Best Airline Travel Reward Credit Cards

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If you fly one carrier consistently, these airline travel reward credit cards present excellent discounts.

Caution at the outset: these cards are not for people who carry a balance each month, because interest rates are quite high. The rates rise and fall at times, but they're always far too high for borrowing money. 

Many budget travelers believe airline credit cards are a less than attractive option unless you live near an airport dominated by one airline, your company requires a particular carrier, or you're piling up frequent flier miles with a single account.

Often it pays to also consider bank-based cards that can offer more reward options.

Before you look at specific cards, it is best to look at your finances and travel patterns. What follows are a few selections worth consideration as you begin your research. Please take these recommendations as a starting point for a more personal and in-depth study focused on your individual travel needs. 

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

British Airways offers travel options around the world that few others can match. The current offer is up to 50,000 avios (BA's frequent flyer miles) for signing up and charging at least $3,000 on the card within the first three months. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa Signature card, you will earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.

Reward partners such as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines combine with British Airways to offer about 600 destinations to which you can fly.

You'll get 3 miles for every dollar spent with British Airways, and one mile for every other dollar spent. Chase Bank USA is the issuing company. There is a 16.49 percent variable APR for unpaid balances, a figure that increases with lower-rated credit scores.

The good news: A large choice of domestic and international flights, no international transaction fees, and limited insurance coverage at no additional charge.

The bad news: The high annual fee of $95.

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Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Delta's extensive network of cities and partners around the world makes anything they offer worth a look. American Express is welcomed in many fine outlets worldwide, but some budget travelers complain it skews upscale--and therefore is not as useful in their daily lives as other cards. Delta adds 50,000 SkyMiles if you charge $1,000 on the card in the first three months, and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in that 90-day period..

Holders of the card may check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, a nice perk in this age of ever-increasing baggage fees. You save up to $50 on a round-trip Delta flight. The annual fee is waived the first year, and thereafter is a rather steep $95. The APR for purchases is variable, between 16.24-25.24 percent, based on your credit score.

Miles do not expire as long as you do one of the following every two years: take a qualifying flight on any Delta service; earns Delta miles through one of its program partners; or redeem miles for any Delta miles award. Not available in Puerto Rico, Saipan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

You earn double miles for Delta purchases. 

The good news: SkyMiles are also accepted on more than 20 carriers, including Air France, Air Jamaica and Singapore Airlines. Delta now awards 2,500 bonus miles when you make $10,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year. You also get the first checked bag at no charge on any Delta flight. The bad news: The annual fee that can hit $95 after one year.

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Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Visa Card

You'll receive 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of service.

You also receive 6,000 bonus points every year after your Card-member Anniversary, which can be redeemed for a $100 Wanna Get Away? Fare or applied to the hefty $99 annual fee. APR is 16.49 percent.

The good news: It's possible to get a free round-trip ticket fairly quickly.

The bad news: The high annual fee of $99 annual fee applied immediately -- no one-year grace period as found with many other offers.

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Bank Sponsored Cards