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Best airline rewards credit cards from our partners

Last Updated, February 15, 2019

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It's a whole new ballgame in the world of travel and travel rewards. In particular, airlines are vying for your loyalty any which way they can get it. Some offer lower prices, others entice with the offers of more leg room, priority boarding, deals with partner hotels and car rental companies – you name it, they'll offer it.

One way into your air travel heart that they have found includes partnering with financial institutions to offer credit cards tied to airline loyalty programs and rewards. This is nothing new, but it continues to evolve. Lenders are upping the ante daily, trying to lure qualified new card members into their ranks. Some advice:

Plan a budget: To assess various credit card offers and their associated rewards, you'll need to know how much you plan to spend monthly and yearly in order to apply for the one that will reap you the most rewards.

Find an angle: Do you want to be brand loyal or can you only afford flexibility in dare you earn rewards and where you spend them?

Most importantly, don't fall for the first offer you receive: Do your research – or read ours below.

Here are our picks for the best airline rewards credit cards, both for individuals and small businesses. Looking for more? Check out our full list of credit card offers.

Happy travels!

Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards for Individuals

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why We Like It: This card offers the flexibility to redeem your rewards to cover the cost of any flight on any airline at any time. Recently, however, it also added the flexibility to transfer your miles to 12 travel partners, meaning you might be able to make your rewards go even further than by simply redeeming them to cover a travel purchase.

The Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on your new card within the first three months. That's worth up to $500 in flexible travel or you can transfer those miles to one of the 12 travel partners and possibly make the rewards go even further.

The Rewards: Earn two miles per $1 spent on every purchase, every day. Read our full Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card review

The Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

Added Perks: Cardholders are eligible for up to $100 every four years to cover your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Why We Like It: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® rewards its cardholders with flexibility. Unlike many travel rewards cards, this one allows you to earn two miles for every $1 you spend, not just on travel-related purchases, and you’ll receive miles back each time you redeem to use for a future redemption.

The Bonus: Earn 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. That’s worth $700 in travel.

The Rewards: Earn two miles per $1 spent on all your purchases and 5 percent of your miles back when you redeem your rewards for travel (turning this into a 2.1 percent back travel offer). Read our full review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

The Annual Fee: $89 (waived first year)

Added Perks: There are no foreign transaction fees and you’ll be protected with travel accident, trip cancellation and baggage delay insurance.

Credit Needed: Good/Excellent


Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

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Why We Like It: Priority boarding, a free checked bag, a nice welcome offer and more make this a card worth considering if you're a frequent Delta flyer.

The Welcome Offer: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases in the first three months and earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the same time frame.

The Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees

The Rewards: Rack up two miles per $1 spent directly with Delta and one mile per $1 on all other purchases. Read our full Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express review.

Added Perks: Save money as your first checked bag is free on Delta flights. You'll also skip the battle for overhead bin space thanks to priority boarding.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


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

Citi is a CardRatings advertiser

Why We Like It: American Airlines has extensive partnerships making these miles quite valuable if your travel passions are far-flung.

The Bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 on your card in the first three months of account opening.*

The Annual Fee: $99, waived for first 12 months*

The Rewards: Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases.* Also earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card.* Read our full review the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

Added Perks: There are no Foreign Transaction Fees* and your first checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation.* Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights* and receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights.*

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

Why We Like It: No-annual-fee airline rewards cards are rare, so this one caught our attention. Additionally, you can earn bonus rewards on more than just a branded flight, which is another rarity among airline cards.

The Bonus: Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles and receive a $50 statement credit after you make $500 in purchases within the first three months. That's a low spending threshold for any welcome bonus, but especially one that is this valuable.

The Rewards: Rack up two miles for every $1 spent at grocery stores as well as on your American Airlines purchases. You'll earn one mile per $1 on your other purchases. Read our full American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card review..

The Annual Fee: $0*

Added Perks: You'll save 25 percent on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card.

Credit Needed: Excellent


British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Why We Like It: British Airways Avios are valuable and the welcome bonus opportunity means you can rack up quite a few bonus miles in your first year as a card member. Plus, you'll be rewarded with a Travel Together Ticket each year you spend at least $30,000 on your card, so the "bonuses," of sorts, aren't restricted to your first year.

The Bonus: New cardholders will earn four Avios per $1 spent for the first 12 months, up to $30,000 spent. If you do the math, that means you'll earn 120,000 Avios for spending $30,000 in the first year AND you will have earned a Travel Together Ticket since you'll hit that $30,000 spending requirement.

The Rewards: Following the promotional period discussed above, earn three Avios for every $1 spent with British Airways and one Avios per $1 spent on your other purchases. Read our full review of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card

The Annual Fee: $95

Added Perks: Earn a Travel Together Ticket, good for two years, each calendar year in which you spend $30,000 on your card.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Why We Like It: A card that allows you to work toward bringing a friend along on your flight for FREE (except for taxes and fees) is a winner in our book. Add some of the additional perks and money-saving features in and this card really takes off.

The Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on your new card in the first three months.

Companion Pass is the gold standard of rewards air travel. Earn a pass in a given year and it means a friend can fly free with you for the remainder of that year as well as throughout the following calendar year. You can earn a pass by taking 100 one-way flights in a year or by accruing 110,000 points, which is where a credit card comes in. Points earned through your card purchases count toward your Companion Pass threshold.

The Annual Fee: $149

The Rewards: Receive two points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and those with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners. Earn one point per $1 on your other purchases. Read our full Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card review.

Added Perks: Enjoy a $75 Southwest travel credit each year as well as up to four upgrade boardings, when available. You'll also receive 7,500 bonus points each year after your account anniversary.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Why We Like It: This card offers new cardholders the opportunity to earn a nice chunk of points toward earning that Companion Pass. Plus, as with the other Southwest card options, all your purchases count toward earning that pass.

The Bonus: New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

The Annual Fee: $99

The Rewards: The rewards earning is the same as for the card above: Receive two points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and those with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners. Earn one point per $1 on your other purchases. Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card.

Added Perks: The lower annual fee means fewer, but still valuable, perks. There isn't an annual travel credit with this card, but you will receive 6,000 bonus points each year after your account anniversary.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Why We Like It: We're just stepping down in annual fees here, but we're still liking a card that offers a bonus with enough points to get you well on your way to that "free travel" we discussed above.

The Bonus: Again, new cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on the new card in the first three months.

The Annual Fee: $69

The Rewards: The rewards earning is the same as for the two cards above: Receive two points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and those with Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners. Earn one point per $1 on your other purchases. The key with these Southwest cards is really how much you fly Southwest and whether that's enough for you to offset the lowest annual fee or the highest annual fee, which comes with additional perks/features. Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.

Added Perks: The annual fee is even lower than that of the card above so, as you'd expect, the perks have gone down a bit too. In this case, you'll receive just 3,000 bonus points each year after your account anniversary.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


United℠ Explorer Card

Why We Like It: New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months the account is open. Plus the free checked bag for you and a traveling companion could save some serious cash if you're a regular United guest.

The Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

The Annual Fee: Waived the first year, then $95

The Rewards: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel accommodations and  2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Added Perks: Receive up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre?® statement fee credit every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your card. Then, get 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United-operated flights when you pay with your Explorer Card. Check your first bag for free (a savings of up to $120 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket and enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club(SM) with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Discover it® Miles

Discover it® Miles

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(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

Why We Like It: Discover it® Miles goes above and beyond with its bonus rewards program in your first year as a cardholder. With no annual fee and Discover MATCHING all the miles you earn during your first year – that match effectively means you’ll earn three miles per $1 for the first year on all your purchases; that’s well above the earning rate of even most cards with annual fees.

The Bonus: Discover matches all the miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 30,000 miles in your first year (you’d do that by spending $20,000 on your card in the year at a base earning rate of 1.5 miles per $1 spent), at the end of the year Discover will match that number and you’ll be looking at 60,000 miles.

The Rewards: 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. Read our full review of Discover it® Miles

The Annual Fee: $0

Added Perks: Card members can receive $30 back for in-flight Wi-Fi fees each year.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Mastercard® Black Card™

Why We Like It: This metal credit card exudes luxury. Beyond that, there isn't a traditional points-dump bonus, but the bonus is ongoing when you redeem your points for airfare.

The Bonus: Your points are worth more when redeemed for airfare (2 percent). That means that 25,000 points are worth $500 in airfare.

The Rewards: Earn one point for every $1 you spend; however, your points are worth 1.5 percent when redeemed into a U.S. bank account or for statement credit and 2 percent when redeemed for airfare. Read our full Mastercard® Black Card™review.

The Annual Fee: $495

Added Perks: This is a luxury card and offers airport lounge access, an annual statement credit for airline expenses and so much more that goes along with being a luxury credit card.

Credit Needed: Excellent

Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards for Small Businesses

Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

Why We Like It: Because this card doesn't require brand loyalty to reap its benefits, small businesses can be fiscally savvy by shopping around for the best rates and prices while still earning rewards that can be spent wherever they choose.

The Bonus: Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $4,500 on your new card in the first three months of opening your account.

The Rewards: Rake in two miles per $1 spent on every purchase, every day. Read our full review of Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business.

The Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

Added Perks: Add employee cards for free; track your expenses with quarterly and year-end summaries, downloadable purchase records and a mobile app to manage purchases. Save money with no foreign transaction fees and car rental insurance, purchase protection, roadside dispatch and lost luggage reimbursement.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business

Why We Like It: The Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business credit card is the no-annual-fee version of the card above. Yes, your bonus opportunity and ongoing rewards rate are a bit lower, but you don’t have to worry about offsetting an annual fee.

The Bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from the account opening.

The Rewards: 1.5 miles per $1 spent on every purchase, every day. Read our full review of Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business.

The Annual Fee: $0

Added Perks: Take advantage of a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for nine months (then, 15.24% - 23.24% (Variable)). You’ll also save with included auto rental insurance and no foreign transaction fees.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card

Why We Like It: With upgrades, companion travel rewards and access to airport lounges to make your business travel a bit more comfortable, it's hard to not like this card. Although there is a high annual fee, the on-the-go and Delta-loyal business will likely have no trouble offsetting that fee given the perks, features and rewards available.

The Bonus: Receive 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases with your new card in the first three months.

The Rewards: Earn two miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile on every eligible $1 spent on other purchases. Read our full Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card review.

The Annual Fee: $450. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees

Added Perks: Receive a companion certificate good for a domestic first class, Delta Comfort+® or main cabin round trip each year when you renew your card (that will go a long way to offsetting that annual fee). You’ll also enjoy complimentary access to Delta Sky Club® lounges and a discounted rate of $29 per guest (up to two) any time you fly on Delta. You also rest easy with priority boarding, save money with your first bag checked free and no foreign transaction fees, and save time with 24/7 concierge service.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express

Why We Like It: The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express is dripping with rewards and bonuses. If you travel often via Delta Airlines and use your card monthly, it won't be hard to make the benefits offered, including free travel, upgrades, and several opportunities to earn bonus miles, more than offset the annual fee.

The Bonus: You can earn 35,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $1,000 in the first three months and a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase using your new card within the first three months.

The Rewards: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile on every eligible $1 spent on other purchases. Miles don't expire. Read our full Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Expressreview

The Annual Fee: $195. Terms apply. See Rates and Fees

Added Perks: Earn a domestic main cabin companion ticket each year you renew your card. Furthermore, you can earn bonus miles each year, which is a big deal. Earn 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 bonus MQMs when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year; earn another 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 more MQMs when you spend $50,000 in the calendar year. Save with no foreign transaction fees, priority boarding, your first checked bag free, 20 percent off in-flight purchases, baggage insurance, car rental loss and damage insurance, and roadside assistance.

Credit Needed: Good, Excellent


Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

Why We Like It: This is a favorite of ours, in part, because of the all-important Companion Pass, which allows a passenger of your choice to travel with you free for the remainder of the year in which you earn the pass as well as for the entire calendar year after that. Given the high bonus as well as the opportunity for all your employees’ spending on the card to count toward earning that Companion Pass, we see this as an excellent business card for the annual fee.

The Bonus: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

The Rewards: Earn two points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and one point per $1 spent on all your other purchases. Read our full review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

The Annual Fee: $99

Added Perks: You’ll receive 6,000 bonus points each year after your card member anniversary. Enjoy no blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, no change fees and no foreign transaction fees. And, as per usual with Southwest Airlines, your bags fly for free.

Credit Needed: Excellent, Good


To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards featured in this post, please visit the following links: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card (See Rates and Fees)

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