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The Best Airline Credit Cards for 2022: How to Get Free Flights, Upgrades, and More

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With the summer travel season on the horizon, airfare prices are surging. 

The average domestic round-trip ticket is expected to rise to $360 in May, and could continue to increase in the summer months, according to the latest data from Hopper, a travel price comparison app. And international round-trip tickets are expected to reach as much as $940 on average by June.

One tool to help offset steep airline tickets is a travel rewards credit card that can help you save on airfare. You can earn miles on everyday purchases to put toward upcoming trips, get rewarded when you actually book your travel, and even enjoy travel benefits and perks with your preferred airline.

But there are a few things to consider before you apply, including how often you travel, your most frequent spending categories, and what benefits you prefer. Here’s everything to know about picking the right airline credit card for your wallet and maximizing your rewards to save on your next vacation. 

Best Credit Cards for Airlines Miles

Good for Delta Air Lines: Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
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Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
Editor’s Score: (4.15/5)
Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
Editor’s Score: (4.15/5)
  • Intro offer:
    90,000 miles
  • Annual fee:
    $250
  • Regular APR:
    17.24%-26.24% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

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.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Valuable welcome offer
  • Bonus miles in travel and everyday spending categories
  • Earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward elite status through credit card spending
  • Additional airport and flight benefits for frequent Delta travelers
Cons
  • $250 annual fee
  • High variable APR for purchases and balance transfers
  • Rewards not as valuable for infrequent travelers or those who don’t usually fly Delta
The Bottom Line
The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is worth considering for anyone who prefers to fly with Delta Air Lines. You can earn a great welcome bonus, plus bonus rewards on Delta purchases, other travel expenses, and even some everyday spending categories. Those rewards, combined with additional frequent flyer perks, can make this card well worth the $250 annual fee if you fly Delta often.

Additional Card Details

  • Annual companion certificate good for domestic main cabin round trip flight (taxes and fees still apply)
  • First checked bag free for you and up to nine companions on the same flight reservation
  • Up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
  • Earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 with your card in a calendar year (up to two times)
  • Priority boarding
  • 20% back on in-flight spending
  • Delta SkyClub lounge access for a reduced rate of $39 per visit, (See Rates & Fees)
  • No foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees)
  • Travel protections

Good for American Airlines: Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
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Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Editor’s Score: (3.65/5)
Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Editor’s Score: (3.65/5)
  • Intro offer:
    50,000 miles
  • Annual fee:
    $99, waived for first 12 months
  • Regular APR:
    17.49% – 26.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants. Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

Good for United Airlines: United Quest Card

United Quest℠ Card
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United Quest℠ Card
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
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United Quest℠ Card
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
  • Intro offer:
    80,000 Bonus Miles
  • Annual fee:
    $250
  • Regular APR:
    17.24% – 24.24% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Earn 3X miles on United® purchases. 2x miles on dining, select streaming services & all other travel. 1X on all other purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Valuable welcome bonus
  • $125 annual United Airlines purchase credit
  • Anniversary award certificates
  • Bonus points on United Airlines purchases
  • First two checked bags are free
Cons
  • High annual fee
  • Does not offer good value for people who do not fly United Airlines often
The Bottom Line
The United Quest℠ Card from United Airlines and Chase is one of four co-branded cards geared toward frequent United flyers. It has a $250 annual fee, but comes with perks that can help offset the cost. Those include a $125 annual United purchase credit, two 5,000-mile anniversary award credits, 25% off in-flight purchases when flying United, and first and second checked bags free for both you and a companion on your United reservation. It also offers priority boarding and a complimentary 12-month membership to DoorDash DashPass valued at almost $120.

Additional Card Details

  • $125 annual United purchase credit
  • Two 5,000-mile anniversary award credits
  • First two checked bags are free when flying United for both primary cardmember and a companion flying on the same reservation
  • Priority boarding
  • $100 credit to TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
  • 25% off on United Airlines in-flight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Seat upgrades for United’s Mileage Plus Premier® members traveling on an award ticket, when available
  • Access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Complimentary DoorDash DashPass
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • Purchase protection
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Extended warranty protection

Good for Southwest Airlines: Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (3.8/5)
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (3.8/5)
  • Intro offer:
    Earn 75,000 points
  • Annual fee:
    $149
  • Regular APR:
    16.74% – 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

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.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Welcome offer
  • Bonus points at cardmember anniversary
  • Travel benefits for Southwest flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
Cons
  • Rewards not valuable if you don’t fly Southwest often
  • $149 annual fee
The Bottom Line
For loyal Southwest flyers, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card can enhance the travel experience when flying the airline. It comes with perks like a $75 Southwest booking credit, four upgraded boardings per year and 25% back on in-flight purchases. It can even fast-track you towards earning a Companion Pass, one of the most coveted benefits for Southwest’s frequent flyers.

Additional Card Details

  • 7,500 points per cardmember anniversary
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 25% off in-flight purchases on Southwest
  • Earn Southwest’s Companion Pass faster
  • 4 boarding upgrades per year, depending on availability
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) towards A-List status for every $10,000 spent
  • Travel protections

Good for Flexible Rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
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Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Capital One’s secure site.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
  • Intro offer:
    75,000 miles
  • Annual fee:
    $95
  • Regular APR:
    16.24% – 24.24% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options. Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Flat 2x miles on every purchase
  • Generous sign-up bonus
  • Flexible rewards redemptions
  • No foreign transaction fees
Cons
  • High variable APR
  • $95 annual fee
  • Travel transfer partners options and value aren’t as good as some other programs
The Bottom Line
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great travel credit card option for travel enthusiasts who value flexible rewards over premium benefits or credits. It even ranks among our best credit card picks. Double miles on every dollar you spend, a generous welcome bonus, and numerous redemption options can all go a long way to offset the card’s $95 annual fee — and help you save on future travel.

Additional Card Details

  • Flexible redemption options to use rewards toward future travel
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Up to $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® membership every four years
  • Two complimentary visits to Capital One Lounge locations each year

Good for Welcome Bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.5/5)
Apply Now externa link icon At Chase’s secure site.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Editor’s Score: (4.5/5)
  • Intro offer:
    60,000 points
  • Annual fee:
    $95
  • Regular APR:
    16.74% – 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. 3x on dining. 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Generous welcome offer
  • Tiered bonus points categories
  • 25% points boost when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 1:1 point transfer at airline and hotel partners
  • No foreign transaction fee
Cons
  • $95 annual fee
  • High APR
  • Need to spend within bonus categories to maximize rewards
  • Other cards have similar bonus categories with higher rewards rates
The Bottom Line
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a tiered, points-earning rewards card geared toward frequent fliers. Its most valuable assets include a solid welcome bonus, premium points redemption options and access to Chase’s Pay Yourself Back program.

Additional Card Details

  • 25% redemption boost on points redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards or eligible statement credits via Pay Yourself Back
  • Get 10% value of annual purchases back in points every account anniversary
  • $50 in annual hotel credits toward hotel stays booked through Chase
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver
  • Travel protections
  • Purchase protections

Good for Luxury Benefits: The Platinum Card from American Express

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
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The Business Platinum Card®  from American Express
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
Learn more externa link icon At our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
Editor’s Score: (4.2/5)
  • Intro offer:
    120,000 points
  • Annual fee:
    $695
  • Regular APR:
    15.74% – 23.74% Variable
  • Recommended credit score:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
Rewards rate:

Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com. Earn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year. 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.

NextAdvisor’s Take

Pros
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • 5x rewards bonus on flights and prepaid hotels through amextravel.com
  • Many premium perks and benefits
Cons
  • $695 annual fee
  • Rewards and benefits primarily travel-based
  • High APR
The Bottom Line
The Business Platinum Card from American Express is a premium travel card for business owners with big budgets and a busy travel calendar, and it ranks among our picks for the best business cards. For a $695 annual fee, you can score a great welcome bonus, earn ongoing rewards on travel, and enjoy benefits designed to upgrade your travel experiences.

Additional Card Details

  • Up to $400 annual credit for U.S. Dell Technologies purchases
  • Up to $360 in annual statement credits for purchases with Indeed
  • Up to $150 in statement credits per year for purchases with Adobe on eligible annual prepaid plans
  • Up to $120 in annual statement credits for wireless phone services
  • Up to $189 in annual statement credits toward CLEAR® membership
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Up to $200 annual airline fee credit
  • 35% airline bonus when you pay for all or part of eligible fare using Membership Rewards points (up to 500,000 points back per calendar year when you book on amextravel.com)
  • Access to American Express Global Lounge Collection
  • Access to Fine Hotels + Resorts Program
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Business Platinum Card Concierge access
  • Travel protections

What is an Airline Credit Card?

An airline credit card is typically a co-branded card that earns rewards points or miles toward an airline’s loyalty program. Airline credit cards also often come with benefits and perks you can use when you fly — from flight upgrades and free checked bags to in-flight discounts and more. 

Airline cards may earn points and miles on everyday purchases, though they often earn the highest rewards rates when you book travel with the airline. As you earn miles over time, you can redeem them toward future flight bookings or upgrades. 

You can also redeem miles in other ways, including statement credits, but you’ll typically get the best value when you redeem your miles toward flights with the preferred airline.

Difference Between Airline Credit Cards and General Travel Cards

Whereas airline credit cards are co-branded cards that earn rewards toward a single airline loyalty program — such as Delta SkyMiles or Southwest Rapid Rewards, general travel cards can be much more flexible.

For instance, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card earns Delta SkyMiles, and its highest rewards are on Delta purchases. It also offers an annual companion pass for a domestic main cabin round trip flight, discounts on the Delta Sky Club lounge and in-flight spending, and special rewards offers. The card’s value will greatly depend on how much you travel with Delta specifically. 

But a more general travel card offers more flexibility and all around travel benefits that aren’t just for one airline. Like airline co-branded credit cards, you can still earn points from everyday purchases, but you’ll have more options to redeem your points by booking through the issuer’s travel portal or transferring to a range of airline and hotel partners. The travel perks and benefits are also more general, typically. 

A card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for example, offers benefits like a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access, travel protections, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credits, and more. Compared to airline credit cards, you’ll get the most from the card if you’re a frequent traveler that isn’t loyal to one brand.

Regardless of which travel card type you prefer, remember to choose a card with bonus categories that align with your spending and budget. 

How to Maximize Your Airline Miles 

There are a few ways that you can stretch your airline miles to save money on airfare the next time you travel.

Start by maximizing your earnings. To start, most airline credit cards come with welcome offers worth thousands of miles when you meet a certain spending threshold. Consider the best time to apply for a new airline card so that you can meet the spending threshold without going over your budget. For example, you might apply for a new airline card when you book your next trip, so you can put the charges toward meeting the bonus, while also earning rewards on your spending. 

Pro Tip

When searching for the right airline credit card, look for a card that offers a welcome bonus after account opening to help you kickstart earning miles when you spend a certain amount. Some cards may also offer bonus miles after each account anniversary.

Also make sure you choose an airline card with rewards categories that align with where you spend most. Many offer rewards on travel purchases, but may also have rewards categories for everyday spending, like groceries, gas, dining, and more. You can put your regular expenses on your card to rack up your miles and maximize how you earn — as long as you’re careful not to spend more than you can afford, and pay your balance in full and on time each month. 

When redeeming your miles, you’ll generally get the best rate when you redeem for travel. If you have a co-branded card, use your miles to book flights with the airline. If you have a general rewards card, compare whether you’ll get the best value by booking through the rewards program portal or transferring to a travel partner. 

More often than not, flight redemptions are dynamic. That means you can maximize your miles on any trip by comparing dates, locations, and flight classes, and adjust your trip itinerary for the best deal. 

For instance, it currently costs a total 75,600 JetBlue points for one round trip Blue ticket from Los Angeles to New York City between June 5 and June 11.

But if you’re not in a rush to make your trip, and have some flexibility, you could move your trip to Sept. 4 through Sept. 10, and pay only 32,900 points instead. It can often be best to plan in advance to get the best deal. 

Popular Airline Rewards Programs 

Most major airlines have loyalty rewards programs, as well as co-branded credit cards that earn points or miles toward the program. Here are a few major airline rewards programs:

However, you don’t have to have an airline credit card to join an airline’s rewards program. You can become a member and receive some perks, including earning miles when you book travel, with a free account. If you’re not loyal to a single airline, you can also join as many programs as you want to earn miles however you travel.

When deciding which airline rewards program to join, think about how you typically fly. If you live in an airline’s hub city or you often fly to a destination serviced by a single airline, you may get the most value from that airline’s rewards program, for example. But if you tend to shop around for the best prices from any airline before you book, a more general travel rewards program — like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards may offer you a better value.

How Much Are Miles Worth?

Airline miles are often dynamic, so they can change depending on factors like when you book, your travel dates, and flight class. In general, it can help to look for redemptions worth at least 1 cent per mile to maximize your redemptions. Here are a few examples of popular airlines and approximate mile valuations, based on our calculations: 

Airline Mile Value 
American Airlines1.4 cents 
Delta Airlines 1.2 cents
Southwest Airlines 1.3 cents 
United Airlines1.6 cents 

How to Choose the Best Airline Card for You

Before choosing an airline credit card, start by thinking about your travel preferences. 

If you’re loyal to one airline and you’re looking for perks like free upgrades and checked bags, a co-branded airline credit card could be a good fit for your wallet. You may also pair your airline credit card with other cards to maximize your rewards and perks. Remember to look at the card’s bonus categories to strategize how you’ll use the card to earn miles. 

If you don’t have a preferred airline, a more general travel credit card that earns points on airfare purchases could be a better option. Don’t forget to compare benefits from each type of card, too. You may get annual travel credits, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credits, lounge access, upgrades, companion passes, and more to make your trips more convenient. 

Whichever card you choose, make sure you keep your spending in line with your budget. If you spend more than you can afford using an airline or general travel credit card, you can quickly take on high-interest debts. The APRs these cards charge can easily wipe out any value you’ll get from your rewards — not to mention the annual fees many carry — so it’s important to pay your balance in full and on time each month.