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 are great because they 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 Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
There’s a reason the Southwest Airlines 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 cardmember anniversary.
- Bonus: Right now, new card holders can get 40,000 bonus points when they spend $1,000 in the first three months of opening their account.
- 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 64,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points by your first cardmember anniversary. These points are worth approximately 1.5 cents each. So that’s $960 in rewards. Even minus that $99 annual fee, you’ve earned enough for at least a couple of free domestic tickets.
2. American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
With this card, you’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta.
- Bonus: 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 cardmembership.
- 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.
You can get more details on this card here.
Potential Benefits: Because this card only offers 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.
3. British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Without 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 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus you can earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend $10,000 on your account within the first year of opening it. 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 95,000 Avios in your first year of cardmembership. These points are worth about 1.5 cents each, for a total of $1,425 in rewards. You could travel internationally for that!
4. Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer
If United is your airline of choice, you can get some great bonus perks from this 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. And you’ll get an additional one mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Bonuses: Right now, new cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months of opening their accounts. If you add an authorized user, you’ll get another 5,000 bonus miles.
- Annual Fee: This card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived in the first year.
- Other Benefits: With the Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card, you’ll get priority boarding and two United Club one-time passes on your card anniversary.
Potential Benefits: You could earn about 63,000 points with our scenario described above. They’re worth approximately 1.5 cents per point, for a total of $945 in rewards. Again, that will cover a hefty chunk of most domestic family flights.
5. Barclaycard JetBlue Plus Card
JetBlue is quickly becoming a more popular airline. If you really like this airline, you can earn three points per $1 spent on JetBlue purchases with the Barclaycard JetBlue Plus Card. And you’ll earn two points per $1 spent at grocery stores and restaurants. That’s the bulk of where many families spend their money, so we’ll see how that shakes out below.
- Bonus: You can earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of cardmembership.
- Extra Perks: Additional perks include no foreign transaction fees and 50% off of cocktails and food purchases while you’re flying.
- Annual Fee: $0
Potential Benefits: To calculate this card’s annual rewards, we had to separate out grocery and restaurant spending. The BLS statistics put food spending at about $7,200 per year. Add that to the $2,000 spent on plane tickets and the 10,000 point bonus, and you’ll come up with about 30,400 miles earned in your first year. These points are worth about 1.3 cents each. That brings your total to $395 in rewards. That’s less than the other cards featured here, but because of the $0 annual fee, it’s more sustainable in years to come.