Best Credit Cards for Airline Miles in 2017

Best Credit Cards for Airline Miles in 2017
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A great airline credit card should help you sit in a better seat, cut out add-on fees, and earn you free flights while you fly. Everyone's travel habits are different, which means there's no one-card-fits-all when it comes to finding your perfect travel credit card. But we're here to help. We've analyzed every travel card on the market, picked our favorites, and sorted them into categories to help you make the right choice based on your individual travel needs.

 

Click on a credit card below to read more about how you can best use them for air travel.

Credit Card
Best Card For...
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Regular Travelers
Apply
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Most Value
Apply
Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Redemption Flexibility
Apply
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
International Travelers
Apply
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Domestic Travel
Apply
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Airfare Purchases
Apply

Best Credit Cards for Airlines Miles 2017

If you are looking for a new airline credit card in 2017, you'll want to take a look our recommendations below. We broke out our picks for credit cards into eight distinct categories, each based on a different type of traveler. Which one are you?

chase sapphire preferred

Best Credit Card for Regular Travelers: Chase Sapphire Preferred®

We define a "regular traveler" as someone who travels once per quarter, either for work or pleasure. While a road warrior or business consultant who travels once per week will definitely get value out of this card, there are even more powerful cards out there (that have higher annual fees) that are a better fit for them.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is my pick for folks who travel regularly. In fact, it was my go-to card for several years, and it took me all over the world with its Ultimate Rewards points.

Earning points is easy with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card. You'll earn two points per dollar on all travel and dining purchases, and one point per dollar on everything else. Currently, the card also has a 50,000 point sign up bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. And, you can earn an additional 5,000 points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first three months of account opening. 55,000 points is worth $1,100 in travel rewards based on our valuation.

These points can be transferred to a number of airlines and hotel brands. Airline brands include:

Chase Sapphire Preferred®  Airline Transfer Partners:

  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
  • United MileagePlus®
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Depending on how you redeem those points, you can really stretch out their value. I used my stockpile of 125,000 Ultimate Rewards points to book a one-way business class flight for two on Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles to the Maldives, which my fiancée and I will be taking in April. If I'd bought those tickets outright, it would have cost me a whopping $10,100.68. That's a value of more than $0.08 per point!

If you prefer more flexible travel booking options, you can redeem your points at a strict 1.25 cents per point redemption on flights booked through Ultimate Rewards' flight booking engine. I've found that prices mostly match ones found on Google Flights, so if you need a specific flight, that option is out there.

We're focusing on airline benefits in this post, but other benefits for this card include transferring to hotel partners, rental car insurance, and no foreign transaction fees when you use it abroad (check out where those points can take you in this post). With a $95 annual fee, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card for the regular traveler.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Highlights:

  • Two points per dollar spent on dining and travel
  • 1:1 points transfer partner with 11 travel partners
  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in three months.

chase sapphire reserve

Best Credit Card for Most Value: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, which just came out last year, is similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card, and it's quickly become one of the most popular cards on the market for frequent travelers. If you travel at least once per month domestically or four times per year internationally, we recommend this card.

While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card earns you two points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card increases that 50 percent to three points per dollar! When the Reserve card came out, there was a 100,000 point sign-up bonus, but that has been reduced to a 50,000 bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months after account opening. Plus, you still have access to all the travel transfer partners the Sapphire card has access to.

If you're someone who has a lot of annual travel expenses, the extra point per dollar really adds up. Keep in mind, the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is $450 per year, but that higher fee comes some added benefits for flyers:

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit, which is put automatically towards any travel purchase on the billing statement (even Ubers!).
  • $100 application fee credit for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry
  • 1.5 cents per point redemption if booking flights through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Priority Pass Select Membership, which gives access to 900+ lounges for you and a guest.
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, which covers up to $10,000 for severe weather, sickness, and more.
  • Trip delay reimbursement, which gives coverage for delays over six hours for up to $500 per ticket.
  • Lost baggage insurance, for delays over six hours; $100 per day for five days.
  • No foreign transaction fees

Say you're traveling on an international itinerary. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, you'll be able to waive the first $300 in fees for your trip (or even $300 off your flight if you book direct with the airline) if you haven't already used the credit that calendar year. Then, you'll be able to use TSA pre-check security lines at the airport, and use the Priority Pass lounge if your airport has one. You'll be earning three points per dollar on all your travel and dining during your trip, with no foreign transaction fees! If there happen to be any long delays, you're covered. Now, repeat that for every trip going forward. See the value?

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Highlights:

  • Three points per dollar spent on dining and travel
  • 1:1 points transfer partner with 11 travel partners
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in three months.

barclaycard-arrival-card

Best Credit Card for Redemption Flexibility: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

While points and miles can get you pretty far, you're dependent on award availability to maximize value and fit in your preferred travel dates. Fortunately, there are credit card products out there that allow you to use the points you earn on any flight, at any time. My favorite of these cards is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

You'll earn two miles per dollar on every purchase, and each point has a fixed redemption value of one cent per point. When you redeem, you'll get 5 percent of your miles back, so that's like earning 2.05 cents per dollar back! It's easy to redeem – just purchase any flight, hotel, or other expense on your card as you would normally, then log into your online account and choose the expense you'd like to redeem for.

In addition to the above benefits, the card includes these benefits for frequent flyers:

  • 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel accident and trip cancellation insurance

While the benefits are not as extensive as other cards listed here, the earning rate and ease of using your points makes this card a no-brainer. In fact, I use this card to supplement my other credit cards, in case there's a time that I cannot find award availability.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® Highlights:

  • Two points per dollar spent on every purchase.
  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.
  • 5% points rebate when redeeming your points.
  • Use your points on any purchase.

Top Credit Card for International Travel: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

When it comes to international travel, there are a lot of good options for rewards credit cards out there, but one that stands out to us is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. While it doesn't boast the best spending bonuses or the best top-tier benefits, the fact is, Starwood points are the most valuable and flexible points in the industry. You might be wondering why a hotel card is on a list for airline credit cards, but hear me out!

Starwood's points transfer a lot like American Express' Membership Rewards points, in that they have a huge list (the largest, in fact) of transfer partners. But, even better, for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer, you receive a 5,000 point bonus. That makes your spending on the card effectively 1.25 points per dollar. At a valuation of 2.5 cents per point, that's like 3.125 cents back per dollar spent (and before you actually redeem for your reward, which might even push your return even higher). Those transfer partners include:

Starwood Airline Transfer Partners:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China Companion
  • Air New Zealand & Air Points
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia
  • All Nippon Mileage Club
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Asia Miles
  • Asiana Airlines
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern SkyPearl Club
  • Delta Air Lines SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Airways
  • Flying Blue
  • Gol Smiles
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
  • Jet Airways
  • Korean Air Skypass
  • LAN LANPASS
  • Miles and More
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways RoyalOrchidPlus
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

If you're an elite member with Starwood, which you can be whether or not you have this credit card, you can earn miles and perks on airlines like Delta, Emirates, and China Eastern. There are even more ways to maximize Starwood for your travel needs, which will be explored in a later post.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express Highlights:

  • 25,000 bonus Starpoints when you use your card to make $3,000 in purchase within the first three months.
  • $0 annual fee the first year, $95 after that.
  • Long list of transfer partners, with 5,000 mile bonus after transferring 20,000 points.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

 

southwest airlines rapid rewards credit card

Best Credit Card for Domestic Travel: Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Credit Card

Some folks don't need a lot of the above benefits. Many travel for work or pleasure solely in the United States, and that's great! There are credit cards out there targeted just for you, but our favorite is the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Credit Card.

The Southwest Card is great for a number of reasons. First, they offer a 50,000 point sign up bonus, when you spend $2,000 in the first three months of opening your account. These points are super flexible to use on Southwest – they're worth around 1.5 cents per point for redemptions, and you can use them on any flight. Southwest uses a tiered structure for their fares, and you can use them on their cheapest "Wanna Get Away" fares all the way up to their Business Select fares. When there's a fare sale, the number of points you use goes down as well!

The other reason why we recommend this card is the airline itself. Southwest flies nearly everywhere, even to some of the more lesser-served markets in the country. This makes redeeming for travel super easy. Also, even Southwest's cheapest fares are very flexible, so if you're using points on your flight, you can cancel up to 10 minutes before departure for no additional cost, and get your points back. If you pay out of pocket, you'll receive an e-voucher for the full value of your flight. Finally, you receive two free bags per person when you fly Southwest, making this great for families and anyone else who needs a little extra room.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Credit Card Highlights:

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $2,000 in three months.
  • 3,000 Rapid Rewards points on your account anniversary.
  • Use your points on any flight on Southwest.

Top Credit Card for Airline Spend: The Platinum Card® from American Express

While the above perks are great for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, there is a lot of competition out there for that "top of wallet" credit card spot. After Chase unveiled the Reserve card, American Express updated the benefits of their Platinum card membership to better compete.

The Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the oldest cards on the market (technically, it's a charge card, not a credit card, as you pay off your bill in full each month). In 2016, they added five Membership Rewards points per dollar earning on all airline ticket purchases, booked through the airlines. At our 1.8 cent per point valuation, that's nine cents per point back per dollar, making it the most lucrative credit card for this type of spend on the market.

Unfortunately, all other categories of expenditures earn just one Membership Reward point per dollar. This is rough, considering the $450 annual fee. However, other benefits for frequent flyers include:

  • 40,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in three months.
  • Complimentary access to Amex's Centurion Lounges and International American Express lounges.
  • Access to Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta (cardholder only, guests extra).
  • Priority Pass Select membership.
  • $200 airline fee credit with the airline of your choice.
  • $100 fee credit for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry
  • Unlimited Boingo Wifi Account
  • Travel protections

Plus, American Express Membership Rewards has lots of airline transfer partners, like:

American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France
  • ANA
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia
  • Asia Miles
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Hawaiian
  • Iberia Plus
  • jetBlue
  • Singapore
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic

Probably the most valuable benefit that I've gained from my Platinum Card membership has been access to the Centurion Lounges. While my home airport of Phoenix does not feature one, Amex has been good about opening Centurion Lounges at major hubs, like Dallas, Houston, and Miami. I've been able to use them about ten times per year, which actually saves me a lot of money while traveling. Food and beverage offerings in Centurion Lounges is top-notch, and the lounges in Dallas and Miami have a spa, where you can receive a 15-minute complimentary treatment! While the $200 airline fee credit is more restrictive than other cards, it still is useful – I've been able to use it towards $200 worth of gift cards on American, for example.

Platinum Card® from American Express Highlights:

  • Five points per dollar spent on flights bought direct from the airline
  • $200 annual airline fee waiver
  • 40,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 in three months.

Best Credit Cards by Airline 2017

If you're strictly loyal to one airline, either for work or personal preference, we understand. Here are the top cards for each major brand:

Credit Card
Airline
Reward
Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®
American Airlines
50,000 AA Miles
Apply
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
Delta
30,000 Delta Miles
Apply
United MileagePlus Credit Card
United
50,000 United Miles
Apply
British Airways Credit Card
British Airways
50,000 Avios
Apply
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Credit Card
Southwest
50,000 Rapid Rewards Points
Apply
JetBlue Plus MasterCard
jetBlue
30,000 TrueBlue Points
Apply
Virgin America Visa Signature Card
Virgin America
N/A
Apply
Spirit Airlines World MasterCard
Spirit
50,000 UR points
Apply
Allegiant World MasterCard
Allegiant
50,000 UR points
Apply
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
Alaska Airlines
50,000 UR points
Apply
Frontier Airlines MasterCard
Frontier Airlines
50,000 UR points
Apply

What's behind our selection methodology?

We pride ourselves on editorial independence at Brad's Deals, and we make sure to give our honest and researched recommendations, regardless of compensation from card issuers. Many of the recommendations above are either based on my own personal experience using those while traveling, or through hundreds of discussions with readers on their needs from an airline credit card.