Best airline rewards credit cards

By , CardRatings contributor
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    Flying high: Best airline rewards credit cards

    Baggage fees, security lines and lost luggage have many consumers seeing red. For some time now, airlines have been offsetting some of those inconveniences with more generous rewards on their credit cards.

    That's been a boon for consumers, but with more choices comes more confusion. Once you've got your new credit card, you don't want to get buyer's remorse a few weeks later if you find a different card that offers even better rewards for a lower annual fee, for instance.

    Fortunately, for those who want an airline card but can't quite get off the ground, CardRatings.com has surveyed and sifted the current crop of airline credit and charge card offers to present what we think are the very best travel rewards credit cards the airlines have to offer.

    For instance, you might balk at the $195 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for the 1st year, then $195) on the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, but if you spend on purchases and earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee with the card's 3X points for flights booked with airlines, earn 2X points at US supermarkets and US gas stations, earn 1X points on other purchases (terms and limitations apply) you may just change your mind. And something new, you can earn 2X points at U.S. restaurants (terms and limitations apply).

    Here are a few more features worth mentioning that the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers. New: There are no foreign transaction fees with your Premier Rewards Gold Card.  New: $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year for incidental fees with your selected airline. 

    Keep in mind this is a charge card, not a credit card and all purchases must be paid back in full each month by the due date on the statement.

    Or, if what you want most is a low APR credit card, the next person won't care about that because they don't plan to ever carry a balance.

    Still, if you want a quick snapshot of the best credit cards for frequent travelers right now, here's what's out there.

    Best signup bonus offer: Give a hand to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which you can earn 50,000 bonus points with. Take note for international travel: You'll pay $0 in foreign transaction fees.

    Great points/miles per dollar: PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card offers 5 points per dollar on airfare purchases, 1 point on all other purchases. 

    Best APR: No contest. Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum Rewards has a variable purchase and balance transfer APR of only 9.25 percent and no annual fee. The only other card with a purchase APR this low, for those with excellent credit, is Iberiabank Visa Platinum, also with no annual fee.

    Best annual fees: Obviously, the card with the best annual fee is no annual fee, and happily, there are several cards that fit that bill, and so this could be quite a list, but here are the top-rated cards in this category:

    • Iberiabank Visa Platinum
    • Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
    • PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card
    • Simmons Bank Visa Platinum Rewards

    Honorable mentions for annual fees: We'll also tip our hat to the following top-rated cards that offer an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then the annual fee starts after the first year:

    • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express®-- $0 Intro Annual Fee for the 1st year, then $195

    So those are the main features to look for when you're looking for the right airline credit card to be your travel companion. Just be sure to look at the fine print before you apply. No airline credit card is in the business of making their customers mad, but there's always something in the fine print--like needing to use the card at least once within 18 months--that you as a consumer should be aware of. The airline credit card skies may be friendlier than ever, but they can still be difficult to navigate.


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