This series of articles about credit cards, points and miles, and budgeting for travel is brought to you in partnership with The Points Guy.

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Your next big trip doesn't have to be your next big expense, especially when you're in the know about the best credit cards that earn points and miles.  

Having an airline credit card can be highly beneficial if you’re a frequent flyer or someone who loves to travel. With the ability to earn high rewards and redeem them for flights, these cards can make your next trip even more rewarding and affordable. Flights are often the most expensive part of a travel budget, and you can lower your expenses significantly with airline miles. 

Many airline cards offer elite benefits such as priority boarding, free checked bags and airport lounge access. These perks can significantly enhance your travel experience and save you money. Furthermore, most airline cards have a reasonable annual fee compared to other travel credit cards. Nearly every airline has a co-branded credit card that earns miles, making it difficult to choose the best one.

To help you decide, here is our round-up of the best credit cards for airline miles:

How to get started with travel points and airline miles

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for transferable rewards

Chase Sapphire Preferred is hands down the best card for rewards that transfer to a diverse set of airline miles. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to 11 airlines across all three airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance), making the Sapphire Preferred an excellent credit card for airline miles. 

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Rewards: Earn 5X points on travel through the Chase Travel℠ portal (excluding hotel bookings that qualify for the $50 Annual Chase Travel℠ hotel credit); 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), online grocery purchases and select streaming services; 2X points on all other travel; 1X on other purchases.

Travel benefits: Annual $50 Chase Travel℠ hotel credit; trip cancellation/interruption insurance; trip delay reimbursement; travel and emergency assistance services; baggage delay insurance; primary rental car insurance; no foreign transaction fees.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent. 

Annual fee: $95.

Pros

  • Generous welcome bonus and recurring spending bonuses.
  • Excellent travel protections.
  • Points transfer to 1:1 to 11 airline loyalty programs: Aer Lingus AerClub, Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Cons

  • The travel category bonus isn’t as high as some other cards.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Approval is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule (Chase will likely decline your application if you've opened five or more new credit cards in the past 24 months).

Best travel credit cards for hotels

The American Airlines fleet
The American Airlines fleet © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Best for American AAdvantage® miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® is the best card for frequent travelers looking to earn AAdvantage miles. With this card, you’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Considering how common the first two spending categories are, it’s easy to stock up on miles with this card. Additionally, every dollar spent earns 1 Loyalty Point toward elite status. 

Cardholders also enjoy travel perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and 25% in-flight savings on American Airlines flights. Cardholders who spend at least $20,000 in a card membership year receive a $125 American Airlines flight discount, which more than offsets the $95 annual fee. Plus, with no foreign transaction fees and access, this card is ideal for international travelers.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 within three months of account opening.

Rewards: Earn 2X miles on American Airlines purchases, restaurants and gas; 1X mile on everything else; 1 Loyalty Point for every dollar spent.

Travel benefits: Complimentary first checked bag and preferred boarding for up to four companions, 25% savings on in-flight food and drinks on American Airlines flights; Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after spending $20,000 or more every card membership year.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $99. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Generous perks when flying American Airlines.
  • Every dollar spent earns 1 Loyalty Point toward elite status.
  • The $99 annual fee is waived in the first year.

Cons

  • The current welcome bonus isn’t the highest we’ve seen for this card.
  • The welcome bonus isn’t available to those who’ve received one for this card in the past 48 months.
  • The $99 annual fee might be hard to justify if you don’t fly with American Airlines often.
Inside a Delta A220-300
Inside a Delta A220-300 © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

American Express® Gold Card: Best for Delta SkyMiles

Due to recent devaluations to the Delta SkyMiles program, a co-branded Delta card isn’t a great idea. The American Express® Gold Card earns flexible rewards plus higher category bonuses on everyday spending than Delta cards.* Cardholders earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year in purchases), plus 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel. You can transfer the Membership Rewards points from this card to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. Amex occasionally offers transfer bonuses, allowing you to increase the value of your points.

Amex Gold card members also enjoy $10 in monthly Uber Cash and $10 in monthly dining credit at participating restaurants. This can help offset the card’s somewhat steep $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). It’s worth noting that the card’s current welcome bonus isn’t the highest we’ve seen. With Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule, you might want to hold out until a better offer comes around. (You must have downloaded the latest version of the Uber App and your eligible American Express Gold Card must be a method of payment in your Uber account. The Amex benefit may only be used in United States.)

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 within the first six months.

Rewards: Earn 4X points at restaurants worldwide; 4X points at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X); 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel; 1X points on all other purchases. 

Travel benefits: Receive $10 in monthly Uber Cash; $10 in monthly dining credit at Grubhub, Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations; secondary rental car coverage; baggage insurance plan; Global Assist hotline; access to experience credits and travel perks through The Hotel Collection; No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Credit score: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $250. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Membership Rewards transfer to 18 airline loyalty programs: Aer Lingus Aerclub, AeroMexico Rewards, Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, ANA Mileage Club, Avianca Lifemiles, British Airways Executive Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Delta SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, HawaiianMiles, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Qantas Frequent Flyer, Qatar Airways Privilege Club, Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
  • High earn rates on common spending categories.
  • Monthly credits can offset the $250 annual fee.

Cons

  • Most of the airline transfer partners are foreign carriers that the average consumer isn’t familiar with.
  • The current welcome bonus isn’t the highest we’ve seen. 
  • Subject to Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule.

American Express Gold Card review: a 'gold' standard with impressive benefits

A JetBlue A321neo
A JetBlue A321neo © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

JetBlue Plus Card: Best for JetBlue TrueBlue points

Of the two JetBlue credit cards, the JetBlue Plus is the best option for earning points. The card offers a 50,000-point welcome bonus after spending $1,000 within 90 days of account opening. Credit card spending is generally rewarded with 6 points per dollar on all JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Plus, every $1,000 in credit card spending earns one tile towards Mosaic elite status.

While the $99 annual fee appears steep, it's partially offset by recurring benefits like an annual $100 statement credit towards JetBlue Vacations, 5,000 bonus points every card anniversary and a 10% points rebate on Jetblue-operated award flights. In addition, cardmembers who reach Mosaic 1 status can choose a $99 statement credit as their reward for achieving this level.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 and paying the annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Rewards: Earn 6X points on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and eligible grocery stores; 1X points on all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Earn 5,000 points every card anniversary, 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases on JetBlue-operated flights, 10% points rebate on Jetblue-operated award flights, annual $100 statement credit towards JetBlue Vacation packages of $100 or more, earn Mosaic status on card spending, ability to redeem points for a statement credit, no foreign transaction fees.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $99. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • High bonuses on common spending categories.
  • Excellent rewards when traveling on JetBlue.
  • The $100 annual JetBlue Vacations credit can offset the $99 annual fee.

Cons

  • JetBlue has a limited route network compared to the legacy carriers.
  • The $99 annual fee may be high for those who don’t use all the JetBlue benefits.

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A Southwest Airlines 737
A Southwest Airlines 737 © Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Best for Southwest points

Southwest Airlines has several credit cards offering the same welcome bonus and very similar earn rates. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card is the best option for Southwest points because it offers practical recurring perks at a reasonable $69 annual fee. The welcome bonus from this card counts towards the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows you to designate a travel companion who can travel for just the cost of taxes and fees. 

It’s a great way to save points on travel and get some added perks on a no-frills airline. Cardholders get two annual earlybird check-ins, 25% back on in-flight purchases, a 3,000-point anniversary bonus and 10,000 annual Companion Pass-qualifying points. 

While the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card isn’t the best credit card for international travel, it can be an excellent choice for domestic travelers who live (and fly) within Southwest’s route network.

Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Rewards: Earn 2X points on Southwest purchases, Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting (including rideshare), internet, cable, phone services and select streaming services; Earn 1 point for each dollar spent on all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Two earlybird check-ins yearly, 3,000 points every cardmember anniversary, 10,000 annual Companion Pass-qualifying points boost, 25% back on inflight purchases, lost luggage reimbursement and baggage delay insurance.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $69

Pros

  • Welcome bonus counts towards the Southwest Companion Pass.
  • Generous rewards for Southwest flyers.
  • Reasonable annual fee.

Cons

  • Not available for those who’ve opened any Southwest credit card in the past 24 months.

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United's premium economy
United's premium economy © Kyle Olsen / The Points Guy

United Quest℠ Card: Best for United miles

The United Quest℠ Card is the best card for earning United miles due to its generous welcome and category bonuses. Limited-time offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Cardholders also earn generous rewards on continued spending: 3 miles per dollar on United purchases and 2 miles per dollar on all other travel, dining and select streaming services.

Your miles will go further thanks to the up to two annual 5,000-mile credits when you book two award flights. Meanwhile, credit card spending is further rewarded with Premier qualifying points (PQP) that count towards elite status. You can earn up to 6,000 Premier qualifying points per calendar year (25 PQP for every $500 you spend on purchases).

The United Quest℠ Card is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a United credit card with tons of benefits and mileage-earning opportunities at a reasonable annual fee.

Welcome bonus: Limited-time offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 PQP after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Rewards: Earn 3X on United purchases; 2X miles on all other travel (including rideshare services and tolls), dining (including eligible delivery services) and select streaming services; 1X mile on all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Up to a $125 United® purchase credit and up to 10,000 miles in award flight credits each year (terms apply), earn up to 6,000 Premier qualifying points (25 PQP for every $500 you spend on purchases), free first and second checked bags – a savings of up to $360 per roundtrip (terms apply), priority boarding, 25% back on United inflight and Club premium drink purchases, Premier upgrades on award tickets, no foreign transaction fees; up to $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS fee credit.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $250. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • United has a vast partner network, and miles are easy to redeem online.
  • High airline mile-earning potential thanks to generous category bonuses.
  • Generous travel perks that can offset the annual fee.

Cons

  • High spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus.
  • Above-average annual fee for an airline credit card.
  • Not available to those who have received a welcome bonus for this card in the past 24 months.

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Emirates' new Premium Economy class
Emirates' new Premium Economy class © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for airline miles with foreign carriers

The Capital One Venture Rewards is the card for earning airline miles with foreign carriers due to its flexible rewards program and extensive network of airline partners. The card earns 2 miles miles per dollar on every purchase, making it easy to accumulate miles quickly. The miles earned can be redeemed for travel purchases with any airline or hotel at 1 cent per mile. Alternatively, you can transfer miles to 15 airline transfer partners.

Most of the airline transfer partners are foreign carriers that offer tremendous value. For example, Turkish Airlines Miles& Smiles has some of the cheapest domestic award flights. Since Turkish Airlines is a United partner, you can book a round-trip ticket within the US (including Hawaii) for just 15,000 miles. This is a terrific way to book United flights for much less. 

Furthermore, the Capital One Venture Card offers a variety of travel benefits that make it ideal for frequent flyers. These include no foreign transaction fees and travel accident insurance. The card also has a competitive annual fee and a generous sign-up bonus, making it a cost-effective option for earning airline miles with foreign carriers.

Whether you want to maximize your miles through foreign rewards programs or redeem miles at a flat rate for any flight, the Venture card is a great choice.

Welcome bonus: For a limited time: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening an account, plus a $250 Capital One Travel credit valid during the first year of card membership.

Rewards: Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 2X miles on all other purchases.

Travel benefits: Hertz Five Star status; up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; rental car insurance and travel accident insurance; access to hotel discounts and perks through the Lifestyle Collection; two annual lounge passes; no foreign transaction fees.

Credit score required: Excellent.

Annual fee: $95. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Substantial welcome bonus and above-average earn rate on everyday spending.
  • Miles can be redeemed towards direct airline purchases or transferred to 15 airline transfer partners (mostly at a 1:1 ratio).
  • Generous travel benefits that can justify the $95 annual fee.

Cons

  • Most airline transfer partners are foreign programs offering good value but might be unfamiliar to the average traveler.
  • Capital One pulls your credit from all three bureaus when you apply for this card.
Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express © The Points Guy

Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for businesses

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is the best business card for earning airline miles because of its generous rewards program and flexible redemption options.* With this card, you can earn 2X Membership Rewards points on all purchases up to $50,000 per year, making it easy to rack up points quickly. It also has no annual fee (See rates and fees), making this an excellent card for small businesses.

In addition to the high earning potential, the Blue Business Plus Credit Card offers a variety of ways to redeem your points for airline miles. You can transfer your points to 18 airline partners, including popular carriers like Delta, British Airways and JetBlue. This allows you to convert your points to different airline miles, depending on your travel needs. 

Furthermore, this card offers a 0% introductory APR (See rates and fees) on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months. That makes it an excellent option for businesses looking to save money on interest while still earning valuable rewards.

Welcome bonus: Earn 15,000 points after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first three months.

Rewards: Earn 2X points on all eligible business purchases up to $50,000 per calendar year (then 1X point).

Travel benefits: Secondary rental car insurance, access to travel and retail discounts through Amex Offers.

Credit score required: Good to Excellent.

Annual fee: $0. See rates and fees.

Pros

  • Earns generous rewards on everyday business expenses.
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 months from account opening.
  • No annual fee.

Cons

  • There is currently no welcome bonus.
  • Limited travel benefits.
  • Purchases originating abroad incur a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

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The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card © The Points Guy

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for no annual fee

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is the best credit card for airline miles without an annual fee due to its generous rewards program and travel benefits. With every purchase, cardholders earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent, which you can redeem for flights with any airline or hotel stays through Capital One's easy-to-use portal. Alternatively, you can transfer these miles to 15 airlines and three hotel loyalty programs. 

The lack of an annual fee means cardholders can continue earning and redeeming miles without worrying about additional costs.

Furthermore, the Capital One VentureOne card provides valuable travel benefits such as no foreign transaction fees and travel accident insurance. These perks make it an ideal choice for frequent travelers looking to protect their trips.

Welcome bonus: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within three months from account opening.

Rewards: Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase and unlimited 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

Travel benefits: Travel accident insurance, primary rental car insurance, no foreign transaction fees.

Credit score required: Good/Excellent.

Annual fee: $0

Pros

  • You can convert Capital One miles to 15 airline miles programs.
  • Above-average earn rate on all spending. 
  • Solid travel benefits for a no-annual-fee card.

Cons

  • Airline transfer partners consist primarily of foreign carriers.
  • Relatively low welcome bonus.
  • Capital One pulls credit from all three bureaus when you apply for this card.

Traveling to Europe using points and miles

Who should get a credit card for airline miles?

A credit card that earns airline miles is an excellent option for those who travel frequently for work or leisure. It can also be a good choice for those who want to use points and miles to save money on travel. Additionally, individuals with good credit who are responsible with their spending habits can benefit from these cards. 

This card type may not be suitable for those who want more flexibility in using their rewards. Airline credit cards often come with annual fees and higher interest rates, so they may not be suitable for those who tend to carry credit card balances or struggle with spending. Prospective cardholders should consider their travel habits, financial habits and whether they can take full advantage of the benefits offered by airline miles credit cards before applying for one.

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JetBlue's Mint Studio Suite from New York to London
JetBlue's Mint excellent business-class seat can be earned through its TrueBlue loyalty program © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

How much are airline miles worth?

The value of airline miles varies by airline and how you use them. When redeeming airline miles for business and first-class travel, you can get well over four cents per mile in value (based on the cash value of the ticket). The value of airline miles for economy tickets is usually lower, but you should aim for at least 1.2-1.8 cents per mile. 

Some airlines also offer partnerships with hotels, car rental companies and other travel services where you can use your miles for discounts or freebies. These typically don’t provide the best value for your miles, but some people opt for them because it saves them points. 

It's important to carefully consider your redemption options to get the most value from your airline miles. However, keep in mind that airline miles are there to save you money on flights. So, if you want to opt for a sub-optimal redemption because it saves you cash, then go for it. 

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How to choose the best credit card for airline miles

When choosing the best credit card for airline miles, several factors must be considered. First, consider your travel habits and which airlines you typically fly with. Are you more of a domestic flyer? Do you want to use points and miles for a trip to Europe? Are you looking to use points for a solo trip or traveling with a family? These questions will help you narrow your options to cards offering miles with airlines that best suit your needs.

Next, look at the welcome bonus and ongoing rewards. A higher welcome bonus can give you a head start on earning miles, while generous ongoing rewards can help you accumulate more miles on your daily spending.

It's also important to consider annual fees and whether they’re worth the benefits and rewards. Some cards may also have perks, such as airport lounge access or free checked bags, that can add value and justify a higher annual fee.

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The American Express Amex Centurion Lounge in Denver Airport
The American Express Amex Centurion Lounge in Denver Airport © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

The difference between airline and travel credit cards

The main difference between airline and travel credit cards is in the rewards they earn. Airline credit cards earn miles that can be used primarily towards flights and seat upgrades. Airline credit cards also offer perks tailored to frequent flyers, including free checked bags, priority boarding and elite status boosters. 

On the other hand, travel credit cards are more versatile and can be used for a broader range of expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars, dining and entertainment. Travel credit card points can be transferred to airlines or redeemed towards statement credits. They’re much more flexible than airline miles, allowing you to book travel with cash or points. These cards may also provide superior travel insurance and airport lounge access.

Overall, airline credit cards are better suited for individuals who frequently fly with a particular airline or alliance. In contrast, travel credit cards are better for those who want flexibility in redeeming their rewards across different expenses.

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Ways to earn airline miles without credit cards

There are several ways to earn airline miles without using credit cards. The most straightforward way is flying or booking vacation packages through a specific airline. Many hotels partner with airlines and offer the option to earn airline miles instead of hotel points for your stay. You can also earn miles through car rentals, dining at participating restaurants and shopping through the airline's online shopping portal.

There are various ways to accumulate airline miles without relying on credit cards. By taking advantage of these methods and staying loyal to one or a few preferred airlines, you can still reap the benefits of free flights without using credit cards.

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ANA planes at Tokyo Narita Airport
ANA planes at Tokyo Narita Airport © TUNGCHEUNG / Shutterstock

FAQ

What is the best credit card to collect miles?

The best credit card for collecting miles depends on your spending habits and travel preferences. Some popular options include the Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Rewards and American Express® Gold Card.

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How many credit card miles equals a flight?

The number of credit card miles needed for a flight varies depending on the airline, destination and other factors. Generally, a domestic round-trip flight in economy class should cost around 25,000 miles or less. Some airlines use dynamic pricing, which ties the mileage cost of a flight to the cash fare. Other airlines price out award tickets based on distance or region. Be sure to review the airline’s award program before applying for an airline credit card.

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How can you use credit card points to buy airline tickets?

Credit card points can be redeemed for airline tickets by either transferring the points to a specific airline's frequent flyer program or by using the credit card's travel portal to book flights.

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* Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

This article was first published Nov 20, 2023 and updated Jan 22, 2024.

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