Best Credit Cards For Air MilesFrequent Flyer Miles are one of the most common, best-understood benefits of owning a credit card. Companies have traditionally seen business travelers and loyal buyers with high credit scores, which makes them attractive customers, and have been courting their business with frequent flyer benefits for decades. Nowadays, however, you don’t need to be rich or be a business professional to take advantage of air miles!
As the cost of travel has fallen, becoming more accessible to your “average Joe,” more banks are offering air miles benefits to a larger percentage of customers. Even if you only travel by airplane a few times a year, you might find great use from air miles that are transferable to other goods and services, such as hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and even cash back.
There are more credit card options of this kind than ever before, but the additional choices aren’t all of equal value. To help you decide which card works best for your needs, we’ve compiled a list of the best choices in this category.
Benefits Of An Air Miles Credit CardBonus points applied to miles let you travel free more often, but there are usually other rewards in the package as well. The way these rewards systems work is not always obvious, so here are a few general rules to help you understand them.
The points are usually transferable. Most cards with miles rewards use a point system. These points are always worth a specific dollar amount, although the points can often seem a bit ridiculous at times (50,000 points for signing up, for example.) Unless you do a lot of traveling, however, you may want those points to serve other purposes. Fortunately, most banks make points transferrable to other, non-flight items as well, such as restaurants, hotels, rental cars, and a cash value.
The points do not work on a 1-to-1 basis. Unfortunately, you don't get 1 point for every dollar you spend. At times, you may earn less than $0.01 for every dollar spent. Don’t worry, though. Many of these rewards programs have a cumulative effect, so the cost balances out if you fly more frequently, or fly further distances.
Distance and frequency both matter. Some rewards programs only give benefits based on how often you fly. However, many others consider both the distance traveled and the frequency. This is where the idea of "air miles" comes in. You'll get rewards for flying greater distances, allowing you to use the points you incurred to gain steep discounts on shorter flights. Now that you know the basics about air miles rewards let's look at some of the top options.
Best Cards For Any AirlineThe Chase Sapphire Preferred® is one of the top choices for who wants a card focused on air travel, and frequent travelers will find a highly attractive benefits package here. Every point has a value of $.01, meaning each dollar you spend earns about 1% back in rewards. The initial 50,000 points are extremely generous (as long as you spend $4,000 within the first three months), with the bonus point value-boosting it to an overall value of $625 points. There's a 2x bonus on points earned from travel and dining and a 25% bump when you redeem points for travel expenses like rental cars, hotels, airfare, and cruises. The APR is a variable 16.99% - 23.99%, with no annual fee in the first year and $95/year after that.
The Catch: You need excellent credit to qualify for this card. The $95 intro rate is a bit steep. The APR is also on the high side, so you'll want to pay the bill on time!
The Capital One Venture® is another popular choice. The variable APR could potentially be a bit lower than that of the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, at 14.24% - 24.24%. There's no transfer fee, and the annual fee is zero in the first year, and $95 after that. This card is generous: 2X miles per dollar spent means you may rack up benefits quickly if you make many purchases. You'll get 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, which does beat the Chase Sapphire Preferred® by $1,000. This one works well for those with a good credit rating.
The Catch: The Capital One Venture® Card has no intro APR. That means the APR applies immediately, so you'll need to be extra careful about paying off balances at the end of each month.
Another good entry from Capital One is the Capital One VentureOne®. This card has no spending limit or annual fee, making it particularly beneficial for frequent travelers. Capital One is very flexible about how you can redeem your rewards, allowing you to use them on past travel through a program called Purchase Eraser. This feature credits you for travel purchases made through a travel agent or travel site, working with hotels, airfare, and land travel. You can also redeem points directly by booking a flight through Capital One. Capital One does not advertise it openly, but those points can also be redeemed for cash, although the cash value redemption may not be the same as the travel mile value. You get 1.25 miles per dollar spent, a bit less than the Venture offers, and a 20,000-mile bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months. The APR is a relatively low 13.24% - 23.24% and there's a 0% intro APR for your first 12 months, so if you miss a payment now and then, this will be a better choice.
The Catch: It's not easy to qualify. Capital One notes that it is only for those with an excellent credit rating, although those with a "good" credit rating apply, albeit with a higher APR.
The Discover it Miles Unlimited® card is a good, simple option for travel-focused users. The reward amount is modest, but there is no spending limit, and you can redeem your points at any time for cash or travel benefits. The low APR for those with "good" or "excellent" credit is also attractive. There's a 0% APR for the first 14 months, with 11.99% - 23.99% variable after that. You get 1.5x miles for every purchase, and there's mile-for-mile bonus matching at the end of the year.
The Catch: Simplicity is this card’s greatest asset, and possibly also its biggest fault. If you're hoping for a rewards program more related directly to travel, this probably isn’t the card for you.
Best Credit Cards For Airline-Specific MilesThe American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles® card makes flying with Delta a real cost-saver to frequent flyers. Users can directly transfer their bonus points to more flights, hotels, and rental cars. The additional benefits of using Delta include priority boarding, a 20% discount on in-flight purchases, and a free checked bag—a real asset for frequent Delta flyers. The card offers 2x miles for purchases with Delta, 1x for other purchases. The APR is a variable 16.99% - 25.99%; with no annual fee in the first year and $95 after that. The value proposition here is simple: if you're a frequent Delta customer, it's a great deal.
The Catch: Miles are not transferable: you have to use them with Delta.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® card offers real advantages for Southwest customers, including two free checked bags. There are no blackout dates and seat restrictions, and you get 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest, qualifying hotels or qualifying rental car companies, 3,000 bonus points every year, and 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in your first three months. The variable APR is 16.99% - 23.99%, and there's a $69 annual fee. If you're a regular Southwest flyer, you would want this just for the free checked bags, but there are other benefits as well! The bonus points are also highly valuable, especially the 3,000 bonus points given each year.
The Catch: Southwest is not clear on the value of the points they give. There's no introductory period without an APR or annual fee, so users have to bear the cost of the APR and annual rate from the start.
If you travel regularly, one of these cards might be a real money-saver for you. It's worth considering them as a secondary card for travel, or even as a primary card. You'll want to do additional research to see if there's a closer match to your travel habits, but these options are solid starting points that give new users a good idea of what's available.
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
Capital One Venture®
Capital One VentureOne®
Discover it Miles Unlimited®
American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles®
Southwest Rapid Rewards®