Best Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards & Why You May Want One

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best co-branded airline credit card

Best Airline Credit Cards

Choosing a co-branded airline credit card might be as easy as choosing your preferred airline. If you’re a hub captive, your fate is basically determined for you. The best airline credit card for you will likely be one for your hometown airline.

But if you can be at least a little bit choosy, there are quite a number of airline credit card products on the market from which to choose. Essentially every U.S. airline has a co-branded card product.

Why to Get a Co-Branded Airline Credit Card

This might sound backwards, but I don’t typically get a co-branded airline credit card for earning miles. Well, the miles from the welcome offer are certainly nice, but it is rare that I put continued spend on the card unless I need to hit some threshold. I find that cards that earn flexible points such as Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards are better for ongoing spend.

Co-branded airline credit cards are more useful for the perks. It’s things like free checked bags, WiFi vouchers, and annual companion certificates that make most airline cards worth the annual fee.

The products vary significantly by airline and issuer, but I decided to try my best to boil the options down to the top five best co-branded airline credit cards. Here are my picks:

best co-branded airline credit cards

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express

It might seem odd that a card with a $195 (soon to be $250) annual fee tops my list, but I’ll argue that the Platinum Delta Skymiles card is the best choice for those who fly several times per year with Delta. If you don’t fly the carrier, obviously the card won’t hold a lot of value. Which is what makes it difficult to settle on the best co-branded airline credit cards, but hey, I’m a bit biased toward my favorite carrier.

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express offers a slew of benefits when you fly Delta. From your first checked bag free to the annual companion certificate for a Main Cabin round-trip within the lower 48 states, you can quickly recoup the annual fee.

The real magic happens with the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) waiver that you can obtain when you spend $25,000 or more on your card in a calendar year. This helps earning elite status with Delta easier.

There are also some new benefits that will begin on 1/30/2020. The annual fee will also increase from $195 to $250 for application received on or after that day. I’ve never seen an offer for the Delta Platinum Card with a waived fee.

Here is the current welcome offer and card benefits of the Platinum Delta Skymiles card from American Express:
  • Welcome offer of 75,000 SkyMiles and 5,000 bonus MQMs after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases (will be 3x starting 1/30/20)
  • Starting 1/30/20 earn 3x miles on hotels
  • 1x miles on all other purchases
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card (valid within the 48 contiguous states)
  • First checked bag free (and for up to 8 other passengers on the same reservation)
  • Main Cabin 1 Group Boarding
  • Starting 1/30/20 receive a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (once every 4 years)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $195 annual fee ($250 starting 1/30/20)
  • Learn More

The current offer is certainly not quite the highest we’ve seen which is 80,000 miles.

If you only occasionally fly Delta, the Gold Delta Skymiles card from American Express is a better choice. The primary perks of the card include a first free checked bag for the cardholder and up to 8 companions, which could pay for itself with a single family trip per year.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card

Southwest hit it out of the park with their newest addition to the lineup of Chase co-branded credit cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card is notch above all the other Southwest cards in terms of the benefits it offers. The annual fee is higher, but it can be easily justified.

The most attractive perks of this card are the 365 annual $8 WiFi credits it offers. These are applied in the form of statement credits to your card. Even if you flew Southwest daily, you wouldn’t run short of free internet. You can also use this perk on co-workers.

Other perks include a 9,000-point bonus upon account renewal each year, four upgraded boardings, and the ability to earn A-List tier credits. The latter isn’t a huge benefit, as you only earn the equivalent of 1 flight credit for every $10,000 in spend.

Here is the current welcome offer and card benefits of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card:
  • Earn 70,000 points when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Earn 3 points for every $1 you spend on Southwest Airlines® purchases
  • 365 Annual In-flight WiFi Credits!
  • Earn 2 points for every $1 you spend on social media and search engine advertising, Internet, cable, and phone services.
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 you spend on all other purchases.
  • 9,000 points every year on your cardmember anniversary.
  • Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available
  • Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® Fee credit in the form of a statement credit of up to $100 every four years
  • Earn tier qualifying points towards A-List status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $199 annual fee
  • Learn More

With 365 WiFi credits at your disposal annually, an annual bonus of 9,000 points (worth about $125, by my valuation), and the four annual upgraded boardings, you can quickly justify the $199 annual fee. For anyone who flies Southwest often (and most do), this is an excellent card.

Not to mention the 70,000 bonus points from the welcome offer puts you nicely on track for the companion pass.

JetBlue Plus Card

My one experience with JetBlue wasn’t a fun one, but I’ve really been wanting to give the carrier a try for our next trip to the northeast. I held the JetBlue Plus card for a while, which allowed my daughter and I to enjoy free checked bags (well, we only needed one) on our trip home from Miami after visiting Argentina and Uruguay.

Other features of the card include the ability to earn 6x points on JetBlue purchases (essentially the highest earning rate you’ll find from a co-branded airline credit card), annual bonus points, and significant in-flight food and beverage savings.

The best feature of the JetBlue Plus card is the ability to earn Mosaic status by spending $50,000 on the card in a calendar year. I know this is how Joe Cheung (you’ll know him from the MtM podcast) keeps his JetBlue Mosaic status every year. The biggest benefit of Mosaic is waived change and cancellation fees.

I get it…if you don’t live in New York, Boston or near Long Beach, JetBlue may be less than ideal. But if you fly them even a couple times per year, the card could be totally worth it.

Here is the current welcome offer and benefits of the JetBlue Plus Card:
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee
  • 6X points on JetBlue purchases
  • 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores
  • 1X points on all other purchase
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
  • Enjoy Mosaic benefits after spending $50,000 or more on purchases each calendar year with your card
  • 50% in-flight savings on cocktails and food purchases
  • First checked bag free (for cardholder and up to 3 companions)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $99 annual fee
  • Direct Link

Have a business? The business card version of the JetBlue card is currently offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles!

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is the standard personal card option for United flyers. It offers a free checked bag when flying United, analogous to the benefit on other carriers with their respective cards. However, you must book with the card to receive this, which I find annoying.

The card also offers a Global Entry / TSA PreCheck credit every four years and two United one-time club passes annually. The passes and free bag can quickly justify the $95 annual fee, even if you only fly United a handful of times per year.

However, my favorite benefit of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is having access to additional award inventory. This has saved us multiple times, allowing me to book saver awards with United miles when we would otherwise be forced to pay higher prices. This award inventory is only available to elites and cardholders. The typical economy fare bucket is XN.

Here is the current welcome offer and benefits of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card:
  • Welcome offer of 60,000 United MileagePlus miles after spending $3,000 within 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases, restaurants and hotels stays
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Up to $100 Global Entry® or TSA Pre✔® fee credit
  • Enjoy 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food and beverages onboard United-operated flights
  • First checked bag free (must pay with your card)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club℠ passes
  • Access to additional award inventory
  • $0 intro annual fee ($95 per year thereafter)
  • Learn More

Before I switched heavily to flying Delta, I held onto my United MileagePlus Explorer Card for the bag benefits, lounge passes, and award inventory. Although I find the bag benefit annoying, as you have to pay with your card, it was easy to justify the annual fee.

There is also a new United Business Card with a huge 100,000 point welcome offer.

Bonus: Delta Reserve Card from American Express

In terms of perks and the ability to augment your elite status, there is no better card than the Delta Reserve Card. I pulled it from the initial top five since it carries such a massive fee, but for certain Delta flyers, it makes complete sense.

Issued in both personal and business versions, the Delta Reserve card offers an excellent array of benefits, including an annual companion certificate good for either economy or first class and an individual Delta SkyClub membership. If you would otherwise purchase SkyClub access, this is a better option.

Another perk of the Delta Reserve Card is the ability to earn 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles for every $30,000 in spend that you put on the card within a calendar year. You used to be able to do this twice, for a total of 30,000 MQMs after spending $60,000. Now you can spend up to $120,000 to earn a massive 60,000 MQMs.

I recently picked up the Delta Reserve for Business, earning 10,000 MQMs and 80,000 redeemable miles in the process and putting the SkyClub access to use within the first month. If it is my path to achieving Platinum status each year, I’ll undoubtedly keep it.

Here is the current welcome offer and benefits of the Delta Reserve Card:
  • Welcome offer of 75,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases
  • 1x miles on all other purchases
  • Earn 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) for every $30,000 spent on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year with Miles Boost® (up to 4 times, for a total of $120,000 in spend and 60,000 bonus MQMs)
  • Complimentary Delta SkyClub access (individual membership)
  • Receive a First Class, Comfort+ or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card (valid within the 48 contiguous states)
  • First checked bag free (and for up to 8 other passengers on the same reservation)
  • Main Cabin 1 Group Boarding
  • Starting 1/30/20 receive a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (once every 4 years) 
  • Starting 1/30/20 receive Centurion Lounge access.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee ($550 starting 1/30/20)
  • Learn More

The Delta Reserve card sure packs in the perks for frequent Delta flyers. It will be my ticket to both enjoyable Delta experiences this year and my path to Delta Platinum status.

Other Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards

The Aviator Red Mastercard issued by Barlays bank is a welcome offer simply too good to pass up. Unlike most cards that require a minimum spend after approval to earn the bonus, the Aviator Red card has only required a single purchase and payment of the annual fee. This is essentially like buying 60,000 AAdvantage miles for ~$100. Considering that you can fly to Japan from the U.S. in JAL’s excellent business class, this is amazing value.

The other card that almost made the list is the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. The card carries a high $450 annual fee, but just a few family trips per year can make it worth it, as it provides Admirals Club access. The huge perk of the card is that all immediate family (or up to two other guests) can accompany you into the club, free of charge. Authorized users even enjoy the Admiral’s Club benefit, and you can add up to 10 AUs to the card for free!

Finally, there is the British Airways card (and other IAG airline) issued by Chase that are worth a mention, if only for their massive sign-up bonuses. The Iberia Visa, Aer Lingus Visa, and British Airways Visa all have a welcome offer of 100,000 Avios. The spend requirement is high though: earn 50,000 miles after $3,000 in spend within 3 months and an additional 50,000 after $20,000 in spend within the first year.

A nice perk recently added to the British Airways Visa is a discount off the high award taxes and fees on British Airways awards. This actually makes some awards a reasonable value! You can get $100 off economy/premium economy awards or $200 off business/first class awards up to three times per year on tickets departing the U.S.

Conclusion

While earning miles is solidly not a reason to pick up a co-branded airline credit card, the perks each card offers will often make them worth more than the annual fee year after year.

Which carrier and co-branded airline credit card are your favorite?

Ian Snyder
After igniting his passion for award travel while planning his honeymoon, Ian now enjoys using points and miles to see the world with his wife and three internationally adopted kiddos. He loves dissecting loyalty programs to find maximum value. His goal is to demonstrate that extraordinary travel is possible for the ordinary family.

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2 COMMENTS

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a huge fan of the Jetblue Plus card. The net annual fee is only about $20ish if you value the 5k anniversary points as $70. The ability to get 10% back on all award redemptions is also a great perk. Having the free bag per person on a family trip is really awesome and is easily worth $120 if you fly once a year. Having the ability to create a family pool makes JB even more family friendly.

    Also combining this card with the Citi Prestige with the periodic (25%) Jetblue transfer bonus and Citi Rewards+ (for 10% back for up to 100k Thank you pts) increases those points another 10%. It really pushes those Thank you Points up towards 2 cents at JB if you can be opportunistic when those JB transfer bonuses happen. Having Mosaic through $50k credit card spend is also well worth it if you can fly JB. The ability to cancel and change tickets for free is something I wish more carriers would allow with elite status.

    • Interesting point on the Citi cards. I’ve always written off JetBlue transfers, but that does sound like it would be well worth it at ~2cpp. The rest of the benefits for anyone who flies them regularly are fantastic.

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