The Best Airline Credit Card Choices for Churning in 2021

If you’re a frequent traveler for work or pleasure and don’t have a credit card that earns rewards on flights and other travel expenses, you may be leaving money on the table.

Below, we’ll review the best airline credit cards as well as several general travel credit cards that offer incentives for flight purchases, hotels and other travel-related spending. Whether you’re loyal to a specific airline or typically shop around for the best deals, there’s a travel credit card to meet your needs, especially when you’re looking to start credit card churning.

Best Airline Credit Cards for Churning

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card

Based in Seattle, Alaska Airlines is a favorite of many West Coast travelers for its reliable service and friendly staff. For flyers loyal to the brand, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card is the obvious choice for a travel credit card, especially considering its low annual fee of just $75.

Cardholder benefits include one free checked bag per flight, half off day passes to Alaska Lounge locations and a complimentary companion ticket each year on your account anniversary. You’ll also earn points and be able to redeem rewards on any of Alaska’s Oneworld partners, including American Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, Qantas and Aer Lingus.

  • Welcome offer: 40,000 miles, $100 statement credit and companion fare if you spend $2,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Earning rewards: You’ll earn three miles for every dollar spent on Alaska Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar on all other spending.
  • Annual fee: $75

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Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

Frequent flyers on American Airlines will appreciate the generous access to American’s Admirals Club airport lounges, which extends to members of the cardholder’s immediate family or two guests with same-day boarding passes. The card also includes priority check-in, screening and boarding privileges, a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to eight travel companions on a single reservation.

Additionally, there is an application fee credit of up to $100 toward the TSA PreCheck/Global Entry program. Big spenders ($40,000 in a calendar year) will also earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) to accelerate their progress toward AAdvantage elite status.

  • Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $5,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Earning rewards: Two miles per dollar on American Airlines spending and one mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $450

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CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

For travelers who fly somewhat infrequently and aren’t particularly tempted by Admirals Club access, the CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard offers solid benefits for a very low annual fee, which is also waived in the first year.

Cardholders will earn double miles on a wide range of spending categories in addition to flight purchases, and it includes many of the same benefits as cards with higher fees, including free checked bags, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight spending. Cardholders who spend $30,000 in a calendar year will earn a complimentary companion pass for domestic travel.

  • Welcome offer: 65,000 bonus miles for spending $4,000 within four months of account opening
  • Earning rewards: Two miles per dollar on spending with American Airlines, gas stations, car rentals, telecommunications providers and cable/satellite providers; one mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

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Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

This entry-level Delta rewards card boasts a low annual fee of $99 after a no-fee first year, and benefits include priority boarding, free checked bag, 20 percent off in-flight spending and no fees on foreign transactions.

Even if you only fly a handful of times in a given year, the waived bag check fee alone covers the card’s modest annual fee. Additionally, if you spend $10,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn a $100 credit toward any Delta flight.

  • Welcome offer: 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months
  • Earning rewards: Two miles per dollar on purchases with Delta, restaurants and U.S.-based grocery stores; one mile per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

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Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

For Delta loyalists working toward elite status, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card provides excellent opportunities for earning Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) if your spending levels are high enough.

Spend $25,000 in a calendar year and you’ll get a Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver, which can be valuable if you’ve reached the MQM or Medallion Qualification Segment (MQS) but haven’t been able to reach the MQD threshold. You’ll also earn another 10,000 MQM for every $50,000 you spend in a calendar year.

Other benefits include a free checked bag and priority boarding for the cardholder and eight companions; $39 per-person Delta Sky Club access for the cardholder and two companions; application fee credit toward Global Entry/TSA PreCheck; and extended warranty, purchase and return protection on spending.

  • Welcome offer: Earn 45,000 bonus miles and $5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after spending $2,000 in the first three months; make any Delta purchase during that time and you’ll also earn a $100 statement credit.
  • Earning rewards: Three miles per every dollar spent on Delta flights and vacations and direct spending with hotels; two miles per dollar on spending at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets; one mile per dollar on everything else
  • Annual fee: $250

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Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

Delta devotees seeking a luxury travel experience will benefit most from the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card, which comes with plenty of posh perks (at an admittedly hefty annual fee). Cardholders receive a complimentary membership to Delta’s Sky Club lounges as well as two free guest passes per year and discounted rates on additional guest entry.

Other benefits include priority boarding and a free checked bag for the member and up to eight travel companions, 20 percent discount on in-flight purchases, access to Amex Centurion lounges, complimentary upgrades when available and even travel delay compensation.

Using the card is also the fastest route to earning Medallion elite status, with a 15,000 MQM bonus for every $30,000 spent on the card in a calendar year. By combining the welcome offer and $120,000 in spending, cardholders can achieve Gold status without even boarding a flight.

  • Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) for spending $3,000 within three months of opening the account.
  • Earning rewards: Three miles per dollar on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual fee: $550

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JetBlue Plus Card

Frequent flyers on JetBlue should jump on this card, which offers generous TrueBlue points rewards for money spent with the airline as well as restaurants and supermarkets. If you can hit $50,000 in spending in a calendar year, you’ll be elevated to JetBlue Mosaic elite status.

Cardholders also enjoy perks such as a free checked bag, 50 percent discount on in-flight purchases, 10 percent rebate on point redemption and 5,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary.

  • Welcome offer: The standard welcome offer is 40,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, although special promotions may occasionally boost points up to 60,000.
  • Earning rewards: A whopping six points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, two points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and one mile per dollar on all other spending
  • Annual fee: $99

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Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

For passionate Southwest fans with substantial business expenses, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card offers the best return on investment. The card offers impressive travel benefits, including four boarding section upgrades per year, a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment, baggage delay insurance and up to 365 annual Wi-Fi credits.

On your account anniversary, you’ll be gifted with 9,000 bonus points. You can also apply for additional cards for your employees at no cost, which can help you earn rewards and A-List status even faster.

  • Welcome offer: You’ll receive 70,000 bonus points for spending $5,000 within the first three months of opening the account; if you hit $25,000 in spending within six months, you’ll rack up another 30,000 points.
  • Earning rewards: Three points per dollar spent with Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners; two points per dollar for internet, phone and cable expenses as well as advertising on social media and search engines; one point per dollar on all other expenditures
  • Annual fee: $199

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United Explorer Card

With its modest annual fee and basic travel benefits, the United Explorer Card is a solid entry-level credit card for United frequent flyers.

Perks include a free checked bag for the account holder and one companion traveler on the same reservation, priority boarding, two single-use United Club passes per year, 25 percent off in-flight purchases and $100 credit toward TSA PreCheck application fees.

  • Welcome offer: Spending $2,000 in the first three months yields 40,000 bonus miles.
  • Earning rewards: Purchases with United Airlines, hotels and restaurants earn two miles per dollar, with all other spending earning at a one point-per-dollar ratio.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

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Best Airline Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

While they rarely confer the same level of benefits or bonus points as fee-based cards, there are a few no-annual-fee airline credit cards worth considering, especially for new customers hoping to build their credit or cardholders who simply want to earn points with purchases and aren’t as concerned about upgrades and perks.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card is perfect for frugal consumers who don’t want to pay high annual fees to earn miles in American’s AAdvantage program. The spending threshold to earn the welcome offer is almost ridiculously easy to meet, and the double miles earned on grocery purchases can add up quickly.

  • Welcome offer: Spend just $500 in the first three months and you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 credit on your statement.
  • Earning rewards: Money spent with American Airlines and at grocery stores yields two miles per dollar, with one mile per dollar on all other purchases.

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Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card

The Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card offers a decent return on Delta and restaurant spending with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. Delta also recently added Pay with Miles capability to the card, adding value to this no-frills credit card option.

  • Welcome offer: 10,000 bonus miles with $500 in spending during the first three months
  • Earning rewards: Two miles per dollar on Delta purchases (flights, Sky Club membership or passes, seat upgrades, in-flight purchases and Delta Vacations) and restaurant spending; one mile per dollar on all other purchases

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JetBlue Credit Card

If you’re adamantly opposed to paying annual fees, you’ll still earn generous points awards for your general spending, but at a cost of just $99 per year, the JetBlue Plus Card (reviewed above) offers a significantly larger welcome offer as well as other perks and incentives.

  • Welcome offer: 10,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 within 90 days of opening the account
  • Earning rewards: Three points for every dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, two points per dollar at restaurants and supermarkets and one point per dollar for other purchases

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United TravelBank Credit Card

This Chase-issued credit card distinguishes itself from other airline credit cards by doing away with the points/miles system; instead, a percentage of spending is refunded to the cardholder in the form of United TravelBank cash, which can be redeemed for United Airlines tickets. If earning free travel is your primary goal, it’s a good option, but if you’re interested in redeeming your rewards for other items or services, the United Explorer Card may be a better bet.

  • Welcome offer: Spend $1,000 in the first three months of the account and receive $150 in United TravelBank cash
  • Earning rewards: Two percent of spending on United flights will be refunded to you in the form of TravelBank cash, as well as 1.5 percent of all other spending.

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Best General Travel Cards

Unlike airline-specific credit cards, general travel cards offer users additional flexibility in earning points and redeeming rewards. This type of card is often the best option for travelers who aren’t loyal to one airline or want more rewards for non-travel spending than most airline cards offer. Below are a few of the best general travel credit cards for consideration.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Card keeps it simple by rewarding you with two miles per dollar on everything you buy, so you’re not trying to keep up with the earning rate on multiple purchase categories. The miles can then be used to pay off travel purchases at a one cent per mile rate.

You can also transfer your miles to one of Capital One’s hotel or airline partners or even spend them on Amazon.com. The card also includes a $100 credit toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fees, which helps offset the already modest $95 annual fee.

  • Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Earning rewards: Two miles per dollar on all purchases
  • Annual fee: $95

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is perfect for applicants making their first foray into the world of travel rewards credit cards. Cardholders receive a respectable points-earning rate on purchases, with a minimal annual fee and some nice perks.

Points can be redeemed at an impressive list of partners, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways and several others as well as Marriott, Hyatt and IHG hotels.

  • Welcome offer: Spending $4,000 in the first three months nets you 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
  • Earning rewards: Each dollar spent on travel and dining yields two points.
  • Annual fee: $95

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Final Thoughts

If you’re simply aiming to earn rewards for your travel and nontravel purchases, an airline-specific credit card may not provide you with the same return that a more general rewards card would. However, if you want to enhance your flying experience with perks, discounts and upgrades, using an airline credit card makes sense.

If you travel regularly, the free checked bag benefit alone may cover any annual fees associated with the card. Airline credit cards can also help you reach elite status with your preferred airline more quickly, especially if you take advantage of welcome offers and bonus incentives.

Whether you’re a casual traveler or you’re constantly flying for business, chances are there’s an airline credit card that will not only reward you for your spending, but also make your trips more convenient and enjoyable.