[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]
Frequent flyers know constantly crisscrossing the skies is a grind. Dealing with security, airline fees and other hassles can make any trip a headache.
If you’re looking for a better flight experience, you might want to see what an airline credit card can do for you. Most major airlines offer credit cards with perks that can improve your flight experience.
Here are five credit cards that get you special treatment with the airlines.
1. United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Rewards: Two miles per dollar spent on United tickets, one mile per dollar spent on everything else
Signup Bonus: 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $95
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 16.74% to 23.74%
Why We Picked It: Special treatment from United starts before you step foot on the plane.
For Your Flight: The first checked bag for both you and a companion is free. Plus, you’ll get priority boarding ahead of general passengers. The card also provides two one-time United Club lounge passes each year with your card anniversary.
Drawbacks: If you tend to only carry on, you won’t get the benefit of the free checked bag.
Rewards: Two miles for every dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants, and on American Airlines purchases, one mile per dollar spent on everything else
Signup Bonus: 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $99, waived for first 12 months*
APR: 17.49% - 25.49%* (Variable)
Why We Picked It: You’ll get special treatment at the airport and save on in-flight meals. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
For Your Flight: Cardholders and up to four companions get their first checked bag free with domestic American Airlines flights. Plus, they’ll get priority boarding and a 25% discount on in-flight meals and beverages.
Drawbacks: Perks like priority boarding and free checked bags are restricted to domestic flights.
3. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Rewards: Two points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines flights and with select hotel and car rental partners, one point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Signup Bonus: 6,000 bonus points each card anniversary
Annual Fee: $99
APR: Variable 16.74% to 23.74%
Why We Picked It: Southwest’s credit card helps flyers avoid fees.
For Your Flight: Cardholders get first and second checked bags free. There are no change fees if you need to modify your flights, although fare differences may apply.
Drawbacks: Southwest does not offer priority boarding with this card.
4. JetBlue Plus Card
Rewards: Six points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, two points per dollar spent at restaurants and grocery stores and one point per dollar spent on everything else
Signup Bonus: 30,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, 5,000 annual bonus points on your card anniversary
Annual Fee: $99
APR: Variable 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74% on purchases, 0% intro APR for 12 months on balance transfers, then variable 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74%
Why We Picked It: You’ll get deep discounts on in-flight meals and free checked bags and you can earn elite status with JetBlue.
For Your Flight: Cardholders and up to three companions get their first bags checked free. You’ll also get 50% off eligible in-flight beverages and food. If you spend $50,000 on your card in a calendar year, you can join the TrueBlue Mosaic program, which provides benefits including waived change and cancellation fees, expedited security lines, priority boarding and free alcoholic beverages.
Drawbacks: Earning Mosaic status requires a steep spending minimum.
Rewards: Two miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, one mile per dollar spent on everything else
Signup Bonus: 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first four months, plus a $50 statement credit with your first Delta purchase in the same time frame
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
APR: 17.24%-26.24% Variable
Why We Picked It: Delta’s credit card provides basic flight perks and the potential for Medallion membership.
For Your Flight: Your first checked bag is free and you’ll enjoy priority boarding. In-flight meals, beverages and audio headset purchases receive a 20% discount. Each year, you’ll get a round-trip companion certificate for a domestic main cabin seat. The card also provides discounted Delta Sky Club lounge access. Finally, spending $25,000 in a calendar year can earn you Medallion Member status, which includes a number of additional premium benefits including upgraded seats, additional waived fees and more.
Drawbacks: Earning Medallion membership requires a steep spending minimum or earning Medallion Qualification Dollars.
How to Choose a Card for Airline Perks
Because most cards that convey special flight perks are offered by specific airlines, you should first examine the card that’s tied to your airline of choice. If the perks that come with that card aren’t particularly impressive, you may want to check competitor cards to see if it could be beneficial to switch loyalties.
Of course, you’ll want to weigh the offered benefits against the annual fee and other associated card costs. For instance, airport lounges are great for those that frequently arrive at the airport early or experience layovers. But if you tend to get to your gate at the last second and usually take direct flights, this benefit might be worthless. Make sure to look for benefits that actually enhance the way you travel.
If you have no specific loyalty to one airline and tend to choose flights based on factors like price or convenience, you may be better off with a general travel card.
What Is Required to Get a Credit Card With Special Treatment at Airlines?
Cards that provide special flight perks and elite status with airlines usually require excellent credit. You should be reasonably confident you can get approved before you apply, because a hard credit inquiry from a credit card application can ding your credit score a few points. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.
At publishing time, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select, JetBlue Plus and Gold Delta Skymiles credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.