Cardholders will also progress through Southwest’s A-List membership program easier, which unlocks more Southwest-specific perks including priority boarding and 25% extra bonus points on qualifying flight bookings.

And while you’ll earn the most rewards for spending with Southwest, you’ll also earn rewards on your rideshares, your internet and phone service, and select streaming. These bonus categories make the card more flexible than most co-branded airline credit cards.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.49% – 28.49% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater.

3x

Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.

2x

Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.

2x

Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.

2x

Earn 2X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners.

1x

Earn 1X points on all other purchases.


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

Intro Offer


50,000 miles



Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening


Annual Fee

$99, waived for first 12 months

Rewards Rate


2x
– 2x



Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants.; Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


21.24% – 29.99% (Variable)

The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard* is a solid option for travelers who prefer flying with American Airlines. In addition to rewards for American Airlines airfare, new cardholders can earn a welcome offer that may not have the highest payout, but it does have a lower spending threshold than some of its competitors.

This card also features a number of useful travel perks, including a free checked bag for you and up to four travel companions on the same reservation, preferred boarding and 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases. 

You also get a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after renewing your card if you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your credit card membership year. If you’re able to earn the credit, you’ll cover the card’s $99 annual fee. However, if you’re spending $20,000 on travel, a more advanced travel card would likely serve you better.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.24% – 29.99% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee
Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

2x

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants.

2x

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.



The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard* is a solid option for travelers who prefer flying with American Airlines. In addition to rewards for American Airlines airfare, new cardholders can earn a welcome offer that may not have the highest payout, but it does have a lower spending threshold than some of its competitors.

This card also features a number of useful travel perks, including a free checked bag for you and up to four travel companions on the same reservation, preferred boarding and 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases. 

You also get a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after renewing your card if you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your credit card membership year. If you’re able to earn the credit, you’ll cover the card’s $99 annual fee. However, if you’re spending $20,000 on travel, a more advanced travel card would likely serve you better.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.24% – 29.99% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee
Balance transfer fee applies with this offer 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.

2x

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants.

2x

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Intro Offer


50,000 miles



Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days


Rewards Rate


1x
– 2x



2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases; 1 mile per dollar on other purchases


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


20.74%, 24.74%, or 29.74%, variable

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard* from Barclays, with its free checked bags for up to four others on the same reservation, is ideal for families who travel together often. It takes only one round-trip flight with the whole family and a cartload of bags to earn back the $99 annual fee. It’s also the card with the lowest spending threshold (make your first purchase and pay the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days) to earn the 50,000 airline mile sign-on bonus.

The card offers 2x miles on eligible American Airline purchases and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Cardholders get their first checked bag free and a free checked bag for up to four companions traveling on the same reservation, which can add up to $300 in baggage fee savings for one round-trip flight. The card also offers preferred boarding, a $25 statement credit for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases per year, and 25% back on in-flight food and beverages.

Read more: Best American Airlines Credit Cards

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro for first 15 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.74%, 24.74%, or 29.74%, variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

2x

2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases

1x

1 mile per dollar on other purchases



The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard* from Barclays, with its free checked bags for up to four others on the same reservation, is ideal for families who travel together often. It takes only one round-trip flight with the whole family and a cartload of bags to earn back the $99 annual fee. It’s also the card with the lowest spending threshold (make your first purchase and pay the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days) to earn the 50,000 airline mile sign-on bonus.

The card offers 2x miles on eligible American Airline purchases and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Cardholders get their first checked bag free and a free checked bag for up to four companions traveling on the same reservation, which can add up to $300 in baggage fee savings for one round-trip flight. The card also offers preferred boarding, a $25 statement credit for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases per year, and 25% back on in-flight food and beverages.

Read more: Best American Airlines Credit Cards

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro for first 15 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.74%, 24.74%, or 29.74%, variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

2x

2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases

1x

1 mile per dollar on other purchases


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Intro Offer


20,000 miles



Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel


Rewards Rate


1.25x
– 5x



Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options; Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


19.99% – 29.99% (Variable)

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card* offers a surprising number of features for a travel card with no annual fee. It may not be the most rewarding option, but it does include a number of useful benefits. It’s rare to find a no-annual-fee card with travel insurance, and this one has two types: travel accident insurance** and rental car insurance**.

However, it doesn’t include any popular travel credits for time-saving services like TSA PreCheck or priority boarding, but it may serve you well if you only travel occasionally.

You can learn more about it in our Capital One VentureOne review.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro on purchases for 15 months
Regular APR
19.99% – 29.99% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee
3% for the first 15 months; 4% at a promotional APR that Capital One may offer you at any other time

5x

Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options

1.25x

Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.



The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card* offers a surprising number of features for a travel card with no annual fee. It may not be the most rewarding option, but it does include a number of useful benefits. It’s rare to find a no-annual-fee card with travel insurance, and this one has two types: travel accident insurance** and rental car insurance**.

However, it doesn’t include any popular travel credits for time-saving services like TSA PreCheck or priority boarding, but it may serve you well if you only travel occasionally.

You can learn more about it in our Capital One VentureOne review.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro on purchases for 15 months
Regular APR
19.99% – 29.99% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee
3% for the first 15 months; 4% at a promotional APR that Capital One may offer you at any other time

5x

Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options

1.25x

Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


United℠ Explorer Card

Intro Offer


Earn 60,000 bonus miles



Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.


Annual Fee

$0 Intro for First Year, then $95.

Rewards Rate


1x
– 2x



Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases; Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services; 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


21.99% – 28.99% Variable

The rewards rate of Chase’s United Explorer card is on the low end for co-branded airline credit cards at 2x miles on United purchases, dining and hotels, but it does offer decent value through its new card member sign-on bonus and waived baggage fees. In many cases, you’d be better off with a no-annual-fee cash-back credit card if you don’t spend a high amount on travel and dining each year. But if you value priority boarding and check a bag every time you fly United, the Explorer card is worth considering. Generally, United’s credit cards don’t compare well with the other airlines when it comes to overall value, so this recommendation is really the best of some not-so-great options.

The United Explorer card offers 2x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on dining and hotels and 1x miles on all other purchases. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year of ownership and new cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.99% – 28.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases

2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services

1x

1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases



The rewards rate of Chase’s United Explorer card is on the low end for co-branded airline credit cards at 2x miles on United purchases, dining and hotels, but it does offer decent value through its new card member sign-on bonus and waived baggage fees. In many cases, you’d be better off with a no-annual-fee cash-back credit card if you don’t spend a high amount on travel and dining each year. But if you value priority boarding and check a bag every time you fly United, the Explorer card is worth considering. Generally, United’s credit cards don’t compare well with the other airlines when it comes to overall value, so this recommendation is really the best of some not-so-great options.

The United Explorer card offers 2x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on dining and hotels and 1x miles on all other purchases. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year of ownership and new cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
21.99% – 28.99% Variable
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases

2x

Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services

1x

1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Best for Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card

Intro Offer


70,000 bonus miles



70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.


Rewards Rate


1 mile
– 3 miles



3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases; 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible gas, EV charging station, cable, streaming services and local transit purchases including ride share; 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


670 – 850

Good – Excellent

APR


20.24% – 28.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

The Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card* from Bank of America is the only consumer airline card offered by Alaska Airlines, but it’s a good one. The annual companion fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $23) each account anniversary after you spend at least $6,000 within the prior anniversary year, free checked bag and 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases can translate into valuable savings for an Alaska frequent flier. It’s the only card we found that offers a free checked bag for you and up to six companions on the same reservation, so families will obviously benefit from those waived fees. The rewards rate is also substantial, and paired with an annual fee of $95, this card can save Alaska Airline loyalists a significant amount of money.

You also earn 20% back on Alaska Airlines in-flight purchases, 2x miles on eligible gas, cable, streaming services and local transit (including ride share purchases) and 1x miles on other purchases.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.24% – 28.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of the amount of each transaction

3 miles

3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases

2 miles

2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible gas, EV charging station, cable, streaming services and local transit purchases including ride share

1 mile

1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases



The Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card* from Bank of America is the only consumer airline card offered by Alaska Airlines, but it’s a good one. The annual companion fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $23) each account anniversary after you spend at least $6,000 within the prior anniversary year, free checked bag and 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases can translate into valuable savings for an Alaska frequent flier. It’s the only card we found that offers a free checked bag for you and up to six companions on the same reservation, so families will obviously benefit from those waived fees. The rewards rate is also substantial, and paired with an annual fee of $95, this card can save Alaska Airline loyalists a significant amount of money.

You also earn 20% back on Alaska Airlines in-flight purchases, 2x miles on eligible gas, cable, streaming services and local transit (including ride share purchases) and 1x miles on other purchases.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
N/A
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.24% – 28.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of the amount of each transaction

3 miles

3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases

2 miles

2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible gas, EV charging station, cable, streaming services and local transit purchases including ride share

1 mile

1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases


CNET Rating



CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards


JetBlue Plus Card

Intro Offer


40,000 points



Earn 40,000 Bonus Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and payment of annual fee


Rewards Rate


1x
– 6x



6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases; 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores; 1X points on all other purchases


Rec. Credit



Recommended Credit: A credit score is used to indicate an applicant’s credit worthiness and may provide guidance about account eligibility. It does not necessarily guarantee approval for any financial product.


800 – 850

Excellent

APR


20.49%, 24.49% or 29.49% variable based on your creditworthiness.

The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card* requires a fairly standard $99 annual fee. It’s a good card for JetBlue loyalists and even a good option for those who fly JetBlue only a few times a year, but who can take advantage of the sign-on bonus and free checked bags.

The JetBlue Plus Card offers 6x points on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1x points on all other purchases. The sign-on bonus is 40,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full, both in the first 90 days. Cardmembers also get an additional 5,000 bonus points each year on their account anniversary. The first checked bag on each flight is free for you and up to three companions traveling on the same reservation. JetBlue Plus card holders also get 50% off in-flight food and beverage purchases, twice the discount that most other airline cards offer.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro for first 12 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.49%, 24.49% or 29.49% variable based on your creditworthiness.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

6x

6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases

2x

2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores

1x

1X points on all other purchases



The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card* requires a fairly standard $99 annual fee. It’s a good card for JetBlue loyalists and even a good option for those who fly JetBlue only a few times a year, but who can take advantage of the sign-on bonus and free checked bags.

The JetBlue Plus Card offers 6x points on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1x points on all other purchases. The sign-on bonus is 40,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full, both in the first 90 days. Cardmembers also get an additional 5,000 bonus points each year on their account anniversary. The first checked bag on each flight is free for you and up to three companions traveling on the same reservation. JetBlue Plus card holders also get 50% off in-flight food and beverage purchases, twice the discount that most other airline cards offer.

Intro Balance Transfer APR
0% intro for first 12 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Regular APR
20.49%, 24.49% or 29.49% variable based on your creditworthiness.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

6x

6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases

2x

2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores

1x

1X points on all other purchases

What are airline credit cards and how do they work?

Airline credit cards reward users with points or miles from an airline’s frequent flier program, which can be redeemed for flights with that airline.

Sometimes you can use those airline points to book flights on a partner airline, too. These types of partner bookings can help make your points go much further, though the value may vary with each booking.

However, they’re not as flexible as general travel credit cards. In most cases, you can only earn and use rewards with the airline the card is tied to. You earn rewards by using the airline credit card on day-to-day purchases. These points can later be redeemed for free flights.

Some airline credit cards offer bonus points for different categories, like restaurants or grocery stores. You can check the value of airline miles by dividing the dollar cost of the airfare by the number of miles or points required to book it.

What experts are saying about airline credit cards

While airline credit cards can be a boon to those who travel with one airline often, credit expert Julia Menez advises caution. 

“Most people dive into airline credit cards before they really need to,” Menez said. “I would recommend that most people who are getting into the points game focus first on flexible points from Chase, Amex, Citi or Capital One, where you have options to move them to a variety of different airlines.”

While frequent travelers might get a good value from an airline credit card’s perks, the occasional traveler would be better served by a general travel credit card that earns points that can be used with many different airlines. 

“If you are a frequent flier, [card] benefits really can add up, especially if you’re constantly checking a bag and saving that $35 or so every [flight],” Menez said. “But for most people — where they’re just taking a couple of vacations a year — they would get a lot more value out of focusing on flexible points rather than particular airline cards.”

Credit expert Gerri Detweiler said that an airline card should only be considered by travelers who are loyal to one brand. 

“If you travel a lot then you [probably] want a travel rewards card – if you’re loyal to an airline or a hotel chain, consider a card with rewards that are specific to that particular brand,” she said.

Using a general travel card, like the Capital One Venture cards or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, would suit you better if you don’t fly with just one brand every time you travel, Detweiler said.

It all comes down to deciding what you need, and what best fits into your budget, credit expert Beverly Harzog said. “I always tell people, look at your budget, look at your expenses, what do you spend money on? And also, look at your wallet, what kind of cards do you currently have?”

“If you have a cash-back card and you want to start traveling, depending on where you live and what airlines you like to fly on, a travel rewards card or an airline-branded card might be [a good addition],” she added.

Travel credit cards can help you tailor the kinds of rewards you want to earn and where you can apply them. Airline credit cards are good for cutting back on expenses with your favorite airline, but you’ll want to make sure that’s how you want to use them.

Who should get an airline credit card?

Airline reward cards are best for those who travel frequently with one airline and thus don’t mind the inflexibility of the rewards. Those who fly frequently can take advantage of airport lounge access, waived baggage fees and priority boarding.

The value of these perks can add up. For instance, if you check a bag often, waived baggage fees can add up to hundreds of dollars in annual savings. Plus, early boarding often guarantees overhead bin space, giving you more legroom and less stress.

If you’re not loyal to any airline — and you prefer to fly whichever airline offers the best deal — an airline credit card might not be the best choice. Instead, consider a travel credit card, a cash-back credit card or even a business credit card that lets you redeem your points with a variety of airlines.

Pros and cons of airline credit cards

Pros

  • Airline benefits like waived checked baggage fees, priority boarding and inflight discounts

  • Travel benefits like airport lounge access or Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credits

  • Accelerated airline status qualification

  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares

  • No foreign transaction fees

  • Generous welcome bonuses

Cons

  • Limited options to redeem points earned

  • Annual fees might outweigh the value of the card’s perks

  • Limited options for which airlines you can fly with

How to maximize your airline credit card rewards

To get the most out of your airline card, turn your rewards into future flights. Planning ahead can help, as the best flight deals on points often disappear 10 to 11 months before the actual flight date.

Be sure you’re using your card where it earns the most. For most airline cards that includes purchases directly with the airline, but some cards also earn elevated rewards for rideshares, eating out or gas.

How to choose the right airline credit card for you

First, you’ll have to examine your flying habits. If there’s one airline you prefer over the others — and you’re on the move enough to warrant the cost — take a look at that airline’s credit card offerings. See which set of perks best matches your needs.

If you opt for an airline credit card that carries an annual fee, make sure you’ll use the card enough to justify it. That means spending enough to qualify for any annual credits and being able to take advantage of all of the perks it offers, whether that be TSA PreCheck or airport lounge access.

Alternatives to airline credit cards

If you don’t fly exclusively with one airline, consider a general travel card instead. There are a few on this list, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card from American Express cards. They offer rewards for most travel purchases, which can then be redeemed for travel or transferred to Capital One or Chase travel partners.

How to apply for an airline credit card

Follow these steps to apply for an airline card:

  1. Find a card that matches your travel habits.
  2. Follow one of the links about to be taken to a secure application.
  3. Fill out the application with all of the required information.
  4. Use your card responsibly and always pay on time.

FAQs

Some airlines may set expiration dates for miles, but others don’t. Take a look at your card’s terms and conditions to see.

It’ll vary from airline to airline and depend on your destination and schedule. Mile values are volatile and will fluctuate with a variety of factors, including whether it’s peak travel season or even what day of the week it is.

They’re similar. Airline miles are generally earned by being a frequent flier member as well as from co-branded credit cards, while credit card miles are typically earned from spending on specific rewards cards. What differs is what you can do with them. Credit cards that earn miles typically have more redemption options than co-branded airline cards.

Some common benefits of an airline credit card include:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Priority boarding
  • Lounge access (during some, not all, itineraries)
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits
  • Generous sign-on bonus

While airline credit cards offer rewards in the form of an airline’s miles or points, general travel rewards credit cards have their own systems, like American Express’ Membership Rewards points or Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points. General travel credit card points can be used to redeem travel (with partner airline and hotel programs) through the card issuer’s travel portal. Each travel rewards program also has the ability to transfer points to selected partner airline and hotel programs, which can make your points go further. 

General travel rewards credit cards tend to offer superior return rates and, since they cover a much greater range of purchases, they are often the better option. American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points may also be worth more cents per point when transferred strategically, making the return even greater.

Even the best airline credit card is typically less flexible than general travel cards, since your options for redemption are much more limited. Given their relative inflexibility, airline credit cards are best for travelers who want to take advantage of airline-specific perks. If you often spend on upgraded boardings or checked bags and you always fly with the same airline, these cards can save you money on those incidental expenses.

If you’re not loyal to one airline, rarely check bags or don’t fly enough to justify frequent flier status, a general travel credit card will likely provide more value, since those points can be used with many different airlines.

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back rewards, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the “welcome bonus” and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card’s respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

Cards we researched

  • Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
  • United℠ Explorer Card
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card
  • United TravelBank Card (no longer available)
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
  • American Airlines Advantage MileUp℠ Card
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
  • Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card
  • JetBlue Card
  • JetBlue Plus Card

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, click here.

*All information about the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card, AAdvantage Aviator Red Elite World Mastercard, Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, Alaska Airlines Visa credit card and JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

**For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including program features, program fees and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time-to-time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider’s website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. 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.

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