The Best Frequent Flyer Credit Cards of 2012

I recently changed jobs. With my new job, I’ll be traveling a lot more, and that’s prompted me to spend some time researching everything from frequent flyer programs to hotel rewards to rental car promotional offers. It’s also going to result in a few changes to the credit cards I carry. So I spent some time researching the best frequent flyer credit cards.

Here are the results of my research:

  • Standard Frequent Flyer Bonus: The standard bonus for getting a new frequent flyer card is enough miles for one free domestic round trip ticket.
  • Some Cards Offer More: A few cards offer bonus miles for new cardholders sufficient for two free domestic round trip tickets. These offers are typically for a limited time, and often require you to use the card in certain ways (e.g., for a balance transfer).
  • Annual Fees are Standard: Annual fees are common on miles credit cards, although most cards waive the fee the first year.
  • You earn free flights faster: As compared to a generic travel card, you will earn free flights faster with a miles card. A standard award ticket is 25,000 miles, which you can earn after spending $25,000 on the card. With a generic travel card paying a 1% reward, this would result in a credit of $250. While some domestic round trip tickets can be purchased for $250 or less, many cannot.
  • Free checked bags: Most frequent flyer cards offer a free checked bag. This can save you a bundle if you travel a lot and like to check your bags. I almost always check bags, so this is a big bonus for me.
  • Every frequent flyer program has a card: Regardless of which airlines you fly, they all have frequent flyer programs and at least one airline branded credit card to help you earn miles. Some airlines have multiple cards.

My Favorites

When it comes to picking the top frequent flyer card, there are several things to consider:

  • Where you fly: If you frequently fly to the same place, you’ll likely spend your time on the same airline. There’s really no point in getting a card associated with a frequent flyer program you rarely use (other than perhaps for the bonus rewards).
  • Bonus rewards: This is an obvious consideration. Many folks I talk to apply for multiple cards just for the free travel.
  • Your favorite airline: I’m a big fan of Southwest, perhaps because of its commercials that poke fun at the other airlines for charging you to check your bags. Because I fly on Southwest every chance I get, the RapidRewards card is one of my favorites.
  • The extra perks: It’s worth looking at the extra perks these cards offer. The two biggest perks are free checked bags and access to airport lounges.

With all of that said, here are my picks for the best overall frequent flyer credit cards:

Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®

Apply Now...
  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of cardmembership*
  • Your first eligible checked bag is free*
  • Group 1 boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases*
  • Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount every cardmembership year with qualifying purchases and cardmembership renewal*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Intro APR Intro APR
Intro Balance
N/A* N/A* 13.99% - 21.99%* (Variable) $95, waived for first 12 months* N/A* Excellent Credit

[showoff template=cc_box_alt offer=ncs22184478]

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are authors 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.

Published or Updated: September 4, 2013
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.


  1. Bubba says:

    Why do you ignore the Penfed Amex travel rewards card?

    • DR says:

      Bubba, the PenFed travel card is excellent. It gives 20,000 bonus points when you spend $650 in the first three months. And you earn 5x points on travel purchases. But we didn’t include it here because it’s not a frequent flyer card associated with a specific airline.

Speak Your Mind