Best credit cards for big purchases: Bonus points, purchase protection - Business Insider - Business Insider

Best credit cards for big purchases: Bonus points, purchase protection - Business Insider - Business Insider


Best credit cards for big purchases: Bonus points, purchase protection - Business Insider - Business Insider

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 02:29 PM PDT

This page includes information about the Discover it® Miles, which is currently not available on Business Insider and may be out of date.  

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A big purchase could be an opportunity to qualify for an intro bonus on a new credit card.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider

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Many travel rewards credit cards offer bonus points or miles for certain activities like using them at specific types of merchants, hitting spending thresholds, or even making large purchases. If you need to spend thousands of dollars on particular items or expenses using your rewards credit card, it pays to know which ones offer such perks and to maximize them in terms of earning, unlocking other value-added benefits like companion tickets and elite status or free nights, and to use a card that offers adequate purchase protection to safeguard your acquisitions.

Here are the key factors to look for when deciding on a credit card to use for large purchases as well as some of the best options for each.

We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Earning a high welcome offer

One of the best reasons to use a rewards card to make a large purchase is to meet the minimum spending requirement to earn a new card's welcome offer of bonus points, miles, or cash back. There are a few rewards credit cards currently available with relatively high spending requirements in place to earn their welcome offers. If you're in the market for a new rewards card and have one or more large purchases to make, this could be the exact right situation to maximize your spending.

The Ink Business Preferred card just launched an elevated welcome bonus of 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after new cardholders spend $15,000 in the first three months. This card is one of the best business cards out there thanks to its reasonable annual fee of $95, strong travel protections, and generous bonus categories. You'll earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping, internet, cable, and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each calendar year (and 1 point per dollar on everything else). 

Click here to learn more about the Ink Business Preferred card »

For a limited time, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card is offering new cardholders up to 100,000 bonus points — 70,000 after spending $5,000 or more on purchases in the first three months, and another 30,000 bonus points if you spend $25,000 total on purchases within the first six months of account opening. If you do hit that spend, you'll also have accrued at least enough points to earn the airline's ultra-valuable Companion Pass benefit.

The card has a $199 annual fee, but cardholders receive perks like 9,000 anniversary bonus points, four upgraded boardings per year, in-flight Wi-Fi credits, and up to a $100 statement credit to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The card earns 3x points on Southwest purchases, 2x points on social media and search engine advertising, and internet, cable, and phone services, and 1x point per dollar on everything else.

Annual Fee

$199

Regular APR

17.49% - 24.49% variable

Credit Score

Editor's Rating

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
  • The information related to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
  • 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines® flights, Hotel & car rental partners
  • 2 points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable, and phone services
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
  • Four Upgraded Boardings every year when available
  • Earn points on employee spending
Pros
  • Generous sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 Rapid Rewards points
  • 3x bonus points on Southwest purchases
  • Valuable Southwest perks including four upgraded boardings per year, in-flight Wi-Fi credits, and 9,000 points each year on your anniversary
Cons
  • $199 annual fee is on the high side
Read Our Review Read Our ReviewA looong arrow, pointing right

Also for a limited time, Chase's new United℠ Business Card is offering an introductory bonus of up to 100,000 United miles after new cardholders spend $10,000 or more on purchases within the first three months of account opening. The card earns 2x miles on United purchases, at gas stations, restaurants, office supply stores, and on local transit and commuting, and 1x on everything else. Cardholders get a free checked bag, priority boarding, 25% back on in-flight purchases, and two one-time United Club passes each year, among other benefits. Its annual fee is $99.

Annual Fee

$99

Regular APR

17.99% - 24.99% variable

Credit Score

Editor's Rating

  • Details
  • Pros & Cons
  • The information related to the United℠ Business Card has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
Pros
  • Valuable welcome bonus of 100,000 miles
  • Solid travel benefits with United, including a free checked bag and priority boarding
  • $100 annual United travel credit is relatively easy to earn
Cons
  • Beyond the sign-up bonus, it will take a while to earn a lot of miles through everyday spending on this card
Read Our Review Read Our ReviewA looong arrow, pointing right

These three cards are for small business owners, so not everyone will be eligible for them — though it's easier to qualify for a business credit card than you might think, since freelancing or selling items online can count.

If you're only looking at personal credit cards, you'll generally find that the minimum spending requirements for earning a welcome bonus are lower than on business cards. However, some cards still have significant spending requirements — for example, the Platinum Card® from American Express offers new cardholders 60,000 points, but only after they spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Low APR on balances

This consideration is a bit of a mixed bag, since you likely will not want to carry a balance for too long as it will eventually negatively impact your credit score over time. However, if you do have large purchases to make that you cannot put off but you won't be able to pay them off in full immediately, it might be worth looking into a credit card that includes a introductory APR offer.

Many of the cards that include this type of bonus offer are great starter rewards cards like the Chase Freedom® and Discover it® Miles.

There are also some solid business credit card choices with intro APR offers:

Among the best ones at the moment is the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card, which offers 0% intro APR for 12 months from account opening on purchases (then a variable rate of 14.74% to 20.74%) applies. The card earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Its current welcome bonus is $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening, and it has no annual fee.

The Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business does not charge an annual fee, either, and offers 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Its current welcome offer is $200 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months, and it's offering 0% intro APR on purchases for nine months (then a variable rate of 14.49% to 22.49% applies).

Large-purchase bonuses

More and more small-business cards now offer bonus earning opportunities specifically on high-dollar purchases. Among the most prominent is the The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, which earns 1.5x Amex Membership Rewards points on purchase transactions of $5,000 or more. So if you buy something for $10,000, you'd earn 15,000 points total. You can earn up to one million extra points per calendar year per account via this large-purchase bonus.

Aside from that, the The Business Platinum® Card from American Express is currently offering new cardmembers up to 75,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the card within the first 3 months. It also earns 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, among many other benefits.

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card also earns 1.5x miles on purchases of $5,000 or more, but only up to an additional 50,000 bonus points per calendar year.

Spending-based bonuses and benefits

Other cards offer members bonuses or other perks if they reach a certain threshold of spending each year.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card normally earns 3x miles on eligible Delta purchases and 1x on everything else. However, if you spend $150,000 or more on your card in a calendar year, you begin to earn 1.5x miles on eligible purchases. The card comes with access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges as well as up to a $100 statement credit to cover the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.

With the The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, you can earn one free weekend night reward each calendar year you spend $15,000 or more on eligible purchases, and if you hit $60,000, you get a second free night, plus Hilton Honors Diamond status at $40,000, all of which are nice value-added perks if you spend these types of figures anyway. The card has a $95 annual fee and is currently offering 125,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months.

If you have the American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard, you earn not one, but two $99 companion certificates good for economy travel within North America for hitting $20,000 in spend in a calendar year. If you hit $50,000, you get $3,000 elite-qualifying dollars toward elite status. The card also offers several other impressive perks like $25 back per day as statement credits on in-flight food and beverage purchases, free checked bags and priority boarding, a Global Entry application fee credit, and earning rates of 3x per dollar on American Airlines purchases, 2x on hotels and car rentals, and 1x everywhere else.

Purchase protection

If you're making large purchases, you'll want to make sure your credit card covers you in case something goes wrong with the merchandise. That's why it's important to ascertain the purchase protection your card extends. While this benefit can vary dramatically, several products offer excellent coverage.

The The Business Platinum® Card from American Express covers items against theft of damage up to 120 days (90 days for New York residents) after purchase with a maximum of $10,000 per covered purchase and $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year.

The Chase Ink Business Preferred will protect your purchase up to 120 days out against theft or damage as much as $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account. 

And with the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business, you have up to 90 days after your purchase to make a claim against theft or damage, with caps of $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account. The card earns unlimited 2x miles on every purchase, and its $95 annual fee is waived the first year. New cardmembers can earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 within the first three months of account opening.

On the personal credit card side, the following cards offer some of the best purchase protection:

  • Platinum Card® from American Express: covers items against theft and damage up to 120 days (90 days for New York residents) after purchase with a maximum of $10,000 per covered purchase and up to $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year
  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express: covers items against theft and damage up to 120 days after purchase with a maximum of $1,000 per covered purchase and up to $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year
  • Chase United℠ Explorer Card: covers items against theft and damage up to 120 days after purchase with a maximum of $10,000 per covered purchase and up to $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: covers items against theft and damage up to 120 days after purchase with a maximum of $10,000 per covered purchase and up to $50,000 per eligible card per calendar year

Bottom line

You might think that simply earning thousands of points or miles is reason enough to make large purchases with a rewards credit card. But you can boost your points balance even further by using a credit card that offers bonus earning opportunities specifically on high-dollar buys, not to mention additional perks like award flights or nights for hitting certain spending thresholds.

Just be sure your items are covered by sufficient purchase protections and that you are using your credit line responsibly to rack up rewards on ther large purchases you need to anyway.

See Business Insider's list of the best business credit cards »

Best airline credit cards of 2020 - CNET

Posted: 18 Apr 2020 05:08 PM PDT

For those who love collecting airline miles with their preferred carrier or wish they could take some of the hassle out of flying, airline credit cards are enticing. These cobranded cards -- offered by an airline and a bank in partnership  -- give users rewards in the form of frequent flier miles and deliver benefits like waived checked bag fees, reduced or complimentary companion fares and discounted incidentals, like Wi-Fi. 

Unlike general travel rewards credit cards, which offer lots of options for redeeming points, cobranded airline cards are much less flexible. Their rewards apply to one specific airline (instead of multiple airlines and hotels) and the purchase categories you are rewarded for are usually restricted to those made with the airline, with some minor exceptions. As a result, these types of cards are best for those who are already loyal to one airline -- and therefore don't mind the inflexibility of the rewards -- as well as those who value perks like waived baggage fees and airline lounge access. 

If you rarely check a bag and usually bargain-hunt the best airline for most flights, an airline credit card is not the best choice for you. Instead, consider the best travel credit cards, two of which are listed below, or the best cash back credit cards. But if you fly on the same airline with your family a few times a year (or more) and check a bag every time you fly, those waived baggage fees can add up to hundreds of dollars in annual savings. Plus, early boarding often guarantees overhead bin space, giving you more leg room (and less stress).

Here are some of the common benefits of airline credit cards:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Lounge access (during some, not all, itineraries) 
  • Priority boarding
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits
  • Generous sign-on bonuses

To determine the best airline credit cards below, we compared the cards available for seven of the most popular airlines in the U.S. and selected the options that offer the best value for the largest portion of travelers. Because most of the rewards rates fall in the same 2X-3X miles range, perks like waived baggage fees and credits like companion fares are the key differentiating factor between each card. Dollar values are assigned to each frequent flier program's rewards mile by averaging the calculated valuations by The Points Guy and NerdWallet. 

Best Airline Credit Cards

Card Reward Rates New Member Bonus Annual Fee
Chase® Sapphire Reserve® 3X points on travel and dining; (* begins after earning $300 credit), 1x point on all other purchases 50,000 points after Spend $4,000 in first 3 months $550
American Express® The  Platinum Card® 5X points on flights (*booked directly w/airline or Amex Travel) and prepaid hotels (*booked on Amex Travel) 70,000 points after Spend $5,000 in first 3 months $550
Amex Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Credit Card 3X Miles on Delta, hotels, 2X Miles on restaurants, supermarkets, 1X Miles on all other purchases 5,000 MQMs + 70,000 miles after spending $2,000 in first 3 months $250
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card 2X Points on Southwest, 1X Points on all other purchases 40,000 points; 7,500 points annually after spending $1,000 in first 3 months $149
United Explorer Credit Card 2X Miles on United, 2X Miles on Restaurants and Hotels, 1X Miles on all other purchases 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in first 3 months 95 (waived first year)
AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard 2X Miles on American, 1X Points on all other purchases 60,000 AAdvantage miles; Anniversary companion certificate at $99 (*after spending $20k on purchases). Have to Make one purchase, pay the annual fee within 90 days $99
JetBlue Plus Card 6X Points on JetBlue; 2X Points on dining and groceries, 1X Points on all other purchases 40,000 Points; 5,000 annually after spending $1,000 in first 3 months $99
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card  3X Miles on Alaska, 1X Miles on every other purchase 40,000 Miles; $100 statement credit; Alaska's Famous Companion Fare after spending $2,000 in first 90 days $75

The best overall travel card for non-loyalty fliers

Chase
  • Reward Rates: 3X points on travel and dining (begins after earning $300 credit), 1x point on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $550
  • New Member Bonus: 50,000 points
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: Spend $4,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: 17.99% to 24.99% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Excellent

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel rewards credit card, meaning you earn points on any travel or dining purchase, not just with a single airline, and your redemption options are much more flexible and transferable. It's included here for those who want more flexibility but still want to use rewards to book future travel. It's even better for those who value the additional travel perks like travel insurance, hotel discounts and freebies, and lounge access. The Reserve offers great value for anyone spending around $12,000 or more annually on travel (flights, hotels, rental cars, trains, buses, taxis), and dining (restaurants, cafes, bars) combined. 

Rewards

Reserve cardmembers earn unlimited 3X points on travel and dining purchases, 1X points on all other purchases, and 10x points on Lyft rides through March 2022. While the $550 annual fee is on the high side, an annual $300 statement credit for travel purchases brings the yearly commitment down to $250. The sign-on bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months (worth $750 when redeemed for travel in the Chase portal, or up to $1000 when points are transferred to travel partners). Card holders also get a statement credit reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA precheck, both of which are valid for five years) plus a number of VIP-style travel perks, which are listed in our full review of the card.

Redemption

UR points can be redeemed in three main ways: You can transfer points to one of 13 travel partners, including 10 airlines, at a redemption rate of about 1.75 cents per point for a 5.25 percent total return. You can book travel (flights, hotels, cruises, etc) through Chase's Ultimate Rewards portal, which will get you a rate of 1.5-cents per point, or $1.50 for 100 points -- a return of 4.5 percent on travel and dining purchases (well above most airline credit cards). The final option is cash redemption at a 1-cent rate, effectively turning your card into a 3 percent cash back card for travel and dining purchases. 

The best travel card for first-class fliers

American Express
  • Reward Rates: 5X points on flights (booked directly w/airline or Amex Travel) and prepaid hotels (*booked on Amex Travel)
  • Annual Fee: $550
  • New Member Bonus: 70,000 points 
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: Spend $5,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: NA (Late fee up to $39 applies)
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

Another high-return travel rewards card, the Platinum Card from American Express offers frequent fliers the highest potential reward rate of any travel rewards card we've reviewed, topping out at around 7.5 percent. Even if you're loyal to one airline, if you spend more than $10,000 annually on flights and hotels you'll get a better return on spending with the Platinum card than you would with a cobranded airline credit card. It's an excellent choice for those who value premium travel perks like lounge access and hotel upgrades, or who want the flexibility to redeem rewards with a larger roster of airlines. 

Rewards

The Platinum Card earns 5X Membership Rewards (MR) points on flights booked directly with airlines or through the Amex portal (flights booked on third-party sites don't qualify), and prepaid hotels booked through the Amex portal, as well as 1X MR points on all other purchases. The high annual fee of $550 is offset by a $200 airline fee credit for travel incidentals, a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA precheck, both of which are valid for five years), and $200 in Uber credits per year. The new member bonus is on the high side at 70,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months, worth up to $1,400 when points are transferred to travel partners. The Platinum Card also offers a number of premium travel benefits, including hotel perks and access to the Global Lounge Collection.

Redemption

The Platinum card offers two main methods for redemption. The first is for travel purchases made through the Amex Travel portal, where points are equal to one cent. The second option is to transfer your MR points to one of 18 airline partners or three hotel partners, for a value of up to two cents per point. Because points are worth twice as much when redeemed through partners, it's highly recommended to go this route. (You can also redeem your points as a statement credit, but the rate is variable and you'll earn less rewards when you do so.) 

The best Delta credit card

American Express
  • Reward Rates: 3X miles on Delta, hotels; 2X miles on restaurants, supermarkets, 1X miles on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $250
  • New Member Bonus: 5,000 MQMs + 70,000 miles 
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: $2,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: 15.74% to 24.74% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

With an annual companion pass, a generous sign-on bonus and a moderate annual fee, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card from American Express is the best choice for most Delta fliers. The 3.5 percent return is fairly average for an airline rewards program, but this card makes up for that with other perks. Those who check bags often and travel with a companion (domestically) at least annually can save a substantial amount of money. Add that to the $1,150 in value from the first-year bonuses and loyal Delta fliers can realize a lot of value out of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card.

Rewards

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card offers 3X miles on Delta purchases, 2X miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1X miles on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.15 cents per point, that represents about a 3.5 percent return on Delta purchases and a 2.3 percent return at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.

Though some rewards cards (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve) carry $550 annual fees, this card's $250 annual fee is considered steep for a cobranded airline card. However, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card also offers an above-average sign-on bonus of 70,000 bonus miles (which translates to around $920 worth of travel -- that's significant) after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Cardholders also get an additional 20,000 bonus miles after their first annual renewal. 

Delta SkyMiles Platinum cardholders also get their first checked bag free, Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, a credit for either Global Entry or TSA Precheck application (worth up to $100) and an annual complementary domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate (you pay taxes and fees of no more than $75).

Redemption

The best way to redeem Delta SkyMiles is by booking Delta flights through the Delta website. SkyMiles can also be transferred to one of 20 airline partners in the SkyTeam Airline Alliance, like Air France and KLM,but note that the value of miles can be less when transferred. Delta doesn't offer an award chart so it's not always easy to calculate the value of a given reward flight, but you can do so manually by comparing the SkyMiles price with the dollar price and making sure you're getting around 1.15 cents per point or better. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile. There are also no blackout dates when booking award flights through Delta, though the availability of reward seats is variable and you can't always book a flight with miles, even if it's available through normal channels.

The best Southwest credit card

Southwest
  • Reward Rates: 2X points on Southwest, 1X points on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $149
  • New Member Bonus: 40,000 points; 7,500 points annually
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: $1,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: 15.99% to 22.99% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

Given its perks and credits, the Priority card, which is cobranded with Chase, offers the best value among Southwest Rapid Rewards cards. With a 40,000 points sign-on bonus (worth around $580 in Southwest travel) after spending $1,000 in the first three months, a decent reward rate of 3 percent and a $75 annual travel credit, this card pays for itself fairly quickly. Though Southwest already gives fliers their first two checked bags for free and doesn't have airport lounges, this card saves Southwest loyalists money in other ways. 

Rewards

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card offers 2X points on Southwest Airlines purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.45 cents per point, that represents just under a 3 percent return on Southwest Airlines purchases.

The $149 annual fee is offset by the $75 annual travel credit, which is automatically applied to your account each year when you use your card for a Southwest Airlines purchase, and the additional 7,500 points awarded each card anniversary, which we value at around $110. Finally, the Priority card offers four upgraded boardings a year which usually cost between $30-$50 each and 20 percent back on in-flight drinks and Wi-Fi in the form of a statement credit.

Redemption 

The best way to redeem Southwest Rapid Rewards is by booking Southwest "Wanna Get Away" flights -- which are basically economy tickets that allow you to re-book or change your flight, but not cancel for a refund -- on Southwest's website. Southwest doesn't have an award chart for calculating the value of points, but you can do it manually by comparing the Rapid Rewards points price with the dollar price and making sure you're getting around 1.45 cents per point or better. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile.   Southwest also ensures unlimited reward seats with no blackout dates or seat restrictions, so don't worry about certain flights not being available when booking with Rapid Rewards. 

The best United Airlines credit card

United
  • Reward Rates: 2X Miles on United, 2X Miles on Restaurants and Hotels, 1X Miles on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $95, waived first year
  • New Member Bonus: 60,000 miles
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: $3,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: 16.49% to 23.49% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

The rewards rate of Chase's United Explorer card is on the low end for cobranded airline credit cards at 2 percent, but it does offer decent value through its sign-on bonus and waived baggage fees. In many cases, you'd be better off with a no-fee cash back credit card, like the Wells Fargo Propel, if you spend less than $10,000 annually on travel and dining. But if you value priority boarding and check a bag every time you fly United, the Explorer card is worth considering. Generally, United's credit cards don't compare well to the other airlines when it comes to overall value, so this recommendation is really the best of not-so-great options. 

Rewards

The United Explorer card offers 2X miles on United purchases, 2X miles on restaurants and hotels and 1X miles on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.05 cents per mile, that represents just over a 2 percent return on spending. The card's $95 annual fee is waived the first year of ownership and new cardholders earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months (worth around $630 in United travel). 

Card holders get their first checked bag free, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (worth $100), 25 percent back on in-flight United purchases, and priority boarding on United-operated flights. The main value in this card comes from those waived baggage fees, so if you check bags for each leg of a flight, that's $60 back in your pocket (or on your statement credit) for each round-trip flight.

Redemption

United MileagePlus miles will go the farthest when redeemed to book United flights or transferred to partners in the Star Alliance airline program (like Lufthansa and Air Canada). United doesn't have an award chart for calculating the value of points on given flights or distances, but you can do it manually by comparing the MileagePlus price with the dollar price and making sure you're getting around 1.05 cents per point or better. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile. 

There are two types of award seats when redeeming miles, "Saver Awards" seats and "Everyday Awards" seats. The former are cheaper than the latter, and there are no blackout dates for cardholders when booking Everyday Awards seats.

The best American Airlines credit card

American Airlines
  • Reward Rates: 2X Miles on American, 1X Points on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • New Member Bonus: 60,000 AAdvantage miles; Anniversary companion certificate at $99 (*after spending $20k on purchases)
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: Make one purchase, pay the annual fee within 90 days
  • APR: 15.99%, 19.99%, or 24.99% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

The Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard from Barclays, with its free checked bags for up to four others, is ideal for families who travel together often. It only takes one round-trip flight with the whole family and a cart-load of bags to earn back for the $99 annual fee and it's also the card with the lowest spending threshold to earn the 60,000 mile sign-on bonus. 

Rewards

The Aviator Red World Elite card has a moderate annual fee of $99 and a sign-on bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles after making just one purchase and paying the annual fee. Those 60,000 miles are valued at $720. 

The card offers 2X miles on American Airlines purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.2 cents per mile, that represents a 2.4 percent return on spending. Cardholders get their first checked bag free and a free checked bag for up to four companions traveling on the same reservation, which can add up to $300 in baggage fee savings for one round-trip flight. The card also offers preferred boarding, a $25 statement credit for in-flight WiFi purchases per year, and 25 percent back on in-flight food and beverages. 

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite card holders can also earn a $99 companion certificate each year after spending $20,000 on purchases during the "card membership" year, which starts when you sign up. Given this incredibly high spending threshold, we don't place too much value on the companion certificate. 

Redemption 

You can redeem AAdvantage miles for American Airlines flights or partner flights in the Oneworld alliance network, which includes airlines like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines. American Airlines is one of the few airlines with an award chart, so start there when booking travel as it will help you get a sense for how far miles will go according to your destination. As a general baseline, aim for around 1.2 cents per mile or better, which you can calculate by comparing the AAdvantage mile price with the dollar price. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile. 

The best JetBlue credit card

JetBlue
  • Reward Rates: 6X Points on JetBlue; 2X Points on dining and groceries, 1X Points on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee: $99
  • New Member Bonus: 40,000 Points; 5,000 annually
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: $1,000 in first 3 months
  • APR: 15.99%, 19.99% or 24.99% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

The Barclays JetBlue Plus card has the best rewards rate of any airline card on this list and its other features, perks, and bonuses are on-par with category averages, including its fairly standard $99 annual fee.It's a good card for JetBlue loyalists and even a good option for those who fly JetBlue only a few times a year, but who can take advantage of the sign-on bonus and free checked bags. 

Rewards

The JetBlue Plus card offers 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores and 1X points on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.3 cents per point, that represents an almost 8 percent return on JetBlue spending, well above the average airline card. The sign-on bonus is 60,000 TrueBlue points after spending $1,000 in the first three months -- worth around $520. That's just below what some other cards offer in terms of monetary value, but the $1,000 spending threshold is easier to meet. Cardmembers also get an additional 5,000 bonus points each year on their account anniversary, worth around $65. 

The first checked bag on each flight is free for you and up to three companions traveling on the same reservation, representing up to $70 in savings per person per round-trip flight. JetBlue Plus card holders also get 50 percent off in-flight food and beverage purchases, twice the discount that most other airline cards offer. 

Redemption

The TrueBlue rewards system is one of the better airline loyalty programs, mainly because you'll rarely get less than 1 cent per mile when redeeming points, even when booking partner flights with Hawaiian Airlines or vacation packages through JetBlue. There are also no blackout dates when booking with points, though we always recommend you do some quick math (comparing the amount of miles a flight would cost to its dollar cost) to ensure you're getting around 1.3 cents per point when booking a flight. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile. 

The best Alaska Airlines credit card

Alaska Airlines
  • Reward Rates: 3X Miles on Alaska, 1X Miles on every other purchase
  • Annual Fee: $75
  • New Member Bonus: 40,000 Miles; $100 statement credit; Alaska's Famous Companion Fare
  • Bonus Redemption Threshold: $2,000 in first 90 days
  • APR: 15.99% to 23.99% variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
  • Credit Requirement: Good to excellent

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card from Bank of America is the only airline card offered by Alaska Airlines, but it's a good one. The annual $99 companion fare and 4 percent return on Alaska spending can translate into valuable savings for Alaska frequent fliers. It's the only card we found that offers free checked bags for up to six companions, so families will obviously benefit from those waived fees. The rewards rate is also substantial, and paired with a lower-than-average annual fee of $75, this card can save Alaskan loyalists a significant amount of money. 

Rewards

The Alaska Airlines Visa card offers 3X Miles on Alaska purchases,  20 percent back on in-flight purchases and 1X miles on all other purchases. At a value of around 1.35 cents per mile, that represents just over 4 percent back on spending. The sign-on bonus is 40,000 points after spending $2,000, valued at around $540 in the first three months and there's also a $100 statement credit, which covers the annual fee the first year (and then some.) 

Best of all is the aforementioned annual $99 companion fare (plus taxes and fees), and a free checked bag for you and up to six other guests traveling on the same reservation each time you fly. The waived checked bag fees can be worth up to $420 for each round-trip reservation of seven people and the companion fare includes any destination that Alaska flies to with no blackout dates.

Redemption

Alaska publishes an award chart online, so start there to see which regions will make the most sense or get you the best value based on your travel plans. Alaska also has partnerships with international airlines or airlines that fly internationally, including Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Qantas, and American Airlines (full list on their website). 

Booking flights with international partners can sometimes be the best way to get top value for your miles, but keep in mind that sometimes means booking a first-class ticket at a big discount, which could still cost way more than you'd normally spend on an economy ticket. We recommend comparing the dollar cost of a certain flight with its miles cost to determine the mile value, and aim for around 1.3 cents per mile or better. For example, if a flight costs 15,000 points or $149, take the dollar cost and divide it by the mile cost, and multiply by 100. So 149 / 15000 = .0099 x 100 = .99 cents per mile. 

How do airline credit cards work?

Airline credit cards reward users with points or miles from an airline's frequent flier program, which can be redeemed for flights with that airline. Sometimes you can transfer those points to one of the airline's travel partners, though this option varies from airline to airline. 

Airline credit cards operate like loyalty programs in that you stay in a closed loop rewards system. You earn rewards when you purchase flights on the airline, and you can use those points for future bookings. Some airline credit cards also reward card holders for making purchases at restaurants, grocery stores or other categories, but given the average reward rate of airline credit cards for those categories, we generally advise paying for those purchases with a cash-back credit card or general travel rewards credit card. 

How we picked the best airline credit cards

Each major airline generally offers three to four tiers of credit cards with a range of annual fees, rewards structures, and available perks. The lower-tier cards have annual fees under $100, while the highest-tier cards have annual fees that can reach $450-$550. Most of the airline credit cards we recommend fall in the middle of that range. This is because there are excellent no-fee or low-fee cash-back credit cards available that offer better rewards rates than most airline cards. Once you reach the travel spending threshold required to make a $500 annual fee airline card worth it, you would see more value return from a high-end travel rewards card such as the Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. 

To determine the best airline credit cards, we researched all the available cards for seven major airlines and selected those that offer the best potential financial value. Given that the value of airline credit cards can fluctuate considerably based on factors like how many bags you check with your preferred airline in a given year, it's harder to calculate the specific spending thresholds at which a card makes sense. That being said, we emphasize the rewards and perks that matter the most with each card so you can make the best decision given your situation. 

How do airline cards compare to travel rewards cards?

While airline credit cards offer rewards in the form of an airline's miles or points, general travel rewards credit cards have their own systems, like American Express' Membership Rewards points or Chase's Ultimate Rewards points. The general travel credit cards points can either be used to redeem travel (with any available airline) through the card issuer's travel portal, or for maximum value, transferred to an airline partner. You also earn extra points on any travel purchase, regardless of the airline.

Though they charge higher annual fees, the general travel rewards credit cards tend to offer superior return rates and, since they cover a much greater range of purchases, they are often the better option. American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points are also worth more cents per point when transferred strategically, making the return even greater.

Airline credit cards are much less flexible than general travel cards, since you only earn the bonus reward rate when making purchases with an airline, and your options for redemption are much more limited. Given their relative inflexibility, airline credit cards are best for travelers who want to take advantage of airline-specific perks.. If you often spend on upgraded boardings or checked bags and you always fly with the same airline, these cards can save you money. 

If you're not loyal to one airline, rarely check bags, and don't care about your frequent flier status, general travel rewards credit cards are a better choice.

How to use an airline card as a secondary travel rewards card

While airline credit cards are usually best for travelers who are loyal to one airline, they can also be used as valuable "secondary" cards, in conjunction with a general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Gold Card from American Express, or Platinum Card from American Express. 

This works by taking advantage of the generous sign-on bonuses, which value in range between $500-$1,000. You'll need to satisfy the spending threshold to earn those bonuses, but if you can identify an opportunity, like holiday flights, business-related trips, or a family vacation, the strategy works. In those cases, you can sign up for the credit card in advance, use it to book your trips, then re-assess in a year to see if you want to hold onto it. 

That said, I'm generally not a fan of the "super user" strategy of signing up for lots of different cards to take advantage of bonuses, as it usually ends up taking more time and energy than it's worth. Trying to keep track of several accounts is not a prudent financial strategy. And from an overall returns rate perspective, you'll usually be better off simply using a general travel rewards card for all those purchases from different airlines.

Cards researched 

  • Delta SkyMiles Blue
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold
  • Delta SkyMiles Platinum
  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
  • Southwest RR Priority
  • United Explorer Card
  • United Club Card
  • United TravelBank Card
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
  • AAdvantage MileUp
  • AAdvantage Platinum Select
  • AAdvantage Executive
  • Alaska Airlines Visa
  • JetBlue Card
  • JetBlue Plus

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