Discover The Best Airline Credit Card: Ultimate Comparison Guide
If you are a member of a frequent flyer program but have never been able to earn enough miles to redeem for an award flight or to get any of the special perks that come with elite status you would probably benefit from having ANY airline credit card. But since you are reading this you, you are probably somebody who wants to have the best benefits and biggest signup bonus. Essentially you don’t want just any credit cards you want the best credit cards for airline miles for your needs.
The interactive chart of credit cards below and the analysis that follows will help you decide which is the best airline credit card that fits your travel needs.
We all have personal preferences on what makes a good airline credit card, like their annual fees or their minimum spend requirements, but when you go to use your frequent flyer miles you want the absolute best credit cards for airline miles possible, and so we’re here to help.
Ultimate Airline Credit Card Comparison Guide and Key
- Credit Card – Name of program with picture of its best credit card for airline miles.
- Current Bonus Offer – Miles you Earn After Completing Minimum Spend Requirement.
- Minimum Spend Requirement (MSR) – Dollar amount of spend neeeded to earn bonus offer miles.
- MSR Timeframe – Time given to fulfill the Minimum Spend Requirement (MSR)
- Intro Annual Fee for First Year – The Introductory Annual fee for the first year of cardmembership.
- Waived Foreign Transaction Fee – If the airline credit card charges you fees for use abroad
- Priority Boarding – If the credit card benefits includes priority boarding
- Free Checked Baggage – If the credit card benefits include a free checked bag.
Last Updated July 11, 2013
What is an Airline Credit Card?
An airline credit card is now an essential tool for the leisure traveler that can be used to avoid paying paying insanely expensive airfare for last minute flights, by a family of four saving $75 on the first checked baggage, or priority security lanes to get by the TSA checkpoints quicker.
But you should not use an airline credit card that does not directly benefit you, the consumer and traveler, as much as possible. With the right credit card you can be earning massive amounts of award travel every year while bringing your credit score to new heights.
Consumers are too willing to signup for a credit card never think twice about the direct benefits they get from it. You should always choose the credit card that is associated with the best frequent flyer program for you.
After all the card issuers are willing to charge fees to bad cardholders, so shouldn’t being a good cardholder be giving you free award travel that works for you?
You should not be so nice to card issuers or frequent flyer programs by giving them your business and loyalty blindly while they are so eager to take your money if you do not do everything they want.
How To Find the Best Airline Credit Card for You
Above you will find an interactive comparison chart of many of the top airline credit cards on the market today. But before you start salivating over your next award flight, lets take a look at what’s on this guide. Overall, rather than taking advice from some airlines’ in-flight magazine about what the best credit card is, look over the options to help you make an appropriate application decision.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are choosing your best credit cards for airline miles to fit your needs:
Bonus miles offer of the credit card. You should make sure that this is a reasonable amount of frequent flyer miles for your travel needs and that the current best offer is close to or equal to the all time high bonus offer for the card. Many credit cards only offer signup bonus miles to first time cardholders or once every 12 month period. The bonus offers tend are commonly between 30,000-50,000 points but occasionally there will be special offers of 75,000 or even 100,000 miles. There is no way to know exactly when the card issuing companies will put up a higher bonus offer which is why you will always want to have a plan for your miles beforehand so you are not pointlessly hoping to hit the jackpot on the chance the bonus offer gets increased. Get your frequent flyer miles and start using them for award travel today.
Choosing a card whose Annual Fee is acceptable for your budget. Annual fees are one of the biggest fears for people thinking about applying for airline credit cards. Always keep in mind that there are so many credit cards that you do not need to feel trapped by the annual fee. Not every airline credit card will waive the annual fee for the first year of being a cardholder but others will. Many annual fees are as low as $79 but some, like the American Express Platinum Card, are as high as $450 per year. You will want to apply only for credit cards that you can afford to pay the fee for, that you will cancel within a year or that you feel confident in requesting the card issuer to waive the annual fee every year.
Consider if the card charges foreign transaction fees. If you travel abroad often or will be traveling abroad soon you should know if your card charges the 3% fee for use in foreign currency. On any vacation abroad a 3% fee on all your credit card transactions can add up quickly, you should make sure your credit card does not have this fee if you will be using it abroad.
The credit card benefits. Does your card give you free access to their airport lounges, companion tickets, special award flight discounts, first checked bag free and access to priority check-in/boarding/security lines.
Be honest about your ability to successfully complete the minimum spend requirements. If you can’t spend the $3,000 within 3 months to earn the signup bonus offer do not apply for the card until you can meet that spend requirement, otherwise you will waste that bonus. Be honest about it before applying to avoid missing those bonus miles.
Are you going to earn elite status with an airline? Some airline credit cards offer you the chance to have direct elite status by being a cardholder or by earning elite qualifying points/miles with signup bonus offers and card anniversary bonuses.
Do you have excellent credit? Most credit cards now require applicants to have excellent credit as a criteria for their approval. I suggest you only apply for credit cards if you have excellent credit, are financially responsible and can manage the credit cards without going int debt.
You should always consider picking the credit card of the airlines that have the most flights into your local airports before making any decisions.
Review of the Top 4 Airline Credit Cards
Honestly, most of the airline credit cards included above are excellent options; but there are a few that we just need to point out as our favorites. Below you will find our top 4 picks for overall best airline credit card along with a more detailed overview of each card. So, put your tray tables up and your seat into its upright position, lets fly over these options.
US Airways Credit Card
The announced merger between US Airways and American Airlines will not be using the current us airways credit card issuer Barclay’s Card but they will be folding under the wing of the AAdvantage credit card at Citibank. The acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of third quarter 2013 but this does not mean the frequent flyer programs will be fully integrated by that point.
Any miles earned in the Dividend Miles program will be converted, on a 1:1 ratio, into AAdvantage miles once that part of the merger is completed. This means if you will not be booking an award flight with US Airways relatively soon, make a booking within 12 months, you should expect your Dividend Miles to become AAdvantage miles. Keeping that in mind you can effectively get double bonus miles by applying for this credit card and the current AAdvantage credit card offered by Citi.
But let us also cover the benefits of the current card because you can still apply for it. Currently card-members gain one free airport lounge pass, discounted award travel on US Airways operated flights and one free companion travel pass for airfares above $99.
In the chart above you can see other sort-able data points on the card and you should also keep in mind the pending merger of the co-branded credit cards into your final judgement.
Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
Currently the American Express Delta card is offered in three different variations depending on the goals of the consumer, the gold version is for leisure travelers looking to earn redeemable miles, whereas the Delta Platinum Amex and Delta Reserve card are for consumers who value earning elite qualifying miles not valid for booking award flights.
The most common and popular American Express Delta card is the gold version because it appeals to the ability of earning redeemable miles eligible to be used for award travel as well as the lowest annual fee of the three cards.
The benefits of the Gold card version include priority boarding, first checked baggage free for up to 9 people on the cardholders reservation and discounted prices on Delta’s airport lounges.
With any one of three versions of the American Express Delta card capable of earning you more SkyMiles everyday and even aiding towards earning elite status on Delta, you will always be able to keep your miles stash full. Ultimately it is for you to decide which card best fits your style.
American Airlines Credit Card
The American Airlines credit card has been with Citibank for a long time and they recently announced they will be staying with them and merging the US Airways Dividend Miles into their AAdvantage program.
For a long time the American Airlines credit card was a holdout in providing the extra benefits like first checked baggage free, priority boarding and security line access and access to special discounted award flights to their consumers but now not only do they offer them, they have added even more benefits to their cardholders. Benefits like 10% AAdvantage miles back on your booked award flights for up to 10,000 miles back per calendar year.
The American Airlines credit card packs so many benefits into their card that it is a best airline credit card contender at making us normal leisure travelers feel like a VIP at the airport.
The AAdvantage card is also unique that these benefits like Priority Security Line benefits are valid as long as you are a card-member, that even if you use a different airlines frequent flyer program to book your American Airlines award flight, you will still be granted priority security line and boarding access.
If this program sounds right to you why don’t you enroll now and continue reading about the AAdvantage program.
United Mileage Plus Credit Card
Much like the rest of the U.S. legacy carriers; American Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways, United Airlines has recently undergone a merger that lead to a change in their airline credit card.
Going back to 2012 United Airlines had merged with Continental Airlines and Continentals Onepass credit cards were phased out along with United’s old credit cards, in favor of the current United MileagePlus Explorer credit card.
This iteration of the United Mileage Plus credit card has similar benefits as the other top 4 of the best credit cards for airline miles but with subtle changes. This card offers the first checked baggage free to only the primary cardmember and one traveling companion on the same reservation, as opposed to the American Express Delta card covering up to 9 traveling companions. That might not seem like a big difference at first but if you are a family of four those fees can add up quickly on roundtrip flights.
With other credit card benefits like access to priority boarding for the primary cardmember and their travel compaions, two free one-time passes to United’s airport lounges and no foreign transaction fees.
Although it may not be the most exciting of credit cards, the high amount of destinations served, access to award flights with the largest airline alliance and basic benefits make the card worth considering.
Your Thoughts Please
Now that you have seen the options and reviewed our top picks for the best frequent flyer program on the market, it’s up to you to pick what credit card meets your personal travel needs, has a minimum spend requirement that you can realistically complete, and will help in your overall strategy as you gear up for your high flying award travel adventures.
As you know, airline credit cards are creating new promotions or making changes to their bonus offers quite regularly these days. For that reason, the comparison chart above will be updated as with new data whenever there are significant updates. Or if you feel like we missed a superior miles program or feature of miles programs that needs to be included on the list, let me know in the comments below!
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