The 9 Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

Turn reward points into travel perks

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Airline credit cards are a great way to earn rewards that you can use toward free flights, hotels, and other travel perks. Airline credit cards pay a higher amount of rewards when you use your credit card to purchase flights directly from the associated airline. All the airline credit cards on our list pay out great bonus miles if you meet the minimum required spending in the first three months of having your account. Our list includes:

  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card
  • JetBlue Plus Card
  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
  • Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card from American Express
  • Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
  • British Airways Visa Signature Card
  • Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

When you’re choosing an airline credit card, consider how frequently you fly on that airline since that’s the best way to earn a higher number of rewards. Want some help to see how all the benefits shake out? Keep reading to find the best one for you.

01
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Courtesy of Chase

What we like: The Chase United MilesPlus Explorer Card is packed with benefits for United frequent fliers. The card offers a free first checked bag for the primary cardholders and one companion when you use your card to buy tickets. Your card also gives you access to priority boarding, 2 United Club passes, up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck® credit.

Ongoing, cardholders earn two miles per dollar on all items purchased from United, including tickets, Economy Plus®, inflight food, beverages and Wi-Fi, baggage service charges and other United fees; two miles for each dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel; and one mile per dollar on everything else. MileagePlus miles can be used toward travel United, starting as low as 12,500 miles.

What we don't like: The free checked bag benefit only extends to one other companion the same flight. Most other airline credit cards offer the reward for several companions on the same reservation.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Excellent
  • Annual Fee: $95, waived in the first year
  • Intro APR: None offered
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months; earn an additional 20,000 miles after spending $8,000 total in the first six months

02
JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue Plus Card
Courtesy of JetBlue

What we like: The JetBlue Plus Card pays a whopping six points per dollars on all JetBlue purchases, plus two points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores; and one point per dollar on all other purchases. Every time you redeem your miles you'll get 10% of your points back. And each year on your account anniversary, you'll receive 5,000 bonus miles. 

The first checked bag is free for you and up to three companions on the same reservation as long as you use your card to purchase tickets. And get 50% inflight savings on cocktails and food purchases.

What we don't like: JetBlue doesn't operate flights in as many major cities as other major airlines which could limit the use of the rewards you earn.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Excellent
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Intro APR: 0% on balance transfers for the first 12 billing cycles
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 27.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases and paying the annual fee in the first three months

03
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard

What we like: American Airlines loyalists will enjoy plenty of travel benefits with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard. The card offers the first checked bag for free on domestic American Airlines flights for you and up to four companions on the same reservation. You'll also enjoy preferred boarding and 25% savings on eligible inflight food and beverage purchases. 

Ongoing, you’ll earn two AAdvantage miles for every dollar spent on American Airlines purchases and one AAdvantage mile for every dollar spent on other purchases. Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card.

Earn two miles for every dollar spent at restaurants; plus, earn two miles for every dollar spent at gas stations.

What we don't like: Cardholders who've had a Citi AAdvantage credit card may have to wait before applying. The signup bonus is limited to new cardholders who haven't opened or closed a Citi AAdvantage credit card in the past 24 months.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Excellent
  • Annual Fee: $99, waived in the first 12 months
  • Intro APR: None offered
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 26.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup bonus: 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases and paying the annual fee in the first three months

04
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
Courtesy of American Express

What we like: In addition to paying frequent flier miles on purchases, the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express rewards you with Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) that go towards earning elite status. Medallion Qualification Miles help you obtain Medallion Status, giving you access to perks such as unlimited complimentary upgrades and the ability to earn more miles at each tier.

On top of the 40,000 signup bonus, you’ll earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account.

You can also earn 15,000 MQM and 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $30,000 on eligible purchases on your credit card in a calendar year. Spend $60,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year and you’ll earn an additional 15,000 MQM and 15,000 bonus miles.

Ongoing, you’ll earn two miles per dollar on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else. You can redeem miles toward travel on Delta and over 15 airline partners.

What we don't like: The steep annual fee may put this card out of reach for many consumers. Those who signup for the card need to be heavy spenders to earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Excellent
  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Intro APR: None offered
  • Ongoing APR: 17.99% to 26.99% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $5 or 3% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Welcome Offer: 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases

05
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American Express

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card From American Express
Courtesy of American Express

What we like: The Gold Delta SkyMiles is the perfect entry level rewards credit card for Delta frequent fliers. With your card, you'll get the first checked bag free for you and up to 9 travelers on your reservation. Plus, you'll save 20% on eligible inflight purchases.

The card pays a generous signup bonus with a relatively low minimum spend requirement. You’ll earn two miles for every dollar you spend on purchases made directly with Delta and one mile for every dollar you spend on other credit card purchases.

What we don't like: Your purchases won't earn Medallion Qualification Miles which you'll need to get Delta Medallion status.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Good
  • Annual Fee: $95, waived in the first year
  • Intro APR: Not offered
  • Ongoing APR: 17.99% to 26.99% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $5 or 3% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Welcome Offer: 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. $50 statement credit after you make your purchase Delta purchase in the first three months.

06
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card

Courtesy of Chase

What we like: Each year on your anniversary as a cardmember, you'll receive 6,000 bonus points. Ongoing, you'll earn two points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines flights and purchases from Southwest hotel and car rental partners; and earn one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You can redeem points for international flights, cruises, hotel stays, car rentals, and gift cards.

Your purchases help you earn tier-qualifying points that help you reach A-list or A-List Preferred status that gets you access to priority check-in and boarding, free same-day standby, and a dedicated customer support phone line.

What we don't like: Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards doesn't offer additional airline perks like free checked bags or discounts on inflight purchases.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Good
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • Intro APR: Not offered
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup Bonus: 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.

07
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

What we like: The bonus offer for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card includes Alaska's Famous Companion Fare which allows a companion to fly with you for a $99 fair plus taxes and fees. Card membership also gives you access to the same companion flight deal each year on your account anniversary.

Get the first checked bag free on Alaska flights for you and up to six guests on the same reservation, as long as you use your card of course. Ongoing, earn three miles for every dollar you spend on Alaska and Virgin America purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else.

What we don't like: While Alaska Airlines has flights to more than 115 destinations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica, it doesn't operate out of all 50 states.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Good
  • Annual Fee: $75
  • Intro APR: Not offered
  • Ongoing APR: 17.24% to 25.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $10 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 3% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.

08
British Airways Visa Signature Card

British Airways Visa Signature Card
Courtesy of Visa

What we like: Rather than the typical signup bonus, the British Airways offers new cardholders the opportunity to earn up to 120,000 Avios in the first year. In year one, you'll earn 4 Avios for every dollar you spend on all purchases up to $30,000. After that, you'll earn 3 Avoid per dollar on British Airways purchases and one Avois per dollar spend on everything else.

You're not limited to flights on British Airways - you can use your points to book with any of the airline's partners including American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

New card members are automatically enrolled in the Executive Club which qualifies you for a Travel Together Ticket if you make $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

What we don't like: British Airlines may add fuel surcharges to rewards tickets which devalues Avois points when you use them to book directly with the airline.

  • Minimum Credit Required: Good
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Intro APR: Not offered
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 5% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup Bonus: None offered

09
Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard
Courtesy of Frontier Airlines

What we like: The signup bonus on the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard is pretty easy to earn--just spend $500 and pay the annual fee in the first 90 days and you'll receive a 40k mile bonus.

Ongoing, you’ll earn 5x miles on purchases at FlyFrontier.com; 3x miles on restaurant purchases; and 1x mile per dollar on all other purchases. Every dollar you spend allows you to earn one Qualifying Mile toward Elite Status and a $100 flight voucher each year on your account anniversary when you spend $2,500 or more annually. You’ll have 180 days to use your flight voucher before it expires.

You'll automatically receive priority boarding and receive an award redemption fee waiver whenever you use your Frontier Airlines World Mastercard to pay the taxes and fees on your award tickets.

What we don't like: To maintain your rewards, you'll have to make at least one purchase every six months, otherwise, your miles will expire. What we don't like:

  • Minimum Credit Required: Good
  • Annual Fee: $79
  • Intro APR: 0% on balance transfers for the first 15 months
  • Ongoing APR: 18.24% to 27.24% variable
  • Balance Transfer Fee: $5 or 3% of the transfer amount
  • Cash Advance Fee: $10 or 5% of the cash advance
  • Foreign Purchase Transaction Fee: None
  • Signup Bonus: 40,000 miles when you spend $500 on purchases in the first 90 days

About Our Reviews

We are committed to researching and recommending the best financial solutions and products for our readers. The Balance has partnered with CardRatings and may receive commissions from links within our content, but these have no bearing on our reviews or recommendations. The above content has not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any card issuers prior to publishing.