The Best Airline Credit Cards, Right Now

 

Last updated: November 30, 2015

Imagine that three months from today, you are booking a nearly-free, roundtrip flight anywhere in the continental U.S. If you spend the next five minutes reading this page and taking action, you will already be halfway to booking that dream vacation!

Myths

Some people think you have to be a frequent flier or accumulate credit card debt to get nearly free airfare with a travel rewards credit card. These are huge myths. If you aren’t sure why, you should read our article, How to Fly Cheap or Free with the Best Airline Credit Cards.

Three Easy Steps

Turning a travel rewards credit card into a nearly-free flight is super simple:

  1. Apply for any of the travel credit cards listed below.
  2. Use your existing monthly expenses to meet the card’s sign-up bonus requirements.
  3. Book a nearly-free flight!

The average time it takes to earn your first nearly-free flight is 3.5 months, but you could do it in as little as 1.5 months. To be on the safe side, though, we recommend applying six months before you want to travel.

Two Card Types

There are two major types of travel credit cards, and we recommend having one of each type. Here’s why:

  1. Airline Miles Credit Cards rack up miles directly with an airline’s frequent flier program. We recommend using these rewards to fly on really expensive flights (like overseas flights) because you can often redeem these miles for just $5 to $80 in fees, thus saving you hundreds to thousands of dollars off the regular international airfare price.
  2. Travel Rewards Credit Cards offer a statement credit for any travel purchase charged to the card, usually within the past 90 days. These rewards aren’t tied to any airline or travel brand, and can often be redeemed in increments as low as $50. As such, we recommend using these rewards on lower-cost travel purchases, such as domestic flights, hotels, and rental cars.

If you were to apply for a different card every few months, you could earn multiple free flights per year or combine your bonus rewards to fly almost anywhere in the world!

 

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards List

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Our Thoughts: This is a fantastic card that Danielle has used many times because AAdvantage miles can be used to fly on Oneworld Alliance airlines almost anywhere in the world for very low redemption fees (ex. $18.40 to Australia!) If you live near an American Airlines hub airport, such as Dallas, this is probably your ideal card.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard for American Airlines

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months.
  • Extra Benefits:
    • No foreign transaction fees on purchases when traveling abroad
    • First eligible bag checked free for you and up to 4 travel companions on domestic itineraries
    • Group 1 priority boarding on domestic flights
    • 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
    • 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
    • 25% off on in-flight food and beverage purchases
    • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles each calendar year
    • Smart chip in card for enhanced security and global acceptance
    • Miles don’t expire if you close this credit card account
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Full Details and Apply Online

If you have a business: Be sure to also sign up for the business version of this card, CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, because it has a 50,000 mile sign up bonus, too. If you tie both of these Citi AA cards to the same AAdvantage frequent flier account, then you can easily accumulate over 106,000 AAdvantage miles within 3–6 months. That’s enough miles for a roundtrip flight anywhere in the world!

 

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Our Thoughts: This is a great card if you want to fly anywhere other than Europe because British Airways charges hundreds of dollars in fees to redeem Avios miles on their own flights (mostly to Europe), but you can use Avios to fly on other Oneworld Alliance airlines almost anywhere in the world, and some destinations have redemption fees as low as $2.50. This is the card Danielle used to fly to Hawaii for $7.50 roundtrip on American Airlines.

British Airways Visa Signature® Credit Card

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 bonus Avios points after you make $2,000 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • Extra Benefits:
    • No foreign transaction fees on purchases when traveling abroad
    • 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways, Iberia, and OpenSky purchases
    • 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases
    • Earn an extra 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 on purchases within the first year of account opening.
    • Earn an extra, extra 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first year of account opening.
    • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases, you’ll get a Travel Together Ticket good for 2 years
    • Smart chip in card for enhanced security and global acceptance
    • Miles don’t expire if you close this credit card account
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Full Details and Apply Online

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Our Thoughts: This is the best travel rewards card not tied to an airline because Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred (usually instantly) at a 1:1 ratio with no transfer fees to anyone’s frequent flier account on United, Southwest, British Airways, VirginAtlantic, Singapore, Hyatt, Marriott,IHG, The Ritz-Carlton, or Amtrak. This is a great option for flexibility or gifting your miles to someone else! Also, you can easily earn 106,000+ British Avios points if you get the British Airways credit card and this card, then combine their sign up bonus points into the same British Avios account. That’s enough miles for a roundtrip flight anywhere in the world!

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you make $4,000 in purchases within your first 3 months. Plus, earn 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months.
  • Extra Benefits:
    • No foreign transaction fees on purchases when traveling abroad
    • 2 points for purchases on travel and dining at restaurants
    • 1 point for all other purchases
    • Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases, you’ll get a Travel Together Ticket good for 2 years
    • Smart chip in card for enhanced security and global acceptance
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Full Details and Apply Online

 

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Our Thoughts: This Barclaycard is a close second to Chase Sapphire Preferred for a travel rewards card that is not tied to an airline. It comes with a big signup bonus, every extra benefit a card like this could have, plus several unique benefits not found in other cards on this list. If you have a balance to transfer from another credit card, the 0% Intro APR for 12 months makes this card your best choice.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months, that’s enough to redeem a $400 travel statement credit within the past 120 days
  • Extra Benefits:
    • 0% intro APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, depending on your creditworthiness
    • 2 miles for all purchases
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • Earn 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits
    • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers
    • Smart chip in card for enhanced security and global acceptance
    • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 

Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®

Our Thoughts: Hawaiian Airlines is a Oneworld Alliance partner, so you can use these miles to fly almost anywhere in the world. Hawaii is a springboard between the US and Asia, India, and Australia, so these points can be very helpful if you’re trying to go to any of those destinations for cheap. They also offer unique benefits for flying to Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 35,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • Extra Benefits:
    • First eligible bag checked free for you
    • One-time 50% off a companion discount on roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii and North America on Hawaiian Airlines
    • $100 off a companion ticket for roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii and North America on Hawaiian Airlines at each account anniversary
    • 2 miles for every $1 spent on Hawaiian Airlines
    • 1 mile for all other purchases
    • 5,000 annual bonus miles after $10,000 in annual spend
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • No blackout dates for Hawaiian Airlines Flights
  • Annual Fee: $89 not waived for the first year
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 

The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®

Our Thoughts: If you live near Frontier’s Denver hub and have a balance to transfer from another card, the $1,000 spending requirement and 0% intro APR for a long, 15 months makes this an excellent choice for you. They also have a new feature that no one else has, which apparently waives fees on miles redemptions, so you may be able to fly totally for free.

The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you make $500 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • Extra Benefits:
    • Award Redemption Fee Waiver
    • 2 miles for every $1 spent on FlyFronteir.com
    • 1 mile for all other purchases
    • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for cardmembers
    • No blackout dates for redemptions
  • Must use the card at least once every six months to keep your miles active
  • Annual Fee: $69 not waived for the first year
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Our Thoughts: The low minimum spending requirement to earn the bonus miles and no foreign transaction fee makes this a good choice if you live near United hub airport, such as Chicago. Two free United Club passes is a nice extra.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months, plus 5,000 bonus miles after you add an authorized user and use that card to make a purchase within your first 3 months
  • Extra Benefits:
    • First eligible bag checked free for you and one travel companion
    • Priority boarding
    • 2 miles for every $1 spent on United ticket purchases
    • 1 mile for all other purchases
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • 2 one-time use passes to the United Club every year
    • Redeem miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Our Thoughts: The low minimum spending requirement to earn the bonus miles and no foreign transaction fee makes this a good choice if you live near a Delta hub airport, such as Atlanta. If you’re planning to buy a Delta flight in the next three months, you’ll also get $50 credit.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months, plus earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Extra Benefits:
    • First eligible bag checked free for you and up to three travel companions
    • Priority boarding
    • 2 miles for every $1 spent on Delta ticket purchases
    • 1 mile for all other purchases
    • 20% off on in-flight food and beverage purchases
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • Delta Sky Club® Reduced Rate of $29 per person for you and up to two guests
    • No blackout dates for Delta flights
  • Annual Fee: $0 for first year, then $95 – to avoid this fee, simply cancel your account before 12 months
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Our Thoughts: While Southwest doesn’t fly to as many destinations as the larger U.S. airlines, they do allow you to redeem points for flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and gift cards. With a low minimum spend to earn the signup bonus and a few other unique benefits, this could be a good card if you live near a Southwest hub airport, such as Baltimore, so long as it is also not a hub for one of the better cards, above, or you have already recently earned those bonuses.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

  • New Account Sign Up Bonus: 25,000 points after you make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months
  • Extra Benefits:
    • Your Bags Fly Free®, always on Southwest
    • 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases, Rapid Rewards Hotel, or Car Rental Partner
    • 1 points for all other purchases
    • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember Anniversary
    • No foreign transaction fees
    • Redeem points for gift cards, car rentals, cruises, hotel stays and international flights to over 800 destinations on 50+ global carriers
    • No blackout dates
    • Points never expire
    • No Change Fees for flights
  • Annual Fee: $99 not waived for the first year
  • Get Complete Details and Apply Online

 


Extra Help

If you aren’t sure which cards to pick, read the four questions in How to Determine the Best Airline Credit Card for You and match your answers to “Our Thoughts” on each card below.

If you have any questions, check our FAQ on Travel Rewards Credit Cards.

If you find an offer has changed or there is a better offer elsewhere, please leave a comment below so we can maintain this page as a handy resource for everyone.

If you find this website useful, please share the good news in your favorite social medias. Your future travel companions will thank you! You can help keep this site online by using the links on our site when you apply for these credit cards. While we may earn a referral from some credit cards, we don’t let that sway our rankings of the best airline credit cards.

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