Best Airline Credit Cards for Free Flights in 2016


When you sign up for a card, some banks give you points (which can be used on purchases or transferred out), some banks give you airline miles (which transfer directly to airline frequent flyer programs). With the right credit card, not only can frequent fliers accumulate miles and points they can redeem for travel, they can also enjoy perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and sign-up bonuses.


Airline credit cards are one of the best ways to earn free travel

Airline credit cards are one of the best ways to earn free travel. As mentioned above, not only do airlines give you frequent flyer miles, they also give out other airline perks. Below is an introduction to earning airline miles with credit card promotions.


Credit Cards Linked to Airline Reward Programs

Affiliated credit cards are ones that reward you with points or miles that are tied to a specific loyalty program. Examples of this are cards connected to the Delta SkyMiles, US Airways or American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer programs. On the other hand are the unaffiliated cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which pay you with miles that are usable as statement credit


Earning Airline Frequent Flyer Miles with Credit Cards

When you have an airline credit card, these miles earned are the true Frequent Flyer miles with the airlines programs.  Originally, you would earn a mile for every mile you flew on an airline. Each airline has their own Frequent Flyer (FF) program, where you can accumulate miles. Some examples of these are Delta Skymiles, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Lufthansa Miles&More, American AAdvantage Miles, and United MileagePlus Miles. The best airline credit cards help you earn free flights, seat upgrades, and more. And if you travel often enough, the right airline card can be one of the most important cards in your wallet. If you travel on a variety of airlines, it might not be worth it. It is often the best idea to pick an airline credit card where you can focus your future travel on in order to maximize the amounts of points you earn and the airline status.


Connecting Credit Card to Frequent Flyer Account

To earn these miles, you must have a Frequent Flyer account with the airline you are using. Fox example, if you have a Citi AA card, the AA miles you earn from it will be deposited in your AA frequent flyer account. If your card earns you one mile per dollar spent, this usually means after each statement close, the bank will deposit 1000 miles to your American Airlines frequent flyer account if you spent $1000 that month.

Once your mile is deposited in your Frequent Fluter account, it is no longer connected to your credit card. You can close your credit card, and the miles would still be in your frequent fluer account. Since the miles are in specific frequent flyer plans associated with an airline, you usually cannot join the miles together for an award. If you are 1000 miles short in AA for a ticket, 1k miles in Delta can’t help you at all.

Note that these are miles you either flown or earned through the credit card, and not how many miles you get to fly for free. There are many different award charts for each airline. Some airlines have very favorable award ticket policies, while others do not.


Airline Credit Card Signup Bonuses

The best airline credit cards compete with one another by offering unique card membership features. Listed below is a collection of standout features taken from all of the airline credit cards on the market:

  • Big signup bonuses
  • 2X miles or more for airline purchases
  • Yearly companion fares
  • Many travel perks
  • High flight availability or several travel partners
  • Opportunities to earn additional rewards

Some of the travel perks on airline credit cards involve free checked bags. Each airline credit is different and it is best to read the credit card holder agreement to see exactly the perks you are getting.


Redeeming Airline Frequent Flyer Miles and Free Trips on Points

If you want to redeem your frequent flyer miles for free travel, your first step is to lookup the Award Chart for the airline in question. The airline award chart will tell you how many miles you need to get a free ticket to travel somewhere. Choosing a airline with the most competitive award chart along with high quality partner airlines is one of the best ways to maximize airline miles. Some questions to ask yourself before you transfer your points are 1) do you want free stopovers or one-ways, and where? 2) do you want to fly on a specific airline or premium cabin? Choosing the right airline program to transfer points into can help you book the award you want with free stopovers, avoid paying high fuel surcharges, and use a competitive award chart to save miles.

Airlines also have partner airlines, and you can often use your frequent flyer miles to fly on a partner airline. For example, since British Airways partner with AA, if you had BA miles (Called Avios), you can book flights on AA using Avios. You usually CANNOT transfer miles between partners. About the only exception being BA Avios and Iberia Avios. If you travel one airline all the time, it makes sense to strategically use airline miles and travel credit cards this year, because the cost of an average domestic flight is still relatively high. After all, the right airline credit card can help you earn airline miles that can help you save hundreds or thousands of dollars on both international and domestic flights.


Earning Frequent Flyer Miles by Flying

Generally, the farther the distance flown, the more amount of miles required. Other airlines use a distance based chart, where the distance is calculated between the departing/arriving cities, which corresponds to additional “fuel surcharges” fees such as British Airways on top of miles needed. These airlines are ideal for short-haul trips, which may actually cost less miles than using a traditional award zone program such as American Airlines, but are terrible for long-haul trips, where fuel surcharges can add heavy fees.

Blackout Dates: Many of these awards are subject to blackout dates, meaning the most popular times to travel such as holidays or summer vacations there may not be awards available, meaning you need to flexible with when you can fly. Families that need multiple seats for children also suffer from this because there may not be 4-5 seats award seats open on a single flight.


Most Popular Airline Credit Cards in 2016

  • Bank of America Alaska Airlines
  • Barclays Hawaiian Air Card
  • Barclays Miles and More
  • Barclays Frontier
  • Chase BA Card
  • Chase United Cards
  • Chase Southwest Cards
  • Citi AA Cards
  • Delta Gold Amex
  • Delta Platinum Amex
  • Amex Bluesky
  • Virgin Atlantic Bank of America
  • Virgin American Bank of America


Airline Frequent Flier Programs




Airline Specific Credit Car Points

S airlinecardfrequentflerome airlines use a point system rather than miles. This is basically the same as miles, just a different name.  Two such examples of an airline point system instead of miles are Southwest and JetBlue. In these programs, you earn points instead of miles on your Credit Card spend, similar to other FF programs. However, they don’t use award charts.

These programs usually prices their award ticket based on the selling price of the ticket. If a flight would cost $150 for the ticket, the award ticket can cost 10,000 points. If the cost of the ticket goes up to $300, then the points cost goes up to 20,000 points. In effect, the airline has set a fixed exchange rate for each point to the cost of the ticket. Note that each airline does their valuation differently, and some also have bands of pricing rather than direct conversion, further altering the valuation.

Some of the cards that fit in this category are:

  • Chase Southwest Cards
  • AmEx Jetblue Cards


How much are airline miles and points worth?

Frequent flier miles are a lot harder to value than other types of credit card rewards such as 1% or 2% cash back. The number of miles required for a trip depends upon how many rewards seats the airline makes available and their pricing structure. If you are able to plan ahead, you can get incredibly good deals with your miles that regularly beat any cash back rate. And it can get even more lucrative when you look at the bonus offers on mile credit cards. If you do not think you can hunt out the best redemption opportunities, a cash back card is probably your best bet. Getting 2% of every purchase deposited into your checking account each month is incredibly easy.

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