Sunday, June 23, 2024

Best Airline Credit Cards in 2018 – Which One Should You Get?

Any established adult should have a specific credit card – a mile rewards credit card. These credit cards pass up on traditional rewards programs in favor of airline-oriented rewards programs, usually rewarding users with points for their purchases. These points are typically a somewhat negligible reward due to convoluted terms of service (just see the Barclay one below),  but a smart shopper can quickly build up enough miles to get a free flight or even a free hotel stay. The five cards to be discussed and reviewed are the Barclay Arrival Plus card, the United Mileage Plus Explorer card, the Capital One Venture card, the Discover It Miles card, and the American Express Gold Delta Skymiles card.

Barclay Arrival Plus

best-airline-credit-cards-barclays The Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is fairly close to the typical airline credit card setup; lots of miles gained for large purchases, but bad for people like students or low income workers. The Barclay Arrival Plus has a signup bonus of 40,000 extra miles gained when $3,000 or more is spent on purchases within the initial 90 days of opening up the account. The terms are very clear, too; for every $1 spent, 2 miles are earned; every mile earned can be redeemed for a 1 cent on travel credit, but there is also a 5% bonus on miles redeemed for travel credit. With the cashback option, each mile earned is 0.5 cents, translating into a 1% cashback option for anyone looking for cash back. (2 miles earned per $1 = 0.5 cents per mile = 1 cent per $1 spent.) The Barclay Arrival Plus also has the option to pay yourself back in the form of statement credit; within 120 days of the initial booking, a user can go online and submit the proper documents to receive their money back directly on their next

Unfortunately, the Barclay Arrival Plus does have an $89 annual fee which is waived for the first year. For the first 12 months, there is a 0% balance on transfers and an APR of 15.99% to 19.99%. The cash advance APR is $20 or 24.99% of the advance, whichever is bigger.


United Mileage Plus Explorer

best-airline-credit-cards-united-airlines The United Mileage Plus Explorer is a card directly put out under United Airlines. As a result, the United Mileage Plus Explorer card has no foreign transaction fees and can be used in a number of approved countries (the full list of which can be found on the card’s website). The rewards program is the “MileagePlus” points system; for every $1 spent on United Airlines tickets, a cardholder will receive 2 miles on purchases, but otherwise $1 spent will generate 1 mile on non-United Airlines tickets. There is a signup bonus, consisting of 30,000 bonus miles after $1,000 is spent and paid off within the first 3

The United Mileage Plus Explorer also has a $0 annual introduction fee for the first year, which then increases to $95 per year every year after. The APR is variable from 15.99% all the way up to 29.99%, with a 24.99% cash advance APR.


Capital One Venture

best-airline-credit-cards-capital-one The Capital One Venture Miles Rewards Card is put out under the comfortable umbrella of Capital One, which generally offers pretty great programs for any level of user. The Capital One Venture Rewards card offers a one-time signup bonus of 40,000 miles after $3,000 in purchases are spent and paid off within the first 3 months of opening the card. Capital One notes that this is only worth around $400 in travel credit. The Capital One card earns 2 miles per every $1 spent, and has no cap of how many reward points can be earned in a day – some of the other cards listed have relatively high caps, but it’s refreshing to see Capital One’s honesty in not restricting their rewards for cardholders. These miles can be redeemed for any airline and any hotel chain, as well. Miles have no expiration date, and like the United Mileage Plus Explorer, there are no foreign transaction fees.

best-airline-credit-cards-venture-card The Capital One Venture Miles Reward Card has a $0 introduction for the first year, which then rises to $59 per year after that. The variable APR ranges from 12.9% to 22.9%, with a 24.9% cash advance APR. There is no introductory period on credit transfers, and interest will begin to accumulate immediately.


Discover It Miles

best-airline-credit-cards-discover The Discover It Miles Airlines Rewards credit card falls under Discover’s umbrella, and Discover is known broadly for their generous rewards program and high commitment to customer service. The Discover Miles first offers 1.5 times miles on every dollar spent, with no cap on the total amount of miles that can be gained. These miles can be directly applied to receive free airline tickets (if a cardholder has enough miles generated from purchases), or can be applied to card statement credit (basically reducing the price on valid travel-related purchases, like airplane tickets or hotels or even vacation packages). The Discover It Miles card will also reward users forDISCOVER_MILES_654_Card purchasing in-flight wi-fi, and will reimburse up to $30 each year for simply purchasing Wi-Fi in the flight.

The Discover It Miles does not have an annual fee, being free to apply and (maybe) eventually sign up, and does not have any fees for foreign transactions. For the first 12 months, there is 0% APR on purchases, a 10.99% APR on balance transfers, then the APR will shift from 10.99% to 22.99% variable.


Amex Gold Delta Skymiles

best-airline-credit-cards-american-express The American Express Delta SkyMiles Credit Card is launched under American Express and is in partnership with Delta Airlines. The rewards program has a signup bonus of 30,000 bonus miles after $1,000 is spent on purchases within the first 3 months. Additionally, when a cardholder purchases Delta Airline tickets or products within the first 3 months, a cardholder will receive $50 in statement credit. 2 miles are earned per dollar spent on Delta Airlines purchases, and 1 mile for every dollar spent on other elligible purchases. In addition to the rewards program, the Gold Delta Skymiles card allows for a best-airline-credit-cards-gold-delta-skymiles cardholder to check in 1 bag free with every Delta flight (up to four people total), and priority boarding for Delta Airlines flights.

The Gold Delta Skymiles card has a $0 annual fee for only the first year, which then rises to $95 afterwards. The APR is variable from 15.24% to 19.24%, and there is a cash advance APR of 25.24%.


So, Which Airline Credit Card is Right For You?

Your choice of credit card should depend on the necessities – most of the programs above have a trade-off of high reward rates for lower interest rates, and vice versa. However, the American Express Gold Delta Skymiles card has slightly higher rewards for members who use their card for Delta purchases, and the United Mileage Plus Explorer card rewards cardholders for those who purchase United Airlines tickets; if you find yourself a frequent flier of either respective airline.

If airline isn’t a big issue, the Discover It Miles reward card might be the way to go – I’m still young and relatively new to the credit game, but from the experience I’ve had with Discover, there is no real reason to jump ship with them. Along that same note, if a cardholder has services from the same company, then opening another line of credit might be more beneficial.


Bridget Rogers
Bridget Rogers
Bridget Rogers is an independent freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Bridget's work can be found on a variety of sources in both online and print media.


  1. You can also use the reward calculator at CreditCardTuneUp. com to see which cards will pay you more in reward value (including travel rewards) for your regular monthly expenses.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here