7 Best Cards To Earn First-Class Travel Without the Price Tag

CREDIT CARDS - TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
Enjoy luxurious benefits and perks traveling in first class — these cards will help you get there sooner than you might think.
Updated July 18, 2024
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businessman enjoying free first class travel

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Imagine traveling in first-class luxury, relaxing in a plush seat, and enjoying delectable food and first-rate service. Using a travel credit card and its reward program could make this dream a reality without emptying your bank account. One of our recommended travel credit cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

You can use your travel credit card to save up the miles or points you earn and redeem them for flights. Even better, you might be able to use your points or miles to make your experience more comfortable and luxurious by upgrading to first-class travel.

In this article

Best credit cards to earn first-class travel

While flying first class is an experience worth having, it often comes with a hefty price tag. First-class tickets typically cost hundreds more than seats in the standard cabin.

For example, a flight on American Airlines from Orlando to Philadelphia costs $188 if you opt for basic economy. If you upgrade to first class, that price jumps to a whopping $649. Getting the additional perks and comfort of first class would cost you an additional $461. Keep in mind that’s for a relatively short flight — longer journeys would likely be even more expensive.

Luckily, you don’t have to shell out that much money out of your own pocket to enjoy first-class luxury for less. With a travel card, you can earn valuable rewards to redeem for first-class tickets.

Here are our top picks for some of the best travel credit cards to score first-class fare:

Comparison of the best credit cards to earn first-class travel

Card name Welcome offer Rewards rate Annual fee

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 6 months 2X miles on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and 1X miles on all other eligible purchases $0 (Terms apply)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and online groceries; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases $95

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel $0

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Travel℠ immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases $550

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new card in the first 6 months 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases $695 (Terms apply)

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Enjoy $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day, 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5 miles per dollar on Capital One Entertainment purchases through 12/31/25 $95

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Earn 120,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening 3X points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year; and 1X points per $1 on all other purchases $95

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

If you frequently fly a specific airline, you may prefer a credit card that enables you to earn points or miles with this airline. For example, frequent Delta Air Lines flyers may enjoy a credit card such as the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card.

This credit card helps you earn 2X miles on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and 1X miles on all other eligible purchases.

You can also benefit from its welcome offer. Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 6 months. And the best part is that you’d only pay a $0 annual fee.

If you don’t mind paying an annual fee, you can also explore other Delta SkyMiles credit cards, such as the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. These two cards charge annual fees:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold card: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $150 per year thereafter (terms apply)
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum card: $350 (terms apply)

But both cards come with additional rewards and travel benefits, including more generous welcome offers.

Learn how to apply or read more about this card in our Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred can help you earn first-class tickets sooner. Not only are your points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Travel℠ portal, you’ll also earn extra points on dining and travel each time you make a purchase on your card in those categories. It also offers flexible redemption methods, which comes in handy for finding first-class seats for less.

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and online groceries; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays purchased through Chase Travel℠

  • Points bonus equal to 10% of the total purchases you made in the previous year each card anniversary

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer available with Chase airline and hotel travel partners
  • There are no blackout dates — as long as a flight is available in the travel portal, you can book it
  • Other perks like primary rental car insurance, trip delay reimbursement, purchase protection, complimentary DoorDash DashPass benefits, and more

Apply now or learn more about this card with our Chase Sapphire Preferred review.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a solid choice for someone who wants to earn travel rewards without worrying about a high annual fee.

This credit card helps you earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day and 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Its annual fee is $0.

The Capital One VentureOne also offers a welcome offer. You can earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

What makes the Capital One VentureOne further stand out is that it can help you manage a large purchase or an existing credit card balance. This credit card offers new cardholders:

  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months, then 19.99% - 29.99% (variable) APR
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months, then 19.99% - 29.99% (variable) APR; Balance transfer fee applies

You don’t have to worry about foreign transaction fees with the Capital One VentureOne. And you can redeem the miles you earn from your spending in various ways. This includes transfers to hotel and airline partners or redemptions via the Capital One Travel portal.

Learn more in our Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

If you enjoy high-end travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve can help you book luxury flights for less. Despite its hefty annual fee, it offers exceptional value and a slew of premium perks. You’ll get significant travel credits worth hundreds of dollars every year. And if you redeem your points for travel through the Chase Travel℠ portal, they’re worth 50% more, helping you score first-class seats much sooner.

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Travel℠ immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Receive a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each year
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees
  • Complimentary airport lounge access with a Priority Pass Select membership
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink (a value of $19.99 per month)
  • $5 in DoorDash credit each month and a complimentary DoorPass subscription for at least a year when activated by Dec 31, 2024
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Other perks like trip cancellation insurance, primary rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement, free DoorDash DashPass benefits, and more

Apply now or learn more about this card with our Chase Sapphire Reserve review.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

For travelers looking to make their experience more luxurious, the Platinum Card from American Express really goes the extra mile. Offering high levels of rewards and travel perks, jet-setters will find its benefits justify its $695 annual fee. 

  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new card in the first 6 months
  • 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary access to Centurion and Priority Pass Select airport lounges
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees (five year plan only)
  • Get $200 in Uber Cash every year (terms apply)
  • Other perks like secondary car rental insurance, premium roadside assistance, travel accident insurance, baggage insurance, and more
  • Note that certain benefits require enrollment

Learn how to apply or read more about this card with our Amex Platinum review.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Voted as “The Best Travel Card” by CNBC in 2018, it’s easy to see why the Capital One Venture Rewards Card is so valuable. You’ll earn a higher rate of return on every purchase you make, helping you achieve first-class status without worrying about spending categories.

  • Enjoy $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day, 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5 miles per dollar on Capital One Entertainment purchases through 12/31/25
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees once every four years
  • Other perks like rental car insurance, travel accident insurance, extended warranty, and more

Learn more about this card with our Capital One Venture Rewards Card review.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

If you own a business, traveling for work can be exhausting. Upgrading to first class can make business travel more enjoyable, and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card can help you earn enough miles to do so quickly. Plus, you can earn impressive rewards in spending categories that commonly rack up business expenses.

  • Earn 120,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 3X points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year; and 1X points per $1 on all other purchases
  • Redeem your points through Chase Travel℠ and they’re worth 25% more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Get up to $600 in cell phone protection against covered theft or damage
  • Other perks like trip cancellation insurance, primary car rental insurance, extended warranty protection, and more

Apply now or learn more about this card with our Ink Business Preferred review.

Why first-class travel can be worth the splurge

If comfort is key, it’s hard to beat flying first class. While each airline is different, in general, you can expect amenities like:

  • Substantially larger seats with more legroom
  • Personal service with a dedicated flight attendant
  • Access to power outlets to charge your devices
  • Complimentary pillows, blankets, and headphones
  • Free premium entertainment like movies and television shows
  • Chef-curated meals
  • Expedited check-in and security service
  • Priority boarding

With these benefits, you’re more likely to relax and enjoy the flight. You’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and relaxed, rather than stressed and hungry. First-class airfare can make the flight an enjoyable part of your vacation instead of a chore you have to endure.

FAQ

Are first-class flights worth the price?

The value of a first-class flight depends on various factors, such as its actual price, the perks it offers, and your personal preference. First-class flights can offer speedy check-in, fast boarding, more space, improved service, and fewer in-flight fees.

The difference between first class and economy is more apparent on long-haul flights, where first class can provide lie-flat seats and exclusive amenities.

However, first-class flights tend to be more pricey than economy class, especially when booked as roundtrip flights, and the benefits may not justify the cost for everyone. Some travelers may prefer to save money or use other options like redeeming their airline miles or bonus miles for upgrades.

Can a travel credit card help me with first-class flights?

Travel credit cards can help you earn rewards in the form of cash back, points, or miles that you can put toward first-class tickets. In many cases, you can earn these points on things such as takeout and dining purchases, refills at gas stations, and purchases at U.S. supermarkets.

Various travel credit cards may offer welcome bonuses or sign-up bonuses for new card members that can help boost what you earn in the first few months of card membership. Some credit cards may also enable you to transfer points to the loyalty programs of its transfer partners.

You can also use co-branded airline credit cards, which may help you earn an elevated rate for in-flight purchases, get free checked bags, and benefit from elite statuses at frequent flyer programs.

What does first class get you on United?

There are several benefits and perks you can get by flying first class on United. This includes:

  • Premier Access: This benefit gives access to designated check-in counters, security lanes, and priority boarding.
  • Free checked bags: You can get up to two standard-sized bags checked for free.
  • More spacious seating: With a more comfortable seat cushion, a six-way adjustable headrest, and an extended cocktail table with a granite surface, you can unwind in a roomy and comfy seat.
  • Inflight dining and drinks: You may receive premium snacks, fresh fruit, or a full dinner service with two entree options, depending on how long the journey is. You’d also have a selection of drinks, including soft drinks, juice, tea, freshly brewed coffee, and a variety of beer, wine, and spirits.

Bottom line

First-class travel is an indulgent experience that’s often well worth the splurge (at least once!). To help you enjoy the perks without the expense, use one of the credit cards listed above to earn rewards you can redeem for future trips and vacations.

Methodology

To choose the best credit cards to earn first-class travel with, we identified cards with travel benefits and compared features like welcome offers, premium travel perks, rewards redemption options, and business traveler benefits. We did not include all possible options.

Great for Flexible Travel Rewards

4.9

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Current Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

5X points on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and online groceries; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Kat Tretina Kat Tretina is a personal finance expert focusing on practical financial matters, including student loans, debt repayment, side hustles, insurance, and healthcare. Drawing from her personal experience, she aims to simplify complex financial topics and provide individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions.