The Top 5 Best Airline Credit Cards To Get Free Flights in 2019

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Planning your next dream vacation? Maybe an all-inclusive resort in Mexico? Or exploring the French countryside?

Step one in the planning process: securing flights. After all, you have to get there right?

A few weeks pass and your credit card statement arrives in the mail. Wait…why is it 5 times larger than average?!

Oh, that’s right…the dreaded cost of actually getting to your destination.

Well, want to know a secret? Airlines have their very own credit cards that can score you free flights and other amazing travel perks. In this post, we breakdown the top five airline credit cards that will help you save hundreds of dollars on your next trip.



Ranking The Best Airline Credit Cards

There are dozens of airline credit cards out there seemingly with all very similar sign up bonuses and perks. The question is, how do you find the right credit card for you?

Well look no further. The table below breaks down our five favorite travel credit cards based on sign-up bonus, perks, annual fees and spending requirement.

Please note, we may receive affiliate compensation for a few of the links below at no cost to you. We have personally tested all of the items listed here.

Credit Card
Sign-Up Bonus Perks Annual Fee Spending Requirement
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card 40,000 Bonus Miles and a $50 statement credit -First checked bag is free
-Priority boarding
-2x miles on Delta purchases
-No foreign transactions fees
-Car rental damage & loss insurance
-20% in-flight savings
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, after that $95 $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
United Explorer Credit Card
40,000 Bonus Miles -First checked bag is free
-Priority boarding
-2x miles on United purchases
-$100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check
-No foreign transaction fees
-25% in-flight savings
-2 United Club passes yearly
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, after that $95 $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
JetBlue Plus Card 50,000 Bonus Miles -First checked bag is free
-No foreign transaction fees
-50%in-flight savings
-6x miles on JetBlue purchases
$99 $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card 40,000 Bonus Miles -First checked bag is free
-Companion fare on account anniversary
-3x miles on Alaska Airlines purchases
-20% in-flight savings
-No foreign transaction fees
$75 $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard 60,000 Bonus Miles -First checked bag is free
-One-time 50% off companion discount
-3x miles on Hawaiian Airlines purchases
-No foreign transaction fees
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, after that $99 $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Still need more details and clarity on what airline credit card is best for you?

Let’s dive into each airline credit card to see which is the best for airline points, airline miles, and setting up your next travel adventure.

How Do Airline Credit Cards Work?

Airline credit cards are just like airline loyalty programs: the more you do business with them, the more rewards you get. 

When it comes to airline credit cards, every dollar you spend on the card will help you generate points.

The most common offers can range from 1-3 points / miles per dollar spent (depending on where you spend). Here is what Delta offers for the Gold SkyMiles card we ranked above:

gold delta skymiles credit card rewards

With introductory bonus offers, these can be even higher. 

So, if you want to go out to dinner, be sure to use your card and earn two miles per dollar on a nice meal!

Want to pay rent on your card? You can earn thousands per month in miles. 

Airline credit cards come in two distinct formats: 

  1. Branded airline cards: branded airline credit cards are linked directly with specific airlines. For example, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card can only be used with Delta Airlines. The points and miles you earn from this credit card aren’t usable on another airline (unless partnered with Delta). 

  2. Generic point cards: generic, unbranded points and miles cards are just what they sound like. These cards help you rack up miles that can be used on any airline. But, it comes with a downside: exchange rates differ between airlines, meaning you get less “bang” for your “buck.” 

Once you have stockpiled points / miles, you can redeem them to buy flights for free, or use a combination of miles and money to buy tickets: 

buying delta flights with miles

Are Airline Credit Cards Worth It?

Even if you only flew once per year, airline credit cards are worth it. 

Why? General cash-back cards have comparably weak rewards for your loyalty compared to airline credit cards. 

Case in point: the US Bank Cash+ card, regarded as one of the best cash back cards you can get, only offers $150 as a bonus within the first 90 days and 1% cash back on most purchases. 

Compare that to Delta’s Gold SkyMiles card, which offers you a 40,000 mile sign up bonus, enough to nearly buy two round-trip tickets to Hawaii from the West Coast, which would normally cost you a whopping $1,649.20: 

trip total to hawaii without miles

I think it’s clear which card is the better deal.

Personally, Kelly and I have used our Gold SkyMiles cards to travel to Hawaii twice, where we swam with dolphins, without spending an extra dime out of pocket. 

With required minimum spends to receive your large bonus, airline credit cards are surely worth it.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the individual reviews of the top five airline credit cards in 2019…

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Review

The Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card is one of the best airline credit cards out there, and for good reason: 

It offers incredible perks, benefits, and a stellar signup bonus that can take you far. 

With a low annual fee (and a free one the first year), it’s no wonder this card is so popular:

new delta signup bonus.JPG

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Perks and Benefits

The Gold Delta card offers some of the best perks and benefits of any airline card on the market, especially at the price (annual fee). 

Sign-up bonus: The standard signup bonus for this card is only 30,000 miles, but through our referral link, you get 40,000 miles for no additional annual fee! 

In addition, this bonus comes with a $50 statement credit that you can use for flights or pay off your balance. In all of the cards we review on this post, this is the best airline bonus. 

Perks: The Gold SkyMiles card has countless perks and benefits for users, including: 

  • First checked bag is free

  • Priority boarding groups

  • 2x miles on Delta purchases, like tickets or in-flight goods

  • Zero foreign transaction fees, saving you hundreds abroad

  • Car rental damage and loss insurance

  • 20% savings when buying items or food during a flight

  • Discounts to Delta Sky Club

  • Purchase and return protection up to $50,000 per year

  • Extended warranty on goods up to five years

Annual fee: When opening the card, you will pay a $0 annual fee for the first year (and still recieve all of those amazing benefits). After that, your annual fee is $95 per year. 

Spending requirement: To get the sign-up bonus for this airline credit card, you will need to spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. 

This can be done on anything from rent to car payments and anything in between. 

Is The Delta Gold SkyMiles Bonus a Good Deal?

40,000 bonus miles is one of the best deals on the market right now, especially for Delta points. In fact, it’s so good that the normal offer is only 30,000 miles right now. 

With our referral link, you can land 40,000 bonus miles. But, what can those bonus miles realistically get you? A simple round-trip flight to a nearby state? Maybe a trip to NYC? 

How about nearly two round-trip flights to Hawaii: 

delta 27.500 miles to hawaii.png

A round-trip flight on Delta from San Francisco to Maui is 27,500 miles. Meanwhile, on Hawaiian Airlines, you’d pay 40,000 miles for the same trip, another reason we prefer this card to the Hawaiian Airlines card.

This is a very good deal, and one that probably won’t last long. 

Opening just one Delta Gold SkyMiles card can land you and your significant other free flights to Hawaii and back! 

Who Is the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card Best For?

In our experience, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card is best for any traveler looking to book their next big vacation. 

Whether it’s a family of five, solo traveling, or a romantic getaway, this card will save you a pretty penny. 

Delta currently has over 300 flight destinations and operates in 59 countries worldwide.

United Explorer Credit Card Review

The United Explorer credit card is a top entry-level airline credit card.

With no annual fee the first year and a great bonus, it’s a must-have for the frequent United flyer.

united explorer credit card overview graphic.png

United Explorer Credit Card Perks and Benefits

The United Explorer card offers compelling perks, benefits, and a big sign-up bonus. 

Sign-up bonus: The standard signup bonus for this card is 40,000 miles on United.

In addition, you will recieve a $100 credit to use for either Global Entry or TSA pre-check.

That’s a great benefit if you don’t already have one of the two. 

Perks: The Explorer Card card has countless perks and benefits for users, including: 

  • First checked bag is free

  • Priority boarding groups

  • 2x miles on United purchases

  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA pre-check

  • Zero foreign transaction fees

  • 25% savings on in-flight goods

  • 2 free United Club passes every year

Annual fee: When opening the card, you will pay a $0 annual fee for the first year (and still receive all of those amazing benefits). After that, your annual fee is $95 per year. 

Spending requirement: To get the sign-up bonus for this airline credit card, you will need to spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. 

Is the United Explorer Credit Card Bonus a Good Deal?

The United Explorer card comes with great perks. If you don’t already priority boarding, TSA pre-check, or like to fly economy, you will love this card.

But, is the sign-up bonus good enough? 

It depends. With 40,000 miles, you can travel to most places in the continental USA for free, round-trip.

But, equally comparing a Hawaii trip, you’ll be spending more points than you get with the bonus for a single round-trip ticket: 

United Bonus Miles.JPG

Other than the sub-par bonus miles, the perks are some of the best around. 

Who is The United Explorer Credit Card Best For? 

The United Explorer card is excellent for those who love to fly United.

Due to the free checked bag, you can fly bare-bones economy and not pay the extra fees that you’d have to without this card. 

Kelly and I have this card, and it’s perfect for just about anyone who frequents United Airlines. 

If you are looking for a stellar sign-up bonus to use for a trip, this might not be the card for you.

JetBlue Plus Credit Card Review

The JetBlue Plus card offers a huge introductory bonus with 50,000 miles.

Are those miles enough to compete? Let’s find out.

jetblue plus card overview graphicnew.png

JetBlue Plus Credit Card Perks and Benefits

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus miles, one of the biggest sign-up bonuses currently available.

Perks: The JetBlue Plus card has one of the coolest benefits options I’ve seen on a credit card before: bonus points!

  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after account anniversary 

  • Free checked bag for you and up to 3 companions 

  • 10% rebate on all redeemed TrueBlue points

  • 50% savings on in-flight purchases 

  • $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacations package of $100 or more 

  • No foreign transaction fees on international purchases

  • Earn even more miles through credit card purchases: 6x miles on JetBlue Airlines purchases, 2x miles on restaurants and grocery store purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases

Annual Fee: $99, right off the bat, yikes!

Spending Requirement: $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days

Is the JetBlue Plus Credit Card a good deal?

For a limited time, JetBlue is offering 50,000 bonus miles for the JetBlue Plus card which is 10,000 miles better than what Barclays typically has to offer. 

The JetBlue Plus card doesn’t stack up against the sign-up bonuses of Delta and Hawaiian, but you can definitely make your miles last. There are plenty of adventures out there as JetBlue operates in 120 domestic and international destinations in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. 

For example, a round trip flight from San Francisco to Boston is only 18,300 points. Out of pocket this flight would cost you about $270. Now, wasn’t that easy? You just saved almost $300 dollars within thinking twice:

jetblue credit card miles booking

Additionally, JetBlue has partnered with Hawaiian Airlines and you can now redeem TrueBlue miles for flights on Hawaiian Airlines.

Can you hear the beach calling your name? What island will you choose? Maui or Oahu? 

Who is The JetBlue Plus Credit Card Best For? 

With four free checked bags, unlimited snacks and cheap round-trip domestic flights, the JetBlue Plus card is perfect for families looking to save some money on their next vacation.

Having Orlando, FL as a major JetBlue hub you can easily say hello to Mickey Mouse while spending time at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card Review

Alaska Airlines is a smaller airline with less overall flight routes and destinations than Delta or United.

But, that doesn’t mean you should count out their offer.

Here’s what the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card can get you:

alaska airlines visa signature card overview graphic.JPG

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card Perks and Benefits

Alaska Airlines is a sleeper-airline that is packed with stellar deals. 

Here are some of the amazing benefits this card offers, coupled with some not-so-good ones, too. 

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 miles. That’s a pretty solid bonus.

Perks: The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card has plenty of perks: 

  • First checked bag is free

  • Companion fare on account anniversary (yearly)

  • 3x miles on Alaska Airlines purchases

  • 20% savings on in-flight goods

  • Zero foreign transaction fees

Annual fee: Unfortunately, Alaska’s card falls short in the annual fee department, costing you $75 per year, right off the bat, rather than giving you the first year free. 

This devalues the sign-up bonus, giving you a worse introductory deal. 

Spending requirement: To get the sign-up bonus for this airline credit card, you will need to spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. 

Is the Alaska Airlines Card Bonus a Good Deal?

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature isn’t a bad card, by any means. But, it’s nothing to rave about either. 

Putting those 40,000 miles to the test, you could fly round-trip for one person to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles, leaving you 10,000 left in your balance:

alaska airlines booking info.png

While still more expensive than the Delta bonus, it’s a good option if you are thinking of using Alaska Airlines more than once per year.

The only problem is…

The sign-up bonus isn’t worth as much due to the introductory annual fee of $75. Instead of having the first year free, you instantly are paying, devaluing your bonus. 

This card is a good deal, but it’s not the best. Not by a long-shot. 

Who is The Alaska Airlines Card Best For?

The Alaska Airlines card is best for United States residents that live on the West Coast, as their route map is dominated by West Coast cities:

alaska flight map.png

But, this card does have impressive perks and zero foreign transaction fees. Plus, their mileage booking system is heavily customizable, allowing you to choose how many miles to use in combination with cash, making booking easy as pie.

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard Credit Card Review

Hawaiian Airlines is one of the most enjoyable airlines to fly. With great service and welcoming attendants, you get a taste of the islands the entire way.

But, is their credit card worth it? Here’s what we think.

hawaiian airlines world elite mastercard overview graphic.png

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard Perks and Benefits

Sign-up bonus: The current sign-up bonus for the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard is 60,000 bonus miles

Perks: This Hawaiian Airlines card packs some great perks and benefits, including:

  • First checked bag free for the primary card-member

  • One time 50% off companion discount for a round-trip coach ticket between Hawaii and North America

  • $100 companion discount for round-trip travel between Hawaii and North America each account anniversary 

  • No foreign transaction fees on international purchases

  • Share miles with friends and family for no additional fee

  • Earn even more miles through credit card purchases: 3x miles on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 2x miles on gas, dining and grocery store purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases. 

Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $99 thereafter

Spending Requirement: $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days

Is the Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card a Good Deal?

With a sizable sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles, low annual fee (waived for the first year) and multiple companion perks, the Hawaiian Airlines credit card is a solid option for travelers looking to save hundreds of dollars on travel to Hawaii.

Additionally, the $100 companion discount will cover the cost of the annual fee upon renewal.

But, comparably, is this a good deal to other airline credit cards?

A round-trip flight from North America to any of the Hawaiian islands will cost you at least 40,000 miles:

hawaiian airlines miles for round trip flight.png

Earlier in the post we mentioned that a round trip flight from San Francisco to Maui costs 27,500 miles with the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, meanwhile it will cost you at least 40,000 miles on Hawaiian. That’s not a very good deal.

If you are looking to travel as a couple, you will both need to open this credit card to have enough miles to book two round trip flights from North America to Hawaii and pay nothing out of pocket. On the other hand, using the Delta card, you’d only need one.

If you plan on flying Hawaiian many times per year, this can be a stellar card to open. But if you are thinking of opening it for a single vacation, we’d personally pass.

Who Is The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Card Best For?

Due to the nature of the companion perks, the Hawaiian Airlines credit card is perfect for couples or families looking to score cheap travel to Hawaii.

Do I sense a honeymoon on the horizon? 😍

Or maybe a family vacation? 😉

Additionally, if you travel back and forth between North America and Hawaii quiet frequently, this may be a good credit card for you. Believe it or not, Hawaiian Airlines even flies directly from New York and Boston to tropical paradise!


Bottom Line: Which Airlines Credit Card Should You Get?

So you skipped all the way to the end, we don’t blame you. Sometimes you just want the cold hard facts.

Bottom line: from experience and research, we’ve determined that the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card is the current leader for airline credit cards in 2019. With a first-year waived annual fee and 40,000 miles as the bonus offer, you can’t go wrong. That’s enough for two round-trip flights to Hawaii.

Ready to rack up the miles and points for your next trip? Grab those 40,000 miles and enjoy the flight.


Adventure For Less