Get These Credit Cards to Top Off Your AA, Delta or United Frequent Flyer Account

Get These Credit Cards to Top Off Your AA, Delta or United Frequent Flyer Account

It happens to all of us. You’re planning a trip and you find the award flight you want, but you’re just a few miles short. What do you do? The easiest solution is to transfer points from a rewards credit card to your frequent flyer account. Or better yet, get a new card with a big sign-up bonus. You’ll probably even have enough miles to upgrade from coach to business. Why not travel in style?

If you have miles with the three big domestic airlines, Delta, United and American, you can fly just about anywhere in the world. Not only do those carriers operate their own extensive networks of routes, but each one is part of one of three major airline alliances.

That means you can book flights on any of SkyTeam’s 20 member airlines with Delta SkyMiles, on any of the Star Alliance’s 28 members with United MileagePlus miles and on any of oneworld’s 14 members with American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

So which credit card should you get so you transfer points to those airlines and fly on their respective alliances? Let’s find out.

Delta SkyMiles and SkyTeam

Delta is part of the American Express Membership Rewards program. That means you can get any card in Amex’s rewards program, earn Membership Rewards points, and transfer them to Delta. There are a lot of options in the Amex lineup, so there’s sure to be a card to fit your budget and needs.

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
Platinum40,000 points$3,000$4501x everything
Premier Rewards Gold 25,000 points$2,000$195, first year waived3x airfare; 2x restaurants, gas and groceries
EveryDay Preferred15,000 points$1,000$953x groceries; 2x gas
EveryDay10,000 points$1,000None2x groceries
Business Platinum100,000 points $15,000$4501x everything
Business Gold Rewards25,000 points$5,000$175, first year waived3x airfare, advertising, gas, shipping or computer equipment; 2x on the remaining 4 categories

While the Platinum card is the personal card with the biggest sign-up bonus, it’s also the most expensive. The $450 annual fee buys you a lot of perks, including lounge access and airline credits and discounts, but it’s really only going to be worth getting if you travel a lot and plan take advantage of the benefits.

The Premier Rewards Gold card and the EveryDay Preferred card are good alternatives with much smaller price tags. The Premier Rewards card comes with a 25,000-point bonus and a $195 annual fee that’s waived the first year. The EveryDay Preferred card has a smaller sign-up bonus of 15,000 points and a smaller annual fee of $95, but it’s not waived. Both offer excellent bonus earning potential for certain categories of purchases.

If you’d rather skip the annual fee altogether, the basic EveryDay card is a solid option with a 10,000-point sign-up bonus and double points for groceries.

Transfer Membership Rewards to Delta

Small business owners and independent contractors have reason to rejoice. The Business Platinum card comes with an impressive 100,000-point bonus, but you’ll also have to spend $15,000 in the first 90 days. The Business Gold Rewards card is a great option, though, with a much smaller $195 annual fee that’s waived for the first year, a 25,000-point bonus and good bonus earning categories.

The greatest advantage to getting one of these cards is their flexibility. In addition to being able to transfer your points to Delta, you can also transfer them to Aeromexico, Air Canada Airlines, Air France KLM, Alitalia, ANA, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, EL AL, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic.

You could also get a co-branded Delta credit card. These cards, which are also issued by American Express, earn Delta miles which cannot be transferred to other airlines.

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
Gold Delta SkyMiles30,000 miles$1,000$95, first year waived2x Delta
Platinum Delta SkyMiles35,000 miles$1,000$195 2x Delta
Delta Reserve10,000 milesFirst purchase$450 2x Delta

The sign-up bonuses for the Gold and Platinum Delta cards sometimes go as high as 70,000 miles, which may be worth waiting for if you aren’t in a hurry. The biggest advantage of stepping up to the Platinum card is that you’ll also get bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) which count toward elite status. If you aren’t chasing status, the card might not be worth the extra cost.

Delta Gold and Platinum cards sometimes offer special sign-up bonuses

United MileagePlus and the Star Alliance

Like Delta, United partners with a credit card rewards program, Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, that doesn’t mean that every card in the Ultimate Rewards lineup lets you transfer points to airline partners. If you have one of the no-fee cards, such as the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited, you have to also have one of Chase’s premium cards like the Sapphire or the Ink in order to transfer those points to an airline.

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
Sapphire Preferred50,000 points$4,000$95, first year waived2x travel and restaurants
Sapphire Reserve100,000 points $4,000$450 3x travel and restaurants
Ink Plus Business60,000 points$5,000$955x office supplies, phones, internet and cable; 2x gas and hotels
Freedom15,000 points$500 None5x quarterly rotating categories
Freedom Unlimited15,000 points$500 None1.5x all purchases

The newest card in the lineup, the Sapphire Reserve, comes with a huge 100,000-point sign-up bonus. While you might balk at the $450 annual fee, it’s worth noting that it comes with an annual $300 travel. That perk alone goes a long way to covering it. You also get lounge access, deep discounts on airfare purchased through the Ultimate Rewards travel website and credit for Global Entry.

Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card

The Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus Business cards are no slouches either. They come with nice sign-up bonuses, minimal annual fees and some excellent bonus earning potential. And if you have any of those cards, you might as well also get one of the no-fee Freedom cards and earn a little extra.

Like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards partners with more than just United. You can also transfer your points to Air France KLM, British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic.

United also offers two co-branded personal cards. The United MileagePlus Explorer card and the premium MileagePlus Club card.

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
United MileagePlus Explorer30,000 miles$1,000$95, first year waived2x United
United MileagePlus ClubNoneNone$450 2x United; 1.5x everything else

American Airlines AAdvantage and oneworld

You have fewer options with American since it isn’t part of a credit card rewards program. But it does have several cards with big bonuses. These are the co-branded cards American offers with Citbank:

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select30,000 miles$1,000$95, first year waived2x American
Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite50,000 miles$5,000$4502x American
CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World30,000 miles$1,000$95, first year waived2x American, telecommunications, car rentals and gas

American is the only domestic legacy carrier that has partnered with two different issuers to offer two co-branded card lineups. Citibank is the carrier’s longtime partner, but, as part of the fallout from the US Airways merger, the airline also offers cards through Barclaycard.

Old US Airways cardholders have already been switched over to Barclays’ Aviator cards. By the end of 2016, the bank will be able to sign up new members, but only at airports on onboard aircraft. It may be a little strange, but that means that you can get cards from both issuers and possibly earn more sign-up bonuses. The introductory offers for new Aviator members have yet to be announced, so it’s impossible to know what the sign-up bonuses will be, but we’re sure they will be competitive.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

The SPG Amex card gets its own section because it’s relatively unique. While it’s a co-branded hotel card, it also has the most airline transfer partners offered by any program.

 Sign-Up BonusMinimum SpendAnnual FeeBonus Earning Categories
SPG American Express 25,000 points$5,000$95, first year waived5x at SPG properties

You can transfer points to over 30 airlines, the vast majority of them transfer at a 1:1 ratio, too. That includes both American Airlines and Delta. Unfortunately, United transfers at a 2:1 ratio, making it too expensive to be a real option.

One of the best things about this card is that you get a 5,000-point bonus every time you transfer 20,000 points to an airline. If you take advantage of that bonus, you’re basically getting 1.25 points per dollar spent.

The transfer bonus, coupled with American’s limited card offerings, makes the SPG Amex the best option for earning AAdvantage miles.

Final Thoughts

There’s no reason to wait to top up your frequent flyer account and earn the last couple of thousand miles you need the old-fashioned way. Just get a rewards credit card with a sign-up bonus and transfer those points instead if your account needs that last boost to get you an award ticket.

If you almost always fly on one carrier, a co-branded airline card might be the way to go. You’ll get a few nice perks in the bargain, like free checked bags, priority seating and in-flight discounts.

RewardExpert not only helps you create a strategy for flying to the destination of your choice for nearly free, but it can also recommends the best card for your strategy and keeps track of your miles and points. Set up an account and you’ll always know how many miles you have and what the best option is for your next card application based on where you want to go.