The 10 Best Credit Cards for Earning and Redeeming Airline Miles

The best credit cards for earning airline miles aren’t necessarily the best for redeeming miles.
Last updated Dec 29, 2020 | By Ben Luthi
Young man checking in at the airport

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The best credit card for airline miles largely depends on your airline loyalty (or lack thereof) and how flexible you want your rewards to be. There are two types of credit cards for airline miles: co-branded airline credit cards and general travel credit cards that allow you to book flights directly with airlines or via points transfers.

While all that might sound complicated, it’s important to understand the nuances of airline cards to ensure you get the best one for you. Here’s how to find the best travel credit card or airline card to help you fly for free — as well as some things to consider.

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Earning vs. redeeming miles

When it comes to airline credit cards, it’s important to understand the difference between the value you get in earning miles and redeeming them. If you’re looking to rack up miles directly with your favorite airline, a co-branded airline credit card may be the best fit.

But if you want to focus on redemption options and flexibility, you may be better off with a general travel rewards card that allows you to transfer your hard-earned rewards to multiple airlines. That setup gives you more options for your specific itinerary and the chance to potentially squeeze more value out of each mile you redeem.

Best credit cards to earn airline miles

If your priority is to focus on earning points or miles with one airline, your best bet may be to get one of the airline’s co-branded credit cards. If you’re not loyal to any one airline but want to be, here are some cards to consider.

Card name Rewards rate Annual fee
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants, and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases $99 (waived first year)
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard 2X miles at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; and unlimited 1X miles on all other purchases $99 (waived first year)
JetBlue Plus 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1X points per $1 spent on all other purchases $99
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card 2X points for Southwest purchases and 1X points on all other purchases $149
United Explorer Card 2X miles at restaurants and eligible delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else $95 (waived first year)

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

Annual fee: $99 (waived first year)

Welcome offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Rewards: 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants, and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. Delta SkyMiles are generally worth about 1.2 cents each, on average.

Other benefits: As a Gold Delta SkyMiles credit cardholder, you’ll get one free checked bag for you and up to eight others on your reservation. You’ll also get a 20% discount on inflight purchases, priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees, and more.

Learn more about credit cards for frequent Delta flyers.

Great Welcome Offer and Continuing Rewards

Benefits

  • Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles
  • Earn a $100 Delta Flight Credit to use toward future travel after you spend $10,000 in a calendar year
  • 2X miles on purchases with Delta, at restaurants, and at U.S. supermarkets
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights
  • Annual fee is waived your first year
  • Terms apply

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Annual fee: $99 (waived first year)

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months. The card’s big sign-up bonus gives new cardholders an incredible opportunity to earn a lot of American Airlines miles fast.

Rewards: 2X miles at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; and unlimited 1X miles on all other purchases. AAdvantage miles are worth roughly 1.4 cents apiece, on average.

Other benefits: In addition to a big sign-up bonus and the chance to rack up bonus miles on select everyday-spending categories, you’ll also get plenty of perks with the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. For starters, you’ll get one checked bag free for you and up to four others on your reservation, preferred boarding, and a 25% discount on eligible inflight purchases.

You’ll also earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount when you spend $20,000 in a year and renew your account. The card charges no foreign transaction fees.

Free checked bags & more

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Benefits

  • 50,000 bonus mile sign-up offer
  • 2X miles at gas stations, restaurants, and on American Airlines purchases
  • First checked bag free

JetBlue Plus

Annual fee: $99

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

Rewards: 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1X points per $1 spent on all other purchases. JetBlue points are worth about 1.3 cents apiece, on average, and if you fly a lot with the airline, you’ll earn rewards much faster than most other airline cards.

Other benefits: JetBlue Plus cardholders can earn Mosaic status, which includes free changes and cancellations, two free checked bags, early boarding, complimentary alcoholic beverages, and more, after you spend $50,000 in a year.

You’ll also get 5,000 bonus points every year, a 50% discount on select inflight purchases, a free first checked bag for you and up to three others on your reservation, and a $100 annual credit toward a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more. The card has no foreign transaction fees.

Mega Points for JetBlue Flyers

JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue Plus Card

JetBlue Plus Card

Benefits

  • 6X points on JetBlue purchases
  • 0% intro APR for 12 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • $100 annual statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package
  • No foreign transaction fees

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Annual fee: $149

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of cardmembership.

Rewards: 2X points for Southwest purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. Depending on where you look, Rapid Rewards points are worth between 1.3 cents to 1.5 cents each, on average. While the card’s rewards aren’t the most generous on the market, you’ll also receive 7,500 bonus points every year and miles are simple to redeem, making this one of the best airline credit card options. If you earn 125,000 points with this card, you can also get the Southwest Companion Pass, which can help you save even more on airfare.

Other benefits: In addition to a decent sign-up bonus and annual bonus points, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority cardholders get an annual $75 Southwest travel credit and a 20% discount on inflight purchases, including food, beverages, and Wi-Fi. You’ll also be reimbursed for up to four upgraded boardings — that’s positions A1 through A15 — but only if you purchase the upgrade at the departure gate or ticket counter on your departure date. The card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees.

Double points on Southwest Airlines flights

Benefits

  • Sign-up offer: Earn 40,000 points
  • Earn 2X points on Southwest purchases
  • 7,500 points every year on Cardmember anniversary
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • Four upgraded boardings per year when available

United Explorer Card

Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus an additional 25,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 in the first 6 months.

Rewards: 2X miles at restaurants and eligible delivery services, hotel accommodations booked directly with the hotel, and eligible United purchases; and 1X miles on everything else. MileagePlus miles are generally worth between 1.3 and 1.4 cents apiece, on average, depending on how you redeem.

Other benefits: While the United Explorer Card offers chances to earn MileagePlus miles quickly, it provides a lot more value through its perks. As a cardholder, you’ll get one free checked bag for you and one other person on your itinerary, priority boarding, a 25% inflight discount, and two complimentary United Club passes each year that you can use to get into the airline’s lounge.

You’ll also get an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, complimentary upgrades for Premier members, primary rental car insurance, and several other trip protections. There are no foreign transaction fees.

Learn more about credit cards for frequent United flyers.

Best Rewards for United

Benefits

  • Up to 65,000 mile sign-up bonus
  • 2X miles on United purchases, restaurants, and delivery services
  • Free first checked bag
  • 2 United Club Passes annually

Best cards to redeem airline miles

While co-branded airline credit cards are great for earning miles, they may not provide the most value on the redemption end. Frequent flyer miles can be devalued at the airlines’ discretion, and if you stay loyal to just one airline, your rewards could lose their value over time.

Also, if you move to a different city where another airline has a bigger presence or you simply switch your loyalty to another company, having dedicated all of your energy toward earning with just one airline could make the switch more difficult.

As a result, some credit card users may be better off with a general travel rewards card that allows you to transfer your rewards to a range of airlines, giving you the chance to diversify your rewards and potentially get more value with certain redemptions. Here are our top picks.

Card name Rewards rate Annual fee
The Platinum Card from American Express 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases $550
American Express Gold Card 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases $250
Capital One Venture Rewards 2X miles on every purchase, every day $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else $550
Citi Prestige 5X points on airline purchases and at restaurants; 3X points on hotels and cruise lines; and 1X points on all other purchases $495

The Platinum Card from American Express

Annual fee: $550

Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10X points on purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets for first 6 months (on up to $15,000 combined).

Rewards: 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

When redeeming your points, you can transfer them to one of many domestic and international airlines' frequent flyer programs, including Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air France / KLM, and more.

Other benefits: The main value of The Platinum Card from American Express — a luxury travel rewards card — lies in its perks. Cardholders will get up to $200 annually in Uber credits, up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits; an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry; complimentary access to multiple airport lounge networks including Centurion, Delta SkyClub, and Priority Pass; elite status benefits with select hotel and car-rental companies; and more.

Even if you’re not using the card primarily for its rewards program, you could likely still get enough value to make up for its annual fee.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Benefits

  • 75,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • 10X points on purchases at U.S. gas stations and supermarkets
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $15 in free U.S. Uber rides each month ($20 in December)
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Terms apply

American Express Gold Card

Annual fee: $250

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 6 months.

Rewards: 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases.

As with The Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll have your choice to transfer points to one of many domestic and international airlines, giving you plenty of options regardless of your destination.

Other benefits: In addition to some incredible rewards on everyday spending categories, the American Express Gold Card also offers up to $120 annually in dining credits at select restaurants and food delivery services, special benefits with The Hotel Collection, and no foreign transaction fees.

Big Rewards for Dining Out

Benefits

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • Rose gold is back! Choose your color.
  • $120 in dining credits
  • $120 in Uber Cash
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Terms apply

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Annual fee: $95

Welcome offer: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $20,000 in the first 12 months (or earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months).

Rewards: 2X miles on every purchase, every day. You can redeem your miles for just about any type of travel or transfer them to one of 15 airline loyalty program partners, including JetBlue, Air France / KLM, Asia Miles, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, and more.

Other benefits: The Capital One Venture Rewards card also offers an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Cardholders also enjoy no blackout dates for award flights.

Incredibly Flexible Rewards

Benefits

  • 100,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fees

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Annual fee: $550 

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Rewards: 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else.

You can use your points to redeem flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards and get 50% more value out of your rewards or transfer them to one of several airline partners. Examples include British Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and more.

Other benefits: The Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers a $300 annual travel credit, complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges, an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, a $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021, a complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership, and other premium travel perks.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Citi Prestige

Annual fee: $495

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening.

Rewards: 5X points on airline purchases and at restaurants; 3X points on hotels and cruise lines; and 1X points on all other purchases. You can transfer your hard-earned rewards to several airlines, including JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic, and Singapore Airlines.

Other benefits: The Citi Prestige also provides users with other elite benefits, including a complimentary fourth night free on hotel bookings of four or more consecutive nights, a $250 annual travel credit, complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges, an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and more.

Luxury Travel Benefits

Citi Prestige

Citi Prestige

Citi Prestige

Benefits

  • 50,000 bonus point sign-up offer
  • 5X points on airline purchases and at restaurants
  • Up to $250 travel credit every calendar year
  • Complimentary 4th night hotel stay
  • Transfer points to airline partners

FAQs about the best credit cards for airline miles

Are airline miles credit cards worth it?

Depending on how often you travel with the same airline, miles rewards credit cards can be a great way to save money on flight purchases. For example, if you were to take advantage of the current welcome offer happening with Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, you’d earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months — which can easily cover up to several hundred dollars in airfare.

How many airline miles do you need for a free flight?

The number of miles you need for a free flight will vary based on the airline. For example, in order to qualify for a free United flight, you’ll need a minimum of 10,000 miles. On American Airlines, you’ll need at least 7,500 miles to get a free flight. Keep in mind that these values can change, and the best way to check whether you qualify for a free flight is by logging into your designated rewards booking platform.

What are the best co-branded credit cards for earning airline miles?

Some of the best co-branded credit cards for earning airline miles include the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, JetBlue Plus, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, and the United Explorer Card.

Although most of these cards come with an annual fee (some are waived for the first year), they also include generous welcome offers that allow you to earn anywhere from 35,000 to 60,000 bonus miles in your first few months as a cardholder.

What's the difference between travel rewards credit cards and airline credit cards?

The main difference between travel rewards credit cards and airline credit cards is in how you can redeem rewards. Although both types of cards may allow you to earn rewards on myriad standard purchases, even the best airline credit cards typically allow you to only redeem those points with the actual airline. Additionally, some airline cards may allow you to earn points only through purchases made directly with them.

Airline credit cards tend to make the most sense for people who travel exclusively with one or two airlines. For others, one of the best travel credit cards may be a good option.

The bottom line on the best credit cards for airline miles

With so many airline rewards credit cards available, it’s important to think about your travel habits and preferences. If, for example, you anticipate staying loyal to one airline, getting the airline-specific benefits from a co-branded card may be the way to go.

But if you aren't loyal to a specific airline and like the idea of being a free agent and always getting the best deal possible, you may be better off picking a card that gives you that flexibility. In some cases, it may also be worth considering having more than one of these cards in your wallet. Many of them offer bonus rewards on different spending categories and valuable perks that you can combine to gain a better overall travel experience.

If you’re considering that path, however, run the numbers to make sure the cards’ annual fees aren’t stopping you from getting value before you apply for a new card.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • Up to $50 statement credit for grocery store purchases
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits