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2018’s Best Credit Cards for Miles: Top Airline and Bank Cards

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New travel credit cards loaded with benefits and lucrative rewards are being introduced by banks at a rapid pace. Lucky for us, these include the cards that are best for airline miles. That’s because more and more credit cards are offering flexible, transferable points that can be converted to miles with a variety of airlines instead of just one carrier.
But deciding which card is best for you can be an overwhelming undertaking.

We’re Here to Help You Find the Best Credit Card for Miles

To figure out which card is right for you, we’ve put together a list of the best credit cards for miles. All of these miles credit cards come with great features and benefits, including some or all of the following perks:

  • Big sign-up bonuses worth at least 30,000 miles
  • Bonus categories that earn extra points for everyday purchases
  • The ability to transfer points to, or purchase travel from multiple airlines
  • Extra travel benefits, such as travel insurance and lounge access
  • No foreign transaction fees

With these benefits, any credit card will be great for traveling, earning airline miles and getting free flights.

Best Airline Miles Cards With No Annual Fee

While the rule of thumb is that the best travel rewards credit cards come with an annual fee, there are a few no-fee options that are definitely worth mentioning. We’ll start here since these cards are essentially a risk-free way for beginners to get into the world of travel rewards.

Rewards Credit Card You Can Use Anywhere

The Discover it Miles card combines solid benefits and decent earning potential with no annual fee. It’s not as flashy as the PenFed Amex, but it’s appeal is in its simplicity.

What I Like About This Card:
The best thing about this card is the flexibility of the rewards you earn. It works like a cashback card, meaning that you can redeem miles for statement credits toward any travel purchase. You don’t have to use a special website or transfer to a limited list of travel partners.

The Discover it Miles card also offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. That’s a solid rate of return, and you don’t have to worry about special purchase categories or limits.
Combine that with Discover’s excellent cashback match program, and you’ll be earning (3x)  three miles per dollar for the first 12 months you have the card.

What To Watch Out For:
The flipside to the simplicity of this card’s rewards program is that you cannot transfer miles to any travel partners. That means that miles will always be worth one cent each. There’s no way to squeeze more value out of those miles.

Great Benefits and No Fee Card

I have to assume that the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card hasn’t made a bigger splash because it’s new for 2018. This card would be great even if PenFed charged a $95 annual fee, but they don’t. It’s absolutely free and comes with fantastic earning potential and premium benefits.

PenFed isn’t the biggest player in the credit card world, and they’re really known for being the credit union for military and defense employees. While you have to be a PenFed member to get this card, just about anyone can join.

What I Like About This Card:
Where to start? You get a 25,000-point sign-up bonus worth about $200 to $250. You’ll also earn triple points on all travel purchases (4x if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage Member), plus a solid 1.5 points for all other purchases.

Somehow, PenFed includes a $100 annual air travel credit that can be used for bag fees, lounge access and inflight purchases and a $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit. All of this and no annual fee. Unbelievable.

This card also comes with a full lineup of cardholder benefits, such as purchase protection and travel insurance.

What To Watch Out For:
One major drawback of this card is its rewards. You have to redeem your points through the PenFed travel portal. You can book a wide variety of travel, including airfare, but the best value tends to be for hotel stays. Redemption rates vary, but you’ll typically get around .9 cents per point for airfare and over a cent each for hotel bookings.

Another minor issue is that you have to be PenFed member to get the card. Anyone can join, but it’s only free to employees (and household members) of military, defense and other government organizations. If that’s not you, there’s a one-time fee of $17 to join.

The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards With Annual Fees Under $100

While there are some good cards with no annual fees, the best credit cards for airline miles and traveling will charge you to be a member. The rewards you can earn with those miles cards can outweigh the annual charge, though.

Get Triple Airline Miles for Travel Purchases with this Citi Card

Citi ThankYou Premier is one of the best credit cards for miles. It has a generous 60,000-mile sign-up bonus, plus it earns triple points for travel purchases and double points at restaurants.

While it has a $95 annual fee, you can transfer the points you earn with the card to any of the ThankYou program’s airline partners. That includes: Avianca, Air France/KLM, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, Eva Air, Garuda Indonesia, Jet Airways, JetBlue Airways, Malaysia, Qantas, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Why I Like This Card:
No other card in this mid-fee range earns triple points on practically all travel purchases. In addition to airlines and hotels, you can earn 3X at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations. Pair that with the Annual Hotel Savings Benefits, and you’ve got a solid card for travel.

Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to several airlines, or you can book travel directly through Citi’s website where points are worth 1.25 cents each.

What To Watch Out For:
The biggest downside to the ThankYou program is the lack of a domestic airline transfer partner. Additionally, their best transfer options (British Airways, Air France/KLM, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic) also partner with other banks’ cards. Some of their other partners are more obscure and their rewards charts aren’t as valuable.

Excellent Airline Transfer Partners

Everyone’s favorite miles credit card is practically the OG of travel cards. It’s been a perennial favorite for good reason due to its solid earning structure, great list of airline partners and excellent sign-up bonus.

Why I Like This Card:
You’ll earn double points for all travel and dining purchases with the Sapphire Preferred card, plus a 50,000-point sign-up bonus if you spend $4,000 within 90 days of approval. Like the Citi Premier, you can also redeem points directly for airfare purchases at a rate of 1.25 cents each.

One of the card’s more attractive features, though, is its list of airline transfer partners. While it might be shorter than ThankYou program’s list, the Ultimate Rewards partners are better.

For domestic travel, you could use your points to fly on United, as well as Southwest and British Airways, who both offer excellent budget options. Other partners include Aer Lingus, Air France/KLM, Iberia, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

What To Watch Out For:
Chase never offers transfer bonuses to partners. Plus, heavy credit card churners may have trouble getting approved because of Chase’s restrictive rules.

The Best Premium Credit Card for Miles

Below is our pick for the best premium credit card for airline miles. It has fantastic benefits and the highest fees. While a $550 annual fee shouldn’t be an automatic turn off, it’s best to understand the ins and outs of this card before signing up so you can get the most value from it.
The Amex Platinum card is the classic premium airline miles card. There’s a good reason for that, with an excellent sign-up bonus, plentiful statement credits, generous lounge benefits and an extensive list of airline partners.

Why I Like This Card:
Currently, the Amex Platinum has the highest sign-up bonus on our list at 60,000 points. The American Express Membership Rewards program also features the most airline transfer partners amongst its peers.
In addition to Delta, JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines, which are all excellent domestic options, the list includes: AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Iberia, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Are you an airport lounge geek? This card offers superb lounge access with SkyClub (when flying with Delta), Priority Pass and American Express’s stellar Centurion Lounge network.

One way to take a bite out of the hefty $550 annual fee is with the Platinum card’s generous statement credits. Every year you have the card, you’ll get $200 toward incidental airline expenses, such as bag fees, change fees and in-flight purchases, and a $200 Uber credit, which will come in handy for getting home from the airport.

You’ll also get $100 every five years that can be used to pay for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. You’ll be zipping through security in no time.

What To Watch Out For:
There’s no denying it, this card has the highest annual fee on our list. Additionally, the airline travel credit is limited to one airline at a time and isn’t as versatile as other cards.
Also, the Platinum card only earns bonus points when you book airfare and earns the standard one point per dollar for all other purchases.

Excellent Cashback Travel Credit Cards

Road warriors and occasional vacationers can both benefit from airline miles cards that have the maximum flexibility. These credit cards don’t have transfer partners, but instead, their points can be redeemed at a fixed rate to offset any travel purchase. They are essentially cashback cards designed for travelers.

A Solid Cashback Card With Travel Rewards

Among the best credit cards for miles that can’t be transferred to travel partners is the Bank of America Premium Rewards card. While this travel credit card may be best for Bank of America or Merrill Lynch customers, it offers all card members a solid lineup of travel benefits in addition to a good sign-up bonus and earning structure.

Why I Like This Card:
Your Bank of America rewards can be converted to cash at any time or used as a statement credit for any purchase, not just travel.

Also, the card’s $100 airline incidentals credit essentially wipes out the $95 annual fee. Personally, I like to use these credits to book paid seat upgrades. You’ll also get a $100 credit for PreCheck or Global Entry.

Another unique feature is the tiered earnings structure based on the amount of money you keep with Bank of America and/or Merrill Lynch. Through the Preferred Rewards program, Gold customers get a 25 percent bonus, Platinum customers get a 50 percent bonus, and Platinum Honors customers get a 75 percent bonus on all the points earned each month.

What To Watch Out For:
This is the only card at this level that doesn’t waive the annual fee the first year. However, if you maximize the annual incidental credit, you actually make $5 each year.

Additionally, you can’t transfer your rewards to any airline loyalty program to maximize the value of your points. All points are worth a flat one cent each.

Lastly, if you don’t keep a ton of money at Bank of America, the earnings possibilities are less attractive. Earning 2 percent back at restaurants and travel purchases and 1.5 percent back everywhere else is fine, but not great.

Get Double Miles for Every Purchase with Capital One Card

Capital One also offers a cashback-style air miles credit card that can be used to trim your airfare expenses. This card earns double miles on every purchase, which is like getting 2 percent back every day. That ranks among the top cashback rates available with any card.

Why I Like This Card:
In addition to getting double miles for all purchases, you’ll get a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 within 90 days of approval. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year, so you can give it a try without it costing you a dime.

What To Watch Out For:
Venture miles aren’t like the miles you earn through frequent flyer programs. These points are worth one cent each and cannot be used to purchase airfare directly. So their value can’t be stretched, either.

On the other hand, you’re not limited to one carrier or a list of airline partners. You can redeem your miles toward any travel expense you want. Miles can also be redeemed for cash back instead of travel credits, but at a lower rate.

Premium Benefits and Flexible Rewards Credit Card

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Infinite Visa is an unusual airline miles card. It comes with a premium annual fee of $400, but no airline transfer partners. Don’t let that fee scare you, though. It’s impressive list of benefits, including a big annual travel credit, can easily offset the cost of the card.

Why I Like This Card:
Even though its annual fee is high, the Altitude Reserve Visa is still one of the best credit cards for airline miles. One reason is that it also has the biggest airline credit on our list at $325. That makes the effective annual fee very low at just $75 ($400 annual fee, minus the $325 airline credit).

For that small out-of-pocket cost, you’ll get a Priority Pass membership, a $100 PreCheck or Global Entry credit and a solid 50,000-point sign-up bonus. Not bad at all.

The Altitude Reserve card also has a unique bonus category, offering triple points for mobile wallet purchases (in addition to travel purchases). If you use a mobile wallet or are willing to start, this can be an easy way to rack up a ton of points.

What To Watch Out For:
Unlike most of the cards in our roundup, this one doesn’t earn double points on dining. And, like a few other cards on this list, the Altitude card has no transfer partners to stretch the value of your points. As we’ve previously mentioned, though, you can redeem points toward any travel on any airline.

In addition, you must be an existing U.S. Bank customer to apply. If you don’t already have a U.S. Bank relationship, you won’t be approved.

Start Earning Miles for Your Next Trip

There’s no such thing as one credit card for everyone. Take a hard look at your own travel habits and which airlines you typically fly (or would like to try), and let that help drive your decision.

Our list includes all of the best airline miles credit cards. And all of the cards above offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to using the rewards you earn. Whatever you decide, it’s time to get an airline credit card so you can start earning free flights.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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