The best airline credit cards of 2020

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Finding the best airline credit card for you depends on how you like to fly.

Do you prefer booking award flights, stretching your legs in first class, relaxing at an airport lounge or traveling with family and friends? Here are the best airline credit cards to help satisfy your preferences.



AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Best for bonus miles

Here’s why: Other airline credit cards offer more miles, but few make it so easy to earn bonus rewards.

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® features a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus, which is enough miles to book a roundtrip flight to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii or a handful of other destinations.

Better yet, all you have to do to qualify is make your first purchase (and pay the $99 annual fee) within 90 days of account opening. There’s no high spending requirement to meet — you only have to make one purchase with the card.

We figure the bonus is worth about $1,446, based on our estimated point valuations, but it all depends on the particular flight you book.

But you might have trouble earning miles after this bonus. This card offers just two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and one mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Check out our review of the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® for more details.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Best for first-class upgrades

From our partner

Here’s why: The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card features an eye-catching perk: Complimentary first-class upgrades.

Cardholders are eligible to receive complimentary upgrades on Delta flights, which is a great benefit when available. But it could be difficult to get upgraded on some flights if you don’t also have Delta Medallion elite status, because you’ll have to wait your turn in line behind those frequent flyers. Note that basic economy fares are not eligible for complimentary upgrades.

Of course, you could always buy your way into first class. The premium airline card also comes with one companion certificate each year after your account anniversary. When you fly, this perk allows you to bring a guest in any cabin up to first class for no more than $75 in taxes and fees.

But you’ll have to decide if the card’s numerous perks are worth the $550 annual fee.

Check out our review of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card to learn more.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Best for flying with friends and family

From our partner

Here’s why: For those of you who don’t care about flying first class, the more affordable Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offers a main cabin companion certificate each year after your account anniversary. You’ll be allowed to bring a guest for no more than $75 in taxes and fees.

Depending on the cost of your flight, this perk could easily make up for the $250 annual fee each year you use it.

Check out our review of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card to learn more.

Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for lounge access

Here’s why: The Platinum Card® from American Express can get you into world-class airport lounges.

While several premium travel cards come with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership, the Platinum Card® from American Express takes it a step further by also granting access to The Centurion Lounge, International American Express lounges and the Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta).

But it doesn’t come cheap: You’ll be charged a $550 annual fee.

Check out our review of the Platinum Card® from American Express to learn more.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for airline credits

From our partner

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

Here’s why: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® features a $300 travel credit that is much more flexible than the travel credits offered by many competitors.

While some other premium rewards credit cards limit the use of their travel credits to incidental costs like checked bag fees, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® allows you to purchase such things as  airline tickets and hotel stays.

Using the travel credit to help pay for a flight is a great, straightforward way to help offset the $550 annual fee.

Check out our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to learn more.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Best for anniversary bonus

From our partner
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Here’s why: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card gives you a 7,500-point anniversary bonus each year just for keeping the card open. We put that bonus as worth nearly $115, based on our estimated point values.

The card also features a $75 Southwest travel credit each year that can be used for most purchases with the airline, except in-flight purchases and upgraded boarding.

So as long as you fly at least once a year and choose your redemptions wisely, those two perks could easily outpace the $149 annual fee.

Check out our review of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card to learn more.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for low annual fee

From our partner

Here’s why: The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card comes with a manageable $75 annual fee and several useful features to offset the cost.

You’ll earn 40,000 bonus miles (and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare) after spending $2,000 on purchases during the first 90 days from account opening. Plus, each year after your account anniversary, you’ll receive another companion fare. This perk allows you to bring a guest on your flight for only $99, plus a minimum of $22 in taxes and fees. The savings on that companion ticket could cover the cost of the annual fee in one swoop.

Check out our review of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card to learn more.


How we picked the best airline credit cards

To find the best airline rewards credit cards, we started by thinking about the different features travelers might enjoy. Instead of looking at the best card from each airline, we decided it would be more useful to show you the cards that excel at offering different features like award flights, first-class upgrades, companion tickets, lounge access, travel credits and more.

From there, we searched for the best credit card in each category, with a mix of co-branded airline cards and more flexible options to show you the range of choices available.

How to make the most of the best airline credit cards

Start by thinking about your travel habits.

Which airline do you fly with most often? These might be the best airline credit cards, but if the airline that offers the card you’re interested in doesn’t fly much to or from your local airport, it might not do you much good.

Which airline perks are most important to you? All of these airline perks might sound nice to you, but which ones will you use most often? Would you rather fly with your friends and family or book an award flight for yourself? Are you willing to pay extra to fly first class? Does your local airport offer the lounges you want to visit?

Answering these questions will help you pick the best airline credit card for your specific needs.


About the author: Tim is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. Growing up, Tim was apprehensive about credit cards because his parents struggled to get out of debt. Not wanting to fall into the same trap, … Read more.