Which are the best air-miles credit cards – and should I get one? July 2021

13 min Read Published: 01 Jul 2021

What is an air-miles credit card - and should I get oneWhat is an air-miles credit card and how does it work?

An air-miles credit card is a way of collecting extra air-miles points through your day-to-day spending. The card is linked to a particular airline's loyalty scheme, which is a way of earning points based on the flights you take and spending money with certain retailers. The points you earn can be redeemed against flights, upgrades, as well as other travel-related perks, such as lounge access or priority boarding.

The table below shows the air-miles scheme associated with each airline:

Airline Air miles
American Airlines
AAdvantage miles
British Airways Avios
Emirates Skywards Miles
Etihad
Etihad Guest Miles
Lufthansa Miles & More
United Airlines MileagePlus
Virgin Atlantic
Flying Club

It is worth noting that, while people are attracted to air-miles credit cards because of the lure of free flights, this is actually a myth. Although the airfare itself is free, you will still have to pay the taxes and charges associated with the flight. This could be as much as a few hundred pounds for a transatlantic flight. So, while you will certainly make a significant saving, you will still have to pay something for your ticket.

What are the best air-miles credit cards? July 2021

Card Annual fee Introductory offer APR Good for
American Express Preferred Rewards No fee for first year then £140 per year 20,000 bonus membership reward points (minimum £3,000 spend in first 3 months) 56.6%
Those who want access to multiple air-miles schemes
British Airways American Express No fee 5,000 bonus Avios points (£1,000 minimum spend in first 3 months) 22.2% No fee and lower APR
American Express Nectar No fee for first year, then £25 per year 20,000 bonus points (£2,000 minimum spend in first 3 months) 27.3%
Collecting Nectar points that can then be converted to Avios
Virgin Atlantic Reward No fee No introductory offer 22.9% No fee, lower APR and the ability to earn rewards each year
Virgin Atlantic Rewards Plus £160 per year 15,000 bonus points, companion ticket/upgrade (£10,000/yr spend) 63.9% Wide range of rewards and a good level of introductory bonus

 

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold American Express Preferred Rewards 

  • Flexibility on how you use your points, including transferring them to 12 airline's loyalty schemes, including British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Earn 1 rewards point for every £1 you spend on the card and 2 points with any airline purchase
  • Two complimentary lounge visits per year
  • £5 cashback on Deliveroo twice every month
  • No annual fee for the first year and then £140 per year

 

British Airways American Express British Airways American Express 

  • Earn 1 Avios for every £1 spent on the card
  • 4,000 Avios bonus if you refer a friend and they get approved for a card
  • Companion voucher when you spend £20,000 or more in a year

 

Nectar credit card American Express Nectar 

  • 20,000 bonus Nectar points when you spend £2,000 in the first three months
  • Earn 2 Nectar points for every £1 spent on the card or 3 points spent with Nectar partners, which can be converted to Avios
  • No fee for the first year and £25 per year after that

 

Virgin Atlantic Reward card Virgin Atlantic Reward 

  • Rewards such as a companion ticket or upgrade when you spend £20,000 or more in a year
  • Earn 0.75 Virgin points for every £1 spent on the card
  • Double points when you use your card for Virgin Atlantic flights or Virgin Holidays
  • Free entry to Virgin Money lounges
  • You have to claim your reward within 24 months of the date it's issued. If you book your outbound flight to leave within the 24 months, you can take the return journey after that time.

 

Virgin Atlantic Reward Plus card Virgin Atlantic Reward Plus

  • 15,000 bonus points when you make your first purchase within 90 days of opening your account
  • Rewards such as a companion ticket or upgrade when you spend £10,000 per year
  • Earn 1.5 Virgin points for every £1 spent on the card
  • Double points on Virgin Atlantic flights or Virgin Holidays
  • You have to claim your reward within 24 months of the date it's issued. If you book your outbound flight to leave within the 24 months, you can take the return journey after that time.
  • Free entry to Virgin Money lounges
  • Free Boingo Wi-Fi access
  • £160 annual fee

How to boost your air miles on your air-miles credit card

If you have an air-miles credit card, you will want to earn as many points as possible in order to be able to get the best rewards. Ways to increase your air miles include:

  • Making sure you use your card for as much of your day-to-day spending as possible, including groceries, filling up your car and any big-ticket purchases. This should, however, be spending you would have been doing anyway: you should avoid additional spending with the goal of just earning extra air miles.
  • If possible, using the card for your business expenses, which you can then claim back from your company. This is particularly good if you travel frequently for work, as by booking your flights on your card you will benefit from extra air miles. It's obviously important to check with your company before using your card in this way.
  • Looking out for opportunities to earn extra points through "bonus days" and other incentives the card provider or air-miles scheme offers.
  • Adding additional cardholders to your account as you will then earn points from the spending they do on their card. Remember you will be responsible for all spending on the account.

Is an air-miles credit card right for me?

If you are a frequent flyer and value perks such as upgrades, companion vouchers and heavily discounted flights, an air-miles card may be a good option for you. It is, however, important to make sure you choose the right card with the best rewards for your circumstances. If you have a preference for a particular airline, for example, it makes sense to choose a scheme that works with that one. Similarly, if you would like to fly to a particular location using your air miles, you will need to choose an air-miles scheme for an airline that services that destination.

To get the most out of an air-miles card you generally need to spend a relatively high amount on it. A rule of thumb for many cards is you need to spend over £10,000 per year to qualify for the best rewards. This is not an insignificant amount for most people and will usually necessitate using the card for much of your day-to-day spending. If you find yourself having to use the card for additional spending you wouldn't usually do just to earn points, this isn't the type of card for you.

Advantages of an air-miles credit card

  • Many cards offer a bonus when you sign up, which could allow you to accumulate a lot of air miles very quickly.
  • With some providers, you will be able to get a free companion ticket, which allows you to bring along a guest when you're flying and only pay the taxes and charges for the flight.
  • Cardholders can often enjoy free airport lounge access and priority boarding, as standard.

Disadvantages of an air-miles credit card

  • As international travel is still widely disrupted at the moment, a cashback or rewards card might be a better option.
  • There are often high annual fees associated with air-miles credit cards, especially those with the most attractive offers
  • As the minimum spend on most of the cards is high - £10,000-plus per year - it is not going to be a suitable choice for everyone and the risk is, for some, it could encourage overspending.
  • There isn't as much choice of times and dates for flights you buy with air-miles points, so you need to be flexible and try to book in advance.
  • As you still have to pay taxes and charges, there isn't such a thing as a free flight.

Things to consider before getting an air-miles credit card

  • Make sure you pay off the balance in full each month to avoid having to pay interest on purchases, which can quickly wipe out any financial benefit of collecting air miles points.
  • Check the terms and conditions on the card as some will have restrictions on how you can use the points you've accumulated. For example, with some cards you lose points if you don't use them within a certain period of time.
  • Some air-miles schemes offer extra points if you fly with a sister-airline so, again, it's worth checking in advance.

Alternatives to air-miles credit cards

Cashback or rewards credit cards

One issue with air-miles credit cards is the reward is very specific to travel. Another option is a rewards credit card that offers more wide-ranging perks, such as discounts at a number of retailers or access to exclusive tickets for shows or other entertainment events. There are also rewards credit cards linked to some of the major supermarkets, allowing you to collect extra points or secure discounts on your weekly grocery shop. This may offer more value to a family on a day-to-day basis than the potential for discounted flights.

Similarly, cashback credit cards allow you to earn cashback on the spending you do on the card, offering you a clear financial reward that is paid into your account on a regular basis.

A comprehensive guide to cashback and reward credit cards can be found in our article "Compare the best cashback and reward credit cards".

Travel credit cards

An alternative to air-miles credit cards are travel credit cards, which offer broader travel-related benefits. They are designed for frequent travellers who want an efficient way to pay for goods and services abroad. They often don't charge a foreign exchange fee, have a low or no fee for cash withdrawals from ATMs abroad and sometimes also provide travel insurance at a discounted rate.

Fo our guide to the best travel credit cards, read our article "Compare the best travel credit cards".

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