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

Enjoy luxurious benefits and perks traveling in first class — these cards will help you get there sooner than you might think.
Last updated Aug 17, 2021 | By Kat Tretina
businessman enjoying free first class travel

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Zero legroom. Cramped seats. Rotten food. It’s no wonder that air travel can be a miserable experience nowadays. But what if there was a better way?

If you have a travel rewards card, you can save up the miles or points you earn and redeem them for trips you otherwise couldn’t afford. Even better, you can use those miles to make your experience more comfortable and luxurious by upgrading to first-class travel.  

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.

Best 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:

Category Card
Best for generous bonus offer Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best for premium travel perks Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best for luxury benefits The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for flexible rewards redemption Capital One Venture Rewards
Best for business travelers Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred can help you earn first-class tickets sooner. Not only are your points worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 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 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 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, free DoorDash DashPass benefits, and more

Our #1 Travel Card

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

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 through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 50% more, helping you score first-class seats much sooner.

  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else
  • 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)
  • $60 in annual DoorDash statement credits in 2020 and 2021
  • 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

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Intro Offer

50,000 points

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

up to 10X points per dollar

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Excellent credit required
Card Details
  • Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else

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 (See rates and fees) annual fee. 

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your 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
  • Get $200 in Uber credits every year
  • Other perks like secondary car rental insurance, premium roadside assistance, travel accident insurance, baggage insurance, and more
  • Note that certain benefits require enrollment

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Intro Offer

100,000 Membership Rewards points

Annual Fee

$695

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months
  • 10X points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months)
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $200 hotel credit, $240 digital entertainment credit, $200 in Uber Cash, $300 Equinox credit, $200 airline fee credit
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Select benefits require enrollment.
  • $695 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your 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
  • Terms apply

Capital One Venture Rewards

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.

  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Get reimbursed for Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fees
  • Other perks like primary rental car insurance, travel accident insurance, extended warranty, and more

Incredibly Flexible Rewards

Intro Offer

60,000 miles

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X miles

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 bonus mile welcome offer
  • 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
  • No foreign transaction fees

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases

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 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else
  • Redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards 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

Hot Sign-up Bonus

Intro Offer

100,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 100,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 3X points on travel and common business spending categories
  • Flexible redemption options
  • Additional employee cards at no extra cost

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • No intro 0% APR promotion offered
  • Limited business-specific benefits
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else

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.

Our #1 Travel Card

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 5X points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 10% anniversary point bonus each year
  • $50 annual credit on hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Typically need to spend thousands to reap rewards
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases

Author Details

Kat Tretina Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been published by publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, MarketWatch, and more. She specializes in producing content around paying down debt, increasing income, and maximizing credit cards. You can view her work at www.KTretina.com, or contact her on Twitter @KatTretina.