What are air miles credit cards?

They are a type of rewards credit card that give you air miles points on your spending.

You can collect these air miles until you have enough to pay for flights and other services offered by your airline. The more you collect, the further you can fly.

There are several different schemes, and these credit cards will earn you air miles that you can only use towards flights with a specific airline.

What else can you use your air miles for?

Some schemes offer other perks as well as just flights; you can also swap your air miles for the following if your airline offers them:

  • Hotels, package holidays and cruises

  • Flight upgrades, car hire, travel insurance, access to airport lounges, airport parking, holiday tours and airport to hotel transfers

  • Cases of wine, theme park tickets, days out, theatre tickets and experience days

Should you get an air miles credit card?

Golden rule: Only get an air miles credit card if you can pay off all of what you spend each month.

This is because you will have to pay interest if you leave a balance on the card, and this is likely to cost more than your air miles are worth.

You will also need to spend enough to get enough air miles for a flight.

They work better if you fly regularly or can be flexible choosing flights because there will be much less choice of flight times and destinations than if you book normally.

How to earn air miles

  • Spend on your card whenever you use it

  • Spending on flights or anything else sold by the airline - this will often give you more air miles per pound you spend

  • Buy from the airline's partner companies to earn extra air miles

  • Converting points from other reward schemes like Clubcard or Shell Drivers' Club

Air miles points usually take a day or two to be added to your account, but can take up to 35 days, depending on where you have used your card to spend.

Make the most of introductory deals

One of the best ways to boost your air miles total is by taking advantage of a card's bonus air miles, which can include:

  • Bonus air miles for taking out the card

  • Bonus air miles if you spend more than a certain amount in the first few months

  • Double air miles for the first few months

  • Spending a certain amount in the first year (for example if you spend 20,000 within 12 months)

However, frequently opening cards for a short while just to get their bonus air miles and then closing them to apply for a new deal can affect your credit history.

How to make your air miles go further

Earn when your partner spends

If you make your partner a second cardholder on your account, they will be given a card they can spend on too. You can then earn air miles when they use the card as well as when you spend yourself.

Only consider this if you trust your partner with money because you will need to pay the bill each month, however much your partner spends.

Use companion tickets

Some air miles credit cards offer an extra ticket for a companion if you spend more than a certain amount in a year. Each 12 month period will start on the date you took out the card.

Earn more air miles elsewhere

Credit cards are not the only way to earn air miles. You can pick up air miles in other ways, including:

  • Convert other loyalty schemes' points like Tesco' Clubcard into air miles

  • Shop using your air miles scheme's online store

  • Earn through a retailer that offers points for your scheme, like Avios points from Shell Drivers' Club

  • Use any points you have picked up using your airline's frequent flyer scheme

  • Earn bonus air miles when you book a flight from your chosen airline using their credit card

Check with your air miles scheme to see how else you can earn. You can then combine the air miles you have earned to boost your total.

Choose your flights carefully

Top tip

You can also swap some air miles for Eurostar tickets instead, which come without extra fees or taxes added.

You can often get better value for money with longer or more expensive flights because air miles schemes only cover the ticket cost but not the taxes and fees.

This means that using your air miles for a short flight can often end up costing you almost as much as booking the tickets normally.

Some airlines offer a scheme that lets you pay a flat fee (for example, 35 for an economy flight using Avios points) to cover all these extra charges, which can work out much cheaper than paying the full amount on a longer flight.

Use your card whenever you spend

Top tip

If you are able to claim expenses through your job, use your air miles card when you pay to earn more.

The more you spend on your card, the more air miles you earn. Instead of being tempted to buy things you do not need just to get air miles, try to use your card on purchases you would make anyway.

As long as you can use the card without a fee, use it instead of cash or a different card.

Choose the right card

If you know where you want to fly

If you can only fly there with one airline, choose one of the cards that offers air miles for their scheme.

You can then choose the card that will give you most air miles on what you are likely to spend, but you should also take into account any bonus air miles you are likely to earn.

If you are more flexible

If there are several airlines that you are happy to use, avoid comparing how many air miles you will earn per pound because each scheme is different and their air miles points are not worth the same amount.

Instead, work out how far you could fly using the air miles you would be likely to earn in your first year. Each scheme states on its website how many you will need to fly to their destinations.

Compare every air miles credit card to check their interest rates and annual fees. You can also compare other features like no foreign transaction fees or interest free periods on any purchases you make.

Amex, Visa or MasterCard?

Most air miles cards are American Express rather than Visa or MasterCard. Amex cards are not accepted for payment everywhere but they offer more air miles per pound you spend than Visa or MasterCard - sometimes double.

Some providers offer an Amex card that comes with a second Visa or MasterCard. Spending with the Amex card wherever it is possible will earn you more air miles, but you can use the secondary card as a backup in places that do not accept Amex.

The differences between Visa and MasterCard are minor, so choose the card that offers most air miles.

Manage your card carefully to avoid fees

Set up a direct debit to pay your credit card bill in full each month.

If you miss the payment date on your credit card bill you will be charged interest, which could come to more than the value of the air miles you earn.

Any air miles earned on your card could also be cancelled out if you are charged fees for late payments or exceeding your credit limit, or if you pay an annual fee that costs more than the value of your air miles.

Should you avoid cards with annual fees?

Sometimes a card with a fee will offer extra benefits that make the fee worth paying, such as if you can earn air miles at a high rate or get lots of bonus ones.

However, if the fee comes to more than the air miles are worth, you could lose money by taking out the card.

Work out if the amount you will spend on the card will earn air miles points worth much more than the fee you need to pay. For example:

  • With one card you might earn one point per 1 you spend and pay no annual fee

  • With a different card you might get 2 air miles per 1 spent with an annual fee of 24

It would only be worth taking out the second card if it would earn you air miles worth an extra 24 or more than the first card.

FAQs

Q

Can you use your miles for any airline?

A

You can only use your air miles for the airlines that are part of that scheme. For example, you could only use Virgin's Flying Club Miles on a Virgin flight.

Q

Does the airline supply the card?

A

Although some airlines like British Airways and Virgin offer credit cards, you can also get cards from other providers like banks that offer air miles.

Q

Do you earn air miles on everything you spend?

A

On most purchases, yes, but some transactions do not earn air miles, like cash withdrawals, interest charges, fees, money transfers and balance transfers.

Q

Do air miles expire?

A

If you stop using your card for too long, air miles may expire. For example, Avios points can expire if you stop spending or collecting them for 36 months.