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Top Airline Miles Credit Cards Compared

Top Airline Miles Credit Cards Compared
Top Airline Miles Credit Cards Compared

Top Airline Miles Credit Cards Compared

Earning frequent flyer miles through a co-branded airline credit card can help you work toward elite status, score discounted or free flights, and enjoy other travel perks. But with so many airline card options, how do you choose the right one?

In this guide, we’ll compare cards from Delta, American Airlines, United, Southwest, and more based on factors like fees, mile earning rates, bonuses, perks, and redemption value. Read on to find the best airline card for your travel habits and loyalty.

Airline Credit Card Basics

Airline co-branded credit cards directly partner with specific carriers to offer branded miles and other benefits. Here’s an overview:

  • Earn 1-5 miles per $1 on purchases with the affiliated airline
  • Redeem earned miles for award flights on that airline
  • Get free checked bags, priority boarding, discounts on in-flight purchases, and other perks
  • May earn bonus miles on other purchases like dining, hotels, etc
  • Large signup bonuses can give your account balance a headstart

Now let’s explore and compare popular airline credit cards’ benefits and rewards structures.

Delta Air Lines Credit Cards

Delta offers three levels of SkyMiles credit cards:

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • Priority boarding
  • 20% savings on in-flight purchases
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99
  • Up to 60,000 bonus miles

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

  • Earn 3X miles on purchases made directly with Delta
  • Annual companion certificate good for domestic Main Cabin round-trip
  • Priority boarding and first checked bag free
  • Statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • $250 annual fee
  • Up to 100,000 bonus miles

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

  • Earn 3X miles on eligible Delta purchases
  • Access to Delta Sky Club airport lounges
  • Complimentary upgrade certificates
  • First class companion certificate each card anniversary
  • $550 annual fee
  • Up to 100,000 bonus miles
See also  Hotel Rewards Cards With Free Night Offers

American Airlines Credit Cards

Citi issues AAdvantage co-branded cards for American Airlines including:

AAdvantage MileUpSM Card

  • Earn 2X miles at grocery stores and on American Airlines purchases
  • First checked bag free on domestic AA itineraries
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • Reduced mileage awards for domestic travel on American
  • $0 intro annual fee for first year, then $99
  • 10,000 bonus miles after $500 spend in 3 months

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

  • Earn 2X miles on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Receive an annual $99 companion certificate + $99 companion fare
  • First checked bag free on domestic AA flights
  • 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • $99 annual fee
  • 60,000 bonus miles after making $2,000 in purchases within first 90 days

United Airlines Credit Cards

United offers co-branded personal and small business credit cards including:

United GatewaySM Card

  • Earn 2X miles on United purchases, dining, and hotel stays
  • First checked bag free on United flights
  • 25% credits on United inflight purchases
  • Two United Club one-time passes per year
  • $0 intro annual fee for first year, then $99
  • Up to 65,000 bonus miles

United ClubSM Infinite Card

  • Earn 4X miles on United purchases including tickets, Vacations packages, WiFi, and more
  • United Club airport lounge access
  • Two free checked bags on United flights
  • Premier upgrades on award tickets
  • $525 annual fee
  • 100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Southwest Airlines Credit Cards

Chase issues three Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • Earn 2X points on Southwest purchases
  • 3,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Points don’t expire as long as account is open
  • $69 annual fee
  • 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in first 3 months

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest purchases
  • 6,000 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • $75 Southwest travel credit each card anniversary
  • Four upgraded boardings per year
  • $99 annual fee
  • 80,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in first 3 months
See also  Using Points & Miles to Book Award Travel

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card

  • Earn 2X points on Southwest purchases
  • 7,500 bonus points each cardmember anniversary
  • $75 Southwest travel credit each card anniversary
  • Four upgraded boardings per year
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi
  • $149 annual fee
  • 80,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in first 3 months

Alaska Airlines Credit Card

The Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card offers:

  • Earn 3X miles for eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
  • 50% off day passes for Alaska Lounge airport lounges
  • First checked bag free for you and up to 6 other guests on your reservation
  • 20% back on inflight purchases as statement credits
  • $75 annual fee
  • 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days

Comparing Factors to Find the Best Airline Card

With different earning structures and benefits, how do you choose the right airline card? Key factors to consider include:

Your Main Airline – Aim for a card that matches your primary carrier for maximum value

Card Fees – Compare annual fees and account for discounted companion tickets or credits

Mile Earning Rates – Cards with 3X or more miles on airfare purchases accelerate rewards

Elite Perks – Look for free bags, lounge access, upgrades and other VIP benefits

** signup Bonuses** – Lucrative bonuses can give your account balance a major boost

Destination Coverage – Ensure the airline serves domestic and international destinations you want to visit

Redemption Options – Look for low mileage awards, transfer partners, and dynamic pricing

Card Flexibility – Some cards let you redeem miles for any travel or have transferable points

Maximizing the Value of Your Airline Credit Card

Once you’ve selected the right co-branded airline card, here are some tips for getting maximum value:

  • Use it as your primary card for everyday spending to let miles accumulate faster
  • Take advantage of category bonuses (like dining) outside of just airfare
  • Avoid unnecessary fees – late payments and interest charges add up
  • Pay with miles for high-value awards like first class tickets and suite upgrades
  • Transfer miles to partner hotels and airlines to maximize redemption efficiency
  • Book award tickets early – seats at low mileage rates are limited
  • Use miles to cover fees like baggage and seat selections if needed
  • Check past statements for mileage credits – follow up if rewards are missing
See also  Airline Credit Cards vs General Travel Cards

Is an Airline Credit Card Right for You?

Airline miles credit cards make the most sense for travelers who:

  • Fly frequently, primarily with one main airline
  • Spend a lot annually on airfare and incidental flight expenses
  • Want perks like free checked bags and airport lounge access
  • Prefer redeeming miles for free flights over cash or gift cards

You probably want to avoid airline cards if:

  • You rarely check bags or use lounge access perks
  • You tend to fly a variety of airlines depending on pricing
  • You carry balances and incur interest charges
  • You don’t earn enough rewards to justify the annual fee

For flexible travel, a general travel rewards card may be better than locking into one airline. But for frequent flyers, airline cards provide unbeatable benefits.

Final Thoughts on Airline Credit Cards

The right airline credit card can unlock valuable perks and rewards for frequent travelers on top domestic and international carriers. But be sure to consider your main airline, annual costs, and redemption goals before applying.

Aim for cards that offer bonus miles on purchases with your preferred airline. Also look for additional multiplier categories like dining and hotels that align with your spending profile.

Carefully estimate the potential value versus costs based on your habits. Airline cards make sense for brand-loyal jetsetters but may underdeliver for infrequent flyers.

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