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Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023

Fly in style while earning miles
  • Find which cards will give you the frequent flyer miles you’re looking for
  • Learn if you’d benefit from an airline credit card
  • See the potential positives and negatives of enrolling in an airline credit card
  • Get advice on how to choose the best airline credit card
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Holly D. Johnson - Contributor Updated: 26 January 2023 8 Min Read
Reviewed By Jane Doe - Bestcovery Team
Why Trust Us?

An airline credit card can be a valuable tool if you’re someone who is constantly heading to the airport. Whether brand-specific or not, airline credit cards let you earn miles when you buy airfare and pay for other purchases. Some even come with frequent flyer perks that can make travel more affordable or comfortable, such as statement credits for free Wi-Fi, airport lounge access, fee credits for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership, and more.

Still, the right airline credit card for you depends on a range of factors including where you fly most often, which perks you want the most, and how you typically use your credit card for spending. You also need to decide whether you want to earn airline miles with one specific frequent flyer program, or if you want rewards you can use in more than one way.

To help in that respect, we compared all the top airline credit cards on the market today. Below, you’ll find our top picks based on their sign-up bonus, rewards rates, and cardholder perks.

Our picks for the best airline credit cards

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2023

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Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Best for Delta Air Lines

Rates & Fees

Why we like it

There are several reasons we like this card over others that earn miles toward Delta flights, and this includes the fact the Platinum Card lets you work toward Delta Medallion Status. Not only do you earn 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward Medallion status in the sign-up bonus offer, but you can earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your new card in a calendar year, up to two times.

We also like the fact that this card qualifies you for a per-visit rate of $39 for Delta Sky Clubs. This isn’t a full membership, but it does let you escape to Delta-branded airport lounges when you need to. Frequent flyer perks like free checked bags and an annual companion certificate are just icing on the cake.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

PROS

  • Earn miles for all Delta flights
  • Earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward elite status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Plenty of frequent flyer perks

CONS

  • $250 annual fee
  • Miles you earn are brand-specific

Earning airline miles

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card lets cardholders earn 3X miles on Delta purchases and purchases made at hotels. Spending on dining and groceries at U.S. supermarkets accrue miles at a rate of 2X miles per dollar, and all other eligible purchases earn 1X miles.

New customers can also earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Separately, cardholders can also qualify for a $100 statement credit offer for U.S. restaurant spending in the first three months.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

Best for American Airlines

We like this card for a few reasons, but it all starts with its generous rewards rate and sign-up bonus. This card is easy-to-use with the ability to earn miles on everything you buy. You also get quite a few frequent flyer perks considering this card’s reasonable annual fee.

Separately, it’s worth noting that you can use American AAdvantage miles to fly to more than 1,000 destinations around the world. You can also use your miles to fly with airline alliance partners like British Airways, Alaska Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

PROS

  • Earn 2X miles in several everyday categories
  • Earn Loyalty Points toward elite status
  • Generous welcome offer
  • Qualify for automatic perks like free checked bags and preferred boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees

CONS

  • Annual fee applies after the first year
  • No airport lounge access
  • Miles earned are brand-specific

When you sign up for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®, you can earn 2X bonus miles on flights with the airline, as well as on restaurant and gas station spending. Other eligible purchases earn 1X miles for each dollar you spend.

New cardholders can earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 on new purchases within three months of account opening. These miles are enough for two round-trip domestic flights (and potentially more) for a good part of the year.

Cardholders also earn one Loyalty Point toward elite status within the American AAdvantage program for each dollar spent on their card.

United Explorer Card

Best for United Airlines

Why we like it

We like this card because it offers a nice selection of airline-branded benefits along with the chance to work toward elite status with credit card spending. The generous welcome offer and earning rate make it easy to rack up miles for United-operated flights, yet cardholders can also redeem miles for travel with Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.

This co-branded card also comes with hundreds of dollars in statement credits and perks, which is nice considering the annual fee is waived the first year.

United Explorer Card

PROS

  • Earn 2X miles in several everyday categories and a generous welcome offer
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn status-like miles toward United elite status
  • Qualify for statement credits toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership, free United Club passes and more

CONS

  • No broad airport lounge access included
  • Miles earned are brand-specific
  • Annual fee required after the first year

Earning airline miles

If you are a United Airlines enthusiast and you want to start racking up rewards for United-operated flights, the United Explorer Card can help you get started. This card lets you earn 2X miles on United purchases, as well as on dining at restaurants and hotels you book direct. All other purchases accrue 1X miles for each dollar you spend.

New cardholders can also earn 60,000 miles after they spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Card

Best for Southwest Airlines

Why we like it

We like the fact this card lets users earn Southwest points with a reasonable annual fee, and that you earn bonus points on your cardmember anniversary each year. The two Early Bird check-ins are also huge for Southwest flyers who don’t want to get stuck boarding in the dreaded “C” group.

It’s also worth noting that two checked bags fly free on Southwest Airlines whether you’re a cardholder or not, and that Southwest doesn’t charge any flight change fees.

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Card

PROS

  • Earn bonus points in several non-travel categories
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Qualifies for several airline-branded frequent flyer perks, including two early check-ins

CONS

  • $99 annual fee
  • Southwest doesn't belong to an airline alliance
  • Southwest Airlines is mostly U.S.-based, although you can fly to Mexico and the Caribbean

Earning airline miles

Frequent flyers who want to rack up Southwest Rapid Rewards points should consider the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Card. This card lets users earn 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on purchases with Southwest hotel and rental car partners, and 1x points on other purchases. Cardholders can also earn 2X points on local transit and commuting and internet, cable, and phone services.

New customers can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases within three months of account opening.

Capital One Venture X

Best for International Airlines

Why we like it

We like this card for international airlines since you can use your miles in so many ways. For example, you can use miles to cover travel purchases charged to your card, but you can also transfer them to international airlines such as Air France (Flying Blue), British Airways, Etihad Guest, Qantas, Emirates, and more.

If you’re looking for a flat-rate airline card, you’ll also love the fact this card earns a minimum of 2X miles on all purchases. The $395 annual fee is also reasonable when you consider all the perks you get in return.

Capital One Venture X

PROS

  • Flexible miles can be redeemed for travel purchases, transfers to international airlines, and more
  • Generous flat-rate rewards on all purchases
  • Qualify for hundreds of dollars in statement credits each year

CONS

  • $395 annual fee
  • Large spending requirement to earn the sign-up bonus

Earning airline miles

The Capital One Venture X lets users earn flexible miles they can use in more than one way. Cardholders start by earning 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 on eligible purchases within six months of account opening. Other miles are accrued at a rate of 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One. All other purchases earn 2X miles for each dollar spent.

Compare Airline Credit Cards

Learn about the top frequently flyer programs
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How do airline credit cards work?

Airline credit cards all work differently since it depends on the frequent flyer program and card issuer that offers them.

However, the majority of airline cards let you earn points or miles that work within a specific program. Some also give out complimentary travel benefits to cardholders, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and upgrades to a premium cabin.

Airline credit cards with higher annual fees can also come with airport lounge access, which can be worth up to $550 or more in value based on the retail price.

Note that airline credit cards work like other credit cards in the fact they extend a line of credit you can borrow against, and that some charge an annual fee. You can avoid interest charges if you pay your credit card balance in full each month, but any revolving balances you carry will rack up interest at the regular APR.

How to get an airline credit card

The requirements for getting a new card can depend on the card issuer. However, most airline credit cards require good or excellent credit and a steady source of income to qualify.

You also need a frequent flyer account to earn miles with an airline card, although the program will assign a new account number to you if you don’t have one already.

To get your own airline credit card, you need to compare cards based on the card issuer, the type of miles they earn, the perks you get, and other factors. Once you find a card option you think you’ll love, you can take steps to apply online.

Reasons to get an airline credit card

Since there are so many types of credit cards out there, card members need to think long and hard about the rewards they want to earn.

For example, you may want to compare airline credit cards with travel credit cards, cash back credit cards, and hotel credit cards.

Reasons to get an airline-affiliated credit card include the following:

How to pick the best airline credit card

Picking a new credit card can be difficult since there are so many to choose from.

However, you can narrow down your options by thinking through the following issues.

Decide which airlines you fly the most

The best airline card for you is one that lets you earn rewards and enjoy perks along the way. That’s why your first course of action involves figuring out which airlines you like the most, or which ones offer flights and itineraries that make sense for your travel goals.

Figure out which cardholder perks you can benefit from

Look for cards that offer frequent flyer benefits you can use, whether that includes a free checked bag, priority boarding, or statement credits for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership.

Choose whether you want airline-specific miles or flexible rewards

Where co-branded airline cards offer miles that work within a specific program, others offer non-airline points or miles that can be used in more than one way. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you should decide how many options you want when it comes to using your rewards.

Decide how much you want to pay in annual fees

Airline credit cards with the most perks tend to charge annual fees of $250 or more. Likewise, you can find airline cards with no annual fee if that’s a priority for you.

Watch out for other fees

In addition to looking for annual fees, search for cards that don’t have other hidden transaction fees. For example, watch out for foreign transaction fees that are charged on purchases you make abroad.

Determine whether airport lounge access is worth it

Finally, decide whether you want regular access to airport lounges, as well as how much you’re willing to pay for this benefit. Also, choose a card with lounges in airports you actually fly through.

How we selected our top airline credit cards

To find the best airline credit cards on the market today, we looked for options that offer tremendous value in exchange for their annual fees. Benefits we looked for include excellent earning rates, generous limited-time offers, frequent flyer benefits, and the potential to earn miles toward elite airline status.

Ultimately, we considered co-branded airline cards in every fee range from mid-tier to premium options, as well as flexible travel cards that offer travel statement credits or the chance to transfer miles to multiple airlines.

Best airline credit cards FAQ

Holly D. Johnson
Holly D. Johnson Contributor

Holly D. Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who covers topics like insurance, investing, credit and family finance. As a leading voice in the travel and loyalty space, Johnson has traveled with her family to more than 50 countries over the last decade. 

The author has also written extensively on the power of household budgeting, and she even co-authored a book on the topic. Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love was originally published in 2017, and it teaches families how to use zero-sum budgeting to reach their financial goals. She is also the co-owner and founder of the family finance and travel website, ClubThrifty.com.

Johnson’s 10+ years of writing have focused on helping families make important financial decisions at each stage of their lives. The author also applies the financial principles she teaches to her own life, and she is currently on track to retire in her late 40’s with her partner. She currently lives in Central Indiana with her husband and children, and she is a regular contributor for Bankrate, CNN, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report Travel and many other notable publications.