Here's how to fly cheaply without getting taken for a ride.

We have a love-hate relationship with airline mileage credit cards. The airlines and the banks know we’re suckers for the prospect of a “free” trip to anywhere.

At the same time, many of us have been burned when our promised awards are consistently unavailable at the lowest mileage rates – so we’re forced to give up on our “free” trip or pay double miles or more. Even worse, many airline programs will ask you to pay fuel surcharges!

Nevertheless, there’s still value in airline mileage credit cards — but only for those who are savvy enough to use the best ones. The top cards should offer miles that are actually redeemable at the lowest mileage levels and benefits such as checked baggage fee waivers and priority boarding.

Here are the best airline miles cards available now…

1. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card

The perks: For each dollar you spend, earn one point in the Rapid Rewards program of Southwest Airlines. Each point is worth about 1.5 cents towards fares in their “Wanna Get Away” fare class, and points can be redeemed for any unsold seat – and are fully refundable. Plus, if you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, you’ll automatically receive a Companion Pass that allows you to add a designated person to any reservation, including awards. And with Southwest, cardholders, and everyone else, always receive two free checked bags.

Annual fee: $99, but you receive a 6,000-point bonus every year.

Bottom line: With no bag fees, no change fees, and fully refundable award bookings, this card offers rewards that are immune from many of the worst airline charges.

2. Citi Platinum Select/American Airlines AAdvantage World MasterCard

The perks: Get one mile per dollar spent and double miles for purchases from American. You also receive your first bag checked free, priority boarding, and a 25 percent discount on in-flight purchases.

Thankfully, American Airlines is known for offering the best award availability of all the legacy carriers, and cardholders receive a further 10 percent of their redeemed miles back each year, up to 10,000 miles.

Annual fee: $95, which is waived the first year.

Bottom line: Good award availability and great perks make this one of the top airline credit cards out there.

3. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card from Bank of America.

The perks: This card offers you three miles per dollar spent on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America purchases, and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. It also offers you a Companion Fare for $0 plus taxes after you use your card to make $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. You’ll also receive a $99 Companion Fare (plus taxes) each year on your account anniversary. You also get a free checked bag for yourself and up to six others on the same reservation when you fly Alaska or Virgin America.

Annual fee: $75.

Bottom line: Another great card for those who want to earn valuable rewards while avoiding change fees and baggage fees.

4. JetBlue Plus card from Barclaycard

The perks: This card offers you 6-times points on JetBlue purchases, double points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Other benefits include a free checked bag, a 50 percent savings on in-flight purchases, and 10 percent of your redeemed miles back. You can also earn TrueBlue Mosaic elite status after you spend $50,000 in a year.

Annual fee: $99

Bottom line: You can earn more awards in a shorter time with this card than you can most others.

5. United Airlines Club card (Chase)

The perks: Earn 1.5 miles for each dollar spent and two miles per dollar for purchases from United. Also receive a membership in the United Club lounges, which normally costs $500 per year. When traveling, you’re entitled to priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and baggage handling privileges, as well as two free checked bags for yourself and one other traveling companion. Finally, you’re upgraded to elite status with Hyatt hotels and Avis car rental.

Annual fee: A steep $450

Bottom line: This high-end airline reward card has the benefits to match its price.

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Meet the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Writer

Steele is a freelance writer for Debt.com and is an expert on credit cards.

Credit & Debt, Travel

credit card rewards, credit cards, flying, save money

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Article last modified on July 3, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: The 5 Best Airline Miles Cards Right Now - AMP.