underscored unidentified commercial airplane flying in sky during sunset

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through the LendingTree affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Want to go on vacation, but finding that air travel is costly? Fortunately there’s a solution: frequent flyer miles. With this coveted currency, you can travel all around the world, many times for as little as just a few dollars in taxes and fees.

But with so many credit cards that earn airline points and miles, you’re probably wondering which one is best for you. We’ve analyzed all the cards out there and picked our favorites for March, so you can see which ones are on top when it comes to not only racking up rewards, but also having access to some great perks while flying.

The best airline credit cards for March 2023

Best for beginners: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best travel insurance protections: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for luxury travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for Delta flyers: Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Best for United flyers: United℠ Explorer Card
Best for Southwest flyers: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
Best for American flyers: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Best for JetBlue flyers: JetBlue Plus Card
Best for flexible rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Why did we select these cards as our best airline credit cards for March 2023? CNN Underscored’s comprehensive credit card methodology compares every aspect of each airline credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially bring you maximum value. So dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.

Best for beginners: Chase Sapphire Preferred

You might be surprised to see a credit card on this list that doesn’t have a specific airline in its name, but that’s what makes this card so great. The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and there are two different ways to redeem them when it comes to air travel.

The first option, which is the more flexible one, is to redeem your Chase points through the Chase travel portal. When you redeem this way, you can book any flight without having to worry about award availability or blackout dates — if you can normally pay for it with cash, then you can pay for it with points.

You’ll get 1.25 cents per point when you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and redeem your rewards this way, and you’ll even earn airline miles for the flight because airlines consider these tickets as regular tickets, not award redemptions.

The second option is to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to any of Chase’s airline or hotel partners. There are 11 different airline partners and three hotel partners, and they break down like this:

Aer Lingus AerClub Air Canada Aeroplan Air France-KLM Flying Blue
British Airways Executive Club Emirates Skywards Iberia Plus
JetBlue TrueBlue Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Southwest Rapid Rewards
United MileagePlus Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
World of Hyatt IHG Rewards Club Marriott Bonvoy

Chase points transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio — meaning you’ll get 1,000 airline miles for every 1,000 Chase points you transfer — and you can then book your flight using the miles in that airline program. However, you’ll only be able to book seats that are available for award redemptions, which usually doesn’t include every flight.

Why would you book this way when you can get any flight using the first method? Because you can potentially get a lot more value for your points when you transfer them, especially if you’re looking to fly internationally in a first or business class cabin. That’s why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece.

Transfer your Chase points to carriers like British Airways and redeem them for flights.

The incredible flexibility of Ultimate Rewards points is why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is our top airline credit card, and our favorite travel credit card for beginners. And right now, new Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months after opening the account.

Those 60,000 points are worth a guaranteed $750 in travel if you redeem them through the Chase travel portal, and potentially much more if you transfer them to Chase’s airline partners.

Beyond the sign-up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 3 points for every dollar you spend on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (except takeout and dining out), 2 points per dollar on travel (or 5 points total when you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal), and 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides (through March 2025).

The annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is just $95 a year. Especially if you’re a beginner, paying less than $100 for a travel credit card is a great way to learn more about the various airline partner programs.

Even with a low annual fee, you’ll find many useful travel insurance benefits come with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. For example, when you pay for travel with the card, you’ll be covered if your trip is canceled for any covered reason, up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip. You’ll also be reimbursed for any covered out-of-pocket expenses, up to $500 per person, if your flight is delayed by at least 12 hours or requires an overnight stay.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Learn more and apply now for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Best travel insurance protections: Chase Sapphire Reserve

When it comes to redeeming credit card rewards for air travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve works very similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but with a few nuances.

Both cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, so you can redeem them the same way: at a fixed rate through the Chase travel portal, or by transferring them to Chase’s partners at a 1-to-1 ratio. The big difference is that your points are worth a higher 1.5 cents apiece when you redeem them via the Chase portal with the Sapphire Reserve, versus 1.25 cents per point with the Sapphire Preferred.

Despite the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee — which is admittedly quite high — the card comes with a number of travel perks, including a $300 yearly travel credit, a $5 monthly DoorDash credit through Dec. 1, 2024, and complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge access.

Those credits effectively lower the Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee and your net cost for the card if you can take advantage of them. And new Chase Sapphire Reserve card holders can currently earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on the card within the first three months after opening the account, which are worth a guaranteed $900 when you redeem them for travel via the Chase travel portal.

Redeem points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve for a great beach vacation.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers a great earning rate on airfare. You’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining, and the travel category is extremely broad. It includes not just air travel, but hotels, car rentals, cruises, ride-share services and even parking and tolls. And, if you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you’ll earn a total of 5 points per dollar on flights, 10 points per dollar on hotels and car rentals, and 10 points per dollar on dining. Plus, for a limited time through March 2025, you’ll also earn 10 points per dollar spent on all Lyft rides.

Finally, if you’re looking for travel insurance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best card when it comes to travel protections. In fact, it’s the only card that offers all seven major types of coverage: Trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, rental car protection, travel accident insurance and emergency evacuation assistance.

And while it’s a benefit we hope you never have to use, the Chase Sapphire Reserve insures you for up to $1,000,000 in case of accidental death or dismemberment when you’re traveling. Most other credit cards that offer this coverage only insure you for half that amount at most.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Learn more and apply now for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Best for luxury travel: The Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express also isn’t tied to a specific airline, but instead earns American Express Membership Rewards points that can be redeemed directly for any flight or transferred to many airlines and hotels — but with a set of partners that’s different than Chase’s credit cards.

When it comes to earning points on airfare, the Amex Platinum has one of the highest earning rates of any credit card on our list. You’ll earn 5 points for every dollar you spend when booking directly with an airline.

That’s more than the 3 points per dollar you’ll earn when booking directly with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but you’ll also earn bonus points on many other travel purchases with the Chase card, while the Amex Platinum only earns elevated points on airfare, as well as hotels and flights booked through American Express Travel.

But the Amex Platinum is best known for its luxury perks. For starters, just by being a card member, you’ll have complimentary access to thousands of airport lounges around the world, including the exclusive American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta, and Priority Pass airport lounges (but not Priority Pass restaurants, and enrollment is required for Priority Pass).

Use your Amex Platinum card to access the new Amex Centurion Lounge at New York's LaGuardia airport.

Card members also get complimentary Gold elite status with the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains, which can get you a late checkout, bonus points when staying on a paid rate, space-available upgraded rooms and complimentary breakfast at select properties. You’ll also have Preferred elite status with Hertz, Avis and National Car Rental.

Now, the Amex Platinum doesn’t come cheap. In fact, the annual fee is a whopping $695 per year (see rates and fees). Fortunately, in addition to its many travel perks, the card comes with yearly credits that can help offset the fee if you can take advantage of them.

This includes up to $200 in annual airline incidental fees, up to $200 back each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings, up to $200 in annual Uber Cash to use on Uber Eats orders or rides in the U.S. (distributed in portions of $15 per month with an extra $20 in the month of December), up to $240 in annual digital entertainment credits (which come in portions of $20 per month), up to $100 in annual Saks Fifth Avenue credits (broken into $50 for each half of the year), up to $189 for an annual CLEAR® membership and more. Enrollment is required when you get the card before you can use these benefits.

If you can use all of these Amex Platinum credits each year, you’ll get over $1,000 in value, which would more than cover the $695 annual fee. But not everyone will be able to take advantage of every credit, so it’s important to consider which ones you’re likely to use and if the net effective cost of the card is worth it for you.

And if you don’t already have the Amex Platinum, now’s a great time to get it, as it’s offering new card members a welcome bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $6,000 in your first six months after opening the account.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Amex Platinum Card.
Learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express.

Best for Delta flyers: Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

With seven different Delta credit cards available — four personal and three business — there’s a Delta card for all types of flyers. But for the occasional flyer, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card will likely suit you the best, especially if you’re located near one of Delta’s hubs such as Atlanta or Detroit, where you’re more likely to find yourself on a Delta plane than other carriers.

The Delta Gold Amex has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then a $99 fee starting with your second year and beyond (see rates and fees), so you can try out the card for a year to see if it’s right for you. And right now, new card members can earn a welcome bonus of 70,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first six months after opening the account.

You can get extra perks when you fly Delta and have the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card.

You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on purchases made directly with Delta with the Delta Gold Amex, as well as at restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery) and U.S. supermarkets. You’ll also get priority boarding on Delta flights, a free checked bag when flying Delta, and 20% off on Delta in-flight purchases.

Also, if you spend $10,000 on the Delta Gold Amex card in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Delta flight credit worth up to $100. So if you’re able to spend this much on your credit card each year, that alone will make up for the card’s annual fee.

However, if you expect to be in the air a lot in 2023, you might instead want to look at the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. Both of these higher-end cards will help you earn Delta elite status quicker and come with more Delta perks, including an annual companion certificate after your first year.

The Delta Reserve card also provides access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta. But of course, both of these premium Delta credit cards come with significantly higher annual fees, so the benefits may or may not justify the cost depending on how often you travel.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Delta Gold Amex card.
Learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.

Best for United flyers: United Explorer Card

If you’re a United fan, the United Explorer Card comes with no annual fee for the first year, then a $95 fee starting in the second year, allowing you to essentially try out the card for no cost while determining whether or not it works for your spending and travel habits.

You’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on United with the United Explorer Card, as well as at restaurants (including eligible delivery services) and on hotel stays booked directly with the hotel, plus 1 mile per dollar on everything else. That’s not bad, but keep in mind that the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 3 points per dollar on dining and 2 points per dollar on all travel, and you can transfer Chase points to United.

That’s why the real reason to have the United Explorer Card is getting perks when flying on United. You’ll receive priority boarding and earn 25% back on in-flight purchases when you’re on a United flight, and you can check your first bag for free (as well as one for a traveling companion). You’ll also receive two United Club lounge day passes per year.

Those looking to earn United elite status can also get 500 Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for every $12,000 spent on the card, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQPs per year. And you’ll also be reimbursed up to $100 for a Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS membership application fee, which is a nice benefit on a travel card that only costs $95 a year.

You'll get a free checked bag and other perks when flying United with the United Explorer Card.

The United Explorer Card is currently offering new card holders 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months after opening the account. But if having access to perks when you’re flying United is a top priority, there are actually two other United credit cards that you might look at instead.

You can earn 60,000 bonus miles, plus 500 Premier Qualifying Points with the United Quest℠ Card after you spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account. This is a more expensive card at $250 a year, but it also comes with more perks, including up to $125 in annual statement credits for United purchases charged to your card.

Or, if you’re a road warrior, the United Club℠ Infinite Card can score you 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on the card within the first three months after opening the account. While this is a great offer and the card includes a United Club lounge membership, it does come with a hefty price tag, as the annual fee will set you back $525 each year.

Read CNN Underscored’s roundup of the best credit cards for United flyers.
Learn more and apply now for the United Explorer Card.

Best for Southwest flyers: Southwest Priority Card

If Southwest is your airline of choice, having one (or more) of the five Southwest credit cards in your wallet is a great way to increase your points balance, reap some cool flight perks and even potentially earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass.

Although the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the most expensive of the Southwest personal credit cards at $149 each year, we like it the most because it comes with the most benefits, and you can easily come out ahead with the card year after year. Currently, you’ll also earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on the card in three months after account opening.

One of the best benefits of the Southwest Priority is that all points earned — including the 50,000 bonus points — count as qualifying points to earn you the Southwest Companion Pass. To earn the pass, you need to earn 135,000 qualifying points within the calendar year — and once earned, the pass expires December 31 the year after it’s earned. Having the pass can save you thousands of dollars, as it allows a companion to fly with you for free (plus the minimal costs of taxes and fees) as many times as you want for the entire time you have it.

The perks on the Southwest Priority card can easily make up for its $149 annual fee.

You’ll also get a $75 Southwest travel credit each year with the Southwest Priority card, which can be used for Southwest flights, along with four upgraded boarding positions annually, 7,500 bonus points each anniversary year starting with your second year as a card holder, 20% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi and no foreign transaction fees.

Since Southwest points are worth about 1.4 cents each, the annual 7,500 bonus points on the Southwest Priority are worth $105. Add that to the $75 in travel credits and your $149 annual fee is more than covered for each year starting with your second year — and that’s before even considering all of the card’s other benefits.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Southwest Priority card.
Learn more and apply now for the Southwest Priority Card.

Best for American flyers: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

For the occasional American Airlines flyer, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum is a great card to have, especially since there’s no annual fee for the first year, then only $95 per year thereafter. While it isn’t the best card to use on everyday spending, you can save money on baggage fees and even get a 25% discount on food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights.

All Citi AAdvantage Platinum card holders get a free checked bag on domestic American flights for not only themselves, but up to four additional companions on the same reservation. With baggage fees starting at $30 per bag, a family of four can easily save $240 roundtrip by flying just one flight per year, making the annual fee well worth it.

You'll get a free checked bag for you and up to four companions on the same reservation with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card.

Now, if you fly American regularly, you might prefer the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® instead, as it comes with an Admirals Club lounge membership and additional benefits such as the opportunity to earn bonus Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). But the card isn’t cheap at $450 a year, so it’s probably best only for those who expect to be on an American plane at least monthly.

Learn more and apply now for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard.

Best for JetBlue flyers: JetBlue Plus Card

If you live in a JetBlue hub city, you’ll want to make sure that you have a place for the JetBlue Plus credit card in your wallet. It’s not the top card for everyday spending, but it comes with some great perks that can improve your experience when flying JetBlue.

With the JetBlue Plus card, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on everything else. JetBlue points are typically worth about 1.3 cents each according to The Points Guy, which means you’re earning a 2.6% return at restaurants and grocery stores, though just a 1.3% return on all your other everyday purchases.

While this isn’t nearly as good as some other cards, you’ll likely save money with it if you fly JetBlue even once in a while. Being a JetBlue Plus card holder gives you and up to three companions on the same reservation a free checked bag when flying JetBlue, which can easily save you hundreds of dollars with just one trip.

JetBlue flyers get a free checked bag for themselves and up to three companions with the JetBlue Plus Card.

And while this card comes with a $99 annual fee, you’ll earn 5,000 bonus points each year starting with your first account anniversary (meaning a year after you first get the card). These 5,000 points are worth about $65 according to The Points Guy, which offsets roughly two-thirds of the cost of the card.

Finally, if you’re interested in JetBlue elite status, credit card spend can help you earn Mosaic elite status. For every $1,000 you spend on the card, you’ll earn one Tile towards status. Theoretically, with credit card spend alone, you can earn Mosaic 1 status when spending $50,000 on the card within a calendar year. So if you aren’t able to earn status by flying, being able to enjoy status through your credit card is a nice-to-have benefit.

Best for flexible rewards: Capital One Venture Credit Card

The Capital One Venture card takes the cake when it comes to flexibility. This straightforward travel card earns 2 miles for every dollar you spend on it — no need to worry about bonus categories. You can then redeem your miles for any travel purchase at 1 cent per mile, which means you’re getting a 2% return on all your purchases, which is comparable to the best credit card options on the market.

Redeeming your miles is incredibly easy using the Capital One Venture’s “Purchase Eraser” feature. All you have to do is charge any travel-related purchase to your Venture card, and then within 90 days, go online and choose to redeem your miles for that transaction instead of paying for it with cash.

Now, if you’re an expert when it comes to frequent flyer programs, you can also transfer your Capital One miles to 18 different travel partners, including British Airways, Air Canada, Avianca and Wyndham Rewards. You’ll need to do your homework if you go this route, but you can potentially get a lot more value for your miles, which is why frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Capital One miles at 1.85 cents each.

You can transfer Capital One miles to Wyndham Hotels and 17 other travel partners.

New Capital One Venture card holders can also earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account. That’s an easy $750 in miles to put straight toward your next vacation.

Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Capital One Venture card.

Frequently asked questions about airline credit cards

Not everyone is familiar with how and when to use certain credit cards, so we’ve assembled some of the more common questions and answers when it comes to the best airline credit cards.

What is an airline credit card?

An airline credit card is one that can specifically help when traveling by air — whether it’s earning miles in the airline program to redeem for flights or providing perks to make your travel more luxurious. Almost all domestic airlines — and the major international ones — offer an airline credit card linked to their respective loyalty program. Some airlines even offer multiple credit card options, so you can apply for one that works best for your specific travel needs.

There are also airline credit cards that aren’t tied to a particular airline, but offer a “flexible” rewards program. With these credit cards, you typically won’t receive as many airline-specific benefits, but your rewards are more versatile and can be used to fly on multiple airlines (or for other travel redemptions, such as hotels, car rentals, cruises and more).

What features should you look for in an airline credit card?

You’ll find that many credit cards tied to a specific airline don’t necessarily earn the most rewards on your purchases when compared to other credit cards. But it’s the airline-specific benefits that come in handy. One of the major features to look for is whether the credit card offers complimentary checked bags when flying on the related airline, and if so, how many bags you can check for each passenger on your itinerary.

For those trying to earn elite status with an airline, you’ll also find that many airline credit cards can help you reach a particular status by spending money on the card. Other features to look for include priority boarding privileges, club lounge access, annual bonus miles, in-flight discounts, complimentary WiFi, companion tickets and more.

With the more flexible airline credit cards — meaning cards that aren’t tied to a specific airline — you won’t find many airline-specific benefits. However, these cards offer other opportunities to make your travel experience better, such as a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership credit, travel statement credits or club lounge access.

Additional features to consider on airline credit cards include waived foreign transaction fees, travel and purchase protection benefits, lucrative bonus offers and cards with no annual fees.

Should I get an airline credit card?

If you travel by air — even if it’s just once or twice per year — you’ll find that an airline credit card can help you save money on your trip. For example, if you and your significant other are flying together on a roundtrip itinerary, an airline credit card that offers complimentary checked bag fees could save you as much as $120 on just that one trip, assuming the airline normally charges $30 per checked bag each way. And if that airline credit card costs $99 per year, you’re already ahead of the game. Those are the types of perks that can make an airline credit card worth having.

Click here for rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card.
Click here for rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold card.

Looking for a new credit card? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best travel credit cards available right now.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.