5 Best Airline Credit Cards

5 Best Airline Credit Cards

Best for Flexible Redemption
#1
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
  • The large signup bonus of 50,000 points is enough of a reason to consider this credit card
  • Earn 2x more points on travel-related purchases
  • Redeem points for airlines and hotels, without being tied to any specific companies
Best for United Airlines Patrons
#2
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
  • Finance your next trip with a large signup bonus
  • Travel in style with United Club passes, priority boarding, and free checked bags
  • Travel abroad without the stress of foreign transaction fees
Best for Frequent American Airlines Fliers
#3
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • A large signup bonus that will cover the cost of almost any flight, with minimal spending required
  • Get VIP treatment with a free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic flights
  • Travel internationally with no foreign transaction fees
Best for Budget Travelers
#4
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • Earn 2x rewards points on airline bookings in addition to hotel and car rental expenses
  • Earn 6,000 bonus points each year, even if you don't use your credit card
  • In addition to miles, points can be used for gift cards, flights, hotel stays, event access, and more

It almost seems like credit cards were invented for frequent travelers, especially because the best airline credit cards have some of the best rewards out there. In fact, if you're not booking your flights with one of the best airline miles credit card options, you're missing out on numerous awards that rack up quickly.

Here's the deal:

In order to pick your perfect credit card for earning air miles, it's necessary to analyze your travel habits, especially when it comes to your airline of choice. We will help you decide between some of the best airline credit cards, including options like these:

  • United Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Virgin Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • British Airways

There's one credit card on our list of the best airline credit cards that doesn't require committing to a specific airline, but the rest require you to pledge your allegiance accordingly. Most of these credit cards have high annual fees just short of $100 each, but these fees are easily offset by all the perks each card offers users. Once you've decided on your airline of choice, perks usually include things such as:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free first checked bag
  • Free passes to airline lounges
  • Priority boarding

Additionally, preferential use of a certain airline combined with that airline's credit card means earning additional bonus points faster, which can be redeemed for free flights down the road.

Now:

If you're not aligned with a certain airline, the following list of the best airline credit cards can help you to determine the best fit for you and your lifestyle. So read on, apply for a card (or two!), and start reaping the rewards of your frequent traveler status!

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

Quick Look: 5 Best Airline Credit Cards
British Airways Visa Signature Card
  • Spend enough on this card to unlock a companion travel pass
  • Book your next flight with a generous signup bonus that will probably cover the cost
  • Spend money abroad without racking up additional fees
Check on Britishairways
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • Earn 2x rewards points on airline bookings in addition to hotel and car rental expenses
  • Earn 6,000 bonus points each year, even if you don't use your credit card
  • In addition to miles, points can be used for gift cards, flights, hotel stays, event access, and more
Check on Creditcards.chase
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • A large signup bonus that will cover the cost of almost any flight, with minimal spending required
  • Get VIP treatment with a free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic flights
  • Travel internationally with no foreign transaction fees
Check on Secure.fly.aa
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
  • Finance your next trip with a large signup bonus
  • Travel in style with United Club passes, priority boarding, and free checked bags
  • Travel abroad without the stress of foreign transaction fees
Check on Creditcards.chase
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
  • The large signup bonus of 50,000 points is enough of a reason to consider this credit card
  • Earn 2x more points on travel-related purchases
  • Redeem points for airlines and hotels, without being tied to any specific companies
Check on Creditcards.chase
5 Best Airline Credit Cards

5 Best Airline Credit Cards

Read Video Infographic Tips

It almost seems like credit cards were invented for frequent travelers, especially because the best airline credit cards have some of the best rewards out there. In fact, if you're not booking your flights with one of the best airline miles credit card options, you're missing out on numerous awards that rack up quickly.

Here's the deal:

In order to pick your perfect credit card for earning air miles, it's necessary to analyze your travel habits, especially when it comes to your airline of choice. We will help you decide between some of the best airline credit cards, including options like these:

  • United Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Virgin Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • British Airways

There's one credit card on our list of the best airline credit cards that doesn't require committing to a specific airline, but the rest require you to pledge your allegiance accordingly. Most of these credit cards have high annual fees just short of $100 each, but these fees are easily offset by all the perks each card offers users. Once you've decided on your airline of choice, perks usually include things such as:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free first checked bag
  • Free passes to airline lounges
  • Priority boarding

Additionally, preferential use of a certain airline combined with that airline's credit card means earning additional bonus points faster, which can be redeemed for free flights down the road.

Now:

If you're not aligned with a certain airline, the following list of the best airline credit cards can help you to determine the best fit for you and your lifestyle. So read on, apply for a card (or two!), and start reaping the rewards of your frequent traveler status!

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

Quick Look: 5 Best Airline Credit Cards
British Airways Visa Signature Card
  • Spend enough on this card to unlock a companion travel pass
  • Book your next flight with a generous signup bonus that will probably cover the cost
  • Spend money abroad without racking up additional fees
Check on Britishairways
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • Earn 2x rewards points on airline bookings in addition to hotel and car rental expenses
  • Earn 6,000 bonus points each year, even if you don't use your credit card
  • In addition to miles, points can be used for gift cards, flights, hotel stays, event access, and more
Check on Creditcards.chase
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • A large signup bonus that will cover the cost of almost any flight, with minimal spending required
  • Get VIP treatment with a free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic flights
  • Travel internationally with no foreign transaction fees
Check on Secure.fly.aa
United MileagePlus Explorer Card
  • Finance your next trip with a large signup bonus
  • Travel in style with United Club passes, priority boarding, and free checked bags
  • Travel abroad without the stress of foreign transaction fees
Check on Creditcards.chase
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
  • The large signup bonus of 50,000 points is enough of a reason to consider this credit card
  • Earn 2x more points on travel-related purchases
  • Redeem points for airlines and hotels, without being tied to any specific companies
Check on Creditcards.chase

Best for Those Who Frequently Travel Abroad

Best for Those Who Frequently Travel Abroad: British Airways Visa Signature Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    16.99% - 23.99%
  • Cash Advance APR
    25.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    3 points (3 Avios) for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases, plus 1 point per dollar on everyday purchases with no cap on spending
  • Annual Fee
    $95
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 50,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Pros

  • Spend enough on this card to unlock a companion travel pass
  • Book your next flight with a generous signup bonus that will probably cover the cost
  • Spend money abroad without racking up additional fees

Cons

The cons for this card are somewhat problematic. First, there's the fact that Avios can only be redeemed with Oneworld partners, and the only domestic partner is American Airlines. Additionally, British Airways is known for high surcharges and taxes which you will need to pay when claiming any free flights that you earn. If you want to avoid high fees and don't like the limited travel options, you should look elsewhere on this list of the best airline miles credit cards.

Details

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios.
  • Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.
  • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you'll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years
  • In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
  • Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home

Application Process: Online, through Chase.

Annual Fee: An annual fee of $95, which is not waived for the first year as are many on this list of the best airline credit cards.

APR: A variable rate between 16.99% to 23.99%.

Rewards: Pretty straightforward: Earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on British Airways purchases, and 1 Avios per $1 spent on other purchases. According to Hustler Money Blog, Avios are the new shared rewards currency for British Airways Executive Club.

Bonus Offers: As with earning rewards, bonus offers are fairly straightforward, and break down as such:

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 within 3 months of opening the account.
  • Earn additional 25,000 Avios after spending a total of $10,000 on purchases within the first year (for a total of up to 75,000 Avios).
  • Earn an additional 25,000 Avios after spending a total of $20,000 on purchases within the first year (for a total of up to 100,000 Avios).
  • For every $30,000 spent using your British Airways Visa Signature Card, you earn a Travel Together ticket valid for 2 years.

Best for Budget Travelers

Best for Budget Travelers: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.24% - 24.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.24%
  • Rewards Rate
    1 point per dollar
  • Annual Fee
    $99
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

Pros

  • Earn 2x rewards points on airline bookings in addition to hotel and car rental expenses
  • Earn 6,000 bonus points each year, even if you don't use your credit card
  • In addition to miles, points can be used for gift cards, flights, hotel stays, event access, and more

Cons

  • You're restricted in how you can use your points — your best redemption is through Southwest flights and the airline doesn't have a lot of international destinations
  • Charges an annual fee
  • No special airline perks

Details

  • Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your card account is open.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions, two free checked bags, and no change fees.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

Application Process: Online, through Chase. You'll get a response within 30 seconds. 

Annual Fee: $99, which is applied to your first billing statement.

APR: A variable rate of 17.24% to 24.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Rewards: You'll earn 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, with 1 point per $1 spent on everything else.

Bonus Offers: Bonus offers can vary as Chase sometimes makes limited-time offers. As of March 19, 2018, you'll get 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of opening your account. You'll also earn 6,000 bonus points every year on your cardmember anniversary.

Best for Frequent American Airlines Fliers

Best for Frequent American Airlines Fliers: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.24% - 25.24%*
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.49%
  • Rewards Rate
    2 miles per dollar Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar on other qualifying purchases
  • Annual Fee
    $0 intro, $95 after first year
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.

Pros

  • A large signup bonus that will cover the cost of almost any flight, with minimal spending required
  • Get VIP treatment with a free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic flights
  • Travel internationally with no foreign transaction fees

Cons

Rewards redemption is limited to American Airlines. If you don't purchase a lot of flights through them, you won't rack up a lot of rewards. Additionally, this credit card comes with high APR and penalties.

Details

  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases

Application Process: Online—there's a version for consumers and business credit card use.

Annual Fee: An annual fee of $95, which is waived for the first year.

APR: A variable rate between 17.24% to 25.24%. For late payments, there's a penalty APR up to 29.99%. If you require cash advances, they're levied at a rate up to 26.49%.

Rewards: Rewards are very similar to those offered by United's credit card and include perks like:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent
  • Priority boarding on domestic flights
  • Free first checked bag - MileCards says that if you check a bag on 2 trips per year, this card essentially pays for itself

Bonus Offers: People are excited about the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard's signup bonus, which equates to 30,000 miles when you spend at least $1,000 within the first 3 months of opening the account.

Best for United Airlines Patrons

Best for United Airlines Patrons: United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.24% - 24.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.24%
  • Rewards Rate
    1 mile per dollar
  • Annual Fee
    $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Limited time offer - ends 3/15/18. Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Pros

  • Finance your next trip with a large signup bonus
  • Travel in style with United Club passes, priority boarding, and free checked bags
  • Travel abroad without the stress of foreign transaction fees

Cons

If you don't often fly with United, this card will provide very limited perks. When redeeming rewards, you're limited to United flights and StarAlliance partners. Additionally, points don't accrue very fast when using this card for anything besides United-related purchases.

Details

  • 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your Card to purchase your ticket
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club℠ with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Your miles don't expire as long as your credit card account is open, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn

Application Process: Online, through Chase.

Annual Fee: $95, which is not waived for the first year.

APR: A variable rate between 16.99% to 23.99%. And no foreign transaction fees!

Rewards: The rewards are numerous if you're a frequent traveler who prefers United. Check out the perks of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United tickets and 1 mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding in Group 2
  • 2 United Club passes each year

A little-known additional perk: having a United MileagePlus Explorer Card allows you to hack the annoyances of United Basic Economy, allowing you to still board in Group 2 and bring a free carry-on bag when booking this restricted fare type.

Bonus Offers: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $2,000 within 3 months of opening the account. Be on the lookout for even better rewards when flying with United, or periodically throughout the year. You'll also earn the bonus of 10,000 miles once you reach $25,000 in card purchases.

Best for Flexible Redemption

Best for Flexible Redemption: Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.24% - 24.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.24%
  • Rewards Rate
    1 point per dollar
  • Annual Fee
    $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Pros

  • The large signup bonus of 50,000 points is enough of a reason to consider this credit card
  • Earn 2x more points on travel-related purchases
  • Redeem points for airlines and hotels, without being tied to any specific companies

Cons

If you're not using this credit card to spend at least $10,000/year, the yearly fee will not be worth it. Compared to some of the other best airline credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card lacks special perks like free checked bags or priority boarding, which you would get from the best airline miles credit cards.

Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Application Process: Online, through Chase.

Annual Fee: $95 per year, waived for the first year of use.

APR: A variable rate between 16.99% to 23.99%, and no foreign transaction fees!

Rewards: Here's what you need to know about redeeming rewards earned by using the using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card:

  • Redemption options are flexible. When you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get a 20% discount, meaning each point will actually be worth $1.25.
  • When redeeming travel rewards, you will be led to a travel portal like Expedia, where you can book your flights or hotels, while comparing different airlines and hotels at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you don't lose points in the process.
  • Partner airlines include major airlines like Air France/KLM, British Airways, Korean Air, United, and Virgin Atlantic, and major hotel chains like Marriott, Hyatt, and Ritz-Carlton.
  • General statement credits and cash back can also be redeemed, but at a 1 cent:1 point ratio.

Bonus Offers: There are a number of bonus offers when it comes to using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, but they both come with a caveat. If you've received a bonus from another Chase card over the past 24 months, you can't take advantage of additional bonus offers. 

If you haven't received a Chase bonus in the past 24 months, these bonus offers may be of interest:

  • Earn 50,000 rewards points for every $4,000 spent for the first three months, which is $625 towards travel when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
  • If you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first 3 months, you’ll earn an additional 5,000 points.

On an average day, more than 2.5 million people rely on planes to get them where they need to go. If you’re a frequent flyer, it’s wise to take advantage of the perks of an airline credit card. You can score tons of travel-related rewards if you use your card responsibly.

However, we realize it’s tricky to decide which airline card fits your lifestyle. And once you have a card, you may not know how to maximize its benefits.

That’s why we’ve created this info-packed guide that gives you the scoop on airline cards. Whether you travel for business or for leisure, the FAQs below will help you effectively choose - and use - an airline credit card. Let us know if we’re missing any vital details!

General Questions About Airline Credit Cards

What is an airline credit card?

An airline credit card is a credit card where cardholders earn rewards by paying for flights from participating airlines. Unlike a debit card or a secured credit card, a traditional airline credit card provides a line of credit funded by a financial establishment. You generally need good or excellent credit to get an airline card.

Can I only use an airline credit card for flights and other airport expenses?

No, unless the card lacks a logo from a financial institution like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Citi. If you have one of these logos on your card, you can use it at regular retailers rather than just the airport.

However, keep in mind that you may not earn points for regular expenses. Airline credit cards are primarily designed to reward flight-related costs, not everyday purchases.

Is an airline credit card the same as a travel credit card?

Technically speaking, no. Airline credit cards and travel credit cards are both excellent options for travelers, but they focus on different expenditures and rewards.

As the name implies, airline credit cards focus on rewarding airport-related costs. Travel credit cards often offer flight perks, but they also provide discounts and freebies for hotel rooms, rental cars, and similar travel-related expenses.

Is it really worth it to get an airline credit card?

Yes, if you travel frequently and prefer a particular airline. The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card lets you rack up rewards at an assortment of airlines, but most airline credit cards force you to pick a favorite.

Many airline credit cards have an annual fee. This fee is totally worth it if you rack up enough rewards, but it’s hard to do that if you don’t travel often or if you alternate between multiple airports.

If the above description sounds like you, consider a travel credit card or a hotel credit card instead of an airline card. You might benefit more from a flexible card.

What is the best airline credit card?

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is our favorite airline credit card (you can get all the details by scrolling to the review above), but we’ve also got a few other top picks:

  • United MileagePlus Explorer Visa Card
  • Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa Credit Card
  • British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card

Here’s a quick rundown of why we chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card: You aren’t stuck with one airline. This is a flexible card that lets you rack up points at any participating airline instead of forcing you to commit to just one.

Oh, and we’re also impressed by the card’s generous signup bonus. You get 50,000 points if you spend at least $4,000 on qualifying purchases during your first 3 months as an account holder.

Application and Approval of Airline Credit Cards

How do I apply for an airline credit card?

Depending on your preferred card’s process, you can generally apply online, over the phone, or via a paper application that you return via fax or postal mail. Some airports also let you apply on site with a customer service agent.

Online applications often provide instant responses, so you’ll know within 30 to 60 seconds whether you’re approved or denied.

How do I know if I’ll get approved for an airline credit card?

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a guessing game. However, you can make an educated guess before you apply by reading reviews about the card or checking the card’s terms of service.

Also, look for words like “excellent credit,” “premier members,” or “high credit line” in the description. These are all signs that you need a high FICO score.

Cards with hefty APR fees and low credit limits are often more forgiving when it comes to applicants with credit blemishes.

If you’ve got bad credit, take some time to repair it before you try to get an airline card. You typically need good or excellent credit to get one, but sometimes you can squeak by with fair credit.

If I get rejected for one airline credit card, does that mean I’ll be rejected for all of them?

No, but it’s not a good sign. Each credit card company has different requirements, but many of them look for applicants with high FICO scores, few (if any) collection agency debts, and a low credit utilization ratio.

For example, if you currently have $50,000 in credit on your report but you’re utilizing $45,000 of it, a credit card company might not want to take a chance on you. You may also have a hard time getting approved for airline credit cards if you are unemployed or you have a recent and/or undischarged bankruptcy on your credit report.

Why didn’t I receive an instant approval for my airline credit card?

Sorry, but we can’t give a specific answer without reviewing your personal credit report (and we aren’t allowed to do that!). However, here are some common reasons why people don’t receive instant approvals:

  • Mismatch of information (like if your credit report has one address but your application has another)
  • A low FICO score with no recent collections or court judgments
  • A previous bankruptcy
  • A high credit score paired with low income

This is not an all-inclusive list of reasons why applications get delayed. A delay occurs when the computer can’t automatically approve your application, so your app requires manual review by a person.

Remember, a delay doesn’t always equal a rejection. There’s no harm in being proactive and contacting the credit card company about your app. You may be able to provide information that influences their decision to give you an airline credit card.

How many airline credit cards do I need?

We recommend following the one-and-done rule when it comes to airline credit cards. Many cards require you to commit to a specific airline if you want to earn rewards, so there’s no need for multiple cards.

You can still use any airline you want; you just won’t rack up as many rewards.

Airline Credit Card Fees

What are some common fees found on airline credit cards?

Many airline credit cards have an annual fee (more on that below). You can also expect to find cash advance fees, late payment fees, and returned payment fees on many airline credit cards.

What’s the APR for an airline credit card?

Airline credit cards have different APRs depending on which card you choose. You can find your desired card’s APR by reviewing its terms and conditions before you apply.

With that being said, we generally see variable APRs ranging from 16% to 26% for airline credit cards. Some of them also have penalty APRs that are around 30%, so do your best to pay your monthly statements on time.

Why does my friend have a lower APR than I do?

Does your friend have the same airline credit card as you? Different cards have different APRs.

If you have the same credit card, your friend might have better credit than you - at least in the opinion of the card issuer. Better credit doesn’t necessarily mean that your friend has a higher FICO, though. Your friend might have less debt than you or a low credit utilization ratio.

Will my airline credit card have an annual fee?

Probably, yes. The majority of the airline credit cards we’ve researched have an annual fee that’s around $100.

Some cards waive the annual fee for the first year so you have time to decide if you want to keep it or cancel it.

How do I get a late fee waived?

Call the credit card company ASAP! They won’t waive your first fee automatically unless it’s written in your contract, and we haven’t seen any airline cards that have that perk.

If you usually pay your bill on time, you might have success getting your first late fee waived. Some credit card companies waive multiple late fees if you can prove there was a serious event, such as an emergency hospitalization or a natural disaster, that caused you to fall behind on payments.

Can I get a lower APR?

Possibly, but it won’t happen unless you take action. If you’ve had a card for a long time - we’re talking years, not months - and never missed a payment, you might be able to score a lower APR. Your initial APR is almost always based on creditworthiness, and your credit can change significantly over the years.

Airline Credit Card Rewards

What are some types of airline credit card rewards?

Reduced-cost and complimentary flights are popular rewards associated with airline cards. Here are some other perks you might receive:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Free snacks or beverages
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free bag checks, at least for the first bag or two
  • Free or cheap upgrades from coach to first class
  • Skip-the-line boarding where you get on before other passengers
  • Complimentary airline lounge passes

Keep in mind that restrictions may apply, and there may be blackout dates that affect reward redemptions.

Can I earn as many rewards as I want with my airline credit card?

Depends on the card. If you want lots of perks, get a card that offers unlimited rewards.

How do I earn rewards with my airline credit card?

Pay for flights and other airport-related expenses with your card and watch as the points accumulate! There are a handful of cards that require you to submit your receipts and request rewards manually, but many airline credit cards automatically credit points for qualifying purchases to your account.

Some cards, like the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, also offer points for everyday purchases (in smaller increments, though).

How do I redeem airline credit card rewards?

Your redemption method depends on your credit card. Some cards offer a convenient travel portal where members can log in and trade points for flights or other perks. Other cards require you to pay for your travel up front and then submit receipts for reimbursement.

Check the cardholder agreement (you can usually find this titled something like “Terms and Services” online if you’ve misplaced your paper copy) for specific information on your redemption process.

Do my airline credit card rewards expire?

Sometimes, but many credit cards offer expiration-free airline miles. If you receive miles with an expiration date, expect the airline credit card to still give you plenty of time - like a year or two - to redeem your miles.

You may be able to request an extension if you’re worried you won’t use your rewards in time. Talk to the credit card company about your concerns to see if you can work out a deal.

Why do different purchases have different reward values?

Airline credit cards are geared toward customers who make specific purchases. If you want rewards for everyday purchases, you might prefer a general rewards credit card.

In general, you can expect to find higher points/rewards for airline-related purchases when you use an airline credit card. You might still earn points for other purchases, but they will be for lower amounts because your card is specifically designed for airline expenses.

Can I trade reward points for cash?

Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the credit card company. You can generally redeem rewards for airline-related perks, even if you see a cash value listed in your account. The cash value is there to help you figure out how many points you can use toward purchases, not to encourage you to trade points for cash.


For example, your account might say “50,000 points - cash value $500.” That doesn’t mean you have $500 to spend on whatever you want. It means you can apply your rewards toward a flight that costs $500 or less if you want to fly for free.

Can I sell rewards I’ve earned with my airline credit card?

It’s unlikely that you can legally sell your airline rewards. However, you might be able to transfer them to another card or a different rewards program. Review your credit card guidelines to learn more about your options, or contact the company directly.

Potential Concerns Regarding Airline Credit Cards

What should I do if my rewards aren’t credited to my account?

Say something! Your credit card company may have mistakenly left the rewards off of your statement, or there might be another reason why you didn’t get them. We talk about that more in the question below.

Why is my airline credit card withholding my rewards?

Are they intentionally withholding your rewards? If so, it might be because you have fallen behind on your payments. Contact the company to make sure you haven’t had any missing or returned payments.

A credit card company can also withhold your rewards if you violated your cardholder agreement. For example, your credit card agreement may forbid customers from incurring gambling-related expenses with the card, so it’s a problem if you visit a casino.

Another potential reason you aren’t receiving your rewards is because you’re checking too soon. Sometimes it takes weeks - or even months - for a credit card company to credit your rewards. They have to wait for data from the airline and then review your account to make sure everything looks okay.

We can only provide estimated guesses regarding your lack of rewards. If you aren’t getting the rewards you deserve, we recommend that you contact your credit company to find out why.

What should I do if I lose my airline credit card

Call your credit card provider immediately and let them know what happened unless you’re 100% sure you lost it in your own home and can find it quickly.

Many cards offer fraud protection, but this benefit isn’t automatic. It takes time to dispute fraudulent charges, and your FICO might take a temporary hit while you dispute them. If you contact the card issuer right away, then can freeze or cancel your card so identity thieves can’t travel the world on your paycheck.

What if I can’t afford the monthly payments for my airline credit card?

Let’s identify the reason you can’t pay your bill. Is there an event, such as a serious illness of a job layoff, that caused you to fall behind? Talk to the credit card company and see if you can work out a flexible payment plan.

Is the problem that you live paycheck to paycheck and need a different due date? Many credit card companies give cardholders some control over when their bills are due. If yours falls just before payday, explain your situation and request a change.

Why did the credit card company lower my credit line?

Oh no! A credit limit decrease is frustrating, especially if you have no clue why it happened.

Have you recently missed some payments? That’s one reason why companies reduce your credit line. Here are some other reasons why a credit card issuer may lower your credit line:

  • Account inactivity
  • A history of small purchases that don’t utilize much of your credit line
  • Paying off your bill in full each month (yes, unfortunately some companies hate this)
  • A recent bankruptcy filing

If you think the decrease is unwarranted, express your concerns to the credit card company. They may offer to reinstate your credit line, either now or in the future.

Maddy Osman creates engaging content with SEO best practices for marketing thought leaders and agencies that have their hands full with clients and projects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website, www.The-Blogsmith.com and read her latest articles on Twitter: @MaddyOsman.

Join the conversation: 5 Best Airline Credit Cards

Never make a dumb purchase again

Our tips in your mailbox: