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Air miles credit cards

What are air miles credit cards?

UK air miles credit cards are linked to airline travel rewards programmes such as Avios and Virgin Atlantic.

Every time you spend on your travel rewards credit card, you’ll collect points known as air miles. You can use these points to get money off travel costs such as flights, hotels and car hire.

If you travel frequently, an air miles credit card could be a good way of reducing the cost of airline travel through your everyday spending.

How do airline credit cards work?

Every time you use your air miles credit card, you’ll earn air mile points (unless there are exceptions under the scheme rules). These aren’t actual air miles, they’re airline rewards points. So spending £100 on your credit card doesn’t mean you’ll be credited for 100 air miles.

You can use an air miles card for everyday spending just as you would with a normal credit card. Every time you make a purchase with your card, you’ll earn air miles rewards points.

Once you’ve collected enough points, you can redeem them for the perks offered through the airline rewards scheme your card is linked to. These could be anything from cheaper flights to discounts on concerts and theme parks.

Types of air miles credit cards

There are two main types of credit card that allow you to earn air miles points:

Branded air miles cards

These are specialist credit cards that are linked to specific airline rewards points schemes. For example:

  • British Airways Amex
  • Virgin Atlantic Reward
  • Barclaycard Avios – collect points on Oneworld and other partner airlines on the British Airways network.

Generic air miles cards

Credit cards offered by Tesco and Nectar don’t give you airline points directly, but you can convert your points into air miles.

  • Tesco Bank Mastercard – each Clubcard point is worth 2 Virgin points
  • Amex Nectar – every 400 Nectar points is worth 250 Avios.

The advantages of air miles credit cards

If you’re a frequent flyer and use your card for big purchases, then an air miles credit card could offer some really useful benefits.

Cheaper flights

Air miles could help you save money on your travel costs – not just cheaper flights, but also upgrades, hotels and car hire.

Just be aware that there’s no such thing as a ‘free flight’. You may have enough air miles to cover the cost of your ticket, but you’ll still need to pay the taxes and charges.

Lounge access

You might be able to use your points to access airline lounges and benefit from perks such as complimentary food and drinks, newspapers and WiFi.

Some international lounges even have showers, so you can freshen up before catching a connecting flight.

Priority boarding

You can often use your points to secure priority boarding. This means you can avoid queuing and get to board the flight ahead of other passengers.

Companion flights

Some airline rewards schemes offer companion flights. If you spend over a certain amount on your credit card each year, you can choose for someone to fly with you in the same class for no additional air mile points.

However, companion vouchers are only usually valid for a year or two. And you may need to spend more than £10,000 a year on your card to qualify for one.

Are air miles credit cards worth it?

Air miles credit cards aren’t for everyone. They work best for big credit card spenders who fly enough to benefit from all the perks.

Before you decide if you could benefit from an air miles credit card, here are some things to consider:

You’ll need to repay in full every month

The purpose of airline rewards schemes is to encourage you to spend big. If you can’t repay the full balance each month, you’ll be charged interest. The high rate could outweigh any benefits you get.

Be aware of cash withdrawal fees

You’ll be hit with fees and interest from the moment you use an ATM, even if you pay off the balance in full.

Not all retailers accept airline credit cards

Make sure you’ll be able to use your card in enough places to earn enough points for you to gain rewards. Amex, for example, isn’t as widely accepted as Mastercard or Visa.

You may be charged a fee

Some airline credit cards charge an annual fee. These tend to offer more air miles and benefits than standard air miles cards. You’ll need to decide if the extra perks are worth the annual fee, which in some cases can be pretty hefty.

You can’t book onto any flight with your points

Often points can only be used on certain flights, and the availability of these flights is limited.

How to redeem your points

You can redeem your points via your airline rewards scheme account.

First, check whether you can book a rewards flight with your chosen airline. For example, British Airways has a reward flight finder that shows you which flights are available for your points.

Once you’ve chosen a flight, you’ll be able to select a ‘pay with points’ option. Just remember, you’ll need to pay an additional cash amount for taxes and carrier charges.

You could also use your points to make a part-payment, then put the remaining amount on your credit card. That way you’ll be earning as well as spending your points.

How to maximise your airline rewards

Here are some handy tips to help you maximise your airline rewards:

Consider airlines you’re most likely to use

Branded air miles credit cards are linked to a network of airlines. For example, British Airways is a member of the ‘Oneworld’ alliance which includes American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Iberia and Qantas. 

When choosing the right travel rewards credit card for you, make sure it’s connected with airlines you’re most likely to use.

Utilise the welcome bonus

Many credit cards with air miles offer an introductory bonus. For example, new customers may get bonus points by spending over a certain amount in the first three months of opening an account.

Use your card for everyday spending

If you use your card for normal, everyday spending, the points will soon begin to add up. But don’t overdo it. Only spend on your card what you can comfortably afford to pay back.

Collect points via your airline’s online shopping portal

Many rewards programmes have online shopping portals that partner with big-name brands to help you gain more points.

For example, making purchases through BA’s Executive Club can earn you thousands of bonus Avios.

Alternatives to air miles credit cards

Air miles credit cards can be extremely handy if you spend big and travel a lot. But they’re not ideal for everyone.

If airline rewards aren’t for you, there are other types of credit card you might want to consider.

  • Rewards credit cards – earn points and vouchers on everyday spending with certain retailers.
  • 0% purchase credit cards – you’ll get interest-free spending on your credit card for a set period of time.
  • Cashback credit cards – every time you use your card, you’ll get back a ‘cash’ percentage – usually around 1% to 5% – of what you spend.
  • Travel credit cards – typically offer fee-free spending and favourable exchange rates when using your card abroad.
  • Balance transfer credit cards – consolidate your debts from high-interest cards onto one card which offers a lower or 0% interest rate for a set period of time.

Compare the Market acts as a credit broker, not a lender. To apply for credit products you must be a UK resident and aged 18 or over.

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Author image Alex Hasty

What our expert says...

“Air miles credit cards can be a great way of reducing your travel costs. However, many come with high annual fees so they may only be worth it if you actually use the benefits on offer. You’ll also need to pay off the balance in full each month, otherwise the interest charged could wipe out any gains.

These types of cards only work well if you’re a high spender and travel frequently. If you don’t use your card that often, it might not be the right one for you.” 

- Alex Hasty, Insurance and finance expert

Frequently asked questions

How long are air miles valid for?

Most air miles remain valid as long as you continue to use your card. Depending on the provider, your air miles may expire if your credit card account is inactive after one to three years.

How much are air miles worth?

The value of your air miles points depends on your credit card and the rewards programme you’re on.

Most travel reward credit cards offer one air mile point for every £1 you spend. However, these aren’t actual air miles. How much your points are worth depends on your provider and what you’re using them for.

How do I check my air miles points?

You can check how many points you have via your air miles scheme account. For example, if you have a Barclaycard Avios, you should check your Avios account.

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