Best Frequent Flyer Credit Cards
When most people think of travel credit cards, or even reward credit cards in general, they probably think about cards that offer frequent flyer miles. There are few things as appealing as the prospect of using your credit card rewards for an airline ticket, especially if you can use it to take a great vacation.
Covered in this Article:
- How to Choose the Right Frequent Flyer Credit Card
- The Best Premium Frequent Flyers Cards
- The Best Mid-Range Frequent Flyers Cards
- The Best Entry-Level Frequent Flyer Cards
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Choose the Right Frequent Flyer Credit Card
The right airline credit card will reward cardholders in two different ways:
Frequent Flyer Miles - The traditional way is by earning frequent flyer miles that can be redeemed for award flights. Unfortunately, many airlines have significantly devalued their frequent flyer programs by requiring more miles for awards and by making awards at the lowest mileage levels vanishingly scarce.
Perks and Benefits - In addition to frequent flyer miles, airline credit cards have remained valuable by offering an increasing number of perks and benefits. Popular features now include priority service, free checked bags, discounts on in-flight purchases, and access to airport lounges.
With the unpredictable value of frequent flyer programs, some travelers have been switching from credit cards affiliated with a single airline to those that offer points that can be transferred to miles on multiple carriers. These cards offer greater flexibility to travelers who are not committed to a single airline's loyalty program.
The Different Kinds of Frequent Flyer Mile Credit Cards
Co-Branded Credit Cards
There are two different types of credit cards that can offer you frequent flyer miles, which some airlines refer to as points. The first type is the traditional airline credit card that will be co-branded with a carrier. Typically, these cards offer you one mile per dollar spent, with double miles for airline purchases. Some airline cards can also offer you bonuses for other purchases, but usually not.
Transferable Rewards Cards
The other type of credit card that can offer you airline miles is one where you earn points in a rewards program that can be transferred to miles with multiple frequent flyer programs. These cards have the advantage of allowing you to earn rewards now and chose which airline miles you would like later. This flexibility allows you to pick the airline miles that offer you the best rewards for each of your trips. Also, these cards tend to offer more bonus miles than airline cards.
Another way of differentiating airline credit cards is by their annual fees. First, there are a few entry-level airline credit cards that have no annual fee. These cards will offer you points or miles but will have few if any travel benefits such as free checked bags or priority service.
Next are the cards with annual fees of just under $100. These mid-range cards typically offer you a variety of travel benefits including discounts on-inflight purchases, free checked bags and priority service.
Finally, there are the premium airline and other travel reward cards that have annual fees of $450 or more. These cards always offer you a wide variety of travel perks plus airport business lounge access. These cards can even offer the chance to earn elite qualifying miles, which can help you to earn or retain elite status each year.
What to Look for in a Co-Branded Airline Card
When you are choosing a card that only earns miles with a particular airline, you’ll want to make sure that their frequent flyer miles will offer you enough value. Take a look at how many miles are required for a particular award flight and try searching the company’s website to see if it makes a reasonable number of award seats available with plenty of advanced notice. Also, take into consideration other redemption options with airline partners.
Next, look at the travel benefits offered by these cards. The low-end cards will offer fewer benefits while most frequent flyers will find the mid-range cards to be worth the $95-$99 annual fee. For example, most airlines now charge $25 for a checked bag, each way. However, nearly all mid-range airline credit cards will allow you to check a free bag for yourself and a limited number of travel companions. Among the other most valuable benefits offered can be priority boarding and even refunds of miles redeemed.
Once you start considering the premium airline reward cards, benefit details such as the card’s airport lounge membership can become significant. Some cards will only allow the cardholder free access to the airport lounge and may even require same day travel on that airline. Others let you access the lounge with multiple family members or companions, regardless of which airline you happen to be traveling with.
What to Look for in a Transferable Rewards Card
If you prefer to use an airline rewards card that lets you transfer your points to frequent flyer miles, then there are different card details you will want to consider. First, you’ll want to look at the different frequent flyer programs that you can transfer your miles to. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program offers nine airline partners, while American Express Membership Rewards has 16. The Citi ThankYou Rewards program offers 15 while the Starwood Preferred Guest program currently features over 30.
But you need to look beyond the number of partners and look at the quality of the frequent flyer programs. Ask yourself if these programs offer significant value and if they are ones that you can use. For example, there are many smaller, foreign carriers that you can transfer your miles to that don’t offer Americans much value. However, there are also some lesser known foreign frequent flyer programs that can offer you excellent value. In any case, you’ll also want to see if these programs will impose fuel surcharges or other carrier surcharges to your ticket, beyond mandatory government taxes and fees.
You also need to look at the transfer ratio. Most of these programs offer a 1:1 transfer ratio but there are some that offer less than one frequent flyer mile per reward point redeemed.
Next, you’ll want to look at how easy it is to earn reward points. Thankfully, these credit card reward programs often let you earn multiple points per dollar spent, making them an especially valuable way to earn rewards. If you can find a card that offers you double or even triple points on purchases you make frequently, then it can be a great way to accumulate airline miles quickly.
Finally, you should look for perks and benefits that make up for the fact that these cards won’t offer you special privileges on a certain airline. For example, instead of offering you checked baggage fee waivers, many of these cards will offer statement credits towards travel expenses, such as baggage or change fees. These cards can also offer you travel perks like elite status with hotels and rental car companies.
The Best Cards for Frequent Flyers
The Best Premium Frequent Flyers Cards
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card is a premium rewards card offering 3x points on all travel and dining purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. These points can be transferred to miles with nine frequent flyer program or points with four hotel programs. They’re even worth 1.5 cents each towards any travel reservations that you make with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Travel Center. Furthermore, new applicants can receive 50,000 bonus points after using their card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening
Other benefits include access to over a thousand airport lounges in the Priority Pass Select program and a $300 annual travel credit. You can also speed through airport security with a $100 credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Finally, it includes numerous travel insurance and purchase protection policies. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
United MileagePlus® Club Card from Chase
The United MileagePlus® Club Card offers both a high rate of mileage earned from spending as well as a broad range of benefits. While most airline credit cards only offer one mile per dollar spent, holders of the United Club Card earn 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases and double miles for all United purchases. Primary benefits include access to the United Club℠ airport lounges for the cardholder and his or her immediate family, or two guests. It also offers two free checked bags for both the cardholder and a companion.
Other perks include priority service at check-in and security screening as well as expedited baggage handling and boarding privileges. Cardholders also receive waived last-minute award booking fees and an upgrade to Platinum status in the Hyatt Gold Passport program. There is a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® from Citi, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is a premium airline rewards credit card that features an Admiral's Club airport lounge membership not just for the primary cardholder and his or her companions, but for up to 10 authorized cardholders at no additional cost. Other benefits include priority check-in, security screening, and boarding as well as a free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to eight traveling companions. In addition, cardholders can be reimbursed for the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program, which offers expedited immigration processing upon arrival to the United States as well as access to the TSA's Pre-Check program.
When used for spending, this card offers one mile per dollar spent on all purchases and double miles for American Airlines purchases. You can also earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within a calendar year.
For a limited time, this card currently offers new applicants 75,000 bonus miles after making $7,500 in purchases within three months of account opening. There is a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
Editorial Note: The information related to Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
The premium Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, offers new customers 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. And each year, you can earn another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $30,000 on purchases, and an additional 15,000 MQMs and an additional 15,000 bonus miles after you reach $60,000 of purchases in a calendar year.
The card offers double miles on all Delta purchases and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. It includes a Delta Sky Club® membership, but only for the primary cardholder. You also get an annual companion certificate and upgrade priority over other travelers in the same level in the Medallion program. Other benefits include baggage insurance, extended warranty coverage, a damage and theft protection policy and return protection. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Editorial Note: The information related to Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, offers a range of benefits including priority boarding, a 20% discount on in-flight purchases, and a free checked bag for the cardholder and all others traveling on the same reservation. In addition, cardholders receive a companion certificate each year that allows them to add a companion to their domestic round-trip reservation (on economy-class) for just the price of taxes. Finally, cardholders can earn as much as 20,000 bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles each year, which will accelerate their efforts to reach elite status. There is a $195 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is a premium rewards card (not to be confused with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card) that currently offers new applicants 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in new purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 5x points for flights booked with the airlines or with American Express Travel, and 5x for hotels booked on Amextravel.com. You earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere, and points can be transferred to miles with 16 different frequent flyer programs.
This card also comes with many other benefits including an airport lounge membership with the Delta Sky Club®, Priority Pass™ Select and the American Express Centurion lounges. The Delta Sky Club lounge membership is only valid for the cardholder, while the Priority Pass Select and American Express Centurion lounges allow you to bring in a gust.
You also receive an annual $200 airline fee credit, a $100 fee credit towards the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, and $200 of Uber ride credits each year. Finally, you also receive Gold elite status with Hilton, Marriott and Starwood hotels and elite status with Avis, Hertz and National car rentals. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
The Citi Prestige® Card
The Citi Prestige® Card from Citi, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is a premium rewards card that lets you earn 3x points on air travel and hotel purchases, 2x on dining and entertaining, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Consumers will receive airport business lounge access with the Priority Pass™ Select network and an annual $250 statement credit towards. any air travel expenses. And when booking a hotel stay of at least four consecutive nights through Citi’s travel agency, you’ll always receive the fourth night free. Like most cards in this category, this one has a $450 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
The Best Mid-Range Frequent Flyers Cards
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Chase is currently offering new applicants 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. This card also offers you one point per dollar spent on most purchases, and double points on all Southwest charges. You can also earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points per $10,000 you spend on the card, up to a maximum of 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points each year. These points allow you to reach A-List and A-List Preferred status levels sooner. Cardholder benefits include lost luggage reimbursement, extended warranty protection, purchase protection and baggage delay insurance. This card has a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, but you get a 6,000-point bonus each year upon renewal.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
For those who would prefer to avoid earning airline miles with a single carrier and keep their options open, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers points that can be transferred to a dozen airline and hotel programs. Cardholders earn one point per dollar spent on most purchases, and double points on all travel and dining charges.
Points are earned in Chase's Ultimate Rewards program and can be transferred to airline miles with United, Southwest, Korean, Singapore, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. In addition, rewards can be redeemed for hotel points with Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards. Otherwise, points are worth 1.25 cents each towards travel reservations booked directly though Chase. There is a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
Editorial Note: The information related to Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, features its innovative Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card for those who want to earn flexible reward points. This card offers 3x points at US supermarkets, 2x points at US gas stations, and one point per dollar everywhere else. In addition, you get a 50% points bonus each statement period when you use your card to make 30 or more transactions.
While this card is not marketed as a frequent flyer card, it offers points in the American Express Membership Rewards program and can be transferred to 16 different airline programs including Delta, Air Canada, Singapore, and British Airways, mostly at a 1:1 ratio. Therefore, those who receive the 50% points bonus will earn 1.5 points per dollar, which equates to 1.5 miles per dollar, allowing you to earn an award flight faster than you could with most airline credit cards, which only offer one mile per dollar spent on most purchases. With this bonus, you also have the opportunity to earn 3x miles per dollar spent on US gas stations and 4.5 miles per dollar spent at US supermarkets. There is a $95 annual fee for this card and it does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the United States.
JetBlue Plus Card from Barclays
The JetBlue Plus Card lets you earn 6x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. New accounts can receive 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening. You also earn 5,000 points each year on your account anniversary. Other benefits include a free checked bag, 10% of your redeemed miles back, a 50% savings on inflight purchases and the ability to earn Mosaic elite status after spending $50,000 on your card in a year.
There’s a $99 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card currently offers new customers 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 3x rewards on all travel purchases, including gas, and 2x points on both dining out and entertainment purchases. The ThankYou Rewards program allows you to transfer your rewards to frequent flyer miles with 15 different airlines. There's $95 annual fee for this card that's waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Best Entry-Level Frequent Flyer Cards
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
The Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, a Credit Card Explained advertiser, offers you double miles both for Delta Purchases and at restaurants, with one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. You also get a 10,000 mile bonus after spending just $500 on new purchases within three months of account opening. Benefits are limited but include a 20% savings on in-flight purchases, extended warranty coverage and return protection. There’s no annual fee for this card, but there is a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
The JetBlue Card from Barclays
The no-fee JetBlue Card may be better than some airline credit cards that have an annual fee. You start off with a sign-up bonus of 10,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 within 90 days of account opening. It also offers you 3x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. In contrast, most airline credit cards still only offer double miles for flight reservations and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. Other benefits of the JetBlue Card include a 50% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases, and no foreign transaction fees.
You can redeem JetBlue’s TrueBlue points for any seat on any JetBlue-operated flight, with the number of points you need is tied to the price of the flight. The points never expire, and you can pool points among family members. Finally, this card offers new applicants 12 months of interest free financing on balance transfers completed within 45 days of account opening. After the introductory period, a variable APR based on your creditworthiness will apply.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there any way to know how valuable frequent flyer miles are?
The airlines run these loyalty programs and they are free to change the terms and conditions at any time. About once every year or two, most airlines will make changes to their programs that are largely negative. These changes, as well as changes to the number of seats available to award travelers, make it nearly impossible to tell how valuable your miles will be in the future. That’s why it’s important to redeem miles often and not to try to save them over many years. This can also be a good reason to consider a card that lets you transfer your rewards to miles with multiple airlines.
Are airline miles the best kind of travel rewards?
For some people, airline cards can be a great way to earn free travel. Others find more value in hotel rewards, cash back cards or general travel rewards. And like all rewards cards, airline cards will have higher interest rates than other cards that don’t offer rewards. This isn’t a problem if you always avoid interest charges by paying your balance in full. But if tend to carry a balance, then you should be looking to pay off your debts as soon as possible. The best card for this will be a low interest rate card or one with a 0% APR offer for balance transfers.
What’s the best use for frequent flyer miles?
You can get the most value out of your frequent flyer miles when you redeem them for expensive flights in business or first class. Used this way, frequent flyer miles can be exceptionally valuable. Conversely, you’ll want to save your miles whenever you are able to purchase a highly discounted flight in economy class. Click here to learn When is The Best Time to Use Your Airline Miles?
Editorial Note: The information related to Chase Sapphire Reserve®, United MileagePlus® Club Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.