“If only there were a way to get airline miles faster,” you wonder? “What would be really awesome is if I could get lots of cool benefits too,” you say.
Well there is and you can.
If you fly on one favorite airline for most of your trips (or even if it isn’t your favorite but you fly it because you have to), using an airline miles credit card for the specific carrier can be a great way to maximize your airline spending.
If you have that one magic carrier you always use then it’s pretty easy to find an airline miles credit card to match. Most, if not all major airlines have a credit card.
But what if you fly different carriers and have a few choices?
If that’s you then having a great airline miles credit card can make your flights more enjoyable and you can earn miles towards free trips faster. The right card can steer you towards a specific carrier because of the better benefits.
And if I don’t know what airline I’ll be flying next?
Don’t worry, some of the best credit cards for airline miles let you transfer their miles to a number of different rewards programs so you can earn miles without worrying about one particular carrier.
But which are the best airline miles credit cards?
Below we’ll look at some great airline miles choices and what makes each card tick.
Need more convincing?
Finding the best airline miles credit card to match your favorite airline can net you free tickets to fly, miles that can be used towards car rentals and hotels, upgrades, free bag checking, preferential check-in, and more!
Keep in mind you need to responsibly spend and pay off your credit card bill monthly in order to truly make the most of your airline miles. Keep in mind too, most airline miles cards have an annual fee (some waive the fee the first year). You will find that if you take advantage of the benefits of the card, the fee is well made up for.
Done right, you can turn your everyday spending into airline miles and reduce the cost of your flying and possibly take advantage of special perks as well.
Take a look at the following cards and see which is the best airline miles credit card for you.
Blue Sky from American Express®
This isn’t an airline miles card, as the points you earn aren’t for any one particular airline. In fact the points are good for any airline.
The benefits are well-worth checking out.
You can say the Blue Sky (SM) card is an airline miles card for any carrier, which is great if you fly but don’t stick with any particular airline.
You get 7,500 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of membership. Every 7,500 points you earn can be redeemed for a $100 statement credit, applied towards airline tickets or hotel stays, and more.
Points are 1 for every $1 spent on just about every purchase you make. As I mentioned above, the points are good for any airline, hotel, cruise, or car rental. Point redemption has no blackout dates, expiration, or cap limits.
Use your card to rent a car and you will be covered with their Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance.
Oh, and there’s 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, after that the APR will be be a variable rate, currently 17.24%-22.24%.
There is no annual membership fee for this card. Terms and restrictions apply.
Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Sign up as a new account holder for this card and enjoy 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles when you make $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. You get double AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases.
Also, earn up to 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back, up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles every year.
Traveling is easier with this card as your first eligible bag is checked free.
Take advantage of Priority Boarding with Group 1 privileges as well as 25% off eligible in-flight purchases.
Every cardmember year you can earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount with qualifying purchases and card-membership renewal.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Earn 50,000 bonus Avios points when you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account. If you make $10,000 in purchases in your first calendar year you get 25,000 bonus points.
You earn 2.5 points (Avios) for every $1 spent on British Airways and 1.25 points for all other purchases.
There are no foreign transaction fees when you use your card abroad.
Every year you spend $30,000 on your card you earn a Travel Together Ticket which allows you to bring a companion along when you redeem your points for a flight.
Smart-chip technology allows you to make chip-based purchases and Europe and other countries.
The annual fee for this card is $95.
See our British Airways Visa Signature Card review.
The US Airways Premier World MasterCard®
You can earn up to 40,000 bonus miles when you make qualifying transactions and after you pay your annual fee ($89). Redeem your bonus miles for flights for 5,000 fewer miles – exclusive offer (award travel start at just 20,000 miles)! You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on US Airways purchases. Earn 1 mile per $1 spent everywhere else.
When you book flights through usairways.com or US Airways Reservations you can use your miles towards flights on US Airways and American Airlines.
You get your first bag checked free on eligible bags for you and up to four companions on domestic U.S. Airways flights.
Every year you get an annual companion certificate that is good for round-trip travel for up to 2 companions at $99 each (plus taxes and fees).
Also enjoy Zone 2 priority boarding on every flight.
Make sure you check the site for their terms and conditions for complete details.
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
You earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per $1 spent everywhere else. Your miles won’t expire and there is no limit to the number of miles you earn.
Need to check a bag? You check your first bag free which can save you $100 roundtrip.
You will also enjoy priority boarding privileges where you get to board your flight before general boarding.
Every year you get 2 passes to the United Club(SM) where you can relax before your flight and enjoy complimentary snacks, beverages, and WiFi.
The annual fee is free for the first year on this card ($95 thereafter).
See our review of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card.
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
To start you off on miles, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card credit card offers you 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of being a card member.
That’s already enough to redeem for a free flight!
On top of that you can earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase on your new card within the first 3 months.
You can earn an additional 5,000 miles signing up for two additional cards (think spouse and child in college).
You can use your SkyMiles to pay for any Delta seat without blackout dates or restrictions. You’ll earn one mile for every dollar you spend. Earn two miles for every eligible dollar spent on qualifying Delta purchases.
The first bag you check will be free on every Delta flight. Not only does this save you money but it saves you time in having to pay for your bag at check-in.
You also get Priority Boarding on Delta flights (nice for when you want to get on a flight and make sure you have room in the overhead compartment for your stuff).
And you get 20% in-flight savings on food and entertainment.
The first year’s annual fee is an introductory $0 for new cardholders ($95/year afterward). Terms and restrictions apply.
We recently flew back on a particular airline. This airline charged for your first bag that you checked (this is becoming the norm in the industry). Ughh. So what happens? Most people try to pack all of their stuff in carry-on luggage. Sounds good, right? Well what happens is the overhead compartments get filled up quickly. In fact if I wasn’t carrying a bunch of pillows to use on the flight I would have had to check my backpack (we bring our own travel pillows). I saw a few people that had to have their carry-on luggage checked and they were already on the plane!
But it could be easier.
This airline offers up a credit card that gives you your first checked bag free. Right there you don’t have to worry about cramming your stuff into a carry-on. Then they also give you priority boarding with the card. So even if you do have a carry-on you’ll have space in the overhead since you get on board earlier. Win-win. Oh, and you also get discounts for on-board purchases (which also help you earn airlines miles).
That flight taught me that getting an airline miles credit card can definitely make a flight easier!
The best way to take advantage of these offers is to use your credit card responsibly. If you are carrying credit card debt with a high APR then you may end up paying more in interest than you would get in mile/point benefits.
If you want more of a general travel rewards card then check out The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards.
What do you think is the best airline miles credit card?
*As you always should, make sure you read through the card details to make sure this card fits your needs and you understand the terms and conditions. Be aware that the terms may change after this article’s publication.
“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.”
Thanks for sharing this information. Definitely liking the sound of the Blue Sky(SM) Preferred from American Express card – might have to look into it.
I does look like a card with some great benefits. I we traveled more I’d be looking into the card too.
I have a United card for 20 years and I like the Star Alliance aspect the best. I use my miles to travel overseas flying Lufthansa. Last year I got a Continental card because of the merger.
Wow, great to hear you’ve had the card for so long (I take that as a good thing).
My wife II were able to fly first class and business class to Europe six times and a few domestic flights too.
I’d love to get a first class upgrade one day…
Sounds like you’ve really benefited from the card.
Jon the Saver says
Awesome post Craig! I’m a big fan of milking these airline cards, then ditching them. I just used up my 30k United bonus and will be applying for Continental and America next. Even if you don’t use the miles for actual miles, these cards are great just for the bonus which can also be used for merchandise and restaurant certificates. Bookmarked.
I’ve heard of many who go through cards for the bonuses. Keep in mind though, this isn’t a good strategy for most. You have to be responsible with the credit you get and you have to make sure you aren’t hurting your credit score.
Jon the Saver says
That’s a valid point Craig. It does hurt your credit score in the short term. However, I am young and don’t plan on buying a house any time soon. I would only recommend opening/closing cards if buying a house is a ways off. I’ll tell you what though, I’ve gone through 5 cards in the last 6 months and my credit score is only down five points to 775. The hits are minimal but still there. The beauty of these airline bonuses is that it helps me save money with my long distance relationship haha. I’d be broke if I had to pay for flights every time I flew from San Diego to Mississippi!
It’s not just about buying a house. Your credit score is used in may ways.
I agree though, that a good airline miles card can really help you save when used well.
A perillo says
I really love the idea of miles credit cards, just a few months ago I got a free round trip ticket to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Macau) because of the ponts I got from travelling domestic and internationally.
Dr Dean says
I have been a holder of the AMEX Delta card for many years, and now use the platinum version. I don’t fly a lot now, but when I do Delta is the airline that flies to Central America where I travel the most. Plus I live only a few hours from Atlanta.
And if you fly Delta, everything goes through Atlanta…
There website is much better now, and their customer service is not bad using the numbers on the card, compared to just calling Delta…
Great to hear Dr Dean! Even if you don’t travel often, if you use the same airline you can really rack up the miles for when you need them.
Great blog you’ve got going here, Glen. This post had just the sort of summarized info on some of the more popular cards that I was looking for.
I have th United Card and I love it. I did see that Continental and United are merging. Should I get the Continental card? Do you know which program they are keeping? What is the best thing to do?
Hi Amanda, the two airlines are merging but I can’t say for sure what the result will be in their programs. It will probably take some time for them to definitively figure that out. I would think they come up with some sort of merger of the two programs.
The best thing to do is what works best for you. If you think you would be using the Continental program and you can benefit from the card (and you pay off your balances every month), then the Continental card could be nice to have. I know, that’s not much of a definite answer, but the truth is what credit card you have and use really depends on your particular personal finance situation.
That is a great article , I used to work in the airlines field
credit cards and miles can be very helpful for the people that travel a lot 🙂
So you have one? I just hate the idea of an annual fee?
Glen Craig says
I don’t currently have an airline miles card but I sure wish we did for our last trip. We could have saved money by not having to pay for baggage fees. Next time we have a big trip planned I’m going to look over the offers and see if I can maximize my money with an airline miles card.
My wife and I haven’t had a personal credit card for five or six years (though I do have one provided by my employer for business use). We’re taking our 5 kids on a biz trip to Arizona in a few weeks. The tickets were free because of my Delta Skymiles, but it was going to cost us $150 to check baggage for my wife and kids. I decided to sign up for the Delta Amex card to get the free baggage for our family, plus the bonus Skymiles to begin to replenish my account.
Betsy / CollegeMom says
We just got home from a trip to Europe and I can’t agree more about the perks of owning an airline card. Miles and bonuses are great, but so are fewer hassles while traveling.
I have the AMEX BlueSky card and I love it that it does not have annual fee!