What makes an airline reward credit card top of the line, says consumer website Value Penguin, is the value it provides as you use the card to accumulate miles and other rewards. For the avid air traveler, a top card is not just about airline miles, but the whole package of experiences, bonuses, comforts and cost savings.
For those whose idea of the best airline credit card is one that gives you as many freebie miles as possible, American Airlines' Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard gives you 50,000 bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases in the first three months. As of 2015, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card gives you 30,000 bonus miles after $1,000 spent over the first three months. The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard grants 35,000 bonus miles within the same time and spending. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard gives you two miles for every dollar spent in any category.
Another way airline credit cards score big with consumers is by sweetening the pot of redemptions or offering versatile ways to redeem. Thus, instead of merely redeeming miles for travel with a Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, you get a 10 percent miles dividend every time you redeem miles for statement credit. As for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you receive a 20 percent discount when you redeem miles for travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. United MileagePlus Explorer Card lets you redeem miles for air travel, hotel stays and car rentals.
Miles may be foremost on your mind, but an airline reward card should also dish out extras that make traveling a pleasure. United MileagePlus Explorer Card gets you free passes to its airport lounge, the United Club, and lets you check in your first bag for free. Ditto on the latter with Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Bank of America, Alaska Air and Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard give you up to $100 for a companion ticket on coach travel.
Given that airline reward credit card annual fees can be upwards of $450 or more, a best-in-class card gives you a break by either waiving fees or dispensing with them altogether. As of 2015, Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, Gold Delta SkyMiles and British Airways Visa Signature Card waive their $95 annual fee during the first year. Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard, British Airways Visa Signature Card and Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard offer no foreign transaction fees for purchases abroad.