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Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2021

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Airline credit cards let you rack up frequent-flier miles on everyday purchases and then redeem them for flights instead of paying cash. Although many airline credit cards charge annual fees, a lot of them offer perks that make them worthwhile, such as free checked bags, priority boarding and even companion certificates that can save you a lot of money on flights.

Choosing the right airline credit card will depend on which carriers you fly the most, the perks you want to enjoy, and how you plan to redeem your miles. Some of the best credit cards for airline miles include products from American Airlines, Delta, United and a few options you might not have considered.

Here are some of the best airline credit cards thanks to the bonus miles they can earn and the excellent benefits they include.

3 Partner Offers

Our Picks for the Best Cards for Airline Miles or Rewards
Southwest Rapid Rewards<sup>®</sup> Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

40,000 points once you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Chase Sapphire Preferred<sup>®</sup> Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

3 points per $1 spent on dining, 2 points per $1 spent on travel, 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

100,000 bonus points once you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Chase Sapphire Reserve<sup>®</sup>

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

5 points per $1 spent on air travel and 10 points per $1 spent on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually)

3 points per $1 spent on other travel and dining

1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

60,000 bonus points once you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

With just a $69 annual fee, this card is the most affordable option for Southwest Airlines fliers. It earns 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. You'll also earn 3,000 bonus points after your cardmember anniversary each year.

The card is currently offering up to 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. In addition, during the first year, new cardholders can earn 3 points per dollar on dining, including takeout and select delivery services. All points earned count toward Southwest's Companion Pass, a favorite feature among frequent Southwest travelers.

If you're willing to pay a bit more for some extra benefits, such as a $75 Southwest travel credit each year and four upgraded boardings per year when available, you might want to consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card instead. It is also currently offering 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first year. Like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card, during the first year, new cardholders can earn 3 points per dollar on dining, including takeout and select delivery services. Its annual fee is $149.

Read full review

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Apply

on Chase's website

Good - Exceptional

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Rewards

2X points on Travel

1X points on All Other Purchases

Intro Bonus

Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining purchases for the first year.

Annual Fee

$69

Card Details
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 3X points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary each year.
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest? purchases.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • All points earned count towards Companion Pass.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Your points never expire, a benefit of the Rapid Rewards? program.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Although it's not an airline-specific card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Ultimate Rewards points that cardholders can transfer to 10 airline partners including JetBlue, Southwest and United, among others. So you can accumulate points and then pick the partner with which you want to use them when it comes time to redeem, making Ultimate Rewards points extra versatile.

The card earns 3 points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants including takeout and eligible delivery services, 2 points per dollar spent on travel, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Its annual fee is $95.

It is currently offering 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months; that's $1,250 when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Read full review

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply

on Chase's website

Good - Exceptional

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Rewards

3X points on Dining

2X points on Travel

1X points on All Other Purchases

Intro Bonus

Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards?.

Annual Fee

$95

Card Details
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards?.
  • Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards?, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards?. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back?, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a higher-end version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and has the perks to warrant its $550 annual fee if you're a frequent traveler. This card offers premium perks, including an annual $300 travel credit that can offset airfare, rental car, hotel and other costs. After getting the $300 statement credit, you earn 5 points per dollar spent on air travel and 10 points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals when purchasing travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Other travel spending and dining purchases earn 3 points per dollar spent. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

You can also benefit from lounge access with Priority Pass Select membership and up to a $100 application fee credit (every four years) for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees.

Currently, qualifying new applicants can earn a lucrative intro bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The intro bonus is worth $900 toward travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Read full review
Apply

on Chase's website

Exceptional

APR

16.99%-23.99% Variable

Intro APR

N/A

Rewards

3X points on Travel & Dining

1X points on All Other Purchases

Intro Bonus

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee

$550

Card Details
  • 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?.
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit.
  • Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards? immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards?. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back?, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass? Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre??
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more

How Do Airline Mile Rewards Cards Work?

Airline miles rewards cards work by earning points or miles with a specific frequent-flier program when you use them to make everyday purchases. Many airline credit cards also offer day-of-travel perks. These might include advantages like reduced fees on checked bags or priority boarding. Other offerings may include discounts on in-flight purchases of food and drinks, or even access to an airline's lounge with some cards that charge higher annual fees.

In addition to credit cards that are co-branded with a specific airline, you might also want to consider a credit card which earns points that you can then transfer, or convert, into points or miles with several different frequent-flier programs. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® and $ A021000004 -offer_name earn Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to 10 frequent-flier partners. By earning Ultimate Rewards points instead of miles with a single airline, you might have more choices for travel when it comes time to redeem—though you might also be giving up some travel perks like discounted checked bags.

How Many Airline Miles Do You Need to Get a Free Flight?

Each airline mileage program is unique, with its own rates for earning and redeeming points or miles. Because of that, how many miles you need to get a complimentary flight will vary from airline to airline, as well as by route and whether you want to fly in economy or first class.

Don't get too bogged down in the numbers. To get a sense of how many miles you might need for the flights you want, you might have to research your options. Go to your preferred airline's website and search for various award tickets you might be interested in to get a feel for the range of mileage prices.

The Delta SkyMiles program, for instance, has award sales with tickets as cheap as 2,000 miles each way on short flights in coach. At the other end of the spectrum, international flights in business class on the airline and its partners can cost hundreds of thousands of miles.

As a rule of thumb, you should aim to get at least 1 cent per mile in value with most airline frequent-flier programs. Just make sure that you're only redeeming about 100 miles per dollar of airfare. For example, if your ticket would cost $80, you should be redeeming about 8,000 miles for it. And if it's closer to $500, you will probably have to spend around 50,000 miles. While this is not always the case, it's a good benchmark to have in the back of your mind.

Also keep in mind that some cards offer more value when you redeem through their travel portal. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for instance, you'll get 25% more value when you redeem points for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. So, for example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you'll get 50% more value if you book through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

How to Maximize Airline Mile Rewards

There are a few simple strategies to help you maximize airline mile rewards and the credit cards that go along with them.

  • Sign up for an airline mile rewards credit card. Opening a new airline credit card can be the quickest and easiest way to rack up airline miles quickly. Just make sure that you can meet the spending requirement of any credit cards you are considering, otherwise you might not earn the full bonus.
  • Use airline mileage credit cards for everyday purchases. After earning the introductory bonus on a new airline credit card, you'll want to use it to make everyday purchases so you continue to rack up rewards on your spending. Focus on bonus categories, such as dining or groceries, to earn even more miles. Just be sure to pay off your purchases each month, or the value of your rewards could be eaten up by interest charges.
  • Take advantage of airline credit card benefits. Aside from accruing miles, be sure you're getting value from an airline card's other perks, like free checked bags, companion certificates, and even Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee statement credits. If you're not actually using these benefits, it might not be worth keeping the card.
  • Choose your redemptions carefully. You get the most solid returns redeeming your airline miles or points for rewards travel. However, it's also possible to blow through far too many of them at once. Always check the cash price of any ticket you're thinking of booking to make sure you're getting a good value for the miles the airline is charging for it. If you're getting less than 1 cent per mile in value, you might want to purchase the airfare yourself and save your miles for another trip. Avoid other types of non-travel redemptions, such as magazine subscriptions and charitable donations, since miles cashed in this way tend to be worth a lot less.

The best credit cards for airline miles offer folks the opportunity to earn rewards through introductory bonuses and everyday spending. Many airline credit cards also include benefits and discounts that passengers can maximize while flying. The key to making the most of an airline rewards credit card is to pick one that earns extra miles in spending categories where you make a lot of purchases, and that offers perks you will actually take advantage of during trips. For more information on travel credit cards and to see current offers, you can pull up personalized options through Experian CreditMatchTM.