Delta SkyMiles Gold vs. United Explorer! From a Free Annual Fee to Welcome Bonuses and Priority Boarding, Comparing the Best Airline Credit Cards

Last Updated on June 21, 2021

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After countless travel restrictions, Americans are ready to fly again. But what are the best airline credit cards for Summer 2021?

Below we compare Delta SkyMiles Gold, United Explorer, Southwest Rapid Rewards and JetBlue Plus.

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

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The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is one of the best airline credit cards of 2021. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Delta and American Express co-brand a line of credit cards. They have various options including a Platinum and Reserve. But the Gold card offers a lot of perks for a sensible price point. This card is perfect for the occasional Delta flyer. 

The perks? The first checked bag is free not just for you, but for up to eight of your closest friends. You have secured overhead space for your carry-on. You receive Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, and 20% back as statement credit on your in-flight purchases, such as food, alcohol, audio headsets. Warning: WiFi is not included. 

Your welcome bonus is up to 70,000 miles if you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months after opening the account. The estimated value of the miles is $770. You’ll get a $200 statement credit on your first purchase within those three months. 

The price point is reasonable. There’s a free introductory annual fee, $99 after that. Variable APR between 15.74% and 24.74%. 

United Explorer Card

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The United Explorer Card is one of the best airline credit cards of 2021. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

The United Explorer card offers something very valuable: no annual fee on the first year, $95 after that. Variable APR range 16.49% to 23.49%. You earn two miles for every $1 you spend at restaurants, on hotel stays, or with other United purchases. For any other use of the card, it’s one mile per dollar. You also receive two one-time passes to the United Club once a year.

If you become so attached to the United Club that you want full membership, you can consider upgrading to the United Club Infinite Card, although the annual fee is a bear: $525.  For most people the extra cost of the Infinite Card will likely be quite daunting. 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

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The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is one of the best airline credit cards in 2021. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

This is Southwest’s most expensive consumer credit card, with an annual fee of $149 dollars (and no, you pay this right from the first year). If you’re a fan of this airline and you want something less expensive, with the same sign-up bonus and anniversary points, consider Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, or Plus

All the Southwest cards give you 2 points for every $1 you spend on Southwest purchases or Rapid Rewards Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases, 1 point per dollar spent on anything else.

The perks you get with the Priority card include a $75 annual travel credit toward Southwest purchases such as flights, pet carrier fees and other day-of-travel purchases.

This card offers four upgraded boardings per year (as available) and 20% back on in-flight purchases, including drinks, movies and, yes, WiFi. 

JetBlue Plus Card

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The JetBlue Plus Card is one of the best airline credit cards of 2021. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Finally, we come to JetBlue. Their plus card offers a 0$ intro APR on balance transfers. After that, the APR is variable, ranging from 13.24% to 26.24%. The annual fee is $99. You get 5,000 anniversary points, and $1,000 on purchases. If you pay the annual fee in full within the first 90 days you will get 50,000 bonus points. You can earn another 50,000 by spending a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first 12 months.

You get 6 points for every $1 spent on JetBlue purchases, 2 points for every dollar spent on grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point for everything else. 

Happy flying!