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Keeping It Simple: My Favorite Airline Cards for the 3 Major Domestic Carriers

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Favorite Airline Credit Cards

Spending on airline credit cards seems remarkably unhip these days compared to bank or hotel point cards.  I understand this trend.  Miles can be tougher to redeem and the return isn’t necessarily outstanding, among other reasons.  Meanwhile, the number of co-branded cards from the each of the three big US carriers – American, Delta, and United – has seemed to multiply.  So which card is worth holding long-term for each major domestic airline?  These are my favorites.

Airline Credit Cards

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard

The MileUp card won’t grab any headlines for its welcome offer – currently 10k miles and $50 statement credit for spending $500.  But this card earns a noteworthy 2x miles at grocery stores.  American Airlines isn’t a permanent transfer partner with any of the major bank point currencies.  This makes earning via co-branded cards more attractive than their other two competitors.  And AA cards benefit from a more recent trend – American Airlines’ innovation with Loyalty Points.  Simultaneously earning 2x redeemable miles and 1x Loyalty Point at grocery stores may be the most efficient way to build up a redeemable mileage balance and inch closer to elite status.  Plus, spending big at grocery stores is convenient for many active hobbyists.  Even better, the card has no annual fee.

Airline Credit Cards

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express

This may be the toughest call out of the big three airlines’ cards.  Indeed, holding any of Delta’s cards became more valuable recently with the introduction of the TakeOff 15 benefit.  A Delta cardholder automatically receives 15% off Delta award flights.  Many strategies exist for which Delta card(s) to hold, but my favorite is the Delta SkyMiles Gold.  Amex routinely offers elevated signup bonuses for the card (most recently 70k miles), and often that’s paired with no annual fee the first year ($99 normally).

On the earning side, Gold cardholders pick up 2x at supermarkets (see a pattern forming?), restaurants, and with Delta.  The card offers reliable, basic benefits for Delta travelers, including a free checked bag, main cabin 1 priority boarding, and 20% off in-flight purchases.

You may want to hold off on applying for this card, as the welcome offer isn’t currently attractive.  But timing a new application along with the solid earning and benefits at a reasonable (or waived) annual fee is worth considering.

Airline Credit Cards

United Gateway Visa

Many will find the signup bonus mediocre, at best – currently hovering around 20k miles for $1k spend, plus a 0% APR offer.  But without an annual fee, this card unlocks what I consider to be the single best ongoing benefit for United travelers – additional economy saver award availability.  Some active hobbyists may enjoy earning 2x miles at gas stations.  The card also offers a hard-to-find bonus category: 2x on local transit and commuting expenses, like rideshare, taxis, train tickets, tolls, and mass transit.

The Gateway provides cardholders one free year of DashPass and 25% off United inflight and Club purchases, as well.  That sums up a reliable collection of benefits for a no-fee card.

Those wanting to minimize their application numbers may want to consider applying for another United card with a higher welcome offer and subsequently downgrading to the Gateway after completing their first cardmember year.

Favorite Airline Credit Cards – Conclusion

These picks probably won’t wow many.  Nonetheless, they can deliver the goods for others who regularly fly the major domestic airlines.  Like much else in our hobby, doing just a bit of homework can bring back a bunch in return.  We must mitigate the devaluation of domestic airlines probably more than any other part of the travel industry.  Picking the best airline credit cards is just one angle for doing so.  What are your favorite cards with the big three domestic airlines and why?

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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  1. I would suggest no one use any United product until they moderate their 30% plus increase in redemption rates. They mighrt understand or they lose.

  2. I have AA….I spend enough when I get a my annual fee reimbursed in the form of a travel credit.
    Free checked bags..and usually the upgrade to first (I’m out of KC – AA is not that popular here–SW is king here).

  3. I really enjoy your articles but all the pop up crap on your site makes it annoying as all hell. Could you please drop some of the pop ups, there are still plenty of adds through out your site for us to see. THANK YOU, I do enjoy you site and podcasts!

    • All of the sites are this way. No one likes it but it’s the price of admission. They gotta make a living. Don’t hold it against them.


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