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We've researched the best airline miles credit cards of 2020 and narrowed the list down to the top five. Here they are, including welcome offer details.

If you’re a frequent traveler–for pleasure or business–a great travel rewards credit card is a must-have. If you prefer to fly with a certain airline, a card that offers miles for that airline is essential.

Airline miles credit cards can boost the miles you receive through your preferred airline’s mileage program. You can rack up miles by the millions. (Don’t believe me? Just check out the movie Up in the Air.)

Note that the cards listed below are airline specific, rather than generic travel rewards cards that let you use your points on just about any airline. We’ve focused on great cards from some of the nation’s top airlines.

We’ll look at just how much the average family could earn with these cards. “Average” is, of course, a bit of a broad term for anything personal finance related. So we’re using the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on consumer expenditures for 2016 as a proxy.

We added up the food, gasoline, entertainment, and apparel categories to come up with an average of about $14,000 in spending per year. We’ll say the family in question spends another $2,000 with their airline of choice. These are the expenses you’re most likely to put through a credit card, so that’s how we’ll calculate potential rewards.

Keep in mind that the value of points varies from month to month and depending on what type of travel you’re booking. We’ll use this chart from The Points Guy to estimate the most recent value for each credit card’s points.

1. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit CardThere’s a reason the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is so popular. It offers 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest Airlines® (direct purchases only) and 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners–including Best Western, Marriott, Hyatt, and more. You’ll get 1 point per $1 spend on all other purchases and 6,000 bonus points per year on your card member anniversary.

  • Bonus: Right now, new card holders can get 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.  Then, another 35,000 bonus points are available after spending $5,000 in the first six months.  That’s up to 75,000 bonus points for new cardmembers.
  • Fees: The Premier card comes with a $99 annual fee. If you spend enough on this card, though, you can easily outweigh that fee. The card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, though, which could spell big savings for frequent international fliers (though Southwest only flies to Mexico and the Caribbean).
  • Other Benefits: You can redeem your miles for any seat on any Southwest or AirTran flight, and there are no blackout dates.
  • Membership Levels: Your credit card points can help boost your membership level in the overall Rapid Rewards program. A-List members get a 25% point bonus on top of base flights earned from each flight, priority boarding, and expedited security. Companion Pass–the highest status–earns you the ability to bring a companion for free whenever you purchase a ticket for yourself. You can change you receives the companion benefits up to three times per year.

Potential Benefits: If you ran every bit of your above-noted expenses through this card, you’d wind up with 90,000+ Southwest Rapid Rewards points by your first card member anniversary. These points are worth approximately 1.5 cents each. So that’s ~$1,350 in rewards. Even minus that $99 annual fee, you’ve earned enough for at least a couple of free domestic tickets.

Learn More about this and similar cards HERE.

2. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

With this card, you’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta.

  • Welcome Offer: Right now, when you are a new cardholder, you’ll earn 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card ownership. You’ll also get a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase within your first three months of card membership.
  • Fees: This card comes with a $0 introductory fee for the first year, and then a $95 fee per year after that. The card has no foreign transaction fees.

Other Perks: Cardholders save 20% (in the form of a statement credit) when they make in-flight food, beverage, and entertainment purchases with this card. Cardholders also get the first checked bag free for the cardholder and traveling companions, as well as priority boarding. Plus, the card comes with reduced fee Delta Sky Club® Access for the cardmember and two guests.

Potential Benefits: Because this card only offers accelerated points for Delta purchases, its potential is much lower. You could earn 34,000 points in the first year with the bonus. The points are worth about 1.2 cents each, so you’ll wind up with a total of $408, plus your $50 bonus–for $458 for the first year. That’s still not a bad take if Delta is your favorite airline.

You can get more details on this and similar cards HERE.

3. British Airways Visa Signature Card

Without a doubt the British Airways Visa Signature Card is the card to carry for those that fly British Airways. The bonus rewards for new card members are astounding, as you can see below. The rewards for everyday purchases are also excellent.

  • Rewards: You’ll earn three Avios per $1 spent on British Airways purchases, and one Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Bonus: New Cardmembers can earn 50,000 bonus Avois after spending $3,000 in the first three months.  Then earn another 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $20,000 in the first year of account opening.  That’s a total of 100,000 bonus Avios . Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll also earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
  • Annual Fee: $95

Other Perks: This card has no foreign transaction fees and uses chip technology for added security.

Potential Benefits: If you’re frequent international travelers, this may be the card for you. With our spend scenario above, you won’t put enough on the card for the Travel Together Ticket. But you’ll earn 100,000 Avios in your first year of card membership and the ticket if you can hit $30,000. These points are worth about 1.5 cents each, for a total of $1,500 in rewards + the free ticket + all the Avios you earn for everyday spending. You could travel internationally for that!

Learn More about this and similar cards HERE.

4. United Explorer Card

If United is your airline of choice, you can get some great bonus perks from the United Explorer Card right now. It lets you earn miles for both United purchases and everyday spending, and gives you the first checked bag for free for each person whose ticket you purchase on the card.

  • Rewards: You’ll earn two miles per $1 spent on tickets from United, at restaurants or on hotel stays. And you’ll get an additional one mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Bonuses: Right now, new cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of opening their accounts.
  • Annual Fee: This card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived in the first year.
  • Other Benefits: With the United Explorer Card, you’ll get priority boarding and two United Club one-time passes on your card anniversary.

Potential Benefits: You could earn about 80,000 points with our scenario described above. They’re worth approximately 1.5 cents per point, for a total of $1,200 in rewards your first year. Again, that will cover a hefty chunk of most domestic family flights.

Learn More about this card HERE.

5. Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

With this card, you’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta or at US restaurants.  1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.

  • Bonus: New cardholders will earn a 10,000 mile bonus after spending $500 in the first three months.  Yes that’s watered down from the Gold version above, but the big benefit of the Blue vs. the Gold is in it’s fee structure.
  • Fees: No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees.  You give up a little bit in up front bonus and perks, but you are not saddled with an annual fee of up to $100 like other cards on this list.

Other Perks: Cardholders save 20% (in the form of a statement credit) when they make in-flight food, beverage, and entertainment purchases with this card.  Also included is car rental and damage insurance when you purchase a rental and the full line of AMEX cardholders perks (like extended warranties and purchase protection).

Potential Benefits: This card offers double points on Delta flights and restaurants but the up-front bonus is a little bit small.  Say you earn 17,500 in your first year; with points being worth about 1.2 cents each, you’re looking at a savings of $210.  Keep in mind, there is no annual fee eating into the savings.

You can get more details on this and similar cards HERE.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1081
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.

Article comments

LittleNoah says:

I would strongly recommend against CitiCards. We recently signed up for one of their cards based on a promotion with Expedia. We had one problem after another. After talking with Citi and asking for help with our problems, we got basically nowhere. The customer service was simply horrible. We’ve had great success with CapitalOne. They have various rewards cards that you can find one that meets your situation and needs the best.

HI-sailor says:

I have NEVER before bothered to post a comment on a story but reading the initial comment basically demanded I do so.
I have carried a Citi AAdvantage Gold card for a dozen years. While credit card companies are never going to be warm and fuzzy, Citi has been consistently reasonable and responsible.
In contrast, I used to carry TWO CapitalOne cards (from before I had the Citi card) and had one for 10+ years and the other 5+ years (from memory). Every little thing with the CapitalOne cards turned into a massive hassle. After completing a significant European vacation using one of my CapitalOne cards almost exclusively I found one overcharge on my bill (out of probably 100+ charges) and filed all of the proper work to contest the overcharge. CapitalOne did nothing to support my claim against the vendor and kept piling on interest/penalty fees (I had paid everything BUT the contested charge) and fought with me for ca. a FULL YEAR before dropping the interest/penalty charges and accepting my version of the bill–which, from memory, was about 85% of the posted billing.
After I dropped that card in disgust, years later CapitalOne closed my other card for non-use (which was true, since I was still angry about the massive hassles)–no problem.
But here’s the kicker–years later CapitalOne sent me a targeted, individually identified offering for another card. The benefits seemed to make it a worthwhile deal so I said yes. THEN THEY REFUSED ME, citing poor credit (and the only problems I’d ever had was with them) and, in the process, screwing with my existing credit rating.
First THEY solicit ME, and then they screw with my credit rating!
Best advice I can offer is NEVER deal with CapitalOne–if you do, sooner or later, you’re going to be very sorry.

dave says:

The best advise I can give is to never use any credit card. I`ve never run into any one who had a financial breakthrough by using credit cards.
and as usual when you see their mouth moving they are lying.

Rob Berger says:

Dave, thanks for the perspective.

Ron says:

I agree with you 100 %. Credit Card companies are not warm and fuzzy, they are money making enterprises. But, as you stated, Citi has never done me wrong. I asked them to waive annual fee this year because I hadn’t used it in a few months. The employee said to make 5 purchases in 30 days at any price (a dollar 5 times) and they would reimburse me for the 85 dollar fee. I stayed with them and will keep their cards. If you have a bad experience with any card you need to pursue the issue until it is resolved. They don’t want to lose you.

make your own beats online says:

Well even if I don’t use these credit cards, it’s always good to know everything about it.

Janet says:

I usually fly Delta, but I will not get the credit card. The flights are too high and the charge for baggage is outrageous! I’ll take the bus even though it takes longer.

Douglas Miller says:

British Airways belongs in dead last. You will find it nearly impossible to use them. Normally, one can use miles (AVIOS for BA) on a partner. I tried this various times with BA and they response was “We do not have an agreement on that route.” Apparently, unlike other partnerships with One World Alliance, they have a substandard membership. Avoid the frustration, Do not bother