Would you like to take a free trip? With that question, the credit card industry has been getting millions of customers to apply for their co-branded airline credit cards for decades. But at some point in the last ten years, the value of your frequent flyer miles has plummeted due to a phenomenon that is widely known as devaluation, which is when airlines raise the amount of miles it takes to book award tickets, and/or there are fewer seats offered at the lowest price.
Therefore, the best airline credit cards will be from companies that have resisted devaluation, or at least offered cardholders enough perks and benefits to offset its effects. Here are five of the top co-branded airline cards that can still help you to realize the promise of a free trip.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
Citi and American Airlines offers several co-branded cards. But most importantly, American Airlines has devalued their program the least among all of the major carriers. There still tend to be many domestic awards offered for just 25,000 miles, round trip, in economy class, and round-trip, business class award flights to Europe are still just 100,000 miles.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® offers a number of perks and benefits that make it a worthwhile choice. New cardholders earn 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within three months of account opening — enough for a domestic round-trip MilSAAver award. The card offers 2x miles on American Airlines and US Airways purchases and 1 mile on other purchases. Other benefits include free first checked bag, priority boarding, and 10% redeemed miles rebate up to 10,000 per year. The annual fee is $95, waived for the first year.
Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Southwest is another carrier that makes it very easy to book award flights. Its Rapid Rewards Premier card offers 2x points on all Southwest purchases as well as with their hotel and car rental partners, and 1x on all others. Points are worth about 1.4 cents each towards award flights in their Wanna Get Away fare class, and there are never any change fees or checked baggage fees for your first two bags (although size and weight restrictions apply). New cardholders can earn 25,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. You also earn 6,000 points each year on your cardmember anniversary. There is a $99 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Although Delta has become the poster child for the devaluation of frequent flyer miles, there are enough perks and benefits in this card that frequent Delta passengers should consider it. First, new cardholders earn 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months plus a $50 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase within the first 3 months. Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1 mile on other purchases. Benefits include first checked bag free for you and up to 8 traveling companions, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight food, beverages, and entertainment. There is a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
One of the big benefits for the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is that cardholders receive access to more “Saver” level, economy class awards and unlike other travelers, can book any unsold seat as a “Standard” award, which costs double the miles. Cardholders earn 2x miles on United purchases and 1 mile on other purchases. New cardholders can get 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Add an authorized user to get another 5,000 bonus points after making a purchase during that time frame. Other benefits include priority boarding, discounts on in-flight purchases, and two United Club passes each year, as well as a 10,000 bonus miles each year you spend at least $25,000. There is a $95 annual fee for this card, that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
Alaska’s program remains very valuable, and its miles can be used on a wide array partners such as American Airlines, Aeromexico, Air France British Airways, Delta, Emirates, KLM, Korean, Cathay Pacific and LAN. Cardholders earn 3x miles per dollar spent at Alaska Airlines and 1 mile on other purchases. New cardholders can get 25,000 bonus miles upon approval — no minimum spend required! You also get a free checked bag on Alaska flights and one Coach Companion Fare each year that costs just $121 ($99 base fare plus taxes and fees from $22). There is a $75 annual fee for this card, and a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.