Best Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags or airport lounge access while also making it easier to rack up points or miles and save money on flights. We analyzed 148 co-branded airline cards based on miles value, rewards rate, and other benefits to find the best cards for each major airline. Here are the best offers from our partners.

Airline credit cards offer perks like free checked bags or airport lounge access while also making it easier to rack up points or miles and save money on flights. We analyzed 148 co-branded airline cards based on miles value, rewards rate, and other benefits to find the best cards for each major airline. Here are the best offers from our partners.

By: Laura Mohammad

|

December 28, 2020

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 miles

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.24% - 24.49% variable
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
1X
Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
10,000 miles

Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.25X
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
20,000 miles

Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
The Platinum Card® from American Express
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

10X
Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases.
5X
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5X
5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
75,000 points

Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee
$550
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
United Gateway℠ Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
Earn 3 miles per $1 spent at grocery stores, on up to $1,500 per month through 9/30/2021
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United Airlines purchases, at gas stations and on local transit and commuting
1X
Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
10,000 bonus miles

10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% variable
United℠ Explorer Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United
2X
Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and eligible delivery services including GrubHub, Caviar, Seamless and DoorDash
1X
1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 70,000 miles

60k bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10k bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.

Annual Fee
$95, waived first year
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

5X
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases. Earn between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other Southwest® purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 80,000 points

Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.

Annual Fee
$69
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5X
Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
25,000 points

25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
American Express® Gold Card

New Welcome Offer

See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4X
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3X
Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 points

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

Annual Fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2X
New! Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide.
2X
Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
1X
Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
10,000 miles

Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.74% - 24.74% variable
Citi Premier® Card

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
New! Earn 3 Points at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3X
Earn 3 Points at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1X
Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
60,000 points

Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

hfyhpf120.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

5X
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases. Earn between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month.
2X
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other Southwest® purchases.
1X
1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Up to 80,000 points

Earn up to 80,000 points. Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 9 months.

Annual Fee
$149
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by hfyhpf120.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 review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected independently by hfyhpf120.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Comparing the best airline credit card offers

Airline credit cards reward you for loyalty to a specific airline, and they can be more than worth your while. Earn rewards for airfare and in-flight purchases, and enjoy benefits such as free checked-in baggage.

It’s an unsettled world in terms of travel this fall, but card issuers are offering alternative categories and features to get your attention, as well as sign-up bonus extensions. Also, with travel picking up for some, there are ways to benefit from an airline card that rewards you for loyalty. We’ve compiled a list of the best airline credit cards for your needs, and this guide will walk you through how to select the right one for you.


best airline credit cards of 2021

Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for airline transfer partners

The card recently added JetBlue to its already long list of international airline transfer partners, which has broadened its appeal considerably for domestic travel.

Card overview

This card offers unlimited 2X miles on every purchase and a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months (miles are currently valued at 1.4 cents per mile*). That means you can earn rewards on everyday purchases that you can use later in the year. Keep in mind, though, that Capital One’s airline transfer partners largely consist of international airlines rather than major U.S.-based carriers.

Best airline perk

While it’s not tied to a specific airline, the card could help you breeze through airport security thanks to its credit of up to $100 toward the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, a perk usually reserved for luxury travel cards.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for flat-rate travel rewards

Cardholders earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. If you’re willing to put most of your spending on this card, you’ll see a steady stream of miles accrue.

Card overview

If you want to do some rewards-funded traveling, you’ve got a lot of options on the credit card market. But if you want to earn travel rewards for all of your purchases, not just travel purchases, your options are fewer. Earning a flat, 1.25 miles per dollar spent is a great deal, especially when you’re not paying an annual fee.

Best airline perk

One feature you shouldn’t overlook is the ease of redemption. The fact that there are no blackout dates, expiration dates, mile limits or minimum redemption thresholds makes this card an easy choice for those who value flexibility. Even better, you can transfer your miles to 10+ travel partners.

Discover it® Miles

Why it’s the best airline credit card for first year bonus

This is about as close as you can get to making your own bonus: Not only will you earn unlimited 1.5X miles on every purchase, Discover will match all the miles earned in your first year – no need to shell out thousands in the first few months just to score a big sign-up bonus. Even better, the card charges no annual fee.

Card overview

This card offers great flexibility in how you can redeem miles. In addition to airfare, you can opt for cash back, book hotel rooms and rental cars or pay for taxis and public transportation, all without sacrificing rewards value. You also get a 0% intro APR for 14 months on new purchases (11.99% – 22.99% variable thereafter), making it a solid choice for paying off large expenses over time. Unfortunately, though, you can’t transfer miles to a frequent flyer program.

Best airline perk

It’s not exactly an airline perk, but the card’s lack of a foreign transaction fee should come in handy if you plan to travel abroad. Many cards charge a foreign transaction fee of at least 3% per purchase made overseas. Discover card international acceptance can be limited, however, so be sure to check if your card will be accepted where you’re traveling.

Citi Premier® Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for everyday purchases

Like any good travel card, the Citi Premier® Card offers rewards on flights and hotels. What makes this card special is the opportunity to earn points at a boosted rate for your everyday purchases, too: Earn 3X points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.

Card overview

Because of the unlimited rewards in several everyday purchase categories, this is a great card for long-term value. But you won’t have to wait long to reap your rewards– New cardholders can earn 60,000 ThankYou® points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Best airline perk

If you redeem your points for air travel through the ThankYou Travel Center, you get a 25% boost in value (valid through 4/10/21). Plus, there are no blackout dates, point limits or expiration dates.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for American Airlines

The AAdvantage MileUp Card lacks some of the perks you’ll get with other American Airlines cards, but since it charges no annual fee and offers everyday value via its 2X rewards rate at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases, it’s a great place to start.

Card overview

This card’s sign-up bonus of 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit can be yours with just $500 in spend in the first 3 months. Plus, American Airlines offers one of the largest travel networks in the world, and AAdvantage miles (valued at 1.4 cents*) can be transferred to dozens of airline, hotel and car rental partners. That said, redeeming AAdvantage miles can be complicated.

Best airline perk

You’ll get a 25% discount on food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights, which will come in handy when travel opportunities pick up again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t cover other in-flight purchases like Wi-Fi.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for Southwest Airlines

It offers the same sign-up bonus as the Rapid Rewards Premier and Priority cards – 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months and an additional 30,000 points after you spend $10,000 in the first 9 months – while charging a lower annual fee of $69.

Card overview

Like the other Southwest cards, this is a great card to consider as travel opportunities return: Along with the 2X points you’ll earn on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards partner hotel and car rental purchases, this card offers 3,000 bonus points each year after your account anniversary (points are valued at 1.5 cents*). For a limited time you can earn 5X points on all Southwest purchases on up to $2,000 spent per month (ends 3/31/21).

Best airline perk

Earn 125,000 points or buy 100 qualifying one-way tickets and you’ll be eligible for a Companion Pass, which allows you to have a companion fly for free (plus taxes and fees) for up to 2 years on every Southwest flight you buy with points or cash.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why it’s the best airline credit card for luxury travel benefits

Aside from the ongoing rewards, there are tons of additional perks and benefits for cardholders. Those who value comfort when traveling will appreciate the annual credits: up to $200 for Uber and up to $100 in hotel credits with the Hotel Collection. Plus, cardholders get a $100 credit for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck® every four years.

Card overview

With The Platinum Card, you’ll earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, or hotels booked with amextravel.com. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on these purchases per calendar year. With rewards rates like these, you shouldn’t have a problem making up the value of the $550 annual fee if you travel very often and will use the credits. This introductory bonus makes this especially easy in your first year, offering 75,000 points to those who spend $5,000 in the first six months.

Best airline perk

One of the most coveted features of this card is access to the American Express Global Lounge collection, which includes the lavish Centurion Lounges, which provide amenities like spa services and high-speed Wi-Fi.

United℠ Explorer Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for United Airlines

This card’s sign-up bonus is at its highest. Earn up to 70,000 miles – 60,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months, plus 10,000 miles if you spend $6,000 total within the first 6 months.

Card overview

Here is an airline card that you might think about getting: The United Explorer Card is more versatile than some airline cards, since you’ll not only earn 2X miles on tickets purchased directly with United, but also on hotel and restaurant purchases (miles are valued at 1.3 cents*). The card also comes with a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which, if you fly frequently, should help lessen the blow of the card’s $95 annual fee (waived the first year).

Best airline perk

You get 2 one-time passes to the United Club lounge each year on your cardholder anniversary, allowing you to escape the chaos of the airport and enjoy free food and drinks, complimentary Wi-Fi and comfortable workspaces.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for Delta Air Lines

The card comes with a 35,000-mile welcome offer after you spend just $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, you’ll enjoy an array of travel benefits that can save you money and make flying less of a hassle.

Card overview

Here’s another airline card with offers beyond 2X miles on direct Delta purchases – earn 2X miles at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets. Also, the card’s annual fee of $99 is waived for the first year and you receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverage and audio headsets. And if you sign up by 12/31/21, you can get a complimentary Uber Eats Pass membership, which is worth $119 a year or $9.95 a month. Delta SkyMiles are valued at 1.2 cents*.

Best airline perk

You’ll get the fee waived for your first checked bag and for the first checked bags of up to 8 companions traveling on the same reservation (on Delta flights). This could save you up to $60 per person on a round-trip Delta flight.

American Express® Gold Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for dining rewards

Many travel credit cards offer rewards on dining, but the rate of 4 points per dollar offered by the American Express Gold Card is truly valuable for frequent restaurant-goers.

Card overview

Cardholders also earn four points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), so you don’t miss out by eating at 数字货币交易软件_数字货币手机app下载home. Also, flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com earn 3 points per dollar spent, which is also pretty great. The introductory bonus is worthy of some attention, too: 60,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first six months.

Best airline perk

If you’re traveling more than 100 miles from 数字货币交易软件_数字货币手机app下载home, the Global Assist® Hotline is available for 24/7 medical, legal, financial and other select emergency assistance and coordination services. So if you’re in a pinch and need medical or legal referrals, cash wires or missing luggage assistance, you get expert help for free.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Why it’s the best airline credit card for travel companion benefits

With this card, you’ll be a favorite among your traveling group. You and up to eight companions traveling under the same reservation are entitled to one free checked bag.

Card overview

If you fly often and you’re loyal to American Airlines, you’ll almost certainly find value in this card. Cardholders earn 2 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar on general purchases. The sign-up bonus offers a great kick-start to your rewards journey: 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Best airline perk

Having access to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounges will likely make your travel experience much more comfortable. If you enjoy lounge access but aren’t sure whether it justifies the annual fee, you should know that an Admirals Club membership costs at least $650.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for no annual fee

It’s a great fit if you want to earn rewards without breaking the bank. The card not only charges no annual fee – a rarity among airline cards – but also comes with a 10,000-mile welcome offer after you spend just $500 in the first 3 months.

Card overview

While it can’t compete with the value and travel perks offered by the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, the Delta SkyMiles Blue card still gets you 2X miles at restaurants worldwide, which can be helpful as you ease back into the wide world. Also, earn 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta. SkyMiles are valued at 1.2 cents*.

Best airline perk

You’ll get 20% back in the form of a statement credit on eligible in-flight purchases of food, beverages and audio headsets on Delta flights.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Why it’s the best airline credit card for annual travel credit

The card’s annual 7,500-point anniversary bonus is the largest offered by a Southwest Rapid Rewards consumer card. Plus, you can apply the $75 credit you get each year toward airfare. This is a huge perk, as most travel credits only count toward incidentals.

Card overview

While it shares the Rapid Rewards Plus card’s sign-up bonus and rewards rate, the Rapid Rewards Priority card’s annual bonus, travel credit and other perks should make up for its higher annual fee of $149. Also, already a strong domestic carrier, Southwest is increasingly adding flights abroad.

Best airline perk

Along with its annual credit and a chance to earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, the card gets you 4 upgraded boardings per year and a 20% discount on in-flight purchases, including drinks, Wi-Fi, messaging and movies.

Summary of the Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2021

Credit CardBest ForAnnual FeeIntro BonusRequired Spend For Intro Bonus
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardAirline transfer partners$9560,000 miles$3,000 in the first 3 months
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardFlat-rate travel rewards$020,000 miles$500 in the first 3 months
Discover it® MilesFirst year bonus$0Matches the miles you earned at the end of the first yearN/A
Citi Premier® CardEveryday purchases$9560,000 points$4,000 in the first 3 months
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpSM CardAmerican Airlines$010,000 AAdvantage® miles and a $50 statement credit$500 in first 3 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardSouthwest and overall value$6950,000 points$2,000 in first 3 months Plus earn an additional 30,000 points if you spend $10,000 in the first 9 months
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressLuxury travel benefits$55075,000 points$5,000 in first 6 months
United Explorer CardUnited and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application credit$95, waived first year60,000 miles$3,000 in the first 3 months Plus earn an additional 10,000 miles if you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardDelta and free checked baggage$99, waived first year35,000 miles$1,000 in the first 3 months
American Express® Gold CardDining rewards$25060,000 miles$4,000 in the first 6 months
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®Travel companion benefits$45050,000 miles$5,000 in the first 3 months
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express CardNo annual fee$010,000 miles$500 in the first 3 months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit CardAnnual travel credits$14950,000 points$2,000 in first 3 months Plus earn an additional 30,000 points if you spend $10,000 in the first 9 months

Criteria used: Rewards rates, rewards categories, airline alliance partners, other transfer partners, sign-up bonus, point values, redemption options, redemption flexibility, elite status, annual fee, travel credits, airport lounge access, miscellaneous travel benefits, rates and fees, customer service, credit needed, upgrade and downgrade options

Multiple criteria influenced how we picked the best card for each airline. We recognize that the best things any airline card can do for you are to help you save on airfare with free flights and make the airport/flying experience more tolerable (and, with the right perks, even enjoyable). For a full list of criteria and more detail on our review scores, see our Bureau of Labor & Statistics

How to earn airline miles

It may seem straightforward – spend on your card, get miles, redeem, rinse and repeat. But there’s more to it than you’d think. You’ll want to time your purchases, time which card you use, and more.

Time your purchases

This is a big one. You’ll want to make sure, for example, that you spend the required amount before the sign-up bonus deadline hits. Typically, you have 3 months to spend a set amount in order to receive the sign-up bonus. Also, you may consider making a big purchase (that you can pay back in full) before a planned trip to top off your points. For example, you might plan to earn miles that you can use once the situation with COVID-19 improves.

When do you get your miles?

Once you’ve earned your miles, you would think you would get them almost immediately, because you’ve met the requirements, but not necessarily so. For example, Chase says it will take 6-8 weeks before your sign-up bonus points are posted, but it can be less. That brings us back to making sure you time when you make your purchase, and ensuring that those miles will post before the big trip. Trying to earn miles to visit family in the next few months? Make sure you spend enough in time to get those rewards back in order to redeem them.

Choose what you redeem for carefully

Now that you’re on your way to earning points or miles, you may think the easy part is ahead. But not so fast.

Miles’ values vary not only between airlines but also between types of redemptions. For example, with the Delta SkyMiles, flights are valued at 1.2 cents, while upgrades are valued at an incredible 2.2 cents, while merchandise is only 0.4 cents. And programs such as AAdvantage allow you to redeem miles for everything from flights and upgrades to gift cards. But while the value of miles is strong for flight awards and upgrades (Business/First MileSAAver trades at a whopping 3.8 cents), that isn’t always the case for other redemptions.

Choose how often you redeem

You may be required to have a minimum before you can redeem, so check for that.

To United program award tickets are one-way, which actually opens up your options. You can have a different class each direction; or you can travel out with a Saver ticket when your plans are flexible, and with an Everyday ticket on the return with firmed up plans.

You can use miles to request upgrades to a premium cabin, which allows you to benefit from free alcoholic beverages, as well as priority check-in, security line access, boarding, and baggage handling.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

With this OneWorld partner, British Airways can eat up your miles, called Avios, but the experience is superior.

There is a feature called Reward Flight Savers, advertised as the best value reward flights, which is available on return flights in Europe and southern Africa. Like other loyalty programs, you can use Avios to upgrade, for a hotel stay or getting a rental car.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Flying to roughly a dozen countries, Virgin Atlantic is a 35-year-old British airline with a number of stops in the U.S. Flying Club, Virgin Atlantic’s loyalty program, offers dozens of partners, including Delta. You can redeem on Delta for as little at 20,000 miles for East Coast flights during the off-season.

Other partners include KLM, Air France and other international airlines, as well as hotels such as Hilton and IHG. The points valuation for this program is a generous 1.5 cents, according to TPG. You can also convert points into miles through some of the top card issuer programs, such as Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Do airline miles expire?

When it comes to airline rewards, few things are more frustrating than seeing your hard-earned points and miles expire before you’ve had a chance to use them. Unfortunately, only a few airline rewards programs offer miles that never expire, with the vast majority requiring you to either earn or redeem miles within 1-2 years or risk forfeiting the miles in your account. In some cases, you can have expired miles restored to your account, but don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a reinstatement fee.

Here’s how airline point and mile expiration breaks down with some of the most popular airline rewards programs:

Airline / rewards programDo miles expire?How to keep miles from expiring
Alaska AirlinesYes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
American Airlines AAdvantageYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
British Airways / AviosYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn or redeem Avios at least once every 36 months
Cathay Pacific / Asia MilesYes, after 36 months after earningNo way to keep from expiring
DeltaNoN/A
EtihadYes, after 24 months after earningNo way to keep from expiring
Air France / KLM (Flying Blue)Yes, after 24 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 24 months
JetBlueNoN/A
QantasYes, after 18 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 18 months
Southwest Rapid RewardsYes, after 24 months with no earning activityEarn points at least once every 24 months
United MileagePlusNoN/A
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubYes, after 36 months of no activityEarn or redeem miles at least once every 36 months

Can you transfer miles between airlines?

A lot of people consider airline miles to be comparable to cash. However, airline miles are a little bit more like currency from different countries: Many places will not allow you to pay with money from another country.

Similarly, you can’t transfer points between frequent flyer programs in most cases, even if the airlines are partners. Partnerships such as OneWorld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam typically allow you to earn miles when you fly on one airline, and redeem those miles you earn for flights on a carrier within the same network. However, most of those airlines won’t allow you to transfer miles directly from one carrier to another, because there is no financial benefit to them for doing so.

But there are some exceptions to the rule. British Airways and Iberia share the Avios frequent flyer program. So while your points in each program remain separate and distinct, you can transfer them freely between the two so long as both accounts are at least 3 months old.

Just because you can’t transfer points back and forth, however, doesn’t mean that you are stuck with a single carrier for life. Most airlines within the major alliances will allow you to use your mileage stash with that brand to book award flights on partner airlines.

For example, an American Airlines frequent flyer can use AAdvantage miles to book a flight on British Airways, and the cost of that ticket will be based on the American Airlines mileage award chart. So even though that traveler will physically fly on a British Airways flight, the passenger is subject to all of American’s ticketing rules; responsible for paying any change or redeposit fees to American; and must contact American – not British Airways – with any problems or issues that may arise before departure.

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