Even if you fly just a few times each year, co-brand airline credit cards can provide benefits that make it easy to justify paying an annual fee. For many travelers, it can make sense to pay a sub-$100 annual fee to get a free first checked bag and other savings.

Premium airline rewards credit cards take this a step further, with benefits that make it feel like you have top-tier elite status. In this post, we break down the welcome offers, earning potential, and feature benefits for the premium Delta, American, and United credit cards. Hopefully, this comparison of the major similarities and differences among premium airline credit cards can help you make an informed decision.

Comparison of the Best Premium Airline Credit Cards

With the constant changes to premium co-brand cards, it can be a challenge to pick the best card. There’s a big overlap between premium card perks and benefits, and a comparison of these airline credit cards reveals more similarities than differences. However, individual policies vary and can have a significant impact on which card will provide the best long-term value.

We’ve put together a summary of each card in the table below, followed by a deeper analysis of key features below. We’ll cover lounge access policies, free checked baggage, travel protection benefits, and perks to elevate your travel experience with each airline.

Benefits Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® United Club℠ Infinite Card Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Annual Fee $450 $525 $550 – Rates & Fees
Authorized User Fee $0 $0 $175 – Rates & Fees
Welcome Offer Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles Earn 100,000 bonus miles Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 bonus miles
Bonus Earnings Toward Elite Status 10,000 Loyalty Points after spending $40,000 per qualification year Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 spent (up to 4,000 PQP / $96,000 spent in a calendar year) 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to $120,000.
Category Bonus • 2x on American flights
• 1x on all other purchases
• 4x miles on United purchases
• 2x miles on dining
• 2x miles on all other travel
• 1x on all other purchase
• 3x on Delta purchases
• 1x on everything else
Lounge Access • Admirals Club (+ 2 guests or immediate family) (AU cardholders also get free access via their own membership) • United Club (+ 2 guests or 1 adult and dependent children under 21 years of age)
• Star Alliance Lounges when traveling same-day on Star Alliance ticket
• Delta Sky Club® & international partner lounges when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed/operated flight
• 2X one-time guest passes for complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club
• The Centurion Lounge – When flying a same-day Delta-marketed/operated flight paid for with a U.S.-issued American Express rewards Card
Elite Status N/A • Hertz President’s Circle® Membership
• IHG Rewards Platinum Elite Status
N/A
Free Checked Bags • Free first checked bag for cardholder and up to 8 companions
• Adding your AAdvantage number to the reservation triggers the benefit
• 2 each for you and a companion on the same ticket
• Ticket must be purchased using this card to qualify for the benefit
• 1 each for you and up to 8 companions on the same ticket
• Adding your SkyMiles number to the reservation triggers the benefit
Companion Flight Ticket N/A N/A • Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card
• Valid within the Continental U.S.
• Pay just taxes and fees
In-Flight Benefits • 25% off in-flight purchases on AA domestic flights, which comes as a statement credit
• Applies to food and beverage purchases only, not WiFi
• 25% back (as a statement credit) on food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases on board United- and United Express-operated flights • 20% discount on pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets
• Comes as a statement credit
• Does not apply to WiFi purchases
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck Credit Every 5 years Every 4 years Every 4 years
Trip Delay As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit • 12 hours
• $500
• 6 hours
• $500
Baggage Delay As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit • 6 hours
• $100 day up to 3 days
N/A
Auto Rental CDW As of 09/22/19 Citi no longer offers this benefit Primary coverage up to retail value of vehicle Secondary up to $75K
Additional Perks & Benefits • Access to Reduced Mileage Awards
• Priority check-in, airport screening, and early boarding
• 10% fewer miles required for economy saver award bookings on United / United Express flights within the Continental U.S. and Canada
• Close-in award fees waived
• Complimentary Premier Upgrades on award tickets
• $70 discount on CLEAR membership
• 2022 only: up to $75 in statement credits on spending at IHG hotels
• Priority boarding

*Enrollment is required for select Amex benefits.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

Annual Fee$525
Welcome BonusEarn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Welcome Bonus

The United Club Infinite is now offering a solid sign-up bonus of 100,000 United miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

This bonus falls a little short of the card’s all-time-best offer of 120,000 miles — which ended in May 2022 — but 100,000 bonus miles is still well above average for this card, making now a great time to add it to your wallet.

Earning Potential and Bonus Categories

Earn 4 miles per $1 spent on United® purchases, 2 miles per $1 spent on all other travel and dining and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. One of the drawbacks of the superseded MileagePlus Club Card was the low return on spending. You could even get more United miles swiping an Ultimate Rewards earning card than you could with United co-brand cards.

Thanks to the improved earning rate of 4X on United purchases, the new United Club Infinite is now the best card to earn MileagePlus miles when paying for United flights. It’s also the first co-brand airline card to offer bonus points on all travel purchases including those from other airlines.

Feature Benefits and Lounge Access Perks

The feature benefit of the United Club Infinite is United Club lounge access for the primary cardholder, plus 2 adults or 1 adult and dependent children under 21 years of age. United charges up to $650 for an annual United Club membership ($600/$550 for Platinum/1K members), so you are essentially getting a discounted lounge membership in addition to all the other perks and benefits, not to mention the signup bonus.

The feature benefit of the United Club Infinite is United Club lounge access for the primary cardholder, plus 2 adults or 1 adult and dependent children under 21 years of age.

Other benefits include:

  • free first and second checked bags ($30/$40 each way)
  • up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre fee credit
  • expanded award inventory
  • complimentary upgrades on award tickets

You won’t pay a fee to add any additional cardholders, but they won’t get lounge access unless they are traveling with the primary cardholder. The United Club Infinite offers some great travel protection benefits for a co-brand card including trip delay reimbursement, primary rental car insurance, and baggage delay coverage.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

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Rates & Fees
(Terms apply)

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Annual Fee$550
Welcome OfferLimited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

Welcome offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

Like the other Delta credit cards, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card periodically runs limited-time offers that are substantially higher than the standard welcome offer. The current offer of 100,000 bonus miles is arguably an all-time best, so now is a great time to apply for this card.

Earning Potential and Bonus Categories

Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Whereas the new United card tops the earning sheets for earning United miles, the same can’t be said for the Delta Reserve. Although it earns a solid 3X miles on Delta purchases, you can get a higher return of 5X points per dollar with the The Platinum Card® from American Express (on up to $500,000 of airfare purchases per calendar year booked directly with airlines) which you can then transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio.

Feature Benefits and Lounge Access Benefits

Amex recently refreshed the benefits of the Delta Reserve. One of the best additions is Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta flights paid for with an Amex card. The new lounge access benefits supplement the existing Delta Sky Club access. That means you’ll have even more lounge options when flying Delta. Individual SkyClub membership costs $545 annually.

You also receive a domestic round-trip companion certificate each year you renew the card. The certificate is valid for Delta First Class, Comfort+, or Main Cabin flights. Plus, you’ll get a free checked bag and priority boarding. These benefits also extend to up to 8 companions flying on the same itinerary. And, if something goes wrong, Amex recently added a new trip delay policy to this card that kicks in after a delay of only 6 hours.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Annual Fee$450
Welcome OfferEarn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Welcome bonus

Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® Bonus Miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. While the 50,000 mile bonus on the AA Executive Card card isn’t a huge offer by historical standards, you only pay a $450 annual fee for this card.

Earning Potential and Bonus Categories

Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases. Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases.. Again, the earning rates on the AA Executive Card are low in comparison to other airline cards, but 2X AAdvantage miles on American purchases is still the best return you’ll see if you are collecting AA miles, as American features no bank transfer partners among the major currencies. However, you can transfer Bilt Rewards to American Airlines AAdvantage at a 1:1 ratio.

Feature Benefits and Lounge Access Benefits

Similar to the cards above, the flagship benefit of the AA Executive Card is the complimentary Admirals Club membership you receive for holding the card. American charges up to $650 a year for Admirals Club membership if you don’t hold elite status, so obtaining it via the AA Executive Card offers a huge discount over purchasing a yearly membership. A unique benefit of this card is that authorized user accounts also gain Admirals Club access, and there is no fee for adding authorized user accounts!

You’ll get a free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to 8 companions traveling on the same ticket, 25% of in-flight purchases, access to AA Reduced Mileage Awards, priority check-in, airport screening, and early boarding.

Final Thoughts

The  100,000 point offer on the United Club Infinite is our current pick for the best premium airline card offer. However, the AA Executive Card is a great deal when you factor in the flexible lounge access benefits for authorized user cardholders without additional fees.

Due to the high annual fees on premium airline cards, you also need to make the most of big-ticket benefits like lounge access and free checked bags to justify keeping the card year after year. If you fly a legacy carrier more than a few times a year and can take full advantage of the benefits on offer, any of these three cards can provide outsized value.

This comparison evaluated numerous similarities and differences among the premium airline credit cards. Our winner is the United Club Infinite, but make sure to do the math to ensure it’s a good fit for you.

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