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The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards in America

Jason Steele

Credit cards and airline rewards can seem like a match made in heaven. The airline industry makes great money selling their miles to banks, which use these miles to attract valuable customers. This formula has been working for decades, and travelers are thrilled to enjoy award travel with the points and miles earned through their credit card spending.

To become the Best Credit Card in America for airline miles in 2013, a credit card has to offer the value and flexibility that allows cardholders to bypass airline capacity restrictions and find the award seats they want. Increasingly, this means that cardholders should be earning rewards points that can be transferred to more than just one airline.

So this year, we are looking at cards that offer the greatest rewards for spending, and the maximum flexibility when it comes to redeeming rewards. Since last year, some airline mile reward cards have improved by increasing the number of airline mileage transfer partners offered, while others have reduced the value of their points or miles.

As with all reward cards, airline mileage cards should only be used by credit card holders who pay all their statement balances in full and on time. Those who are carrying debt should be focused on paying off their balance with a low-interest credit card and possibly a promotional financing offer.

The Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred comes out on top once again this year by continuing to offer new benefits and new airline mileage transfer partners.

The rewards: For each dollar spent, cardholders earn one point in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, which allows customers to instantly transfer their points to miles with United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air and Southwest. New for this year is the ability to transfer points to Virgin America’s Elevate program, which are then worth more than two cents each toward any ticket for sale. Furthermore, cardholders earn double points on all dining and travel purchases, and triple points for travel booked through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards travel website. In fact, cardholders receive a 7% annual points bonus each year.

Chase has also improved its standard benefits by easing restrictions on its auto rental insurance and trip cancellation insurance, as well as its trip protection and extended warranty policies. To get started, new cardholders receive 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 within three months of opening an account.

The costs: There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees are imposed on purchases that are processed outside of the United States.

1st Runner-Up: American Express Premier Rewards Gold

The rewards: This card offers valuable Membership Rewards points, which can be instantly transferred to miles with 17 different airline programs at a 1:1 ratio, with Emirates Airlines having just been added in October. In addition, mileage transfer bonuses are frequently offered. For example, cardholders receive a 20% bonus through the end of the year when they transfer their points to the British Airways Executive Club program. Furthermore, cardholders earn double points at U.S. supermarkets and standalone gas stations, and triple points for flights booked with airlines. Other benefits include excellent purchase protection and travel assistance services, as well as exclusive access to event tickets.

The costs: There is a $175 annual fee that is waived the first year, and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. Nevertheless, cardholders can still earn Membership Rewards points with less pricey cards such as the Green Card, which costs only $95 a year, although they will not receive the bonus point offers.

2nd Runner-Up: Starwood Preferred Guest Card From American Express

The rewards: The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express continues to be a favorite product for mileage junkies as it earns points that can be transferred to miles with the programs of about 30 different carriers. This amazing feature makes this card a virtual Swiss Army knife — giving cardholders the ability to unlock award seats on dozens of airlines around the world. New cardholders can receive 25,000 bonus Starpoints – 10,000 after their first purchase, and another 15,000 after spending $5,000 within the first six months of opening an account.

However, keep in mind that there are no double- or triple-mileage offers for spending, other than at Starwood hotels (although cardholders do receive a 5,000 point bonus when they transfer 20,000 points to miles). In addition, mileage transfers can take up to two weeks to complete. This delay could mean that available mileage awards can slip away by the time transfers are completed. Finally, this card carries foreign transaction fees.

The costs: There is a $65 annual fee that is waived the first year, and a 2.7% foreign transaction fee added to all charges processed outside of the United States.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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