Best Airline Credit Cards — January 2021

With a vaccine for COVID-19 on the horizon, more people are preparing their travel plans to make up for last year. If you’re thinking about booking your next trip, make sure you have a travel rewards card first. You can pick from a variety of cards, including those that offer airline miles and those that provide versatile rewards points you can use with other airlines.

Airline credit cards make it easier to save on travel-related purchases and provide a generous welcome bonus to propel your account balance. Many even offer deals such as free luggage or discounted tickets for travel companions.

There’s no be-all, end-all airline credit card. Ultimately, the best credit card is the one that fits your spending habits, your preferences, and your budget. By focusing on the things you want most out of an airline card, you’ll have no problem finding the right fit. To help you get started, check out Business Insider’s top picks for the best airline credit cards for January 2021. 

Best Rewards Flexibility

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Annual fee: $95

Regular APR: 15.99%-22.99% (variable)

Credit score: Good to Excellent

Rewards program: Yes

Welcome bonus: Yes


With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can save big when you redeem your Ultimate Rewards points while booking your next trip through Chase. You can use your points with nearly every major airline and hotel, including United, British Airways, JetBlue, and Marriott.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred provides competitive benefits and rewards for a comparatively low annual fee. You can earn double the points on travel and dining purchases — including airfare, parking, hotel stays, delivery, and more. 

This credit card also comes with a generous welcome bonus as well as insurance for trip delays and rental vehicles. After one year, you can upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. While it comes with a steep $550 annual fee, you’ll get triple points on travel and dining purchases as well as $300 in annual travel credits you can use for nearly every travel purchase.

Best For American Airlines Flyers

Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Annual fee: $0 for one year, then $99

Regular APR: 15.99% – 24.99% (variable)

Credit score: Excellent

Rewards program: Yes

Welcome bonus: Yes


You can enjoy one free checked bag, preferred boarding, and discounted in-flight purchases when you use your Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard to book your next American Airlines flight. 

You can also earn double the miles on qualifying American Airlines purchases as well as dining and gas stations — with one mile for every dollar on all other purchases. For their first year, new cardholders can enjoy no annual fee and a $125 discount on their next American Airlines ticket when they spend $20,000 and renew their account.

Best For United Flyers

United Explorer Card

Annual fee: $0 for one year, then $95

Regular APR: 16.49% to 23.49% (variable)

Credit score: Good to Excellent

Rewards program: Yes

Welcome bonus: Yes


With the United Explorer card, you get the same great benefits as other branded credit cards, such as free checked luggage, priority boarding, discounted in-flight purchases, and bonus miles for United purchases. 

However, this particular card offers a little bit extra: Greater access to United’s most affordable “saver” rewards, which can help you save your miles on your next flight. Additionally, the United Explorer Card comes with two single-use United Club passes every year as well as a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Best For Southwest Flyers

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Annual fee: $149

Regular APR: 15.99% – 22.99% (variable)

Credit score: Good to Excellent

Rewards program: Yes

Welcome bonus: Yes


Although the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card comes with a higher-than-average annual fee, the rewards easily offset the price. You can enjoy yearly perks like $75 statement credits for Southwest travel purchases and four upgraded boardings. 

If you fly Southwest regularly, the $75 credit essentially means you pay just $74 as an annual fee, which is significantly cheaper than the next-best Southwest credit card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card ($99).

Not only that, but you can earn 7,500 Southwest Rapid Rewards every year on the anniversary you opened an account and 20% discounts on in-flight purchases.


  • Silbert, Sarah. “The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2021.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 31 Dec. 2020,




Ian Schindler