Best Airline Credit Cards of 2018

0
107



Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

Our reviews and best card recommendations are based on an objective rating process and are not driven by advertising dollars. However, we do receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. 

Learn more about our advertising policy.

Best cash back card

If you don’t mind sticking with the same airline for
all or most of your travel, a good airline credit card can help you cash in on
your loyalty and earn special perks for repeat travelers.

Many airline cards offer free checked bags, priority
boarding and free or sharply discounted companion tickets. Some airline cards
also offer extra bonuses on everyday spending, making it easier to rack up
miles when you aren’t traveling. But to get the most value from an airline
card, you typically need to fly often in order to earn enough miles to recoup
the card’s annual fee.

When comparing airline cards, watch out for
restrictive redemption policies, stingy rewards seating and miles with a low
redemption value. A good airline card should combine a high value rewards
program with enough exclusive perks to make it worth your loyalty. 

To help you pick the best airline card for your travel
plans, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated cards in the airline
card category and asked a panel of judges to rate the CreditCards.com staff’s
top three picks.

Judges for the Best Airline Credit Card were personal
finance expert Holly Johnson (clubthrifty.com), travel expert Johnny Jet
(johnnyjet.com), personal finance writer Lisa Gerstner, CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief
Daniel P. Ray and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. 

Winner:
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card




Best card

Editor’s rating:

star-rating
4.2/5
Read our review

Top features:

  • 3 miles per dollar on
    directly purchased American Airline airfare, vacation packages and cargo
    purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on
    other purchases
  • 30,000 bonus miles if you
    spend $1,000 in first 90 days
  • Limited time offer: Buy 1 ticket, get a
    companion ticket for just the taxes and the fees
  • $99 companion fare
    annually

Other features: First checked bag free, no foreign
transaction fee

With a strong airline partner network and generous
perks for travelers flying in groups, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature pulled
ahead in this season’s best airline card contest.

For cardholders who live on the West
Coast, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature offers some of the most valuable
travel benefits you can get on a mid-tier airline card – especially if you don’t
fly by yourself.

Valuable
miles


Judges liked that Alaska Airlines miles are worth more than the average airline
mile, making it easier to purchase a big trip with fewer miles.

“By the estimate of The Points Guy, each
Alaska Airlines mile is worth 1.9 cents – higher than the estimated value of
miles from other airlines in the U.S., and considerably better than the
baseline penny-per-point value any traveler should seek when redeeming points
or miles,” says personal finance writer Lisa Gerstner. As a result, cardholders
who don’t fly often enough to amass a huge collection have a leg up when it’s
time to redeem a free flight.

Frequent travelers also earn more miles
when they fly Alaska Airlines or its newly acquired partner carrier, Virgin
America, says Gerstner. “Cardholders earn a substantial three points per dollar
on purchases made directly with Alaska Airlines or Virgin America, a stronger
rate than the two points per dollar that many other cards offer for purchases
with the airline.”

Solid
promotions

But what really sets the Alaska Airlines
card apart from its competitors are its promotions for companion travelers, say
judges. For example, every year cardholders are eligible for a steeply
discounted companion fare of just $121 (including taxes and fees). “They give you a [discounted] companion ticket each year with no
blackout dates,” says travel expert Johnny Jet. That’s a big deal for
cardholders who were already planning to fly with a friend or family member.

Alaska
Airlines also recently began offering an additional one-time free companion
fare when you spend enough money to earn the card’s 30,000-mile sign-up bonus. “If you meet the
same $1,000 spending minimum, you’ll nab a free companion ticket (you pay only
taxes and fees) when you purchase a ticket at the regular fare,” says Gerstner.

Great for travelers who fly in groups


In addition, the Alaska Airlines card offers a number of other money-saving
benefits – particularly for big families – making it a good value for
cardholders looking to avoid airline fees and extra expenses. For example, it
will waive the baggage fees for up to six companions flying on the same
reservation. That perk alone could save a large family a substantial amount of
money in fees – particularly since each checked bag typically costs $25. “I can
see where the Alaska Airlines Card could be the top-of-wallet favorite for a
family that frequents its Western United States destinations,” says
CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief, Daniel P. Ray. “Up to six people traveling on
the same reservation all have a free checked bag each.”

Even smaller groups benefit from Alaska’s generous
baggage policy, says Gerstner. “A couple traveling round-trip could avoid $100
in baggage fees, more than justifying the card’s $75 annual fee.”

More affordable than most


The Alaska card is also less expensive than many of its competitors, notes
Gerstner. “With an annual fee of $75, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card
folds in a host of enticing benefits for flyers at a lower price than similar
cards from other airlines, which often charge about $95.”

In addition, the
Alaska card’s sign-up bonus is more accessible than most, she says, making it a
better deal for cardholders on a budget. “It’s nice that to earn 30,000 bonus
miles, new cardholders need to spend only $1,000 in the first 90 days, compared
with spending minimums of $2,000 or $3,000 to gather a pile of extra points in
the first few months with many other cards,” says Gerstner.

Limited
airline network

Cardholders who fly widely, though, may have a harder
time finding the right Alaska Airlines or Virgin America flight. Alaska Airlines
and Virgin America have a more limited flight network than many of their
competitors. Alaska Airlines flights, for example, are mostly concentrated in
the Western half of the United States, while Virgin America favors big cities.

However, Alaska partners with a wide range of domestic
and international airlines, so cardholders shouldn’t have too hard a time
redeeming their miles for a different airline’s flight. “Alaska Airlines and
Virgin America have smaller footprints than such airlines as American or Delta.
But you can use your miles with a number of airline partners, including
American Airlines, British Airways and Icelandair,” says Gerstner.

Second
place: British Airways Visa Signature card




British Airways Visa Signature card

Editor’s rating:

star-rating
4.2/5
Read our review

Top features:

  • 3 Avios per dollar on
    British Airways purchases
  • 1 Avios per dollar on
    other purchases
  • 50,000 bonus Avios if you
    spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • 75,000 total bonus Avios
    if you spend $10,000 in first year
  • Travel Together Ticket
    each year you spend $30,000

Other features: No foreign transaction fee

The
British Airways Visa Signature card won second place in the best airline card
contest. 

Ideal
for international travelers and power card users, the British Airways Visa
Signature card has earned a reputation in travel card circles for its unusually
generous sign-up bonus – particularly for big spenders – and extensive network
of partner airlines.

Big rewards for heavy spenders

The
British Airways card – which costs $95 a year to own – offers 50,000 bonus
Avios when you spend $3,000 in the card’s first three months and an additional 25,000
Avios if you spend $10,000 before your first year anniversary. Cardholders who
manage to spend $30,000 before the end of each year are also eligible for an
annual companion ticket. 

In
addition, cardholders earn a solid 3 Avios for every dollar they spend on
British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every dollar spent on other
purchases.

According
to estimates by The Points
Guy, Avios are worth 1.5 cents a piece – well above the average redemption
rate of 1 cent a piece for most rewards credit cards. That makes everyday
spending on the British Airways card a better value than it appears. 

Worldwide travel
network

British Airways also has an extensive partner network,
making it easy to find a flight almost anywhere in the world. “If you spin a
globe and randomly stop it on a spot, chances are the British Airways Visa
Signature Card will get you there with a points-fueled discount,” says
CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray.

For example, British Airways is part of the One World
Alliance, which includes American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia,
Japan Airlines, Latam Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways and more.

Pricey
fees

However,
British Airways has also earned a reputation for adding hefty fuel surcharges
to international flights, cutting into the card’s value and forcing cardholders
to sometimes pay hefty sums for flights that were supposed to be paid for with
rewards.   

“While the British Airways card offers a big
sign-up bonus, travelers frequently complain about the big surcharges they face
for flights to Europe,” says personal finance expert Holly Johnson. “Redeeming
BA miles seems to work best for short haul flights around the U.S. and the
Caribbean, but not everyone has travel plans that work this way.” 

“Many people also complain about award availability
on both American AAdvantage and British Airways,” she adds, “which is an
ongoing problem within the airline loyalty industry. 

A great value once
you learn the ropes

Cardholders who are willing to work around the
surcharges and use partner carriers for lengthier flights should still be able
to carve out a substantial amount of value, though, says Ray.

“There can be a high learning curve with this card.
You need to learn its network of partners and how to reduce or avoid the
dreaded ‘carrier surcharges,’ but once you do, you’ll be able to sort the
program’s money-saving features from its pricey ones,” he says. 

Third place: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard




Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Editor’s rating:

star-rating
3.6/5
Read our review

Top features:

  • 2 miles per dollar on
    American Airline purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on
    general purchases
  • 30,000 bonus miles if you
    spend $1,000 in first 3 months
  • Earn 10% of redeemed
    miles back each year 

Other features: 25% savings on in-flight purchases, first checked bag
free, preferred boarding privileges, no foreign transaction fee

A close third, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum
Select World Elite Mastercard placed third in the best airline card contest.

Although not as generous as some of its
competitors, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard offers
enough free perks and valuable rewards for frequent travelers that it’s earned
top-of-the-wallet status for some domestic and international travelers.

Valuable
rewards points

At first glance, the Citi AAdvantage card
doesn’t offer nearly as many rewards as other airline credit cards. For
example, cardholders earn just two miles for every dollar spent on American
Airlines purchases and one mile for every dollar spent on anything else.

But according to personal finance expert Holly
Johnson, American Airlines’ generous redemption policy makes it possible to get
a substantial amount of value out of fewer miles – particularly if you use your
miles for discounted flights.   

“It
costs a minimum of 12,500 points per leg to travel to the Caribbean during
off-peak times, and only 15,000 at SAAver level otherwise, which makes it easy
to stretch your miles further,” says Johnson. “American also offers one of the
most generous off-season booking options to Europe, with off-peak flights
costing just 45,000 miles plus taxes and fees.”

Generous
sign-up bonus

American Airlines offers new cardholders a
solid 60,000-mile bonus when they spend $3,000 in the card’s first three
months. Johnson notes that “A
round-trip domestic flight within the U.S. costs just 25,000 American
AAdvantage miles, which means the sign-up bonus alone can be good for at least
two round-trip flights.” (Note: The bonus has decreased to 30,000  miles since this story was written)

Good
airline perks

In addition, American offers a number of
exclusive perks that make flying easier and less expensive. For example, it
waives the baggage fees for up to four passengers on the same reservation,
potentially saving families and groups of traveling friends up to $100 in fees.

It also offers preferred boarding,
discounted in-flight food and beverage purchases and a 10 percent redemption
bonus.

“While I typically prefer a general-purpose card for my air travel,
the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is also a good
choice,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “It’s got a
strong sign-up bonus, gives you a free checked bag for you and four of your
travel companions and also gives you preferred boarding on American flights.
That all adds up to a pretty good deal.”

Meet the Judges

Lisa Gerstner

Lisa Gerstner, contributing editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance


Favorite airline card: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card

“With an annual fee of $75, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card folds in a host of enticing benefits for flyers at a lower price than similar cards from other airlines, which often charge about $95.”

Johnny Jet

Johnny Jet, travel expert


Favorite airline card: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card

“They give
you a [discounted] companion ticket each year with no blackout dates. Also,
Alaska’s miles are worth more than American’s.” 

Holly Johnson

Holly Johnson, personal finance expert


Favorite airline card: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

“While all three cards
on the list are strong options for someone trying to rack up airline miles, the
Citi AAdvantage card pulls out ahead in terms of value.”

Matt Schulz

Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com


Favorite airline card: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

“It’s
got a strong sign-up bonus, gives you a free checked bag for you and four of
your travel companions and also gives you preferred boarding on American
flights. That all adds up to a pretty good deal.”

Daniel Ray

Daniel Ray, Editor-in-Chief at CreditCards.com


Favorite airline card: British Airways Visa Signature card

“There can be a high learning curve with this card.
You need to learn its network of partners and how to reduce or avoid the
dreaded ‘carrier surcharges,’ but once you do, you’ll be able to sort the
program’s money-saving features from its pricey ones.”

How
we choose our best cards

This is the second year that
CreditCards.com has held a contest for best cards in their class. To help
choose the best cards for each category, we consulted credit card and personal
finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. We also rated
cards through our credit
card reviews

program.

For each review, we rank the cards using a
weighted scoring system that assesses the cards’ most relevant attributes. Each
card attribute is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. For airline credit cards, we
evaluated a number of common airline card features, including:

  • Estimated rewards
    value (47 percent):
    Because
    card applicants typically place a high value on rewards earnings, we assign the
    greatest weight to the amount of earnings cardholders take home. We use a formula to calculate the estimated yearly
    value, assuming cardholders spend $1,325 per month, averaged over three years.
    The formula includes an average rewards rate, sign-up bonus and annual fee. We
    then assign a score depending on how the estimated rewards value compares to
    other cards.
  • Rewards
    flexibility
     (40 percent): How easy it is to redeem your miles makes a
    big difference in how likely you are to use them. We focus heavily on the
    flexibility of card redemption options and assign a substantial amount of
    weight to that category. Using a scale of 1 to 5, we rate factors such as
    expiration dates, how easy miles are to earn and redeem, whether there are limits
    on how many miles a cardholder can earn, minimum redemption thresholds and
    whether cardholders can transfer their miles to other travel partners.   
  • Features (10
    percent):
    We also consider the
    quantity, uniqueness and value of the features for each card and rate them on a
    scale of 1 to 5.
  • Annual
    percentage rate (APR)
     (3 percent): Because travel cardholders generally don’t
    want to carry a balance, we assign less weight to the card’s APR. We assign a
    score depending on how the average APR and the introductory APR compares to
    other rewards cards.

After three cards were chosen as finalists
for the best airline card contest, a panel of five judges – including credit
card and personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff – were asked to independently judge the finalists and rank them in order of
preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner. 

See related: To get the best frequent flyer card, know your hubs, Airline cards get you free checked bags. with exceptions, Should you use your card issuer’s travel portal?, Earn holiday bonus miles on airline shopping portals


All best credit card stories are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the story is accurate as of the date of the story. Check the credit card terms and conditions link on the issuing bank’s website for the most current information.





Original Source