The Best Airline Credit Cards

By Markets Fool.com

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Airline credit cards are some of the most popular on the market because they give travelers lots of perks they love like free airplane tickets, free checked bags, and even access to airline clubs in the airport. But which card is right for you?

Below I'll try to navigate the benefits and find which card is (or isn't) the best fit for you.

Perks from the airlines we fly the most
When it comes to flying in the U.S., Delta , American Airlines , United Continental , and Southwest are the biggest players by a long shot. And they all have big credit card platforms that provide perks for cardholders.

Below is a brief overview of their benefits, including bonus miles and free ticket costs.

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Airline Credit Card

Bonus Points

Annual Fee

Other Perks

Miles For a Free Ticket

Gold Delta Skymiles-American Express

50,000

$95, free for first year

First checked bag is free

25,000+ miles each way

10,000 gives $100 discount on fares

American Airlines -- AAdvantage-Visa

30,000

$95, free for first year

First checked bag free for you and 4 companions

20,000+ miles each way

United MileagePlus Explorer-Visa

30,000

$95, free for first year

First checked bag is free

20,000+ miles

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus-Visa

50,000

$69

First two checked bags are free

Depends on flight cost

Source: Company websites.

Each of these cards also offers priority boarding, which can be important if you're on a full flight. Other perks like no fees on foreign transactions, bonus miles for spending at the airline, and bonuses for using the card each year are also included on most cards.

How to pick the right airline credit card for you
Trying to decide between major airline credit cards can be tough, but a big part of your decision should center around where you live. If you're close to an airline hub you'll likely have more flight options at lower costs than you may with competitors that have fewer flights to your home city.

American Airlines would be a preferred card for those in Boston, Nashville, San Jose, and St. Louis. Delta has hubs in Chicago, Memphis, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Minneapolis. United uses Houston, Miami, and Cleveland, while Southwest has a large number of flights from Las Vegas and Phoenix. If you live in one of these cities picking an airline with a large presence there can be more valuable than picking a card based on the number of free miles you get when you sign up.

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A better way to save?
While airline credit cards can be tempting, thrifty travelers may want to consider a card with points that can be used for a number of airlines or for cash back. This can allow you to shop multiple airlines for the lowest cost flight and still use points to make a purchase.

JPMorgan Chase's Sapphire Preferred card will give you 40,000 bonus points, double points on dining out and travel spending, and allows you to buy tickets with points on partner airlines. Better yet, you can get $1 per 100 points in cash back, which could save you money if the cost of an airline ticket is less than 100 times the number of points you would have to use on your airline credit card.

The downside of non-branded cards is that you don't get a free checked back or priority boarding. But there are also a lot of cards without annual fees, so if you're not a frequent traveler or you don't fly the same airline all of the time you may want to consider a card with a flexible points program.

Perks for frequent travelers
If you are a frequent traveler and use the same airline time and time again an airline credit card can be a great item to have. It can get you free checked bags, along with other perks, and if you're lucky it could even land you a first class upgrade.

They're worth a close look and keep in mind that the airlines with the most availability to you will offer more value than just the card offering the most points. After all, what are points worth if you can't use them?

The article The Best Airline Credit Cards originally appeared on Fool.com.

Travis Hoium owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.