With that being said, the best airline miles credit card for one person could be very different from the best for someone else. The right choice for you might not even be an airline credit card at all – at least not one tied to a specific airline. Instead, you might want to take a closer look at the best credit cards with miles for any travel expense.
For your convenience, we’ll summarize some of the most important info about all of WalletHub’s picks for the best credit cards for airfare below.
Best Airline Credit Cards Compared
|Credit Card||Best For||Annual Fee||Initial Bonus|
|JetBlue Plus Card||Overall||$99||40,000 points|
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||Delta||$0 intro 1st yr, $99 after||70,000 miles|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®||American Airlines||$0 intro 1st yr, $99 after||50,000 miles|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card||Southwest Airlines||$149||40,000 points|
|United Explorer Credit Card||United||$0 intro 1st yr, $95 after||70,000 miles|
|Alaska Airlines Credit Card||Alaska Airlines||$75||50,000 miles|
How to Find the Best Airline Credit Card for You
Airline credit cards aren’t one-size-fits-all. In other words, the best miles credit card for you might not be the best for your neighbor. That’s one reason recommendations from friends and family may be a good starting point, but not necessarily the route you should take. It’s also what makes choosing an airline credit card — or any credit card for that matter — so difficult. With this in mind, we’ve put together some pointers that should help direct you to your golden (airline) ticket:
- Evaluate Your Spending Habits: The first thing you have to determine is whether any airline credit card will be a good fit. If you do not always pay your credit card bill in full, you should automatically rule out getting an airline card. Not only would a 0% credit card save you more money in the long run, but a rewards card would also promote increased spending at a time you need to cut back. If you never carry a revolving credit card balance, however, tabulate how much you spent on airfare last year then compare that figure to your overall annual spending.
If airfare accounts for at least 10% of your annual spending, you’re on the right track. If not, consider a cash back card instead. Finally, if you meet the criteria for an airline credit card, you should compare airline-specific offers as well as those with generic miles. The latter provide more flexibility, since they can be redeemed for any type of travel expense. If an airline-specific card offers a larger initial bonus or higher ongoing earning rate, you’ll need to determine if you will be able to commit to traveling with that provider every time you fly.
- Convert Miles To Dollars. The best way to achieve an apples-to-apples comparison between credit cards with different rewards currencies is to convert points and miles to dollars. This will enable you to compare all offers in terms of cash back percentage. Still, doing so will be easier said than done. Some airlines will post mileage charts, breaking down how many miles it takes to get different types of free flights. Other airlines will require you to look up flights individually in order to calculate redemption rates.
- Focus On Initial Bonuses. Rewards bonuses are more valuable than ever. The average card with an initial bonus offers $209 cash back or 27,928 points/miles, according to WalletHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report. And the best of the bunch offer four or five times as much. So make sure to consider both upfront and ongoing rewards when comparing cards. And don’t be afraid to get a new card just for a few months of use if the initial bonus is good enough.
- Don’t Forget About Fees. It’s easy to completely write off cards that charge annual fees or to get so caught up in flashy rewards that you forget to check the price tag. Both are mistakes. You need to consider the complete package and see which card offers the most net rewards value, with fees taken into account. Annual and foreign-transaction fees are the two biggest concerns for people who always pay their monthly bills in full.
- Consider Loyalty Status & Other Perks. Many airline cards automatically qualify users for elite status, airport lounge access, free companion tickets and various other benefits. Such things have some value, but you shouldn’t take an airline at its word regarding their worth. Instead, look up how much each item would cost if purchased independently. Then include that amount in your calculations.
- Flight Availability Is Crucial. Having thousands of airline miles in the bank probably sounds pretty sweet, but it’s actually kind of risky. Miles don’t get you anything until you redeem them, after all. And their value could fall if you wait too long. All the airline needs to do is increase the number of miles needed for a certain amount of airfare. That’s why you want a card that makes it easy to redeem on a regular basis. It’s also why some cards that seem really rewarding end up being disappointments. For example, the British Airways Card has eye-catching rewards. Yet we left it off this year’s list of the best airline credit cards because of its notoriously problematic redemption process.
Best Airline Rewards Programs in 2021
|Rank||Airline Rewards Program||WalletHub Score|
|2||Alaska Mileage Plan||63%|
|5||American Airlines AAdvantage||55%|
Nevertheless, researching rewards programs is important to do before choosing an airline credit card, as both the card’s terms and the overall loyalty program’s rules will affect your ability to earn free flights and enjoy other benefits. For help finding the right airline rewards program for your needs, check out WalletHub’s latest report on the Best Frequent Flyer Programs, which includes a calculator to customize the results to your spending habits.
Best Airline Credit Cards for Elite Status Without Flying
|Airline||Card Name||Elite Status||Spend Needed|
|Delta||Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card||Silver||$60,000|
|JetBlue||JetBlue Plus Card||Mosaic||$50,000|
Methodology for Selecting the Best Airline Credit Cards
To identify the best airline miles credit cards on the market, WalletHub’s editors regularly compare more than 1,500 credit card offers based on their airfare rewards, fees, approval requirements and redemption policies. In addition to the co-branded airline credit cards that are affiliated with major airlines, WalletHub’s editors consider cards that offer standout rewards on any airline.
WalletHub’s airline credit card comparison is based on consumer spending data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For cards that offer initial rewards bonuses, we include the bonus if a cardholder would earn it by spending an average of $700 per month for up to four months. We also select cards based on double the spending in the same four-month period to ensure heavy-spending frequent flyers are well represented. Any other bonuses past the four-month mark that require spending to earn are included in calculations if the spending requirement can be met based on the standard spending assumptions we used.
We update our selections as airline credit card offers change.