NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — When you consider that building credit through simple credit card use isn't surefire, or that the average U.S. household with one credit card owes nearly $16,000 in personal debt, the task of proving to lenders that you aren't a slob hardly is an attractive proposition. However, integrate that with the daydream of being whisked off to the Maldives, and you have something else entirely: namely, incentive to purchase. Enter the airline rewards credit card.

For Brian Kelly, frequent flier and founder of, the question isn't how to cut airfare without a rewards program, but why you aren't a part of one to begin with.

"There is no reason to not have a rewards program," he says, "They are all free in the most part. Even if you are flying an airline once a year, there's no reason not to get your frequent flyer number."

Noteworthy Airline Reward Card Offers

The Citi AAdvantage Card for American Airlines recently won "Program of the Year" at the 2013 Freddie Awards, an awards ceremony that honors exemplary travel loyalty programs.

It advertises introductory perks such as 30,000 bonus miles and getting your first checked bag free. AAdvantage also took home the trophies for "best earning promotion" and "elite level."

Erica Sandberg, personal finance expert and editor-at-large for, recommends the American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Card, which she says has always been on the top of the list.

"American Express cards are fantastic for traveling," she says. "It's what they do. You earn 30,000 bonus miles after making just $1,000 purchases on the card."

However, "they do tend to have an annual fee," says Sandberg. "It's going to cost you about $100 in the annual fee, so that is why you have to compare and contrast."

Meanwhile, a less typical choice has Brian Kelly raving. "One of my current crushes is Alaska Airlines," he says, "People think it is in the Pacific North West and doesn't have much to do with me, but they partner with a ton of great airlines. You can earn Alaska miles when you fly American."

Kelly says he was even able to redeem 90,000 Alaska air miles with Emirates ("one of the best airlines in the world") for an international flight. "I flew from India to Dubai to New York for 90,000 miles and $80," he says, "And it was a $7,000 flight. I was having caviar, I had my own suite with closing doors and I got a shower."

Yes, that's right, a shower.

"It is the only airline that has showers in the air on the plane," says Kelly.

Alaska Airlines offers rewards through its free Mileage Plan Memberships and an additional 25,000 miles when you sign up for an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card.