Best Airline Credit Cards of 2020

Airline credit cards are structured to benefit avid travelers who want to rack up miles and rewards with a specific airline. These types of cards are linked with a frequent flyer program where your miles add up over time when you use your card for expenses. In most cases, these airline cards give you more points for purchases made with the airline, typically at a rate of around two miles for every $1 spent. But you’re not limited with an airline credit card — you can still use it for other purchases, although your rewards rate may be lower.

The average American owns at least three credits cards to use as a cushion for surprise expenses, cashless payments and rewards, according to an Experian survey. The survey finds that roughly 16% of those credit cards are airline-specific. Although airline credit cards are not as common, they can be incredibly valuable to have in your financial arsenal.

In this article

    Best airline credit cards of 2020

    Best for no annual fee

    Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
    Partner offer
    Apply Now

    Who should get it

    The Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card is a straightforward airline card for people who fly frequently with Delta Air Lines and prefer a consistent rewards rate over luxury travel perks.

    How to use it

    Racking up miles with the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card is relatively simple, but redeeming them might be a bit more difficult. Like with many airline cards, there is not a statement credit or cash back option. However, Delta does offer a few different ways to use your SkyMiles. Delta reward flights aren’t priced on a fixed chart, so the price in SkyMiles can vary drastically during peak times. In addition, you might be charged a surcharge on international trips.

    Consider this

    • Foreign transaction fees ( See Rates & Fees )
    • No lounge access or priority boarding
    • No intro 0% APR period

    Why you’ll love it

    With the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, you can earn 2x miles per dollar spent with Delta Air Lines or at restaurants worldwide. Cardholders can earn 1x mile for every dollar spent on all other purchases, and can also benefit from 20% savings in the form of a statement credit off any purchases onboard Delta flights.

    Pro tip: You can start paying for your Delta tickets with your miles in 2020, thanks to its new Pay with Miles program. Defray the cost of travel and enjoy a little extra discretionary spending on your vacation.

    Best for travel perks

    United℠ Explorer Card Learn more

    Who should get it

    Want to escape the chaos of fighting for a seat on your flight? The United Explorer Card delivers consistent rewards rate and United Club passes for a more relaxed, enjoyable traveling experience. As you’ll see, the United℠ Explorer Card is perfect for anyone who flies on United Airlines exclusively and wants some free perks in exchange for their loyalty.

    How to use it

    You’ll score plenty of United-specific perks such as the first checked bag free on United flights, priority boarding privileges, and complimentary passes to any United Lounge worldwide. Your miles will never expire and, as a cardholder, you can use miles for any seat on any flight without worrying about blackout dates or capacity controls.

    Consider this

    • Annual fee of $0 Intro for First Year, then $95 after the first year
    • Only two United Club lounge passes each year
    • No 0% intro APR period

    Why you’ll love it

    Earn 2x miles per dollar spent on United flights, restaurants and hotels and 1x mile per dollar for everything else. Cardholders will also earn 60k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months when signing up for the United℠ Explorer Card — a considerable value for those who can hit the minimum spending amounts.

    Pro tip: Reduce the sticker shock of in-flight WiFi or food and beverages by taking advantage of the 25% in-flight discount that comes with the United℠ Explorer Card. It’ll be issued in the form of a statement credit within 24 hours.

    Best for Delta loyalists

    Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
    Partner offer
    Apply Now

    Who should get it

    If you’re already part of the Delta frequent flyer program, you can maximize your miles and optimize your travel with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. The welcome bonus alone has the potential to cover the cost of a flight for those looking to reap the rewards from a travel card.

    How to use it

    Use this card to buy Delta airfare and to take advantage of promotional point purchases from partners. Enjoy free bag check, priority boarding, seat upgrades, and other in-flight perks when you have this card.

    Consider this

    • Annual fee of $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
    • Only worth the cost for frequent Delta flyers
    • American Express network isn’t as extensive as Visa or Mastercard

    Why you’ll love it

    With perks like priority boarding and free checked bags, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is a worthwhile travel card to keep in your wallet. Earn 2x miles per dollar spent with Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets and 1x mile on all other purchases.

    Best for signup bonus

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Learn More

    Who should get it

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card delivers a great welcome bonus, a solid rewards rate and no foreign transaction fees. If you’re looking for an all-around great airline card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred could be for you.

    How to use it

    Spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months to earn 60,000 bonus points. That’s equivalent to $750 in travel, and get 25% more in redemption value when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

    Consider this

    • Annual fee isn’t waived the first year
    • Requires good to excellent credit
    • To get the most rewards value, you must book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site

    Why you’ll love it

    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders can take advantage of the 60,000 bonus mile offer when you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months, which offers a cash redemption value of $750 in airfare. Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

    Pro tip: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card plays well with others, especially if you have another Chase card where you can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can transfer points from this card and other Chase cards to increase your rewards.

    Best for anniversary bonus points

    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card Learn More

    Who should get it

    For loyal Southwest flyers, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card delivers impressive anniversary bonuses and travel credits. You won’t get access to an airport lounge, but you can unlock valuable rewards and gain elite status faster.

    How to use it

    You can redeem your Southwest points for as few as 3,000 points for flights to over 90 destinations and choose from more than 70 merchants to shop with.

    Consider this

    • High annual fee of $149
    • Only four boarding upgrades available per year.

    Why you’ll love it

    At the end of the year, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card cardholders can enjoy a healthy anniversary bonus of 7,500 points. You’ll also enjoy 20% off your in-flight purchases and get upgraded boarding options when available. With no transaction fees to weigh you down, you can travel internationally without an extra cost to worry about.

    Protip: Use the welcome bonus to get you closer to earning A-List status, which allows you priority check-in and free same-day standby if you want to fly out earlier than anticipated.

    Best rewards travel card for everyday spending

    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card Learn More

    Who should get it

    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is the more budget-friendly option, compared to other Southwest credit cards. This simple card is a good option if you want a welcome bonus without the weight of a massive annual fee to pay.

    How to use it

    With this card, you can earn 2x points per dollar spent on Southwest, Rapid Rewards hotels and car rental partners and 1x point on all other purchases. The card’s top-tier welcome bonus of 40,000 miles (after spending $1,000 in the first three months) warrants appreciation, as Southwest frequent flyers will get one step closer to earning the airline’s coveted Companion Pass.

    Consider this 

    • Annual fee of
    • No priority boarding
    • Southwest doesn’t have airline partners

    Why you’ll love it

    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card delivers promising rewards for domestic travelers who tend to be more casual card users and don’t care for luxury travel benefits. With no blackout dates, unlimited rewards seats and more perks, Southwest fanatics can’t go wrong with this low-cost card.

    Pro tip: If you’re aiming for Southwest’s legendary Companion Pass, you can use the bonus points and anniversary points to get closer to earning it.

    Best travel perks

    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card Learn More

    Who should get it

    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card delivers a hefty annual bonus for Southwest loyalists willing to forgo luxury for practicality. With no foreign transaction fees and no seat restrictions, this airline card is excellent for families ready to optimize their family vacation.

    How to use it

    You can redeem Southwest points for hotel stays, flights or gift cards. For families looking for flexibility, this card offers plenty. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card allows you to earn 2x points per dollar spent on hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1x point on all other purchases.

    Consider this

    • An annual fee of $99
    • No priority boarding
    • No 0% APR intro period

    Why you’ll love it

    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card translates Southwest loyalty into quality travel rewards — plus, you’ll get the chance to unlock other perks like A-List status and free flights for a chosen travel companion with the Companion Pass.

    The best airline credit cards of 2020: summed up

    Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
    Partner offer
    United℠ Explorer Card
    Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
    Partner offer
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
    Best travel credit card for everyday spending
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

    Compare the Best Airline Credit Cards of 2020

    CardTravel Rewards RateAnnual FeeWelcome OfferExtra Travel Perks
    Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express CardEarn 2x miles with Delta, 2x miles at restaurants worldwide, 1x mile for everything else. Terms Apply.$010,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
    • New 2020 feature — Pay with Miles — reduces the cost of Delta tickets
    • Rewards can be applied to Delta and 30+ airline partners
    • Access to Global Assist Hotline for 24/7 emergencies
    United℠ Explorer CardEarn 2x miles per $1 spent with United and eligible restaurants and hotels; earn 1x mile for everything else$0 Intro for First Year, then $9560k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.
    • Free checked bag
    • No blackout dates
    • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ fee credit
    Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardEarn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets. Terms Apply.$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
    • Upgrade to First Class or Delta One
    • Book flights with SkyMiles partners or Delta
    • No foreign transaction fees
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardEarn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.$95Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 during the first three months of account activation
    • Baggage delay insurance
    • Trip cancellation insurance
    • Transfer points to travel partners at 1:1 rate
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card2x points per dollar spent on Southwest and travel partners, 1x point per dollar on everything else$149Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • Automatic anniversary point bonus of 7,500 points
    • Four seat upgrades per year
    • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card2x points per dollar spent on Southwest and travel partners, 1x point per dollar on everything else$69Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • Automatic anniversary point bonus of 3,000 points
    • Redeem points for international flights, gift cards, cruises, and more
    • Points can go towards earning a Companion Pass
    Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card2x points per dollar spent on Southwest and travel partners, 1x point per dollar on everything else$99Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • Automatic anniversary point bonus of 6,000 points
    • Flexible redemption options

    How to compare different airline credit cards

    Picking the right airline card can seem overwhelming, especially since there are dozens of options to pick from. Here are 5 factors you should consider when choosing an airline credit card.

    1. Annual fees: If you don’t want to pay anything, there are plenty of cards that offer no annual fees or waive it during your first year. However, airline credit cards with luxury perks typically charge a high annual fee.
    2. APR: Because of their extra rewards, airline credit cards may have a higher APR than other kinds of credit cards.
    3. Sign up bonus: Generous welcome bonuses mean you get your travel rewards faster.
    4. Rewards rate: Look for a card with a high rewards rate on travel expenses.
    5. Perks: Want priority boarding? Pick which travel perks are important to you and look out for those when comparing cards.

    Most popular airline rewards programs

    Delta SkyMiles

    Delta SkyMiles allows frequent flyers to earn miles, check a bag for free and enjoy priority boarding. Each tier offers perks and the miles never expire.

    Southwest Rapid Rewards

    Southwest Rapid Rewards offers no blackout dates, unlimited reward seats and points that never expire. The top levels of this program include A-List, A-List Preferred and the elusive Southwest Companion Pass.

    United MileagePlus

    Miles earned under the United MileagePlus program can be used with United Airlines and tons of other travel partners. Members can redeem points for hotels, car rentals, cruises, shopping, experiences and gift cards, among other perks.

    Can you transfer miles between airlines?

    Most airlines are part of airline alliances like SkyTeam, Oneworld and Star Alliance. American Airlines is part of Oneworld, while Delta is a member of SkyTeam and United is a Star Alliance carrier. You can book travel using your rewards across multiple airlines, as long as they’re in the same alliance. For example, United and AirCanda are both Star Alliance so you can transfer miles between them.

    How to get the Southwest Companion Pass

    Although you have to pay taxes and fees, the Southwest Companion Pass can be a worthwhile travel perk to obtain. To get the Companion Pass, you’ll need to fly 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights or earn 110,000 points in a calendar year. If you don’t always fly Southwest, you can still build up miles using Southwest’s travel partners.

    Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Capital One Venture

    Trying to decide between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Cards? The two cards are issued by different banks, but surprisingly have similar perks. Here’s a breakdown:

    CardWelcome offerMinimum spending requirementRewards rateNumber of transfer partnersForeign transaction feesAnnual fee
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®$4,0002X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.13$0$95

    Do airline credit cards have foreign transaction fees?

    Some lenders charge foreign transaction fees that typically cost around 3% per purchase. While that number seems low, that fee can quickly add up if you’re using it abroad frequently. If you only travel domestically, this fee is irrelevant. If you’re a world traveler, it’s crucial to find a card without a foreign transaction fee.

    How to maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel

    If you end up choosing the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can redeem your rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site. You can use your points to book free stays at over 5,000 IGH Hotels & Resorts worldwide.

    And if you don’t have enough points to cover the cost of your next trip, you can use a combination of accumulated points and your credit card if you book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

    Chase’s transfer partners include:

    • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
    • World of Hyatt
    • Marriott Rewards
    • IHG Rewards Club
    • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
    • JetBlue True Blue
    • Aer Lingus AerClub
    • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
    • British Airways Avios
    • Iberia Plus
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
    • United Airlines MileagePlus

    What credit score do I need for an airline credit card?

    You’ll need good to excellent credit for most airline credit cards. The perks you can accrue and earn with these cards are subject to your financial habits. If you carry a big balance month to month, those interest payments can quickly add up. In general, credit cards with bigger perks and rewards tend to have a higher interest rate.

    5 tips on making the most of your airline credit card

    To make the most of your airline credit card, you’ll need to have a good handle on your card’s rewards structure. Most importantly, you should focus on earning your card’s introductory welcome bonus, especially if you need to balance out the cost of an annual fee.

    1. Use your card for regular purchases: The rewards rate for non-travel categories is typically lower than it would be for flights, hotels and car rentals, but it still adds up.
    2. Check your rewards categories: If you opt for a card with rotating bonus categories, make sure you activate them to maximize your earning potential.
    3. Pay attention to your locale: If you want to choose a co-branded airline card, pick one that makes sense for your location. It’s not useful to own a Delta co-branded credit card if that airline doesn’t fly out of the airport closest to you.
    4. Consider long-term loyalty over cheap discounts: You can sometimes find good discounts on travel websites, perhaps cheaper than what you can find through your airline and travel partners. However, you should always weigh those savings against what you’d earn in miles for the same flight with your airline credit card.
    5. Be a smart traveler: You’re not going to get the most significant savings if you try to redeem your miles on a busy travel day. Instead, aim to redeem your miles on routes that aren’t as busy during unpopular flight times.

    Airline credit cards FAQ

    There are many types of travelers who can benefit from an airline credit card. Whether you’re traveling for work or wanting to save for your next vacation, an airline credit card could serve as a solution.

    To gain miles, you simply use your airline credit card on your eligible purchases and redeem them through a specific airline or travel partners.

    A mile’s worth depends on the credit card and what you redeem it for. On many cards, for example, a mile can be worth more when you redeem it with an airline.

    You can use your airline credit card to spend with the airline directly, with travel partners or on other eligible purchases as outlined in the card’s terms and conditions.
    Who has the best airline credit card?

    The best airline credit card for you depends on your lifestyle, budget and travel habits. For example, a family will need an airline credit card that has a different rewards structure versus a card that’s idea lfor a luxury traveler.

    Cardholders can expect to use between 4,000-12,000 miles each way for a cabin seat on domestic flights. If you enjoy traveling further away, you might need to pay closer to 50,000 miles each way. And remember, you still have to pay taxes and any airline fees for your “free” flight.

    For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, please click here .
    For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, please click here .

    Editorial Note: Compensation does not influence our recommendations. However, we may earn a commission on sales from the companies featured in this post. To view our disclosures, click here. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers. Reasonable efforts are made to present accurate info, however all information is presented without warranty. Consult our advertiser’s page for terms & conditions.

    Methodology

    SimpleScore

    The SimpleScore is a proprietary scoring metric we use to objectively compare products and services at The Simple Dollar.

    For every review, our editorial team:

    • Identifies five measurable aspects to compare across each brand
    • Determines the rating criteria for each aspect score
    • Averages the five aspect scores to produce a single SimpleScore

    Here’s a breakdown of the five aspect scores and their rating criteria for our review of the best credit monitoring services of 2020.

    Why do some brands have different SimpleScores on different pages?

    To ensure the SimpleScore is as helpful and accurate as possible, we developed unique criteria for every category we compare at The Simple Dollar. Since most brands offer a variety of financial solutions, their products and services will score differently depending on what we’re scoring on a given page.

    However, it’s also possible for brands to have different SimpleScores across multiple pages on The Simple Dollar. For instance, if we compare Experian’s ID theft monitoring services using SimpleScore, it scores a 4 out of 5. However, if we apply our SimpleScore methodology for credit monitoring services, Experian scores a 4.4 out of 5. Each unique criteria results in separate SimpleScores for multiple brands based on what we’re comparing.

    Questions about our methodology?

    Email Hayley Armstrong at hayley@thesimpledollar.com.

    Basic plan price

    We award brands who have lower monthly costs for credit monitoring services with higher scores in our methodology.

    Premium plan price

    We award brands who have lower monthly costs for credit monitoring services with higher scores in our methodology.

    Perks

    Who doesn’t like a nice perk? We awarded brands with higher scores if they offered perks to customers, such as free trials, family plans, discounts for annual billing and more than two pricing tiers.

    Customer support

    The SimpleScore system rewards brands that have multiple channels of support so customers can contact representatives in a variety of way.

    Mobile app rating

    We compared brands based on their mobile app ratings as an average of Google Play and iOS App Store ratings.