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Our Editors’ Picks for Best Airline Cards of 2021

BestCards is known for its robust reviews from those who have spent the time to search the Internet looking for the best credit card products and benefits available to consumers and businesses. But we’re more than just reviews – we provide the insight and analysis on all aspects of credit cards, including discussions of the latest industry developments and trends.

At BestCards, credit card discussions extend well beyond the end of the business day. Our staff are always discussing what to look for in a credit card, and rarely is there a 100% consensus. August 23 is Cheap Flight Day, so what better time than for the BestCards senior editorial team, Allan and Cory, to reveal their picks for the best airline credit cards of 2021?

Our Picks for 2021's Best Airline Credit Cards

Why Allan Loves It:

Many airline credit cards charge annual fees, and the cost rises as the benefits pile up. The Rapid Rewards Plus card from Southwest combines a stacked lineup of rewards and perks with a modest annual fee of $69. Each year you receive 3,000 anniversary points, along with free first and second checked bags and no change fees. On top of that, this card is versatile in that it earns 3X points on dining purchases (during your first year only) along with the 2X points per dollar on Southwest Airlines transactions.

Other Options:

Why Cory Loves It:

Spirit Airlines is one of the fastest-growing discount carriers in the U.S., so it’s important to include one of its credit card offerings. For my money, the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® offers the most initial value – making it the perfect airline credit card for planning an upcoming trip.

The major up-front value with the Travel More Card is the opportunity of 40,000 bonus points and a companion flight voucher after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. That bonus is fairly easy to achieve and offers the prospect of an award fare for a friend or loved one at no extra cost. You can even earn another companion fare after making $5,000 in purchases with the card each year – a $416 per month budget.

With everyday use, the card earns 3X points on Spirit purchases, 2X on dining and groceries, and 1X points on every other dollar spent with the card. The Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® features no annual fee for the first year and a $79 charge after that

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Another great option is the Free Spirit® Points Mastercard® from Mercury Card Services. That card, by invitation only, offers double points on Spirit purchases and 1X points on every other dollar spent, with no annual fee.

Why Allan Loves It:

The Aviator Red card from American Airlines and Barclays is a more costly option at $99 per year, but to counter that it offers a meaty signup bonus (60,000 AAdvantage® miles), free first checked bag (for you and up to 4 companions on the same reservation), preferred boarding, and discounts. This card also includes an anniversary bonus in the form of a Companion Certificate – meaning a guest can fly with you at a reduced cost.

Other Options:

The AAdvantage program offers a variety of great credit cards for personal and business use. Not only that, but Oneworld Alliance members also offer a huge selection of lucrative cards, inclduing:

Why Cory Loves It:

The Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card also comes with a 40,000-point bonus as the Free Spirit Card, but with double the spending requirement. New accounts earn 40,000 Mileage Plan miles after making$2,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of opening an account. Despite that increased spending, however, the card provides plenty of bang for the buck.

For starters, new accounts can receive Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after meeting the introductory spending bonus. The Companion Fare is one of Alaska’s selling points, offering rock-bottom pricing and quality service all in one. Cardholders also receive another Companion Fare each year on their cardmember anniversary.

Other notable features of the Alaska Airlines Visa® include a first checked bag free for up to six guests on the same itinerary, 20% back on Alaska in-flight purchases, 50% back on day passes at the Alaska Lounge, and unlimited 3X miles on Alaska Airlines purchases.

Other Options:

Why Allan Loves It:

If maximum perks is where your interest is at (and if you’re a Delta AirLines enthusiast), then the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve card is your pick. At $550 per year, it has one of the highest annual fees in the market, but it counters that cost with complimentary access to the exclusive Delta Sky Club and The Centurion Lounge from Amex. In addition, you get a companion certificate – which includes Domestic First Class reservations – when you renew your card easy year.

Another big incentive unique to this lineup is a fee credit for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, which is a must for frequent flyers who want to skip long security checkpoint lines when flying domestically or internationally.

Other Options:

Why Cory Loves It:

The United Gateway℠ Card from Chase is one of the newer airline cards on the block, but that doesn’t mean it lacks compared to the more established names. The card earns double miles on United Airlines purchases, plus gas stations, local transit, and commuting (rideshare services, taxicabs, train tickets, tolls, and mass transit), and 1X miles on all other purchases.

New accounts also enjoy a special introductory offer of 15,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. Spend another $2,000 in the next three months – or $3,000 total in the first six months – and double that bonus to 30,000 MileagePlus miles.

One of the great features of United Airlines is the impressive list of partner carriers in the Star Alliance. These carriers include global names like Air Canada, ANA, Asiana, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, and more. The sheer volume of partners means miles can apply to award flight anywhere you like worldwide – not bad for a card with no annual fee.

Other Options:

Related Article: Our Team’s Best Holiday Travel Credit Cards

Featured image by Verne Ho/ Burst

About: Cory
Cory Santos

Cory is BestCards.com's "Jack of all trades" and resident credit expert, covering all facets of the credit card space. In addition to credit cards, Cory finds that jogging, cats, and memes are essential parts of a balanced day.