Best Airline Credit Cards for July 2022

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Airline ticket prices have been surging, leaping up 12.6% in May according to the Consumer Price Index. The high cost of gasoline plus short staffing due to the COVID-19 pandemic indicate expensive airline fares for the near future. 

With ticket prices so high, airline credit cards can make a huge difference to your budget. Free flights and companion fares can save big money, and rewards back on airplane fares and hotel reservations can mitigate the damage of those pricey plane tickets. While airline credit cards often require annual fees, their rewards and welcome bonuses usually make the cost worth it.

Discover the best credit card offers from our partners below — we picked eight of the most popular US airlines, plus two credit cards for frequent flyers of any airline. If you’re looking for broader rewards on all your travel, consider the best travel credit cards.

Intro OfferNew Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

APR17.74% – 24.74% Variable

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent

Reward Rates

  • Earn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 5x total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3x points on other travel and dining.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Annual Fee$550

Balance Transfer APR17.74% – 24.74% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater

Foreign Transaction Fees $0

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • Earn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 5x total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 3x points on other travel and dining.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Our Take

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel rewards credit card, meaning you earn points on any travel or dining purchase, not just with a single airline card issuer, and your redemption options are much more flexible and transferable. The Chase Sapphire Reserve rewards card is included here for those who want more flexibility but still want to use rewards to book future travel. You earn 10x points on hotel and car rental purchases and 5x points on air travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn 3x points on all other travel and dining purchases (earn elevated rewards on all travel purchases immediately after earning the $300 annual travel credit), and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2025. All other purchases earn 1x points. 

This rewards card is even better for those who value the additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel benefits on eligible stays and lounge access.

Check out our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve for more details.

Intro OfferEarn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

APRSee Pay Over Time APR

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Annual Fee$695

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees None

  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Our Take

The Platinum Card from American Express offers frequent flyers high potential rewards rates. The Platinum Card earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel (third-party sites don’t qualify), and 1x points on other eligible purchases. There is a high annual fee of $695, but there are also benefits like up to a $200 airline fee statement credit per calendar year for travel incidentals at one select qualifying airline, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA Precheck, and valid for five years) and up to $200 in Uber Cash per year for U.S. rides and eats (up to $15 in Uber Cash each month, plus a bonus $20 in December). The intro offer is also on the high side at 100,000 points when you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Even if you’re loyal to one airline, you may get a better return on spending with The Platinum Card than you would with a co-branded airline credit card. It’s an excellent choice for those who value premium travel perks, or who want the flexibility to redeem rewards with a larger roster of airlines.

Note: Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Intro OfferLimited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

APR17.24%-26.24% Variable

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.

Annual Fee$250

Foreign Transaction Fees None

Penalty APR 29.99% Variable

  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S. and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.

Our Take

With an annual domestic companion certificate (taxes and fees of no more than $75 required), a welcome offer for new card members and a moderate annual fee, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is the best airline rewards card for most Delta flyers. The rewards are fairly average for an airline rewards program, but this airline rewards credit card makes up for that with other perks. The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card earns 3x miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2x miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Those who check bags often and travel with a companion (domestically) at least annually can save a substantial amount of money. 

Read our full review of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card for more details.

Note: Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Southwest Airlines credit card

Intro OfferLimited-time offer: Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

APR16.74% – 23.74% Variable

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

Annual Fee$149

Balance Transfer APR16.74% – 23.74% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater.

Foreign Transaction Fees $0

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.

Our Take

Given its perks and credits, the Priority card, which is co-branded with Chase, offers the best value among Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. With a welcome offer of 75,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months, a reward rate of 1x to 3x points and a $75 annual Southwest travel credit, this card pays for itself fairly quickly. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card offers 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on local transit and commuting, internet, cable, phone services and select streaming and 1x points on other purchases. Though Southwest already gives flyers their first two checked bags for free and doesn’t have airport lounges, this rewards credit card saves Southwest loyalists money in other ways. 

The $149 annual fee is offset by the $75 annual Southwest travel credit, which is automatically applied to your account each year when you use your card for a Southwest Airlines purchase, and the 7,500 points awarded each card anniversary.

Credit card for United flights

Intro OfferEarn up to 70,000 bonus miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.

APR17.24% – 24.24% Variable

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Good, Excellent

Reward Rates

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Annual Fee$0 Intro for First Year, then $95.

Balance Transfer APR17.24% – 24.24% Variable

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Foreign Transaction Fees $0

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United® purchases
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Our Take

The rewards rate of Chase’s United Explorer card is on the low end for co-branded airline credit cards at 2x miles on United purchases, dining and hotels, but it does offer decent value through its new card member sign-on bonus and waived baggage fees. In many cases, you’d be better off with a no-annual-fee cash-back credit card if you don’t spend a high amount on travel and dining each year. But if you value priority boarding and check a bag every time you fly United, the Explorer card is worth considering. Generally, United’s credit cards don’t compare well with the other airlines when it comes to overall value, so this recommendation is really the best of some not-so-great options. 

The United Explorer card offers 2x miles on United purchases, 2x miles on dining and hotels and 1x miles on all other purchases. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year of ownership and new cardholders can earn up to 70,000 bonus miles (60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, plus an additional 10,000 miles after spending $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months from account opening).

For flying on American Airlines

Intro OfferEarn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

APR15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable based on your creditworthiness

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases

Annual Fee$99

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro for first 15 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening

Balance Transfer APR15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable based on your creditworthiness

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Late Payment Fee Up to $40 (the amount of the fee varies by state)

Foreign Transaction Fees 0% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on other purchases

Our Take

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard* from Barclays, with its free checked bags for up to four others on the same reservation, is ideal for families who travel together often. It only takes one round-trip flight with the whole family and a cartload of bags to earn back the $99 annual fee. It’s also the card with the lowest spending threshold (make your first purchase and pay the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days) to earn the 60,000 airline mile sign-on bonus. 

The card offers 2x miles on eligible American Airline purchases and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Cardholders get their first checked bag free and a free checked bag for up to four companions traveling on the same reservation, which can add up to $300 in baggage fee savings for one round-trip flight. The card also offers preferred boarding, a $25 statement credit for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases per year and 25% back on in-flight food and beverages.

The best JetBlue credit card

Intro OfferEarn 40,000 Bonus Points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and payment of annual fee

APR15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable based on your creditworthiness.

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent

Reward Rates

  • 6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases
  • 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores
  • 1X points on all other purchases

Annual Fee$99

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro for first 12 billing cycles following each BT that posts within 45 days of account opening

Balance Transfer APR15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable based on your creditworthiness.

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees 0% of each transaction in U.S. dollars.

  • 6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases
  • 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores
  • 1X points on all other purchases

Our Take

The Barclays JetBlue Plus Card* requires a fairly standard $99 annual fee. It’s a good card for JetBlue loyalists and even a good option for those who fly JetBlue only a few times a year, but who can take advantage of the sign-on bonus and free checked bags. 

The JetBlue Plus Card offers 6x points on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores and 1x points on all other purchases. The sign-on bonus is 40,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full, both in the first 90 days. Cardmembers also get an additional 5,000 bonus points each year on their account anniversary. The first checked bag on each flight is free for you and up to three companions traveling on the same reservation. JetBlue Plus card holders also get 50% off in-flight food and beverage purchases, twice the discount that most other airline cards offer.

Intro OfferBuy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) and receive 40,000 bonus miles with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

APRSee Terms

Intro Purchase APRN/A

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases.
  • Unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$75

Balance Transfer APRSee Terms

Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Late Payment Fee See terms

Foreign Transaction Fees None

Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR

  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases.
  • Unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

Our Take

This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card from Bank of America is the only consumer airline card offered by Alaska Airlines, but it’s a good one. The annual companion fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22), free checked bag and 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases can translate into valuable savings for an Alaska frequent flyer. It’s the only card we found that offers a free checked bag for you and up to six companions on the same reservation, so families will obviously benefit from those waived fees. The rewards rate is also substantial, and paired with a lower-than-average annual fee of $75, this card can save Alaska Airline loyalists a significant amount of money. 

You also earn 20% back on Alaska Airlines in-flight purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases.

FAQS

How do airline credit cards work?

Airline credit cards reward users with points or miles from an airline’s frequent flyer program, which can be redeemed for flights with that airline. Sometimes you can transfer those points to one of the airline’s travel partners, though this option varies from airline to airline. 

Airline credit cards operate like loyalty programs in that you stay in a closed-loop rewards system. You earn rewards when you purchase flights on the airline, and you can use those points for future bookings. Some airline credit cards also reward card holders for making purchases at restaurants, grocery stores or other categories, but given the average reward rate of airline credit cards for those categories, we generally advise paying for those purchases with a cash-back credit card or general travel rewards credit card.

Who should use an airline credit card?

Airline reward cards are best for those who are already loyal to one airline — and thus don’t mind the inflexibility of the rewards — as well as those who value perks like airline lounge access and waived baggage fees. Despite their rigidity, however, there are lots of situations that make airline cards worthwhile, especially because some of them offer card reward standbys like balance transfer, a sign-up bonus or welcome bonus for new card holders and other membership reward perks.

If you rarely check a bag and bargain-hunt for most flights, an airline credit card might not be the best choice for you. Instead, consider a travel credit card (two of which are listed below), a cash-back credit card or even a business credit card. If you check a bag every time you fly though, those waived baggage fees that come with card membership can add up to hundreds of dollars in annual savings. Plus, early boarding often guarantees overhead bin space, giving you more legroom and less stress.

What are the benefits of an airline credit card?

Some common benefits of an airline credit card include:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Priority boarding
  • Lounge access (during some, not all, itineraries) 
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits
  • Generous sign-on bonuses

How do airline cards compare with travel rewards cards?

While airline credit cards offer rewards in the form of an airline’s miles or points, general travel rewards credit cards have their own systems, like American Express’ Membership Rewards points or Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points. General travel credit card points can be used to redeem travel (with any available airline) through the card issuer’s travel portal, or for a potentially higher value, transferred to an airline partner. You also earn extra points on any travel purchase, regardless of the airline.

Though they may charge higher annual fees, the general travel rewards credit cards tend to offer superior return rates and, since they cover a much greater range of purchases, they are often the better option. American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points may also be worth more cents per point when transferred strategically, making the return even greater.

Even the best airline credit card is typically less flexible than general travel cards, since you only earn the bonus reward rate when making purchases with an airline, and your options for redemption are much more limited. Given their relative inflexibility, airline credit cards are best for travelers who want to take advantage of airline-specific perks. If you often spend on upgraded boardings or checked bags and you always fly with the same airline, these cards can save you money. 

If you’re not loyal to one airline, rarely check bags and don’t care about your frequent flyer status, a general travel credit card is a better choice.

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back rewards, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the “welcome bonus” and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card’s respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

Cards we researched

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, click here.

*All information about the AAdvantage Aviator Red Elite World Mastercard and JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

Disclaimer: The information included in this article, including program features, program fees and credits available through credit cards to apply to such programs, may change from time-to-time and are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please check the credit card provider’s website and review its terms and conditions for the most current offers and information. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

The comments on this article are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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