10 Airline Credit Cards That Help You Avoid Pesky Fees

Get free checked bags, lounge access, and in-flight discounts, and amass plenty of points toward free flights with the right airline credit card.

10 Airline Credit Cards That Help You Avoid Pesky Fees

A new airline credit card could be your ticket to a free business-class flight, airport lounge access, and more.

Courtesy of Delta

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Here comes 2022, and travel is on everyone’s mind . . . as is strategizing how to get the most out of the trips you do take. High in this strategic plan is finding the right travel credit card (or cards) to reap as many benefits as possible. Beyond general travel cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, there are a number of airline credit cards appealing to all types of frequent (or not so frequent) fliers, from legacy carrier loyalists to those who cringe at the idea of paying for checked baggage (and will do anything not to) to those who simply want to earn points fast through introductory offers. Thankfully, several airline credit cards have their highest welcome bonus offers ever while others continue to provide benefits that far outweigh annual fees.

Even if you only plan to take a few trips in the near future, carrying an airline credit card can be your ticket to a world of perks. Plus, all the bonus miles you can earn will come in handy for booking award flights in the future. Here’s what to look for in an airline credit card and the best ones to apply for at the moment.

Benefits to look for in an airline credit card

When deciding on an airline credit card, consider the following possible benefits.

  • Welcome offer: When you apply for a new airline credit card, you can often earn tens of thousands of miles quickly thanks to high welcome offers. Currently, several airline credit cards are luring new cardholders with best-ever bonus offers.
  • Free checked bags: Nobody likes paying $30–$35 for a checked bag. Knowing this, most airline credit cards include a first checked bag for free not just for the cardholder but for others on their reservation, too. Typically you must use your airline-branded card for the tickets in order to get the free bag benefit.
  • Airport lounge access: At the higher end of the price range (annual fees over $450 per year), select premium airline credit cards include membership to their airport clubs, more than offsetting annual fees.
  • Elite status boosters: Some airlines offer clever ways to fast-track toward elite status by spending on their cobranded credit cards.
  • Discounts and statement credits: Get discounts on in-flight purchases like food, drinks, and Wi-Fi from some cards while others offer statement credits toward airline charges when using an airline-branded credit card.
  • Earning opportunities: Bonus miles on expenses beyond flight purchases, such as charges at restaurants, on gas, and groceries are possible with some airline cards.
  • Companion offers and anniversary bonuses: Some airline credit cards include companion tickets among their perks while others give cardmembers bonus points on their card anniversaries.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Some airline credit cards will reimburse you for a Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fee every four years.

Each airline credit card will check some of these boxes but not all. Think about the perks you value (and will use) most, the airlines you tend to fly, and the annual fee you are willing to pay, and then focus on the cards that shake out in the mix. We’ve made it easy for you below by highlighting the key features of our 10 favorite airline credit cards at the moment.

Best airline credit cards for loyalists of legacy carriers

If you travel often and stick to one carrier or alliance for all your flying needs, consider these premium airline credit cards to rack up points with your favorite airline and get access to their branded lounges.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®


Best for: Those who use American Airlines as their primary carrier and who want access to American Airlines–branded lounges.

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $450

Airport lounge access: Admirals Club membership (valued at $650) and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with the primary cardholder.

Free checked bags: First checked bag is free for cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation (for domestic American Airlines itineraries only).

Discounts and statement credits: Get a 25 percent discount on in-flight purchases.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Yes

United Club℠ Infinite Card

Best for: Those who plan to use United Airlines as their primary carrier in 2022, want to enjoy the benefits of United lounge access, plus want to bank miles aplenty for future free flights with United and its Star Alliance partners.

Welcome offer: Earn 120,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first three months.

Annual fee: $525

Free checked bags: Cardmembers receive up to two checked bags per flight for themselves and the same for one travel companion on the same reservation.

Airport lounge access: United Club membership (valued at $650) grants the primary cardholder plus two adult companions (or one adult companion and dependent children under 21) access to United Club locations and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges worldwide.

Discounts and statement credits: Get 25 percent back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages, and Wi-Fi on United-operated flights. Save 10 percent on United Economy Saver Awards. Get up to $75 in statement credits at IHG Hotels and Resorts.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Yes

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card



Best for: Those who fly Delta often, want to access Delta’s Sky Clubs, and also want a fast-track to Delta elite status through credit card spending.

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

Free checked bags: A free checked bag for yourself and up to eight other traveling companions.

Airport lounge access: This card gets you into Delta’s Sky Clubs when flying the airline, and The Centurion Lounge when you book a Delta flight with your Reserve Card.

Elite status boosters: Achieve elite status simply through credit card spending. You can earn 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, up to four times, meaning you could earn up to 60,000 MQMs—enough for mid-level Gold status.

Companion offers and anniversary bonuses: Receive a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Yes

Best low-fee airline credit cards for airline-specific perks

If you fly an airline regularly but don’t really care about getting into their branded lounges (or have another card that gets you into Priority Pass or Centurion lounges), consider these airline credit cards that offer benefits like free checked bags but command low annual fees.

United℠ Explorer Card

Best for: Those who fly United but not often enough that they’d consider themselves a United loyalist.

Welcome offer: Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.
Annual fee: There is no intro annual fee the first year, then it’s $95.

Free checked bags: The primary cardholder and one companion traveling on the same reservation will each receive their first standard checked bag free.
Airport lounge access: Visit the United Club with two one-time passes gifted each year for your account anniversary.
Discounts and statement credits: Get 25 percent back on in-flight purchases of Wi-Fi and food and drinks.
Earning opportunities: The card earns two miles per dollar on United purchases, as well as on hotels and dining, including eligible delivery services.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: No

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card



Best for: Those who fly Delta but don’t fly so often that they need lounge access or to attain elite status.
Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Annual fee: The introductory annual fee is $0 the first year, then $99 (see rates and fees).
Free checked bags: A free checked bag for yourself and up to eight other traveling companions.
Earning opportunities: Accrue two miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants, and at U.S. supermarkets.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: No

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card



Best for: Those who plan to use Southwest Airlines as their primary carrier for future travel plans and want to bank plenty of points for free flights. (It may come as a surprise to some, but you don’t need to be a big firm to get a business card—a sole proprietorship, single-member LLC, or the like will do.)
Welcome offer: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months from account opening. These bonus points count toward the total required to earn Southwest’s coveted Companion Pass.
Annual fee: $199
Free checked bags: No free bag benefit needed as Southwest continues to offer two free checked bags per passenger. Thank you, Southwest!
Discounts and statement credits: Get up to 365 in-flight Wi-Fi credits per year (so basically free Wi-Fi anytime you fly Southwest), a $500 fee credit per year for Rapid Rewards points transfers, and four upgraded boardings per year.
Companion offers and anniversary bonuses: Receive an account anniversary bonus of 9,000 points annually.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Yes

JetBlue Plus Card

Best for: Those who use JetBlue as their primary airline and want a fast track to Mosaic status through spending.

Welcome offer: Earn 70,000 TrueBlue miles after spending $1,000 on purchases and paying the annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
Annual fee: $99
Free checked bags: Free first checked bag for you and up to three companions on the same reservation when you use your JetBlue Plus Card to purchase tickets.
Elite status booster: Gain Mosaic status if you spend $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card.
Discounts and statement credits: Get 50 percent in-flight savings on cocktails and food purchases.
Earning opportunities: Earn six points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, two points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores.
Companion offers and anniversary bonuses: Receive 5,000 bonus points after account anniversary each year.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: No

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card

Best for: Those who fly Alaska Airlines and like to travel with a plus one.

Welcome offer: New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $2,000 or more on purchases within the first 90 days plus the opportunity to use a Companion Fare.
Annual fee: $75
Free checked bags: Free first checked bag for you and up to six companions on the same reservation.
Airport lounge access: Get 50 percent off day passes at the Alaska Lounge when paying with your Alaska Airlines Visa credit card.
Discounts and statement credits: Receive 20 percent back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases.
Companion offers and anniversary bonuses: Get Alaska’s Companion Fare every year. When you purchase one round-trip coach ticket, you can get a second ticket on the same reservation for just $99 plus taxes and fees, which can amount to huge savings.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: No

Best low-fee airline credit cards for accumulating lots of points now

If you want a great card for earning points quickly through welcome offers and with excellent redemption opportunities, consider these two airline credit cards.

Aeroplan® Credit Card

Best for: The Aeroplan® Credit Card is best for those who travel on Air Canada as well as those looking to bank valuable Aeroplan miles quickly. (This frequent-flier program has more award partners than any other loyalty program in the world—currently 45 and counting—serving more than 1,300 global destinations.)
Welcome offer: New cardholders can earn 70,000 points after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months.
Annual fee: $95
Free checked bags: On Air Canada flights, expect one free checked bag for the cardholder plus up to eight travel companions on the same itinerary.
Elite status boosters: Receive Aeroplan 25K Elite Status for the first two calendar years of card membership and opportunities to elevate this status through card spending.
Earning opportunities: Earn three points per dollar spent on Air Canada, at grocery stores, and on dining.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: Yes

British Airways Visa Signature® Card



Best for: Those who want to rack up a lot of points quickly for free flights. British Airways points (aka Avios) are easy to use, especially on oneworld partner airlines like American Airlines.
Welcome offer: Earn a best-ever 100,000 bonus Avios after you spend $5,000 within the first three months of account opening. (Previous offers required spending $20,000 to get the same welcome bonus.)
Annual fee: $95
Free checked bags: None
Discounts and statement credits: When using the card, cardmembers can earn statement credits toward taxes, fees, and charges paid on Avios bookings, $100 per reward booking in economy or premium economy, and $200 per reward flight bookings in business and first class. Earn up to three statement credits annually, maxing out at $600 in statement credits per calendar year. Also get a 10 percent discount code for a future flight on British Airways.
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit: No

Takeaways

There are so many great airline credit cards to choose from nowadays, each with its own suite of perks. As you try to decide on one, think about which airlines you fly the most, the benefits you would maximize, and the annual fee you are willing to pay. It’s also worthwhile pairing an airline-branded credit card with another travel card that racks up more dynamic travel rewards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Amex Platinum.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.
This article was originally published in 2019; it was updated in April 2022, with current information.