Otherwise known as a “frequent flyer” credit card, an air miles credit card can be a wise way to monetise your daily expenditure. Since you’re already spending that money, why not reward yourself for spending by using an air miles credit card? This type of credit card typically caters to frequent travellers, but even infrequent travellers can enjoy the perks of earning points for a wide array of travel and non-travel-related benefits. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about air miles credit cards and how to maximise your rewards on plastic.
British Airways American Express Card
- Earn 1 Avios per £1 spent
- 5,000-Avios welcome bonus
- Refer a friend bonus
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
Credit cards that earn air miles
Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Updated February 25th, 2020
How do air miles credit cards work?
Simply put, air miles credit cards allow you to earn frequent flyer points such as Avios as you charge purchases to your card. You can typically earn 0.5 to 3 frequent flyer points, or “air miles” for each £1 spent on eligible purchases. The number of points you earn per pound, otherwise known as your earn rate, differs among credit cards, and sometimes differs among transaction types too. For example, a credit card could let you earn two points per £1 on purchases through the connected airline (by paying for flights or stays with partner hotels, for example), but only one point per £1 spent on other everyday purchases.
As well as frequent flyer credit cards that allow you to earn points with one programme, some rewards cards also allow you to use your points with multiple airlines (sometimes known as “indirect earn” cards). If you belong to several frequent flyer programmes, this might be one way you can get more flexibility from your card.
When comparing air miles credit cards, be sure to factor in the costs to make sure they don’t outweigh the value of any possible rewards and benefits. Air miles credit cards can be great tools for frequent flyers who pay off their account balances in full each month, but are probably not suitable if you wish to carry an outstanding balance on the account.
How to earn air miles on your credit card
- Eligible purchases. The most regular way to earn miles on your card is by charging eligible purchases to it. Eligible purchases typically include ordinary purchases and exclude cash advances, balance transfers, interest, fees and government payments, but you should read the terms of your credit card or contact your credit card provider to clarify.
- Supplementary cardholders. Get your partner or family members to help you earn air miles by giving them a supplementary card. You can easily double or triple your earn rate this way, but it’s important to remember that you’ll be accountable for all purchases made on the additional card.
- Bonus points on sign-up. This is now a common feature in credit card promotions where you can earn a chunk of points when you sign up for an introductory offer. Be aware that you may have to do something to activate the offer and receive your points, e.g. spend £500 in the first month to receive 10,000 bonus points.
- Bonus points partners. Some card companies have partnerships with other stores and businesses, so you can earn extra points when using your credit card at their stores, too. However, some conditions may apply, so be sure to read the fine print and make sure you’re doing what’s necessary to earn the bonus points, such as booking online or within the promotion period.
- Other bonus point offers. As well as bonus points on sign-up, some card issuers offer bonus points for existing customers during promotions. American Express, for instance, awards bonus points to card members for successfully referring friends and family members.
How to redeem your air miles
Once you’ve used your card for a while, you can exchange any accumulated points for rewards via your frequent flyer program. These days it’s as easy as logging in and shopping online. Otherwise, you can also redeem your points over the phone by contacting your frequent flyer program customer service team. You don’t need to have the full amount of points required either, because most frequent flyer programs now allow you to pay for rewards with a combination of points and cash.
How to spend your points
- Flights. The mainstay of frequent flyer programs used to be flight redemptions, and although you can nowadays redeem almost anything via the frequent flyer store, flight redemptions still usually offer the greatest value per point. You can redeem your flight through your frequent flyer online account or the airline website.
- Flights with partners. You can usually use your points to redeem flights with any of your frequent flyer program’s partner airlines as well, although some routes and seat classes may be excluded. You should be able to do this through the partner airline’s website – you’ll just need to quote your frequent flyer number and nominate to pay with points before you finalise the booking.
- Travel packages. The range of travel rewards has extended to include travel packages and holiday itineraries, so your frequent flyer store can now be your one-stop shop when it comes to holidays.
- Hotel accommodation and car rental. Frequent flyer programs now supply the full gamut of travel needs. You can book your overseas hotel stay and car rental using your points at the same time, which can be done when booking through your frequent flyer website. If not, you might also need to provide your frequent flyer number and elect that you’d like to pay with points when making the booking.
- Products from the rewards store. Frequent flyer stores these days appear more fully stocked than department stores, with their wide range of clothing, jewellery, homewares, electronics and toys. These online stores can usually be accessed through your online frequent flyer account.
- Lifestyle offerings. You can even spend your points on theme park tickets, concert tickets, wine and restaurant dining.
- Shopping and gift vouchers. Most frequent flyer programs have large retail partners, so you can exchange your points for store vouchers either to be used online or at their bricks-and-mortar outlets.
How to redeem your points
- Online. This is the simplest and fastest way to spend your points; simply log into your frequent flyer store online.
- Over the phone. You can also take the traditional route and have someone do it for you over the phone.
How to compare air miles credit cards
If you’re interested in getting one, consider these factors when shopping for your new air miles credit card:
- Earn rate. The earn rate will determine how fast you can get your next reward. Note that credit cards with higher earn rates also usually come with higher annual fees and interest rates, so you should weigh these up when deciding.
- Points cap. Some cards impose a cap on the points you can earn each month, e.g. earn 1 point per £1 spent up to £1,000 and 1 point per £2 spent subsequently. Consider how this may impede your earning capacity.
- Bonus points offers. Getting a large number of bonus points when you sign up could be totally worthwhile, because some introductory bonuses give enough points for you to instantly redeem a return flight. Don’t be so eager that you don’t consider the downsides of the card though, such as the high annual fee and interest rate.
- Partner airlines. Even if you’re an absolutely loyal passenger to your frequent flyer airline, it can be advantageous to have access to a large network of partner airlines. This is especially beneficial when you fly out further and require a variety of flight connections.
- Available rewards. Browse your frequent flyer store before deciding if it’s the frequent flyer program for you. This will ensure that you’ll truly enjoy the rewards you’ll be earning.
- Card perks. Air miles credit cards can come with a variety of complimentary benefits such as free travel insurance, airport lounge access, airport limousine services and personal concierge services.
- Annual fee. This can be a major cost when it comes to air miles credit cards, with the annual fee often directly correlated to the earn rate and perks offered by a card. Make sure you’re not paying for perks you don’t need or won’t use.
- Interest rates. As with all credit cards, card interest rates are important if you intend to carry a balance. If you make regular repayments and always pay in full, this will be less of a consideration.
- Other fees. It’s always good to know exactly what you’re signing up for and what you may someday be charged for. Pay attention to fees like the cash advance fee, foreign transaction fee (especially if you plan to use the card overseas), and any other possible administrative fees.
As a general rule, always make sure your air miles credit card gives you more value than it costs. A simple way to calculate this is by adding up the value of rewards you’d expect to receive in a year and comparing that with the amount of fees you’d pay each year. While air miles credit cards may be a great idea for some people, they’re not for everyone. When making your decision about which credit card type to choose, make sure you consider your personal needs, lifestyle and spending habits.