Best Credit Cards for First Class Travel

Let’s be honest: Nobody enjoys flying coach. The seats are tight, you’ve got a toddler kicking your seat behind you, the food is rarely worth waking up for – and if you’re tall, good luck stretching your legs!

First class travel seems like something only the rich and famous can afford. Or is it?

With a credit card that offers travel rewards, you could upgrade your travel experience from sub-par to supreme. Read on for a list of the best credit cards for first class travel.

10 Best Cards for First Class Travel Upgrades

1. Capital One Venture Rewards

With the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card, you can earn rewards with all of your purchases without needing to worry about specific categories you spend in.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • A one-off 75,000 mile bonus upon spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of opening your account
  • For every dollar you spend on all purchases, you can earn 2x miles daily
  • All hotels and hire cars that you book with Capital One Travel will earn you 5x miles
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • Once every four years you can have your Global Entry (value to $100) or your TSA PreCheck (value to $85) application fees reimbursed
  • You can also receive other benefits, such as insurance for hire cars, insurance for travel accidents, and extended warranties, amongst others.

In addition, this card also has an introductory 0% APR for the first year, and the regular APR after this time is reasonable.

In order to redeem your miles, you can receive them as a travel statement credit. Otherwise, you can use them for future flight bookings, to the value of one cent per mile.

If you have enough miles, you may be able to put them towards first class bookings, so the double and quintuple points could help you earn faster.

Avianca, Emirates, Quantas, and Singapore Airlines all partner with Capital One, and will accept miles earned through your Capital One Venture Rewards card.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred®

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card, your points are 25% more valuable when you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards (their value is 1.25 cents each). In addition to this, every time you purchase either travel or dining, you’ll earn extra points as well!

You can redeem your points in a variety of different ways, too, getting you into first class both faster and for cheaper.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • Once you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months, you can earn 60,000 points (the equivalent of $750 for travel, if you use Chase Ultimate Rewards to redeem)
  • Lyft rides and any travel you book with Chase Ultimate rewards will earn you 5x points
  • Select dining out will earn you 3x points in addition to grocery shopping
  • Some streaming services will also earn you 3x points
  • Travel will earn you 2x points
  • All other purchases will earn you 1x point per $1 spent (selected purchases, only)
  • Any hotel reservations booked with Chase Ultimate Rewards will give you a $50 annual credit
  • You’ll receive a points bonus 0n every card anniversary, the value of which is 10% of your total purchases from the year before
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • You can transfer your points directly on a one-to-one basis with airlines and hotels partnered with Chase (including United, British Airways, Emirates, Flying Blue, and Singapore Airlines)

When you transfer your points from a card with no annual fee to the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, your points could be up to 50% more valuable if used for travel and redeemed through Chase.

You can also receive other benefits, such as car insurance on rentals, reimbursements for trip delays, protection on purchases, free perks with DoorDash’s DashPass (includes $0 delivery fees, as well as lower service fees for at least a year when activated by the end of 2024)- and lots more!

Additionally, if you spend over $4,000 in your first three months of using the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, you’ll receive 100,000 bonus points.

While there is no introductory low APR offer (and you’ll need good to excellent credit to qualify for this card), the regular APR is fairly normal for a card like this.

As long as you act responsibly with your credit card, you should be able to avoid racking up any unexpected interest fees and charges!

Despite its various benefits, you should note that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $95 annual fee. You’ll also get the most value for money on domestic first class flights over international flights with this card’s redemption points structure.

3. Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card is another one from the Chase family.

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card, it does come with an annual fee ($550, plus an additional $75 per authorized user). However, there are several benefits to this card, including a 50% increase on the value of your points when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards (points are worth 1.5 cents each).

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • Once you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn 80,000 points (the equivalent of $1,200 for travel)
  • Lyft rides, dining out with Chase partners, hotels, and rental cars booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards will all earn you 10x points
  • Any other dining out, delivery, or takeout will earn you 3x points
  • Annual travel purchases will earn you a $300 travel credit reimbursement yearly, and 5x points on all travel after the first $300, through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3x points on any other worldwide travel (after the initial $300 spend)
  • 1x points on any other spending
  • Global Entry and TSA PreCheck application fees will be reimbursed
  • A complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to over 1,300 airport lounges for free
  • One-to-one point transfer with Chase-partnered airlines and hotels, as with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (including United Airlines, British Airways, and Hyatt)
  • Zero foreign transaction fees

It’s worth bearing in mind that you do not receive points unless you spend over $300 on travel annually, due to the reimbursement offer.

You can, also, redeem your points for cash back with this card, but if you do so your points will only be worth one cent each.

There is no introductory APR offer on this card, either, and the regular APR varies. You will need an excellent credit rating in order to be approved for this particular card.

4. The Platinum Card® from American Express

While the Platinum Card® from American Express has a high annual fee of $695, it does offer many perks and rewards which the savvy traveler will appreciate.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • When you spend $6,000 over the first 6 months, you can earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points with The Platinum Card
  • Every dollar you spend on eligible flights or pre-paid hotels (minimum of 2 nights stay) will earn you 5x points (up to $500,000). After you reach this threshold, you’ll earn 1x points
  • $200 per calendar year in statement credits for baggage fees, etc., with a single qualifying airline
  • A complimentary Priority Pass Select, Centurion, and Delta SkyClubs (only when flying Delta same day) memberships, giving you access to their airport lounges for free, as well as up to $189 reimbursement per year on a CLEAR membership
  • Reimbursement on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees
  • A digital entertainment credit of $20 every month for certain streaming services
  • Membership Rewards points can be used for flight upgrades
  • Redeem your points at 1 cent each for premium flights purchased with Amex Travel
  • Points can be transferred to airline partners
  • Various other benefits, including secondary insurance for rental cars, roadside assistance, insurance on baggage and travel accidents, plus more.

Some perks and benefits will require you to enroll, so pay attention to the terms and conditions of each one.

While the annual fee is one of the highest, the benefits of the card are valued at over twice the fee- making this card well worth it. You can even add a designer edge to your metal card design, with collaborations with Kehinde Wiley and Julie Mehretu available.

There is no introductory low APR offer and, instead of a regular APR, they have a ‘Pay Over Time’ scheme in place. Despite this, you should still behave responsibly with this card and pay off purchases on time at the end of each month.

5. Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is a great choice for business owners.

It can simultaneously help you earn miles for first class travel, as well as offer you a variety of perks and rewards in business expense spending categories.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • When you spend $15,000 in your first 3 months, you can earn 100,000 points
  • When you spend $150,000 annually on travel, you’ll earn 3x points on any travel, phone, shipping, cable, internet, or advertising (social media and search engines only) purchases
  • Earn 1x points per $1 on all other purchases
  • When you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards, your points will be worth 25% more (1.25 cents per point)
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • Cell phone insurance of up to $600 for covered theft or damage
  • Various other benefits, including insurance for trip cancellation or primary car rental, warranty extensions, plus more.

Other benefits of having a card in the Chase family also apply, including the one-to-one points transfer with Chase Ultimate Rewards. There is, however, a $95 annual fee for this card.

There is no introductory low APR promotion on the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, and the regular APR varies. You will need excellent credit to qualify for this card.

6. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Certain airlines have partnered with credit cards to offer you specific perks.

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card won’t give you as many benefits as some of the others on this list. However, if you fly regularly with Alaska Airlines, then this could be a good card for you, allowing you to rack up some points.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • For a limited time only, new cardholders can cash in an introductory offer. Upon purchasing one ticket, you’ll receive another for which you only have to pay the fees and taxes (fees and taxes from $22)
  • You’ll also receive 40,000 bonus miles if you spend over $3,000 within your first 90 days as a cardholder
  • You’ll get a free checked bag on Alaska flights
  • Every $1 spent on eligible Alaska purchases will earn you unlimited 3 miles, and an unlimited 1 mile per $1 on other purchases
  • There are no blackout dates
  • As long as your account is active your miles will not expire
  • Alaska is part of the oneworld Alliance, giving you access to over 1,000 travel destinations
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • All inflight purchases will earn you 20% back.

There is an annual fee on this card of $75, and no introductory low APR offer. A 3% balance transfer fee applies (minimum $10 per transaction).

You’ll need a good credit score in order to be approved for this card.

7. Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Delta is another airline to partner with a credit card supplier, in this case American Express.

Like the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card has limited perks. However, there is no annual fee, so if you’re eligible for this card, there is no downside to holding it and using it for Delta travel.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • Once you’ve spent $500 in the first 3 months of being a cardholder, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles
  • On all flights booked directly through Delta, you can earn 2x miles
  • Dining in at US restaurants will earn you 2x miles
  • All other eligible purchases will earn you 1x miles
  • For every 5,000 miles, you can save $50 when you Pay with Miles on the Delta website
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • Insurance on car rental loss and damage, as well as various purchase protections and extended warranties.

You’ll need good or excellent credit in order to be approved for this card.

While this card won’t be for everyone, if you’re a loyal Delta customer, you could be earning first class rewards sooner than others.

8. Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Like the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, the perks on the Gold American Express Card only make sense if you’re a loyal Delta customer. However, unlike the Blue card, the Gold will only offer a $0 annual fee for your first year. Beyond this, you’ll be paying $99 annually.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • Once you spend $1,000 within your first 3 months of being a cardholder, you can earn 40,000 bonus miles
  • For every dollar you spend directly with Delta (eligible purchases only), you’ll earn 2 miles
  • For all other purchases, you’ll earn 1 mile
  • You can earn ‘Medallion Qualification’ points
  • You can earn 2x miles at US restaurants (including delivery and takeout) and supermarkets
  • Your first checked bag on Delta flights is free
  • Once you spend $10,000 in a year, you’ll receive $100 flight credit for Delta flights annually
  • You can access priority boarding
  • For certain in-flight purchases, you can receive a 20% statement credit back,
  • Zero foreign transaction fees
  • There are various travel and shopping protections, including insurance and extended warranties.

While the first year of owning this card will provide you with plenty of perks and no annual fee, after this time you may want to reassess whether or not this card is worth holding onto.

9. Discover it® Miles Card

The Discover it® Miles card is a fairly simple, no-frills credit card.

While it may not have as many perks as some of the others on this list, it offers an introductory 0% APR for the first 14 months as well as no annual fee, and no travel blackout dates. That in itself may make the card worth it for you!

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • For every dollar spent, redeem 1.5 miles
  • In your first year as a cardholder, redeem double miles
  • Travel purchases are credited directly to your account
  • Miles can be used on other expenses, not just flights
  • No minimum spending requirements
  • Redeem your miles as either a statement credit for travel, Amazon or PayPal purchases, or cashback
  • Certain technological perks, such as being able to manage your card from the Discover app on your phone.

10. Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card

The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card has a few perks which could help get you upgraded to first class. In addition to having no annual or foreign transaction fees, there are also no travel restrictions or blackout dates.

Air mile benefits of this card include:

  • Once you spend a minimum of $1,000 in your first 90 days as a cardholder, you’ll receive 25,000 bonus points ($250 value in rewards)
  • For every $1 you spend, you’ll earn 1.5 points (which never expire)
  • Points can be used towards first class, as well as any other travel rewards.

There is a 0% APR offer for the first year, and after this, a reasonable regular APR. Be aware that there is a balance transfer fee of 3% in place, with a minimum of $10 per transaction.

How To Maximize Your Chance of Flight Upgrades

Of course, getting into first class may not be as simple as you may hope! Here are 3 tips to help you to nab that upgrade:

Become a Loyal Customer

Airlines love customers who stay loyal to their brand. By becoming a frequent flier with a particular airline, you can start to build brand loyalty with them, leading to perks and rewards.

Be sure to pick a carrier that suits your individual needs, whether that’s domestic or international. Once you’ve managed to earn a certain loyalty status, this will allow you to cash in on travel perks, such as first class upgrades.

Choose Flights Carefully

Busy flights are less likely to have first class upgrades available. For a better chance of upgrading to first class, this may mean that you have to choose less convenient flights!

Check middle-of-the-week flights, for the best chances of upgrading.

And our hot tip for finding the most likely contenders? The cheaper the flight, the less popular it’ll be – meaning you have better odds of being able to upgrade.

Use Your Points or Miles to Upgrade

Unfortunately, you won’t be the only one trying to get into a first class upgrade. However, if you’ve managed to rack up plenty of miles or points with your card, you can use these to upgrade.

Just be sure to check the terms and conditions and process with your airline, as it’ll vary across the board.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which airline credit cards have free upgrades?

Only a handful of airline credit cards have free upgrades, as most don’t offer this service.

The premium Delta Reserve card offers priority to their cardholders, and some of the United cards for Premier members allow upgrades.

How does upgrading with points work?

Upgrading with your points will vary a little from airline to airline. Generally, after booking your flight, you can request to upgrade by redeeming your points against your flight.

There may be certain rules around a minimum upgrade time before your flight, which your airline will tell you. If you are eligible, you will be contacted by the airline to confirm your upgrade. In some cases, you may be placed on a waiting list.

Do airline miles expire?

Depending on the airline, yes, they may. However, some airlines will also keep your miles on your account as long as you are considered to be ‘active’ on your account (eg. earning points, redeeming points, or transferring points).

You’ll need to check with your specific airline for full details.

Do you get more points for flying first class?

Yes, first class tickets will earn you more miles than economy would on the same flight.

Is it smart to buy a plane ticket with a credit card?

Yes, you should always use a credit card when booking flights, hotels, or anything else travel-related.

Not only can you earn points and rewards this way, but you’ll also have a level of protection against any financial-related mishaps!