Looking to save money on flights? Check your pocket—there’s a good chance you’re already carrying a free ticket to your next destination.

If you regularly use a credit card, you may collect thousands of dollars worth of travel rewards. These rewards can knock hundreds of dollars off your plane ticket or even get you a free one in a few simple steps.

Here’s everything you need to know about maximizing your travel credit card rewards and how to get a free flight using them.

How credit card rewards work for free flights

There’s no shortage of credit cards for earning travel and flight discounts. In most cases, you’ll have one of two options: join a frequent flyer program like an airline-branded credit card or rack up points using a generic travel credit card.

Earning miles with an airline-branded credit card

Major airlines partner with banks to offer frequent flyer programs and credit cards that allow you to earn miles or points every time you book travel with that airline or go shopping. You can redeem these points for free flights, discounts, upgrades, and other travel perks associated with that specific airline.

These programs often encourage members to sign up by offering huge introductory bonus points you can exchange for travel rewards immediately.

The only thing you need to be wary of is annual fees because the more exclusive the perks, the more likely the card has a high annual fee.

Airline credit cards vary greatly by company, so it’s best to do your research on which airlines operate in your city or which travel routes you expect to take.

Use a general-purpose travel credit card

There’s another class of credit cards that work very much like airline cards but give you greater flexibility to redeem your points at multiple airlines and travel destinations.

For example, American Express, Gold American Express, Capital One, TD, Chase, and others offer non-airline travel credit cards that reward users with points for every qualifying purchase they make.

Once you’ve accumulated enough points, you can redeem them for flights, car rentals, hotels and other travel perks—or even convert them into a specific airline’s miles.

These cards are suitable for someone who isn’t loyal to one specific airline or is looking for additional travel perks that aren’t limited to free flights.

How to get free travel with credit cards—our recommendations

Getting free plane tickets with credit cards is surprisingly easy. All you need is the right assortment of cards that offer generous welcome bonuses, the ability to rack up points on everyday purchases, and straightforward travel redemption options.

We’ve put together six recommendations for how to get free flights. If you’re prepared to put in the work, these tips could pay for your next travel adventure in just a few months.

Choose a proper credit card

Not all travel credit cards are the same, and not everyone has the same travel habits. To maximize your chances of earning free travel perks that you could actually use, you must pick the right card for your goals and travel habits.

If you mainly book domestic travel and prefer one or two specific airlines, a frequent flyer program or airline-branded credit card could be a great option. These cards are usually co-branded with a specific airline’s name on them, like the United Explorer Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, for example.

These cards typically offer welcome bonuses, exclusive airline benefits, and the ability to earn miles or points every time you book a flight. Additional perks like free seat upgrades, free checked bags, preferred boarding, and access to airport lounges are also common with loyalty cards.

Some airline-branded cards earn “miles” instead of points, but don’t let that confuse you. A mile simply reflects a frequent flyer program’s currency and isn’t equivalent to how many miles you fly in the sky.

Just like “points,” miles are redeemable for free flights on that airline.

Whether your card earns “miles” or “points,” frequent flyer programs allow loyal passengers to quickly rack up rewards. That’s because the miles or points you earn when you spend get added to the miles you accumulate when you fly on that airline.

But for all their benefits, frequent flyer programs and airline-branded credit cards have a few drawbacks. For starters, the rewards you earn with these cards lack flexibility, meaning you won’t be able to redeem your points at other airlines or for merchandise.

Also, airlines can devalue their rewards pretty quickly without notice, so if you’re not vigilant, your points can be worth a lot less in the future if you don’t use them.

If you’re looking for more flexibility and aren’t loyal to a specific airline, a general-purpose travel credit card might be a better option. These cards reward you with points for every purchase you make, from restaurants to gas stations.

The more you use your travel card, the more points you accumulate, putting you one step closer to a free plane ticket or other travel rewards. And because you’re not locked into a single airline, you can get a free flight with multiple airlines.

With these programs, you can simply book whatever travel destination you want and use your points to pay for your plane ticket, hotel, or even car rental.

Perhaps the biggest downside of general-purpose travel cards is that they don’t offer all the benefits of customer loyalty programs. For example, you probably won’t be able to use your points for free checked bags or seat upgrades like you would with a frequent flyer program.

Regardless of which card you choose, you must be aware of interest rates.

Unfortunately, most credit cards these days have high APRs, so you’ll be paying a hefty fee if you keep a revolving credit. In terms of APRs, there’s really not much difference between airline cards and travel reward cards.

But the big difference lies in annual fees. In general, airline credit cards, like the ones offered by United and Delta, have much higher annual fees than general travel cards from the likes of Chase or Capital One.

If you don’t plan on being a frequent flyer with those airlines, it’s probably best to choose a cheaper card. Otherwise, you’ll be dishing out $525 to $650 in annual fees!

Earn miles or points by flying your preferred airline

If you have a preferred airline, the best way to fly for free is to join their frequent flyer program and start booking as much of your travel with them as possible. The more you fly with that airline, the more points or miles you’ll accumulate, putting you one step closer to your next free plane ticket.

Most frequent flyer programs offer higher rewards for booking travel. For example, you can often earn double the points or miles for booking flights on your card as spending on other categories.

Although every program varies, frequent flyer or airline-based credit cards often provide reward accelerators, which let you rack up points faster on certain eligible spending categories. Frequent flyer rewards often have variable reward rates, which means you can redeem free flights at a higher value. In other words, redeeming your points on free flights will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

These programs typically offer a combination of free checked bags, better access to seats, higher priority for airport upgrades, airport lounge access, and earlier boarding times. If you fly enough with your preferred airline, the savings on checked baggage fees alone can outweigh the card’s annual fee.

Since most major airlines are part of a larger aviation alliance, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to transfer travel rewards to other carriers. For example, if you join United MileagePlus, you can transfer travel rewards to more than two dozen global airlines that are part of the Star Alliance network.

If your goal is to accumulate as many airline miles or points as possible, you should definitely book all your travel through your card.

Earn miles or points by flying your preferred airline

But that’s not the only way to accumulate frequent flyer miles or points. You can rack up even more points by using your card to pay for restaurants, hotels, car rentals, and other eligible categories.

Typically, airline credit cards offer higher rewards when you spend on travel than other categories. For example, a card may offer you two miles for every $1 spent on plane tickets but one mile for every $1 spent on other eligible categories. Still, when you use your card to book flights and pay for other things, you can maximize your reward potential.

If these options appeal to you and are prepared to put in the work, airline credit cards can be a great way to earn exclusive travel perks. Otherwise, you’re probably better off with a general travel credit card.

Everyday purchases with a travel credit card

If you prefer to keep your options open or are not particularly loyal to one airline, a general travel credit card is a lucrative way to earn travel rewards with everyday purchases.

The biggest benefit of a travel card is you can earn and redeem rewards across a broad category, including multiple airlines. Simply use your travel credit card to pay for everyday expenses, like groceries, gas, and hotel stays, and begin racking up points immediately.

In essence, your travel credit card works just like any other credit card in your wallet, except you can earn points you can redeem for free flights, hotel stays, vacations, and other travel perks.

Since there are so many travel credit cards to choose from, the number of points you can earn on purchases varies greatly. In most cases, you can expect to earn between 1 and 5 points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases.

When redeeming your rewards for a free plane ticket, you can simply book your travel any way you want and pay for it using your points balance. There are no minimum redemptions, and any unused points will remain in your balance for future use.

Some travel cards also allow you to transfer points to travel partners, which is usually the cheapest way to book your free flight.

Travel credit cards usually carry a much lower annual fee than airline-branded programs, but keep in mind you won’t get the same travel benefits. So, while you can earn a free flight, you may still be on the hook for baggage fees and won’t be first in line for upgrades.

Credit card welcome bonus

For travelers wondering how to fly for free, the easiest way is simply to sign up for a frequent flyer program or travel credit card and receive a massive welcome bonus. That bonus is often enough to send you off on your first free flight.

This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. Travel credit cards and frequent flyer programs are competing for members, so they offer very generous bonuses for signing up.

Some of the most popular travel credit cards offer welcome bonuses of between 25,000 and 75,000 points, which are often enough to redeem for at least one free flight. However, most welcome offers have caveats, such as minimum purchase requirements in the first few months as a card member.

So, to maximize welcome bonuses, you may want to put your debit card or cash away during those months and use your shiny new card instead. Juar don’t forget to pay off the balance each month to avoid additional interest charges.

Airline companion pass

Traveling alone is great and all, but wouldn’t it be even better if you could fly for free with a friend, partner, or loved one? That’s where the airline companion pass comes in.

A companion pass is a reward benefit that allows you to choose one person to fly with any time you redeem points for a flight. They can travel with you almost for free, as you’ll still be on the hook for taxes and fees.

Think of it as a two-for-one voucher that allows you to save on the base fare of the second ticket.

A companion pass is only available with a frequent flyer program or airline-based credit card. The redemption rules and benefits vary based on the airline, so you have to be strategic about which program you choose if you find this perk appealing.

Like any other travel reward, you must read the fine print. For example, companion passes are often eligible only for certain routes and types of flights, like domestic economy.

if you join a frequent flyer program, there’s a good chance that a companion pass comes with it as a welcome bonus. Other programs activate the companion pass once you’ve paid the annual fee or have reached certain milestones.

How to maximize credit card rewards

Having a clear travel goal can help you maximize your reward miles and points. Whether you’re saving up for a vacation, looking to bank more points on business travel, or want a first-class upgrade on your next international flight, you need a strategy for earning the most points or miles.

Once you set a travel goal, research what types of credit cards or frequent flyer programs can earn you the most rewards based on your spending habits. It’s important to look at each card’s spending categories to determine how many points you can earn for each type of purchase.

Knowing a card’s spending categories can help you avoid making unnecessary purchases just to earn points. If a travel rewards program offers an abundance of points on things you already spend on, then it’s probably a good option for you.

Most travel rewards programs advertise their affiliates and partners—you can earn even more points when you use your card at these businesses.

Some programs offer two or three times the points when you book travel through your credit card, and almost every program lets you earn points when you use your card for everyday purchases. Make sure to check your account statement to see how many points you’re accumulating each month.

Signing up for reward programs with bonus offers is the easiest way to accumulate tens of thousands of points with minimal effort. As mentioned earlier, you can easily earn 25,000 to 75,000 bonus points when signing up for a new travel rewards program.

Just read the fine print to see how much you must spend on your card in the first three months to unlock your points.

Once you’ve accumulated enough points for a free plane ticket, you should compare your redemption options before you book. If you join an airline loyalty program, you’ll get the best deal by booking directly through that airline’s website.

But if you have a general-purpose travel credit card, you must book your ticket through that program’s travel portal. The portal should have more flexible flight options since you’re not limited to just one airline.

In both cases, booking your flight well in advance is preferred because you’ll likely need fewer points to secure your free plane ticket. After all, you’ll have more redemption options and flight times when booking three months in advance instead of looking for a free flight next week. Booking a free flight during off-peak season is also better for points efficiency.

In certain situations, transferring your credit card points to a frequent flyer program may be more efficient. You should avoid this unless you can transfer your points on a 1:1 ratio or as close to that ratio as possible.

Transferring points is a good idea if you want to keep your awards from expiring or if you can get more value through a specific airline.

How many miles do you need on a credit card for a free flight?

If you’re wondering how many points you actually need to get a free flight, we’ve provided a quick summary below for domestic and international flights. Be sure to check with each airline rewards program for exact requirements.

In general, you should be able to get a free plane ticket for as little as 7,500 points on domestic flights and 13,000 points on international flights.

Minimum points needed to qualify for a free flight (domestic flights)

Alaska Airlines12,500-30,000N/A30,000-95,000
American Airlines10,000-30,00020,000-55,00050,000-115,000
Delta Air Lines8,000-36,50056,000-112,500N/A
Frontier Airlines10,000N/AN/A
Southwest Airlines7,500-57,00012,100-60,200N/A
Spirit Airlines6,000-20,000N/AN/A
United Airlines10,000-21,00025,000-75,000N/A

Minimum points needed to qualify for a free flight (international flights)

Air Canada32,700-55,00060,000-322,700100,000
Air France20,000-55,00060,000-318,000221,500-345,000
Alaska Airlines22,500-35,00057,500-75,00070,000
American Airlines22,500-65,00057,500-135,00080,500-310,000
British Airways13,000-20,00050,000-60,00085,000-100,000
Delta Air Lines35,000-40,000170,000-285,000N/A
Southwest AirlinesN/AN/AN/A
United Airlines20,700-33,00060,000-155,000121,000
Virgin Atlantic10,000-20,00047,500-65,000N/A

Common mistakes to avoid

For all their benefits, travel credit cards have potential pitfalls that you must avoid if you want a hassle-free travel reward experience. Some of the key mistakes include:

  • Redeeming points for low-value rewards: One of the worst things you can do is spend your hard-earned points on things with below-average values, like gift cards, merchandise, or cash back. Instead, you should redeem your points on things that will give you the biggest bang for your buck, like free flights or ticket upgrades.
  • Taking too long to redeem rewards: The unfortunate truth is that many travel reward points expire or devalue if you don’t redeem them often enough. Credit card issuers can also change the value of your points or miles at any time.
  • Not understanding the terms and conditions: A travel rewards card can quickly become a burden if you don’t read the fine print. Before you sign up, it’s essential to understand redemptions, credit card fees, category bonuses, and APR.
  • Paying high fees for travel perks you’re not using: Swanky credit cards like the Amex Platinum offer plenty of travel perks and rewards, but they come with a fairly hefty annual fee, not to mention a high APR. These fees are justifiable if you use the card’s perks. If not, it’s best to avoid them altogether and save yourself hundreds of dollars.


Although flying is costlier than ever these days, strategically using your credit cards can help you max out on bonus miles and points, potentially saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on travel.

If you use a combination of credit cards, take advantage of sign-up bonuses whenever possible, and put in a little extra work, traveling to your next vacation destination doesn’t have to be the most expensive part of the trip.


How do I qualify for a free flight with my credit card?

You qualify for a free flight as soon as you accumulate enough points. The number of points you need depends on your loyalty program and travel destination. In general, you can earn points through sign-up offers, credit card spending, or booking flights on your card.

What’s the difference between airline-specific and general travel credit cards?

An airline-specific card is a loyalty program for a specific airline, meaning that you can redeem rewards can only with that airline or its alliance partners. A travel credit card isn’t limited to one company and lets you redeem rewards at several airlines.

Can I use credit card points to book flights for someone else?

Yes, in general, you can use credit card points to book a free flight for someone else. However, every loyalty program has different rules, from no restrictions on who you can book flights for to only booking for travelers linked to your account.

Can I combine points from different credit cards for a single flight?

Yes, in theory, some credit card reward programs allow you to combine your points and use them toward a free flight. However, your ability to consolidate points will be limited to the credit card’s transfer partners. The more travel credit cards you carry, the more complicated it’ll be to combine points across different issuers.

How do I maximize points with everyday spending?

You can maximize points by joining programs that offer the most earning potential on items you already spend on. For example, if you spend a lot on groceries, gas, and hotels, look for cards that offer higher points for those categories.

Can I transfer credit card points to different airlines?

It depends. In general, you can’t transfer points to competing airlines that have their own frequent flyer programs (but you can book flights through each airline’s travel partners). But if you’re using a general travel card, you’ll generally be able to transfer points to various travel partners.

Are there any fees associated with redeeming flights through credit card points?

Yes, even if you have enough points to redeem a free flight, you’ll still have to pay tax and other fees associated with that travel. In other words, your points go toward the cost of airfare, but you’re still on the hook for taxes and airline surcharges.