Top 5 Credit Cards for Earning Airline Miles

With the right airline credit card, you can earn free domestic and international trips. These cards are great for frequent travelers looking to cut down on costs. If you love to game the system, they’re also a fun way to score free trips.

You’ll need a credit score of at least 700 to qualify for these top-tier cards, and a household income of at least $50,000 will help your applications be more successful. These top five cards include options for beginners to reward travel and choices for long-time churners.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Everyone who cares about reward points should have this card in their wallet. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards give you so many travel options. You can use the points to purchase airfare, hotels and car rentals for your vacation, or you can transfer them to travel partners. There is an annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year so you can explore all this card has to offer.

Chase gives you a 1:1 ratio for air miles programs like Southwest’s Rapid Rewards, United’s MileagePlus and British Airway’s Avios. If you pick up an airline credit card from one of these companies, you can build up your frequent flyer account then transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. You could end up with enough air miles for a first class ticket on an international flight.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a number of great benefits, including these:

  • Beautiful design and heavy-weight card that makes a serious impression
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn double points on travel and dining charges
  • Great sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months
  • Primary rental car coverage protects you on the road

Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard

Who doesn’t want a free round-trip flight to Hawaii? With this card, you can shop, surf and soak up the sun. New users get 35,000 Hawaiian Air Miles after spending just $1,000 in the first 3 months. You can meet that spending goal with just regular monthly charges. That makes this card perfect for churning beginners who don’t want to bother with manufactured spending.

You also get a companion certificate for 50% off a round-trip coach ticket. You can book your free flight with the 35,000 Air Miles you’ll earn and pick up a discounted fare for a friend or romantic partner.

  • The Hawaiian Airlines card has no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee of $89 is waived for the first year.
  • $100 discount on any coach-level companion fare
  • 5,000 bonus miles if you spend $10,000 annually
  • Double miles on Hawaiian Air purchases and 1 mile for every dollar spent elsewhere
  • Your first checked bag is free when you purchase your fare with your card

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this card from Capital One isn’t tied to a specific airline or hotel rewards system. Instead, the miles you earn can be used to pay for any travel-related expenses. That means you can book a rental car, pay for baggage fees or pick up tickets to a museum and you’ll be covered by Capital One.

With a non-branded travel card like this one, you don’t get the maximum value possible. You’d need to combine multiple cards and book international flights to drive up your cents-per-point reward. So why get this card? It’s easy to use. This is a great option if you’re new to travel credit cards and want to start with something simple. If you’re only open to one card, pick up the Chase Sapphire Preferred Plus. When you’re ready to expand your credit card library, the Capital One Venture Rewards card is a great second pick.

You’ll get these benefits:

  • Double miles—2% back—on every dollar you spend
  • Erase any travel purchases, including flights, fees and event admissions
  • Hefty sign-up bonus is worth $400
  • $59 annual fee waived for the first year
  • Price protection gets you reimbursed if you purchase something that goes on sale within 120 days

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Come fly the friendly skies with Southwest. This airline card from Chase Bank is a great way to start your Rapid Rewards account. Southwest has some of the best customer satisfaction in the aviation industry, and their frequent flyer rewards system is top-notch.

When you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months, you’ll earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points. You can use those points with no black-out dates, no seat restrictions and no baggage charges. If you need to change your flight, there are no change fees.

Rather than a flat rate based on flight time or distance traveled, Southwest pegs their award prices to the dollar value of a ticket. That means you can squeeze multiple round trip vacations out of a single sign-up bonus. Simple tricks like flying to Newark Liberty International Airport instead of JFK can save you thousands of points. So can taking a later flight or flying during the week. You can score flights for as low as 4,000 points one way. That makes this card a great value for frequent travelers.

If you’re ready to invest serious time and energy into credit card churning, this card is the first step in earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. You can score free flights for a travel companion for over an entire calendar year. You’ll need to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards points to score the pass. Start with this card, and you’ll be almost halfway to your goal.

You get other great benefits with this card:

  • 6,000 bonus points every anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent with Southwest and travel partners
  • No foreign transaction fees

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Why is a hotel card on a list of the top cards for airline miles? It’s because Starwood has a generous transfer policy. You can move your Starpoints to many partners in a 1:1 ratio, including these airlines:

  • Alaska Airlines Air Miles
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Korean Air
  • United MileagePlus
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

If you combine the Starwood Preferred Guest card with an airline credit card, you can rack up some impressive reward points totals and redeem them for free flights. This card is a good way to beef up a frequent flyer account once you’ve tapped out the airline’s cards.

American Express offers a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Starpoints if you make $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. You’ll also get double points for every Marriot and Starwoods hotel charge and 1 point for every other dollar you spend. The $95 annual fee is not charged your first year.

You also get no foreign transaction fees and free internet at all Starwoods properties.

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