By identifying what you want from a card, learning your credit score and researching the cards that you may qualify for, you can find the best airline credit card for you.
There are a few different dimensions to explore to find the best airline credit card:
- The purchases you make in select categories
- Which credit tier you fall into
- How different cards earn reward points or miles
- How different cards allow points or miles to be redeemed
- What other perks are offered and what you can expect to pay in fees
What's the best credit card if I want airline miles?
Many travel rewards credit cards offer the opportunity to transfer your points and redeem them for flights and hotel stays. If earning airline miles is important to you, you have three choices:
- A co-branded card tied to a single airline
- A mileage rewards card allowing mileage redemptions with multiple airlines
- A travel card that offers points that can be redeemed for travel
Co-branded cards typically offer bonus miles for your purchases in select categories with the linked airline but may have limited redemption options. Mileage-rewards cards are likely to have more redemption options but might not reward air travel as highly.
If your credit card provides airline miles, sign in to your account to check your current miles balance. Your card may direct you to the airline partner's site to book, or if you have a co-branded airline credit card, the airline may allow you to redeem your miles directly on their page. You can also call your airline to book your flight over the phone and use your miles.
If you have a Chase travel credit card, you can redeem your points for flights or even transfer them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program®. Through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program, you can transfer your points to airline and hotel partners at full 1:1 value with select cards.
When a co-branded airline credit card may be a good fit:
- If you travel frequently with the same airline. An airline credit card is likely to earn bonus miles when you book with the card's partner airline — and may provide you with a bonus or other benefits should you redeem those miles for travel. You might get discounts on inflight purchases, as well.
- If your local airport is a hub for a particular airline and you live in its hub or focus city, you may have to rely on that airline for much of your air travel. If you book that travel with an airline credit card, your rewards earnings can be substantial. In this kind of situation, an airline credit card may be a good fit.
- If you really value perks specific to air travel. Some airline credit cards include compelling perks like a free checked bag, free priority boarding and even companion travel certificates. Frequent fliers, take note.
When a mileage rewards credit card may be a good fit:
- If you travel often but don't have a preference for a specific airline, a card offering airline miles could allow you to earn the same number of miles on all of your air-travel spending, no matter who you book with.
What's the best credit card if I want points?
If you prioritize points over miles, you'll likely be better served by a general travel credit card than an airline mileage rewards card. General travel cards typically award points on all of your purchases in select categories, provide a bonus for travel spending and allow points to be redeemed in many different ways.
When a general travel credit card may be a good fit:
- If flexibility is a priority. General travel cards usually earn points on all of your purchases in select categories and most travel cards award extra points in categories like travel and dining. Cards awarding miles, meanwhile, may only grant the highest rewards to your air travel spending.
- If you expect to redeem rewards in many different categories. The points that general travel cards award usually have many different redemption options: a statement credit, travel, merchandise, gift cards or even cash. Sometimes, redeeming your points with the card issuer will get you a bonus benefit, such as a discount on airfare.
- If travel-related perks are less important to you. You may not be able to access travel perks, like priority boarding for example, with a general travel card. Still, some general travel cards do include these benefits — so it's worth shopping around.
Is it better to earn rewards points or airline miles on a credit card?
Much of the time, points and miles are effectively interchangeable: Both are earned when you spend and may be redeemed in various ways. Still, it can be valuable to crunch the numbers to figure out whether a miles-earning card or a points-earning card offers you the most value when you choose to redeem them.
Benefits of earning credit card rewards points
- Rewards points can often be earned in more spending categories. Generally offered by general travel credit cards, points may be easier to earn across different spending categories.
- Points may be easier to redeem. Because points don't tie you to a particular airline, you can likely redeem them in many different ways — or even exchange them for cash.
Benefits of earning credit card airline miles
- You may earn more on your air travel purchases. Miles-awarding cards are usually geared towards frequent fliers, so these cards may reward you more when you spend money on airfare.
- Your reward miles may go further for airline-specific spending. Some airlines may offer discounts when you use miles for certain purchases, such as for in-flight food.
Your choice of a travel credit card may ultimately come down to the kind of travel you do. If you travel often from a single airport or prefer to use a specific airline, a card offering airline miles may be your best fit. If you spend in many different categories and want to retain more flexibility in your redemption options, a points card could be the better choice.
How do I find the best airline credit card?
Choosing the best airline credit card is like picking any credit card: You'll want to focus on your needs, understand your available options and do your research to home in on the best fit.
To find the best airline credit card, you can:
- Map your spending patterns. Take a look at your past spending. If you spend a lot on airfare, a miles-awarding card might be your best bet. If your travel spending is in other categories, a points-awarding card could make more sense. Aim to understand your spending behavior so you can find a card that fits your needs.
- Find out your credit score. Your credit score is a numerical estimate of your creditworthiness, used by lenders and credit card issuers to determine what products you qualify for and what rates you'll pay. When you know your score, you'll be able to zero in on the cards that match your credit profile.
- Learn how different cards award points or miles. Travel cards typically award points or miles on all of your spending, but the categories for which you'll earn extra can differ widely. When you know where you spend, you can narrow your search to the cards that match your habits.
- Learn how different cards let you redeem points or miles. Your point or mile redemption options will differ from one card to the next. As you consider different travel cards, aim to fully understand how each card's rewards redemption works — and what your points or miles will be worth.
- Weigh fees against benefits. Most travel cards charge an annual fee; $90-100 is the most common range, but some cards charge much more. Get a sense of the benefits that different cards deliver — as well as the value of the points or miles you'll earn — and compare those to the fees you'll be charged. Consider the redemption options and benefits that come with the card and any costs associated to determine the best card for you.