To find the best credit cards to earn miles for award flights, we’ve compiled a list of the top offers to consider right now. You get perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, along with benefits specific to each card. In general, if you’re loyal to a particular airline, you can do well by opening that airline’s credit card. It will make your travels more comfortable as you earn miles for your next award trip.

Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for West Coast flyers
  • Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card:  Best for West Coast flyers
  • CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®: Best for American Airlines flights
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: Best for occasional Delta flyers
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: Best for frequent Delta flyers
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Best with low annual fee
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Best for frequent Southwest flyers
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Best for Southwest flyers making overseas purchases
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: Best for Southwest flights
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Card: Best if you want the Southwest Companion Pass
  • Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®: Best for partner award flights
  • United℠ Explorer Card: Best all-around card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Bonus offer

You’ll earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles and a Companion Fare (from $121 — $99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after making $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Alaska Airlines miles are some of the most valuable around. Thanks to partnerships with many excellent international airlines, you can use your miles to fly almost anywhere in the world. Plus, domestic award flights on Alaska Airlines start at only 5,000 miles each way in coach.

Ongoing earnings

  • 3 Alaska Airlines miles per dollar spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
  • 1 Alaska Airlines mile per dollar on everything else

Cool perks

You’ll get your first bag checked for free for you and up to six traveling companions. Alaska Airlines charges $30 per checked bag, so a single round-trip flight almost negates the $75 annual fee.

Plus, each year you’re a cardmember, you’ll get a Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22), valid on all Alaska Airlines flights with no blackout dates. That can save hundreds of dollars.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

The $75 annual fee is on the lower end of what we see for airline credit cards. Alaska Airlines miles are tough to earn, so getting 3x miles on Alaska Airlines flights is an easy way to rack ’em up. If you use the annual Companion Fare, it’s a no-brainer to keep the card even with the annual fee.

Alaska Airlines Signature Credit Card bottom line

Folks who live on the West Coast will get tons of value from this card. Because Alaska Airlines has such diverse airline partners, earning miles with this card is a good idea for just about everyone.

Further reading:

Alaska Airlines Visa Business credit card

Bonus offer 

You’ll earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days after opening the account. Alaska Airlines miles are worth roughly 1.8 cents apiece, based on The Points Guy valuation, so you can expect to get at least $720 worth of flights from the bonus. However, it’s possible to get even more value from your Alaska Airlines miles.

Ongoing earnings

  • 3 Alaska Airlines miles per dollar spent directly with Alaska Airlines (airfare, inflight purchases, one-day lounge passes, etc.)
  • 1 Alaska Airlines mile per dollar spent everywhere else

Cool perks

Just like the personal version of the card, you’ll get a Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22), valid on all Alaska Airlines flights with no blackout dates.

Free checked bag?

Yes. You’ll also get your first bag checked for free for you and up to six traveling companions.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

If you use the annual Companion Fare, it’s worth keeping the card even with the annual fee of $50 for a business and $25 for each card. Plus, Alaska Airlines miles are tough to earn, so getting 3x miles on Alaska Airlines flights is an easy way to increase your mileage balance.

Alaska Airlines Business Credit Card bottom line

If you qualify for a small-business credit card and are looking to earn Alaska Airlines miles, this is the card for you. The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of the best programs around for partner redemptions because partners include top airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Qantas.

Further reading:

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

Bonus offer

You’ll earn 70,000 American Airlines miles after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card.

Those 70,000 American Airlines miles are an excellent welcome bonus and as high as we’ve seen for this card. It’s worth two round-trip coach tickets within the U.S., which cost only 25,000 American Airlines miles each, or 45,000 American Airlines miles for a round-trip coach saver award ticket to Europe during the off-peak season.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent on American Airlines flights
  • 2 American Airlines miles per dollar spent at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations
  • 1 American Airlines mile per dollar spent on other purchases

Cool perks

You’ll receive preferred boarding. Also, when you fly American Airlines, you get a 25% savings on inflight food, drinks and Wi-Fi purchased with the card.

This is also a good card to take abroad as it has no foreign transaction fees.

Free checked bag? 

Yes. You’ll get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and up to four traveling companions. Checked bags cost $30 each way, so if you travel with a family, this could mean hundreds in savings, even if you take only a few trips each year.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

This is a toughie. If you fly American Airlines regularly, you’ll easily make up the $99 annual fee with the free checked-bag benefit.

The fee is waived for the first 12 months, so it’s absolutely a no-brainer for the first year.

CitiBusiness American Airlines Platinum Select Credit Card bottom line

Early boarding is handy. Free checked bags can save you lots of money. The welcome bonus of 70,000 American Airlines miles is more than enough for a free round-trip coach flight to Europe. If you’re an American Airlines regular, this card is hard to beat.

Further reading:

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Bonus offer

Through Oct. 30, 2019, the Amex Delta Gold card is offering an increased welcome offer of 60,000 miles and up to $50 in Delta statement credits after spending $2,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2 miles per $1 spent with Delta
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else

Cool perks

If you use your card on certain inflight purchases, you’ll receive a credit of 20% off the original purchase price on your Amex statement within six to eight weeks after the transaction is posted to your account.

In addition, Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles cardholders receive complimentary priority boarding for the cardmember and up to eight additional people flying on the same itinerary.

Free checked bag? 

With the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, the primary cardholder and up to eight others traveling on the same reservation will enjoy one free checked bag each. With baggage fees starting at $30 per bag, this could add up to some serious savings.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

For an annual fee of $95 that’s waived for the first year, it’s easy to come out ahead of the annual fee. The welcome bonus, for instance, is easily worth at least $600. That’s not including the value you’ll get from the card’s other perks. At a minimum, it’s worth trying out for the first year to see if it’s right for you.

Amex Delta Gold Credit Card bottom line

With an annual fee of $95 that’s waived for the first year, and a welcome bonus potentially worth hundreds of dollars, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express is definitely worth considering, especially given it comes with a limited-time increased offer through Oct. 30, 2019.

Further reading:

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Bonus offer

Like the Amex Delta Gold card, the Amex Delta Platinum card is offering an increased welcome bonus through Oct. 30, 2019. With it, you can earn 75,000 miles and, up to $100 in Delta statement credits and 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2x Delta miles per dollar spent on Delta, including flights booked on Delta.com, Sky Club membership or passes, Delta Vacations packages, upgrades and inflight purchases
  • 1 Delta mile per dollar spent on everything else

Cool perks

This card comes with a number of valuable perks, including the fact that you and up to eight passengers on your reservation can board your flight when Zone 1 Priority Boarding is called.

Plus, upon renewal of the card each year, Amex Delta Platinum cardholders are granted a companion certificate. With it, travelers can add a friend to their domestic Delta reservation for only the price of taxes and fees. The companion certificate covers one round-trip companion ticket in coach.

Also worth noting is that cardholders have the ability to earn an additional 10,000 Delta miles and 10,000 MQMs when they spend $25,000 or more on eligible purchases throughout the calendar year. And an additional 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles and 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $50,000 in the same timeframe.

Free checked bag? 

As an Amex Delta Platinum cardholder, you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation will get your first checked bag for free.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

The card’s $195 annual fee ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020) is not waived the first year. But it’s easy to offset the fee with the perks you’ll get from this card. The welcome bonus alone, for example, is worth at least $750 when you use Pay With Miles.

Amex Delta Platinum Credit Card bottom line

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express is a great option for folks who frequently travel with Delta. If you value Delta miles, Delta elite status and can use money-saving perks like the annual companion certificate and free checked bag, this card is well worth the $195 annual fee.

Further reading:

Chase Southwest Plus card

Bonus offer

When you open the Chase Southwest Plus card, you’ll earn up to 60,000 points — 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open and 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months your account is open.

Southwest points are worth ~1.5 cents each, so this bonus is worth ~$900 toward travel on Southwest. That’s a great deal.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals
  • 1 Southwest point per dollar spent on everything else

Cool perks

With this card, you’ll get 3,000 Southwest points each cardmember year (worth ~$45). That’s a neat little feature.

If you use your Chase Southwest Plus card to pay for your flight, you can get reimbursed for essentials like toiletries and clothing if your bags are delayed more than six hours. Coverage is up to $100 per day for three days. Also, if you or an immediate family member’s checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

The card even comes in handy for non-travel-related issues. For example, it protects your eligible new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. It also extends the time period of a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.

Free checked bag? 

Southwest gives every passenger two free checked bags even if they aren’t Southwest cardholders.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

The 3,000 bonus points you’ll get each year offset a big chunk of the card’s $69 annual fee, bringing the net cost down to $24 a year ($69-$45).

The points you earn from everyday spending also count toward the Companion Pass, so if that’s your goal, it’s definitely worth keeping and using.

Southwest Plus bottom line

This card is worth an application because of its welcome bonus, but I’d only recommend keeping the card if you fly Southwest often.

Further reading:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Bonus offer

With the Chase Southwest Priority card, you’ll earn:

  • 40,000 Southwest points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening
  • 20,000 additional Southwest points after spending $12,000 in the first year of account opening

This bonus is worth ~$900 toward travel on Southwest because Southwest points are worth ~1.5 cents each.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2x Southwest points per dollar on Southwest Airlines purchases, including airfare
  • 1x Southwest point per dollar on every other purchase
  • 7,500 Southwest points each year on your card anniversary

Cool perks

Along with the points you’ll earn for meeting the card’s minimum spending requirements, you’ll also get benefits like $75 in Southwest travel credits every year after making eligible Southwest purchases. Any Southwest purchases except for upgraded boarding and inflight purchases qualify.

Another nice perk is the four free upgraded boardings you’ll get for being a cardholder. Just use your card to purchase the upgrade and you’ll receive a statement credit up to four times per cardmember year. That’s worth up to $200.

Free checked bag?

Southwest gives every passenger, regardless of whether they’re a Southwest credit card holder, two free checked bags.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

The annual fee of $149 is not waived the first year, but it’s not hard to get much more value than that. The anniversary points alone are worth ~$113 and the four boarding upgrades can be worth up to $200 (4 X $50). When you add those to the annual $75 in credits for Southwest purchases, you could get nearly $400 in value for the $149 fee.

Southwest Priority card bottom line

With an excellent welcome bonus and the card’s ongoing perks, if you fly Southwest regularly, you’ll get great use of this card.

Further reading:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Bonus offer

Like the other two personal Southwest credit cards on the list, you’ll earn 40,000 Southwest points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening and 20,000 additional Southwest points after spending $12,000 in the first year of opening the Southwest Premier card.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2x Southwest points per dollar on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • 1x Southwest point per dollar on every other purchase
  • 6,000 Southwest points every cardmember anniversary

Cool perks

This particular Southwest credit card doesn’t offer many additional benefits outside of the welcome offer and ongoing earnings, but you’ll get perks like car rental, lost luggage, and baggage delay insurance.

Free checked bag?

Southwest gives every passenger two free checked bags. You don’t have to be a Southwest cardholder.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

You’ll receive 6,000 points every cardmember anniversary. Because those points are worth ~1.5 cents each toward Southwest flights, you can be confident you’ll receive ~$90 in value from those points (1.5 cents per point X 6,000 points per anniversary). So with that perk alone, you’re essentially almost negating the $99 annual fee.

Southwest Premier card bottom line

If you fly Southwest a lot, you’ll have no trouble getting great value from this card.

Further reading:

Chase Southwest Premier Business Card

Bonus offer

You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 60,000 Southwest points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the Chase Southwest Premier small-business card.

For small-business owners, this is another way to get ~$900 for travel on Southwest and points toward the valuable Southwest Companion Pass. You can redeem Southwest points for any open seat on any Southwest flight.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases
  • 2 Southwest points per dollar spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals
  • 1 Southwest point per dollar spent on everything else

Cool perks

You’ll receive 6,000 Southwest points after every cardmember anniversary. Those points are worth ~$90 toward Southwest flights.

The card’s other benefits are similar to the Chase Southwest Plus. You’ll receive purchase protection, which will cover any purchase you make with the card for 120 days against damage or theft (up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account).

As with all good travel cards, you’ll receive some form of insurance if your bags are delayed. This perk reimburses you for purchases like meals and toiletries (even clothing) when your bag is delayed six or more hours, up to $100 a day for three days.

And if your checked or carry-on baggage is lost, the card will cover you and your immediate family up to $3,000 per passenger when you pay with the card.

Free checked bag? 

Southwest gives every passenger two free checked bags.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

Yes, considering you get ~$90 worth of Southwest points for a $99 annual fee. Plus, employee cards are free, so it’s a small cost to track your expenses easily.

Southwest Premier Business Card bottom line

Earning this card’s bonus is one of the easiest routes to the Southwest Companion Pass. If you’ve got a for-profit venture and your travel goals revolve around the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico, take a hard look at this card.

Further reading:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Card

Bonus offer

The Southwest Performance Business Card comes with a welcome bonus of 80,000 Southwest points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, worth approximately $1,200 in travel with Southwest, because the value of Southwest points is about 1.5 cents each.

Ongoing earnings

  • 3x Southwest points per dollar on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car purchases
  • 2x Southwest points per dollar on social media and search advertising
  • 2x Southwest points per dollar on internet, cable and phone service
  • 1x Southwest point per dollar on everything else
  • 9,000 Southwest points each cardmember anniversary

Cool perks

The Southwest Performance Business Card comes with a number of different benefits like up a statement credit of up to $100 every four years toward the application fee for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. You’ll also receive four upgraded boarding certificates each year and up to 365 inflight Wi-Fi credits (worth $8 each) with the card each year.

Free checked bag?

As always, anyone and everyone on a Southwest flight gets two free checked bags.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

The value of the welcome offer alone is enough to offset the card’s $199 annual fee. So there’s no doubt this card is worth it.

Southwest Performance Business card bottom line

We highly recommend the new Southwest Performance Business Card, not just for the card’s welcome bonus of 80,000 Southwest points (worth ~$1,200 in airfare) after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening an account but for the card’s great benefits too. The intro bonus alone will get you well on your way to earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.

Further reading:

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®

Bonus offer

With the Virgin Atlantic credit card, you can earn up to 80,000 miles in the first year:

  • Earn 60,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn up to 5,000 miles for adding authorized users (2,500 miles each for the first two authorized users)
  • Earn up to 15,000 bonus miles each account anniversary
    • 7,500 bonus miles after spending $15,000+ within the past cardmember year
    • 7,500 bonus miles after spending $25,000+ (in total) within the past cardmember year

Ongoing earnings

  • 3x miles on Virgin Atlantic purchases
  • 1.5x miles on all other purchases
  • 25 elite-tier credits per $2,500 spent, up to 50 credits per month

Cool perks

If you spend $25,000+ on the card in a year, you’ll earn a companion award. When you earn Virgin’s Enhanced Anniversary Award Benefit, you’ll get your choice of either an upgrade from economy to premium economy on a Virgin Atlantic award flight or the ability to bring along a companion in the same class on a Virgin Atlantic award flight for only the cost of taxes + fees (which can be high).

Free checked bag?

No, unfortunately, this card doesn’t come with a free checked-bag benefit.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

If you have a particular award in mind, this card can certainly be worth the $90 annual fee.

Virgin Atlantic card bottom line

If you’re looking to earn points for a partner award (like flying ANA to Japan), this is a good card to consider.

Further reading:

Chase United Explorer Card

Bonus offer

You’ll earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the Chase United Explorer card.

Those 40,000 United Airlines miles are easily worth a round-trip coach ticket within the U.S. Those tickets start at only 25,000 United Airlines miles. Although this isn’t the biggest bonus we’ve seen, you might consider opening this card if you have an immediate need for the other benefits.

Ongoing earnings

  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent on United Airlines purchases
  • 2 United Airlines miles per dollar spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
  • 1 United Airlines mile per dollar spent on everything else

Cool perks

The United℠ Explorer Card enhances your travel experience in multiple ways.

The Chase United Explorer card comes with priority boarding and two one-time United Club lounge passes per cardmember year. Plus, you’ll get a $100 credit every four years for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, which is a huge time-saver at U.S. airport security checkpoints. Everyone on the MMS team has either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (you can read about TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry here).

One of my favorite benefits of the card is that you receive access to more award seats than travelers who don’t have the card. In other words, if you go online to book a seat, you may see plenty of options while others see none.

Another gem of a perk is primary car rental insurance when you charge the entire rental to the card. You can decline paying $15 a day to the car rental agency because the Chase United Explorer card will cover you for free.

Last, the card comes with trip-delay insurance. When your travel is delayed 12+ hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for expenses like meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.

Free checked bag? 

You’ll get your first bag checked for free on domestic itineraries for you and a companion when you use the card to pay for your ticket.

Is the card worth the annual fee?

Absolutely. If you take two round-trip flights per year with checked bags, you’ll save money by keeping this card. And the lounge passes are valuable too.

Plus, if you use the $100 credit to pay for Global Entry, you’ll come out ahead of the $95 annual fee right from the start.

Chase United Explorer bottom line

The Chase United Explorer has so many meaningful benefits that it would make sense for almost anyone.

Further reading:

How we choose the best airline credit card

Credit card introductory bonuses are the fastest way to earn big travel rewards without spending a lot of money. Here are the factors we consider:

Bonus offer: Credit card companies offer card bonuses to lure new customers because that’s how they make money — from customers using their cards. Some offers are more valuable than others, so we step in to clear up the confusion.

Minimum spending requirement: To earn an introductory bonus on most credit cards, you must spend a certain amount on your new card within a certain timeframe. The best offers have reasonable spending requirements or offer a huge reward if the minimum spending requirements are larger.

Ongoing bonus opportunities: We prefer airline credit cards that offer ongoing earnings, even after you earn the initial big welcome bonus.

Benefits: Airline credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees and expanded award availability are some of our favorites.

This story was originally written on Million Mile Secrets. For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.