The Best Airline Credit Cards

A Delta airplane climbing into a bright blue sky after takeoff in the USA

Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Some or all of the card offers on this page are from advertisers and compensation may impact how and where card products appear on the site. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. This page does not include all card companies or all available card offers.

After over 15 years of traveling the world, I’ve lost count of how many free flights and upgrades I’ve had. By collecting points and miles, 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, 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 straightforward: 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.

The Best Airline Credit Cards for…

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.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

card_nameThe card_name 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, great earning categories, 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 $149 annual fee, but the $75 annual Southwest travel credit wipes out a lot of that, effectively bringing the annual fee down to an affordable $74 per year (presuming you use the credit, of course).

This card offers:

  • bonus_miles_full
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 3x points on Southwest purchases
  • 2x points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming
  • 2x points on local transit and commuting, including ridesharing
  • 2x points on Rapid Rewards hotel and car partners (includes Best Western, Hyatt, Marriott, Avis, and Hertz, among others)
  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • 10,000 Companion Pass® qualifying points boost each year
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases
  • 4 upgraded boardings per year (when available)
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points towards A-List status for every $5,000 spent annually
  • No foreign transaction fees

While the Priority is the best Southwest card, if you want a cheaper option, the card_name is a great card and is just $69.

—> LEARN MORE <—


 

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. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $150. (See Rates and Fees)

This card offers:

  • bonus_miles_full
  • 2x points on Delta purchases
  • 2x points at U.S. supermarkets and at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • Free checked bag
  • $200 Delta Flight Credit after you spend $10,000 in purchases in a year
  • 15% off when using miles to book Award Travel on Delta flights through delta.com and the Fly Delta app (discount not applicable on partner-operated flights or on taxes and fees)
  • Zone 5 Priority Boarding on Delta flights
  • $100 Delta Stays Credit: Delta SkyMiles(R) Gold American Express Card Members can earn up to $100 back annually on eligible prepaid Delta Stays bookings on delta.com.
  • No foreign transaction fees

—> LEARN MORE <—

If you want a Delta card that offers unlimited complimentary lounge access (at least until 2/1/25, when you’ll get 15 visits per year), check out the card_name. It’s $650 a year (See Rates and Fees) but is the top-tier choice for Delta loyalists who want lounge access.

 


 

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

card_nameFor frequent fliers of American Airlines, Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® offers 2x points on American Airlines purchases and includes a lot of perks when you actually fly, such as priority check-in, preferred boarding, free checked bags, and more. A lot of the perks apply to your traveling companions too, making this a good card if you often travel with friends or family. It has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 per year after that.

This card offers:

  • 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage(R) bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • 2x points on American Airlines purchases
  • 2x points on restaurants and gas stations
  • First checked bag free on domestic flights (for you and up to 4 companions traveling on the same reservation)
  • Priority check-in (where available)
  • Preferred boarding (after priority boarding but before economy boarding)
  • Earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card
  • No fees for authorized users
  • No foreign transaction fees

—> LEARN MORE <—

 

UnitedSM Explorer


The card_name 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). $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then it’s just $95.

This card offers:

  • bonus_miles_full
  • 2x points on United purchases
  • 2x points on dining
  • 2x points on hotels when booked directly
  • Free first checked bag – a savings of up to $160 per roundtrip. Terms Apply.
  • Priority boarding
  • Visit the United Club(SM) with 2 one-time passes each year for your card anniversary
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 25 PQP for every $500 you spend on purchases with your Explorer Card (up to 1,000 PQP in a calendar year)

—> LEARN MORE <—

If you’re looking for a premium United card, the card_name card is the upgraded version of the Explorer. 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).
 

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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 collecting points and miles 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 being 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 it consistently returns 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:

Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.

Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.

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. Some or all of the card offers on this page are from advertisers and compensation may impact how and where card products appear on the site. 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. This page does not include all card companies or all available card offers.”

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles(R) Gold American Express Card, See Rates and Fees.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles(R) Platinum American Express Card, See Rates and Fees.

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve(R) Credit Card from American Express, See Rates and Fees.