Our 5 Best Cards for Earning Free First-Class Travel

Keep your airfare at a minimum, not your legroom. Here’s how you can actually enjoy your next flight.
4 minute read | 10/9/19Oct. 9, 2019
woman on smartphone flying first class

You know that feeling you get when you’re assigned a seat at the very back of an airplane with your knees wedged up against the seat in front of you and the back of your seat has no capability of reclining whatsoever?

Or how about the creepy-crawly feeling that sets in when your plane lands and you think about the mysterious hotel you booked and realize you have no idea what it will be like.

What if it’s infested with bedbugs? What if the hotel is in a sketchy area? What if their WiFi is down? God forbid if the WiFi is down.

The last time I flew internationally in economy class, the service was so bad that I decided I would never again pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to be treated like crap thousands of miles up in the sky.

Think you’re ready to make that decision, too?

If you’re ready to maximize your cherished (and often scarce) vacation days and experience a little bit of luxury on your next flight, consider one of these five credit cards that will help you travel in style.

British Airways Visa Signature Card

The British Airways Visa Signature Card from Chase offers new applicants up to 100,000 miles as a sign-up bonus.

Here’s the breakdown:

You earn 50,000 points after spending $2,000 within three months of opening your account, and another 25,000 miles after spending $10,000 within your first year.

Additionally, if you spend $20,000 within a year of opening your account, you'll receive the full 100,000 mile bonus. This leaves you with a total of 120,000 miles - enough for a round trip flight to Europe in business class.

If you’re really ambitious, you can spend $30,000 on this card in one calendar year to receive a Travel Together certificate that allows you to add a companion to your round-trip award flights for no additional miles.

Yes, they'll get you for a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees when you redeem your miles (admittedly, British Airways stinks in this area), but the two of you will be traveling in luxurious business class seats (that lie flat like a bed) rather than crammed together in “sardine class” in the back of the plane, all for less than the cost of an economy ticket.

There's a $95 annual fee for this card, but with all the free travel you can earn in a year, I think it’s definitely worth it.

Wyndham Rewards® Visa®

The Wyndham Rewards® Visa® from Barclaycard offers new customers 30,000 bonus points after their first purchase, and additional 6,000 points each year. Pretty cool, right?

But what truly makes this card awesome is that you can redeem 15,000 points for an unsold standard room at any Wyndham Hotel, including some pretty nice luxury properties like the Shelborne Wyndham Grand in South Beach Miami, the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront, and the TRYP Times Square South, to name a few.

Now that I have this card, I’m able to stay at the beach when I visit my family in Florida instead of by the highway, which makes a huge difference.

This card has an $69 annual fee, but as I said, being able to transform my hotel stays from “so so” to grand-living has made such a big difference in my travels.

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard offers new customers 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 within three months - which is enough for a round-trip flight within the lower 48 states and Canada.

Even if you’re not traveling in first class, this card may help you feel like you are, as cardholders receive priority check-ins, security screenings, boardings, and access to the Admiral's Club VIP airport lounges.

Personally, I really enjoy having this card in my wallet. In fact, it’s one of the cards I used to earn the miles for my trip to Japan in international first class for nearly nothing. Luxury comes with a price though; this card has an annual fee of $450.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Another way to travel in first class is to be upgraded.

These perks are normally reserved for the most frequent fliers, but there is an exception. Enter the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express. It offers new applicants 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles to help you shortcut your way up the ranks of the Delta elites. 

It also offers another 15,000 Elite qualifying miles after spending $30,000 in one calendar year, and a further 15,000 Elite qualifying miles after racking up $60,000 in charges a year.

If that’s not enough, this might be; Delta SkyMiles Reserve cardholders also get upgrade priority over non-cardholders with the same elite status. Add additional perks like free checked bags, priority service, and a Delta SkyClub airport lounge membership, and you'll be always be traveling in style.

This card also has a $450 annual fee.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve card  offers you two free weekend night certificates when you spend $2,500 in purchases within three months of account opening. In addition, if you spend $10,000 on your card each year, you’ll earn one weekend night certificate as a cardholder “anniversary” bonus.

What’s cool about that is you can use the certificates to plan a weekend getaway at some seriously swanky places (like the Waldorf Astoria hotel) within the Hilton portfolio.

Continue traveling in first class style with this card by receiving automatic Gold status, which offers room upgrades, complimentary Internet access, late check–outs, and even free breakfast.

This card has an annual fee of $95, but with the use of just one weekend night certificate, it certainly pays for itself.

So, if you’re ready to say sayōnara to economy class and less than ideal hotel rooms, you should definitely consider adding one of these cards to your arsenal. It will help you travel the way you want and could get you there for less than you might have thought. 

That’s certainly been the case for me.

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