Prepare For Takeoff! Top Picks in Airline Credit Cards

Photo (cc) by Bernal Saborio G. (berkuspic)

It’s hard to sit on a flight or walk down a concourse these days without being offered an airline-branded credit card: A Visa or MasterCard with the airline’s logo promising perks ranging from free checked bags to free flights.

Should you get onboard?

The answer depends on factors including the amount of travel you do, whether miles are transferable, you can earn enough perks to offset annual fees and whether you pay off your credit cards monthly to avoid finance charges.

The cards below offer some of the best introductory deals and perks available. As you check them out, however, don’t focus solely on signup bonuses. Also think about how much you spend monthly. If it’s enough to regularly accumulate free flights or other perks from an airline you’re loyal to, hop aboard. But if you tend to fly whoever’s cheapest, don’t pull out the plastic often, or most important, regularly find yourself paying interest on unpaid monthly balances, wave goodbye to these cards. The annual fees and interest charges will quickly offset any potential perks.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

This piece of plastic made the top of our list for one reason: transferable points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is ideal for travelers who are not loyal to a particular airline but want a way to earn free airfare and lodging. Points can be transferred at full value to a number of different airline mileage programs, including British Airways Executive Club, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, to name a few. You can earn 80,000 points if you make $4,000 in purchases within three months of activating the card. Authorizing a second cardholder on your account within that period will earn you an extra 5,000 points.

Of course, with airline credit cards, there’s always and catch, and it’s usually the APR. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has an introductory APR of 15.99 percent, which means you’ll want to be sure you can pay off your balance in full each month, or the card could wind up costing you more than it gives back.

But if you’re responsible, oh, does it give back! After the introductory period has passed, account holders continue to earn two points for every dollar spent on travel and dining and one point for every dollar spent on all other purchases. And unlike many other reward programs, there are no blackout dates or restrictions, and account holders receive a 20 percent discount when redeeming points for travel.

The card also comes with other perks: no foreign transaction fees, secure chip-and-pin technology that ensures it will be accepted everywhere you go when traveling abroad, and the annual fee is waived for the first year (it’s $95 in subsequent years).

2. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card

Delta lets you to rack up points in a relatively short time and without much effort. Charge just $1,000 in the first three months, and you’ll earn 30,000 points, the rough equivalent of $300 and enough miles to get you a round-trip ticket just about anywhere in the contiguous United States if you book your flight for Delta’s “saver” days. You will also receive a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase within this period.

Although it’s co-branded with American Express, this card makes the most sense for frequent Delta travelers because double miles are accrued for each dollar spent on Delta purchases, and a single mile for all other purchases. Cardholders also get a free checked bag, priority boarding, a 20 percent discount on select in-flight purchases and discounted day passes to Delta Sky Club lounges. The card charges no foreign transaction fees, which makes it ideal for overseas travel.

Delta waives its annual fee ($95) for the first year. In subsequent years, the fee is easily recoverable: you’ll save $100 on checked baggage fees after just two flights.

3. United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Like Delta, United also offers 30,000 bonus miles to new card members who make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. And when you add a second authorized user, United will throw in another 5,000 bonus miles. If you frequently fly United, the points will add up quickly, because you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on United tickets, and one mile on all other purchases. Miles can be redeemed at any time because there are no blackout dates and they never expire.

United cardholders are also treated to a few perks, including the now de rigeur priority boarding and a free checked bag. Another perk: you’ll receive two free United Club lounge passes annually, so you can kick back and relax in style and away from the airport crowds. The annual fee is waived the first year, and is $95 in subsequent years, not a bad price for the benefits.

4. British Airways Visa Signature® Card

This card boasts one of the most impressive introductory offers around, because it enables you to earn 50,000 Avios (British Airways’ mileage equivalent) by spending $2,000 within the first three months. Once this period has passed, you’ll continue to earn 2.5 Avios for every dollar spent on British Airways purchases and one for every dollar spent on all other purchases.

If you really want to cash in and take full advantage, spend $30,000 each calendar year and you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket. (Best advice: charge recurring monthly expenses to the card and pay them off promptly to prevent interest from accruing.) Your Travel Together Ticket, good for you and a companion, is good for two years and, depending on your destination, might even cover first class tickets. An annual fee of $95 applies after the first year, but could prove worth it for those able to make the most of all the card’s benefits.

5. Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest is known for its affordable airfare and exceptional customer service, so why not capitalize on the flight purchases you’re already making with the airline by signing up for its co-branded Visa card? You only need to spend $2,000 in the first three months to earn 50,000 points. You’ll also earn an extra 6,000 points just for holding onto your card for one year.

For every dollar spent with Southwest, you’ll earn two points. All other purchases earn one. As with all the best airline credit cards, there are no blackout dates or other restrictions. Points also can be redeemed for car rentals, cruises, hotel stays, merchandise and gift cards, as well as airfare.

The card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, up to two — yes, two — free checked bags, and exemption from itinerary change fees, which can set you back up to $150 at other airlines. Unfortunately, there’s a $99 annual fee, and it will appear on your first statement. But with two checked bags everywhere you go, it should be easy to recoup your investment.

Do you have experience with any of these cards? If so, let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Credit cards are like dogs: They can bite you or be a loyal best friend. Watch the video below to hear Money Talks News finance guru Stacy Johnson explain the many benefits cards can provide — in addition to travel rewards — so long as you treat them with respect.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Ways Retirees Can Lower Their Income Taxes
5 Ways Retirees Can Lower Their Income Taxes

Here’s how to keep Uncle Sam’s mitts away from your nest egg.

9 Forgotten Frugal Strategies — and How to Resurrect Them
9 Forgotten Frugal Strategies — and How to Resurrect Them

These time-tested methods can help us live smarter today.

13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better
13 Small Gadgets Under $20 That Make Life Better

These inexpensive electronics will make your day-to-day life a little easier — and happier.

3 Ways to Downsize Your Life to Save Money, Time and Stress
3 Ways to Downsize Your Life to Save Money, Time and Stress

Downsizing can cut the bloat in your finances — and give you more free time and less stress.

5 Monthly Bills You Can Easily Negotiate Down
5 Monthly Bills You Can Easily Negotiate Down

Here’s how to bring down recurring expenses and save hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars each year.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.