Frequent flyer (also known as “air miles”) credit cards offer you points (or “miles”) for every £1 spent, which you can then redeem for flights, upgrades and other rewards. You can also enjoy a range of additional features including complimentary travel insurance, bonus points offers, airline lounge access and promotional interest rates.
Use this guide to compare frequent flyer credit cards and learn more about them, including how these cards work, tips for earning and using points, features to compare when you’re looking at frequent flyer credit cards and insights to help you choose the right card for you.
Frequent flyer credit cards earn you points when you use them for eligible purchases. These cards earn a set number of points for every pound spent (e.g. one point per £1), which is known as the earn rate. This means the more you pay with plastic, the more frequent flyer rewards you can get. Depending on the type of rewards credit card you use, there are different ways to earn and redeem points. Some cards credit points directly to your frequent flyer account and others allow you to transfer points to a variety of eligible frequent flyer accounts.
Is a frequent flyer credit card right for me?
If you’re interested in getting a frequent flyer credit card, weigh up these pros and cons. Please keep in mind that these factors may vary depending on the card.
Benefits of choosing a frequent flyer credit card:
Redeem flights and travel upgrades faster. By earning points on your everyday spend you can reach your rewards goals in less time.
Sign up bonus points. Some credit cards offer introductory bonus points as an incentive for new customers. These offers boost your points balance so you can redeem rewards such as flights and holidays faster.
Large range of rewards. Use your points to redeem rewards including flights, hotels, online shopping and other lifestyle benefits.
Travel perks. Travel comfortably with flight vouchers, access to airline lounges and 24/7 concierge services.
Complimentary insurance. Save on stand-alone insurance costs and get peace of mind when travelling with complimentary insurance covers including travel insurance, flight delay protection and purchase security insurance.
Risks when choosing a frequent flyer credit card:
High interest rates. Frequent flyer credit cards often come with less competitive interest rates than other cards. As such, they are suited to cardholders who pay their balance off each month so that the accumulated interest doesn’t outweigh the value of the rewards.
Higher annual fees. As well as high interest rates, these cards often involve annual fees which can be higher than no frills options. No-fee options do exist, but tend to have lower earn-rates.
Temptation to spend. If you struggle to repay your credit card on time or need to consolidate a debt, a rewards card might tempt you to spend for the sake of points when you should be reigning in your purchases.
Offer requirements. Frequent flyer credit cards that come with introductory offers or complimentary insurance may have specific spending requirements you need to meet to enjoy these benefits. For example, you may need to spend £1,500 in the first three months you have a card to get bonus points, or pay for your travel with your credit card to get travel insurance.
What is APR?
Credit card promotions have to include an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which all card issuers must calculate in the same way.
Credit card fee structures can get fiddly, so the APR’s designed to benchmark the yearly cost to borrow, with a view to helping consumers compare cards against each other. It takes into consideration the default interest rate plus any mandatory, regular account fees.
There’s a big catch though: the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) states that this rate must be what 51% (or more) of people accepted for a card receive. That means that up to 49% of those accepted for a credit card may end up paying a higher rate. This is why it’s often called “Typical” or “Representative” APR.
Frequent flyer credit cards often come for an annual fee, so the APR will be higher than for other type of cards. However, the APR doesn’t take the rewards you earn into account, so it’s missing a pretty big part of the story. While it’s still a handy figure to figure out the cost of borrowing with your credit card, it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider when comparing frequent flyer credit cards.
How can I compare and find the best frequent flyer credit card for my needs?
The mix of frequent flyer credit cards on the market gives you a chance to compare options and find one that suits your individual goals and circumstances. Go through the checklist below to find out what factors you should consider when looking at credit cards that earn frequent flyer points.
The frequent flyer programme. Choosing a credit card that earns points for a frequent flyer programme (or programmes) you already use will help you maximise your rewards. If you don’t belong to a programme yet, think about which programme you’re more likely to travel with.
Points earning rate. Check the standard rate of points you’ll earn for each £1 spent on the card. Be aware that a different earn rate could apply for certain types of spending (i.e. overseas purchases). There are usually some transactions that won’t earn points, such as cash advances, so make sure you check restrictions for the cards you’re comparing.
Reward values. Consider the types of rewards you want to claim, the amount of points you’ll need and how much spending that requires. Check how these values measure up between programmes so you can apply for the card that offers the greatest value based on your spending and reward goals.
Annual fee. Ideally, any annual fee should cost less than the rewards and any complimentary extras on the card that you intend to use.
Promotional rates and features. Frequent flyer credit cards sometimes have promotions for new customers, such as bonus points, 0% purchase rates, balance transfer offers or no annual fee for the first year. These benefits can add value to the card that you choose, but make sure you read the terms and conditions for details of the requirements and honeymoon period so that they work for you (and not the other way around).
Complimentary extras. Reward and frequent flyer credit cards often come with a selection of complimentary extras such as international travel insurance, extended warranties, concierge services and airline lounge access. The value of these perks can be used to offset the cost of any annual fee – as long as you know you will actually use them. They can also be handy to have available just in case you ever need them.
How to earn and redeem frequent flyer points with a credit card
Points are a key factor when choosing and using a frequent flyer credit card, and there are two main options to consider:
1. Direct earn cards. These credit cards are partnered with specific airline rewards programmes, earning points that are credited directly to your associated air miles account. Direct earn cards generally have a better earn rate than other options, so you could potentially get more rewards for your spending if you’re loyal to one frequent flyer programme.
2. Indirect earn cards. These reward credit cards earn points that can then be transferred to external air miles programmes for a wider variety of rewards. Unlike direct earn frequent flyer credit cards, the point values of these cards may differ when transferred to a frequent flyer account.
The amount of points (or ‘miles’) you need for a reward varies depending on the frequent flyer programme and the type of reward you choose. There are two main categories for rewards: 1) Airport/ flight benefits and 2) retail/ lifestyle rewards.
Airport/flight benefits. Points can be used for reward flights, flight upgrades, lounge benefits and other frequent flyer membership benefits. Flight rewards with the programme’s associated airline usually provide a higher point value when compared to other rewards.
Retail/lifestyle rewards. These rewards can benefit you at home or abroad. You can use points to book hotels, car rentals or other travel experiences, as well as more general retail and lifestyle benefits including gift cards, food and wine, jewellery and other merchandise.
How to choose a frequent flyer programme
There are many frequent flyer programmes based all around the world, and you have handful of these programmes to choose from if you’re interested in getting a UK credit card that earns frequent flyer points.
Virgin Flying Club
Miles & More
Credit cards for the Virgin Flying Club
Choosing a credit card to earn Virgin Flying Club points will depend on your spending habits, your income and the credit card features you are looking for. Frequent flyer credit cards often include additional perks, with airport lounge passes, complimentary travel insurance and bonus points offers. As a result, these cards can come with a much higher annual fee compared to other types of credit cards, so it’s important to compare and read the terms and conditions. Some of the benefits you can expect from a Virgin Flying Club credit card include:
Bonus points. Get a boost to your Flying Club balance with a bonus points offer. Varying from 3,000 to 18,500 club miles, these offers usually require you to spend a specific amount of money during the first few months you have the card in order to receive the points.
Flying Club points per £1 spent. Use your card to earn more Flying Club miles for your everyday purchases. You can earn up to four Flying Club miles per £1 spent depending on which credit card you apply for. Higher-tier cards offer more points per spend, but come with added expenses such as larger annual fees or higher interest rates.
Additional perks. Virgin Flying Club credit cards often provide additional benefits with exclusive shopping and dining offers, reward upgrades (subject to minimum spend) and Complimentary companion flights.
Credit cards for Avios Air Miles
The best credit card to earn Avios Air Miles varies depending on factors including your spending habits, income and the other features you want on a credit card. It’s also important to consider the costs of the card, such as annual fees and interest rates, and any specific requirements associated with complimentary extras. Reading the credit card terms and conditions will help you understand the ongoing responsibilities and charges so that you can choose a card that is convenient and affordable for you. Some of the benefits you can get with a credit card that allows you to build Avios Air Miles include:
Introductory bonus points and offers. Some Avios credit cards offer bonus points for new customers that can boost your account balance.
Avios miles for everyday spending. Earn up to 1.25 miles per every £1 of eligible spend, depending on the card you choose.
Complementary extras. The perks you can get with an Avios credit card could include travel insurance, Complimentary companion vouchers and exclusive offers on hotels and dining.
Credit cards for Emirates Skywards Miles
If you want to find the best credit card to earn Emirates Skywards Miles, you’ll need to consider your spending habits, income and the credit card features you’re interested in. It’s also important to consider the interest rates and annual fees of credit cards that offer Emirates Skywards Miles, so that you can make sure the benefits outweigh these charges.
Introductory offers. Get bonus miles when you make a card purchase within a specified number of days from your account opening.
Points per £1 spent. You can earn up to four miles for every £1 spent, depending on the card you choose.
Travel perks. As well as exclusive discounts on partner hotel and dining offers, you could also enjoy priority check in, insurance benefits and Complimentary companion rewards with a Skywards credit card.
Credit cards for Miles & More
If you want to find the best credit card to earn Miles & More points, you’ll need to consider your spending habits, income and the credit card features you’re interested in. It’s also important to consider the interest rates and annual fees of credit cards that offer Miles & More, so that you can make sure the benefits outweigh these charges.
Introductory offers. Get bonus miles when you make a card purchase within a specified number of days from your account opening.
Everyday spending. Earn up to two award miles for every £1 spent on eligible purchases.
Extra benefits. This programme offers fewer additional perks than other air miles credit cards, but does offer helpful extras such as no expiry date on miles, no annual fee and no discounts on partner hotel and travel deals.
Frequent Flyer alliances
Frequent flyer programmes have networks of partner and alliance airlines that let you earn and redeem points all around the world. Here are two of the most popular alliances:
A network of 15 of the largest airlines in the world, including Qantas, British Airways, American Airlines, Iberia, and Cathay Pacific.
This is the world’s largest airline association, with 28 different members including Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, SWISS, THAI and United. You can gain access to the Star Alliance network by becoming a member of one of these airline loyalty programmes, and can boost your points with an indirect earning frequent flyer credit card.
A network of 20 airlines including KLM, Delta, Air France, Air Europa, Alitalia, Czech Airlines and Aeroflot.
These alliances and partnerships give you more options for redeeming flights and flight upgrades. So even if you choose a frequent flyer credit card that’s linked to one airline programme, you may be able to use your points for flights with another airline through these partnerships.
Credit cards have become one of the most popular ways to earn frequent flyer points, with both direct and indirect methods for boosting your point balance. Now that you know more about how they work, the potential benefits and pitfalls and what you should consider when comparing frequent flyer credit cards, you can make a more informed decision about the next credit card you apply for so that it really works for you.
Frequent flyer credit card questions from our users
Since frequent flyer credit cards provide many benefits and features, choosing one can be a challenging task. Here, we answer the most popular questions from our users about frequent flyer credit cards and how to earn/redeem air miles.
Frequent flyer credit cards can offer a range of benefits, including points for your everyday spending, complementary insurance, flight vouchers and airport lounge access. When you’re comparing frequent flyer credit cards, you can weigh the value of these benefits against the costs of the card – such as the annual fee and interest rates – to decide if it’s worth it based on your lifestyle, budget and goals.
The number of points you’ll need will depend on the route you take and the status of your flight seat (e.g. economy, business, first class). Most frequent flyer programme websites provide a free points calculator that can be used to estimate how much a reward flight will cost to redeem.
This will depend on the programme you’re with. Generally, this is a no for frequent flyer programmes. However, even if you can’t directly transfer your points to another programme, you can redeem your points with a partner airline for flights, upgrades and other rewards.
As a general rule, most frequent flyer points cannot be redeemed after they have expired. Some will expire after a certain amount of time, whereas others will expire if your rewards account has remained inactive (meaning you haven’t earned or redeemed any points) over a particular period. Check with the frequent flyer programme to confirm when and how your points expire so you can use them while they’re still valid.
To check your current points balance, you can either log in to your frequent flyer account or contact the airline directly.
Frequent flyer credit cards are only worth it for a particular type of credit card holder. Unless you’re a big spender, loyal frequent flyer and a high income earner, they’re probably not worth it. Frequent flyer credit cards generally come with high interest rates on purchases and annual fees. But the points earned per £1 spent and any bonus point offers can still tempt cardholders to spend more to earn points. This causes some people to fall into debt. So unless you earn enough points to offset these costs (which is usually a struggle) and you always repay your balance in full each month, a frequent flyer credit card probably isn’t for you. Before you apply for a frequent flyer credit card, compare your options and make sure you can afford it by weighing up all the benefits and costs.
Now we’ve looked at the perks of air miles credit cards, it’s important you consider the pitfalls, too. These include:
High interest rates. Frequent flyer credit cards usually have high interest rates to counteract the cost of offering a rewards programme. So if you struggle to repay your balance each month, your purchases will attract higher interest charges and it’ll be easier to fall into debt. In many cases, the additional interest costs and the negative impact of accumulating debt on your credit report outweigh the benefits of earning points.
High annual fees. As well as high interest rates, frequent flyer credit cards – especially the more lucrative ones – typically come with high annual fees. So to benefit from the card, you’ll need to spend enough points to redeem a reward that outweighs the cost of the annual fee. This can be an expensive task and the interest you could pick up from those purchases will also add to the overall costs of the card.
Temptation to spend. If you struggle to keep your spending in control, it may be best not to use a frequent flyer credit card. They entice you to make purchases to earn points. Unless you’re repaying your balance in full each month, the value of the rewards rarely outweighs the interest charges that are applied to your balance.
Bonus points terms and conditions. Bonus points can help boost your point balance, but they often come with spend requirements. For example, you might be required to spend £1,000 in the first three months of getting the card to be eligible for the extra points. It’s unlikely that the monetary value of the reward points will be worth more than this spend requirement. So, unless the necessary spend is in line with your budget and you repay it all without incurring interest, the inconvenience of spending to earn bonus points is probably not worth it.
Poor exchange rates. If you have a credit card that allows you to transfer your reward points to an external air miles programme, check the transfer rate to see how much value you’ll get. Usually, the exchange rate gives you less frequent flyer points in comparison to credit card reward points. For example, you might find that 1.5 or two credit card reward points equals one frequent flyer point. This means that you need to spend more to redeem the same amount of frequent flyer points you could earn on a flight or with a card that has a one-for-one exchange rate.
The most popular questions about earning frequent flyer points
While the amount of frequent flyer points you earn varies between credit cards, there are a number of ways you can maximise your rewards, including:
Earning points on everyday purchases. This type of credit card lets you earn points on day-to-day purchases including groceries, fuelling the car and direct debit for some bills. The more you use your card for these purchases, the faster you’ll get frequent flyer points.
Bonus point offers. Many reward credit cards offer thousands of bonus points to new customers when they are approved for a card and spend a certain amount in the first few months. These additional points are often worth hundreds of pounds, and may even be enough to fly overseas.
Spending with programme partners. Some credit cards partner with airlines, retailers, petrol stations or supermarkets to offer additional points when you use your card with them. Check the credit card issuer’s website for details of participating partners.
Dual credit cards. To maximise points potential, some credit card issuers offer reward accounts with both an American Express and a Visa card.
Supplementary credit cards. Requesting an additional credit card means you can share your account with a partner or family member, giving them a chance to use it for their spending and boost your points balance.
Premium cards. Some cards, such as black or gold cards, are more premium than standard options, and many offer more points per pound and/or higher points caps as a result.
Frequent flyer points/air miles will be capped or uncapped depending on the credit card. Capped points allow you to earn points at the normal rate up to a specified amount during a given period, such as 5,000 points per statement cycle. After you have reached the points cap you will either earn points at a reduced rate for the remainder of the period or be unable to accumulate points for the remainder of the period. Check your credit card terms and conditions for details of points caps and consider how likely it is that you will reach that limit. For example, if you got a card that earned one point per £1 up to 5,000 points per month, you would only be affected by the cap if you spend over £5,000 each month.
The details of bonus point offers available on frequent flyer credit cards vary depending on the specific promotion. But some of the most common requirements include:
New customers. Most bonus point offers apply to people who don’t have existing credit cards with the provider. Some providers also specify that you must not have had an active account with them in the past 12 months to be classified as a “new customer” that’s eligible for bonus point offers.
Promotional period. You usually have to apply for the card within a set timeframe in order to be eligible for bonus points.
Spending requirement. If you’re approved for a card with a bonus point offer, you may be required to spend a certain amount on the card within a given period of time. For example, £1,000 worth of purchases within three months of card approval.
If you meet these conditions, you’re usually able to take advantage of a point bonus and boost your frequent flyer balance.
In most cases, you can cancel the credit card with no additional fees or charges after receiving your bonus points. However, you may be charged the annual fee, or a percentage of that fee based on how long the account has been active. If your credit card has a £0 annual fee for the first year and you cancel within the first 12 months, you may be able to avoid this. Check with your provider to find out if fees will apply.
Usually points are only earned by making eligible purchases, and not for balance transfers or cash advances. If you want points for a balance transfer, you can consider a limited number of credit cards that provide this option.
The list of transactions that do and don’t earn points when you use a frequent flyer credit card vary between providers and products. But some of the most common exclusions are:
Cash advance transactions
Purchasing foreign currency
Keep in mind that not all cards have the same exclusions, so it’s important to check the terms and conditions or product disclosure statement for full details of what individual frequent flyer credit cards do and don’t count as an “eligible transaction”.
The most popular questions about redeeming frequent flyer points
While credit card and airline reward programmes all have their own specific steps for redeeming or transferring points, the following steps can be used as a guide for most online reward point redemptions:
Log in to your reward account
Check your point balance to see how many points you have to use
Select the “Redeem” option
Choose the type of redemption you want to make (e.g. “flights”)
Select the specific option you want (e.g. single flight from Manchester to Liverpool)
Follow the prompts to book or secure the reward
Confirm the redemption
Some frequent flyer credit cards also give you a “points plus pay” option, which means you can use a combination of points and cash to redeem your reward.
The value of your credit card or frequent flyer points varies based on the types of rewards you redeem. Usually, frequent flyer points go further when redeemed for airline rewards such as flights or upgrades, compared to gift cards or other rewards.
Credit card and frequent flyer reward programmes offer a wide range of rewards that you can claim using your points, including:
The amount of points required varies between redemptions, and not all of them are equal. For example, a family ticket to a theme park might require the same number of points as a return flight from London to Barcelona, but the latter is typically more expensive in cash terms. The different amounts of points required for each redemption has a direct impact on the value of your rewards, so comparing these costs before you use points will help you get more out of them in the long run.
If you are transferring credit card rewards points to a frequent flyer programme, the conversion rate may not be one-for-one. Often a reduced conversion rate is provided since you have the flexibility of earning both rewards and frequent flyer benefits.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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