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The Best Airline Credit Cards

After over 14 years of traveling the world, I’ve lost count of how many free flights and upgrades I’ve had. Thanks to travel hacking, I’ve been able to enjoy free flights, free hotel stays, upgrades, lounge access, and more — all without any extra spending.

One of the main tools that has helped me accomplish this is having a points-earning airline credit card.

While the perks of airline cards aren’t often as impressive as high-end travel cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example), you always want to have the card of a few airlines so you have free bags, extra points per dollar spent, lounge access, and more.

Airline credit cards are pretty straight forward: they are co-branded cards meant to incentivize users to stay loyal to one airline. By giving you extra points when you spend with airlines as well as bonuses when you hit certain spending milestones, airlines want you to use their card as often as possible.

There are two rules to know when picking an airline credit card: first, always get the card of the airline you fly the most. You always want the perks that come with it. Second, when looking for a new card, go with the biggest bonus. Once you have the card of your favorite airline, when you want another, find one that has a big bonus since you’re just using it for the points for a free flight not because you’re loyal.

With every airline having more than a few card options to pick from, I laid out my favorite card for each airline below.

Below, you’ll find a detailed review of each card, including the perks and cost, so you can pick the best airline credit card for your travel style and budget.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express

I like this card for the double points earned when booking directly with Delta. This is a great card for earning free flights (even if you’re not flying all the time like I am). If you’re a casual Delta flier or live near one of their hubs (including ATL, JFK, LAX, SLC, and DTW), this is a great choice for a low fee Delta card. The first year is free, with a $99 annual fee after that.

When you sign-up for the card, you also get:

40,000 points (after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months)
2x points on Delta purchases
2x points at U.S. supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide
Free checked bag
$100 Delta credit (after $10,000 in purchases per calendar year)
No foreign transaction fees

Learn More
 

airline credit card
airline credit card

Delta Platinum American Express© Card

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum is an upgraded version of the Gold. It comes with a $250 annual fee but, if you’re a more frequent Delta flier, it’s probably worth it (it is for me). You’ll earn even more points on each Delta purchase, get credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®, one free companion flight per year, and access to (pay for) the Delta lounges.

When you sign for this card, you get:

50,000 points and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 3 months
3x points on Delta purchases
2x points at U.S. supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide
Free checked bag
Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year
Credit for TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry
$39 per person (up to 2 guests) per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® when traveling on a Delta flight
No foreign transaction fees

If you love these perks but want a Delta card that offers constant lounge access, check out the Delta Reserve. It’s $550 a year but is the top-tier choice for Delta loyalists who want lounge access.

Learn More
 

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

For frequent fliers of American Airlines, this Mastercard offers 2x points on American Airlines purchases, restaurants, and gas stations. This covers a lot of bases for many people’s spending, plus you’ll also get a free checked bag on every flight. The annual fee is waived for the first 12 months, and after that, it’s $99 annually.

When you sign up for this card, you get:

50,000 points after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
2x points on American Airlines purchases
2x points on restaurants
2x points on gas stations
Priority boarding
First checked bag free

Learn More
 

airline credit card
airline credit card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier

This card is best for domestic U.S. travelers, as Southwest does not fly to a ton of international destinations. But the high welcome offer compared to a relatively low spend and other Southwest perks make this a solid choice if you fly within the U.S. a lot or to Mexico and the Caribbean frequently. It has a $99 annual fee so it’s quite affordable too.

When you sign-up for the card, you get:

40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on Southwest purchases
No foreign transaction fees
2x points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming
2x points on local transit and commuting, including ridesharing
Two EarlyBird Check-Ins each year
6,000 anniversary points each year

While the Premier is the best Southwest card, if you want a cheaper option, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus is a great card and is just $69.

Learn More
 

United Explorer Card

United Explorer is a great all-around card for anyone who regularly flies United. As with all airline-specific cards, there are a variety of benefits to take advantage of when flying United flights. This is a solid option if your home airport is a United hub (there are 8 hubs in the U.S., including Newark, SFO, LAX, O’Hare, and Dulles). It’s free for the first year too and just $95 annually after that.

When you sign-up for the card, you get:

60,000 points (after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus, earn an additional 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months)
2x points on United purchases
2x points on dining and hotels
Free checked bag
Priority boarding
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
25% back on United inflight purchases
No foreign transaction fees

Learn More
 

airline credit card
airline credit card

United Quest Card

The United Quest card is the upgraded version of the Explorer, making it the best card for die-hard United fans. While it has a hefty price tag of $250 per year, if you’re a regular United flier the perks more than make up for it (the $125 annual credit cuts that fee in half right off the bat). While there is no lounge access included, the free checked baggage alone can save you a fortune, making this a must-have airline card.

When you sign-up for the card, you get:

70,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months)
3x points on United purchases
2x points on dining and hotels
$125 credit each year on United purchases
Two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits
Two free checked bags
Priority boarding
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® fee credit
25% back on infliugght purchases

Learn More

***

Regardless of which airline you prefer (I’m a Delta guy, myself), don’t leave free flights on the table. Pick up one of these cards and start travel hacking today so you can enjoy free flights, perks, and upgrades for your next trip!

For a full list of all my favorite points earning credit cards, visit this page here.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

SafetyWing (best for everyone)
Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

Advertiser Disclosure: “Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.”

Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”

The post The Best Airline Credit Cards appeared first on Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site. For more on travel.

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