What is an air miles card?
Air miles credit cards are a type of reward credit card that give you points when you spend. The more you spend, the more points you get. Then, when you've collected enough points you can convert these into miles to purchase flights on selected airlines.
When can you earn air miles?
Air miles can be earned on everyday spending, not only when you buy flights. You can accumulate a large number of points fairly quickly if you use the card for all day-to-day purchases, instead of using cash, debit cards, or other credit cards.
If you travel a lot, then these cards could help you save a lot of money over time, and earn discounts or free travel for someone else in the process.
However, they aren’t a cheap way to borrow money as they tend to have above average interest rates and often an annual fee. For instance, the average APR for air miles cards is 75% higher than other credit cards.
Also, to get any benefit, you need to pay off the balance in full each month, because if you don’t the high interest costs are likely to cancel out any rewards you get.
Air miles credit cards work best for big spenders. Even then, they are only worthwhile if you'll be able to use the points. If you’re not a regular traveller, then an air miles credit card is unlikely to be the best credit card option for you – better to get a rewards or cashback card.
Those with air miles cards have been found to be on a higher salary, 31% more than those with other credit cards, as they are more likely to be able to spend more and receive the rewards each month.
You also need a reputable credit score to be eligible for most air miles credit cards. This means you’ve not defaulted on any credit agreements in the past, paid debts and bills promptly, and not made too many credit applications in a short time period.
One of the best ways to check which air miles credit cards you’re likely to be accepted for is to use MoneySuperMarket’s Smart Search facility.
Smart Search allows you to compare credit cards and provides you with a score on how likely you are to get that card. It does this without leaving a mark on your credit file. This is good because multiple searches or applications can have a negative effect on your credit score, and consequently your chances of being accepted for credit in the future.
Pros and cons of air miles cards
Miles can be earned on everyday spending.
They can be expensive with above average interest rates and fees.
Many schemes offer bonuses when you sign up.
If you buy a flight with airmiles, you still need to pay tax and surcharges.
Earn ‘companion tickets’ enabling someone to travel with the cardholder without spending any extra miles.
You can’t spend airmiles on any flight you choose – these are redeemable on specific ‘rewards’ flights only.
Get perks like upgrade vouchers, travel accident insurance, or airport lounge access.
Airmiles can expire if you stop using your card for too long.
Spend points on hotels, package holidays, cruises, car hire, theme park tickets, and more.
You may only make a small saving on the overall cost of long haul flights.
Who offers air miles cards?
The two main air miles schemes in the UK are:
- British Airways Avios
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
These airlines offer their own credit cards but other providers also offer credit cards connected to their airmiles schemes. For example, Lloyds Bank offers an Avios credit card.
Other airmiles credit cards include:
- Emirates: Skywards Miles
- Lufthansa: Miles & More
- Etihad: Etihad Guest Miles
Things to consider when choosing a provider
Destinations: Each card provider will only offer flights to certain destinations, so it is important that you choose one that covers the destination or destinations that you wish to travel to.
If you haven’t decided where you’d like to go, it might be a good idea to choose a card that lets you accumulate the most air miles in return for your spending.
Whatever your situation, it’s worth reviewing the list of destinations covered before you choose which card to get. You need to make sure any air miles that you’ve earned can actually be used to purchase travel to the destinations you want to visit.
Earning air miles and their value: It is very difficult to measure the exact value of an air mile with any of the air miles schemes. It can therefore be tough to work out which card provides the best deal.
While some cards will earn you more air miles per pound spent, they may also require a greater number of air miles to travel to similar destinations.
Introductory bonuses: Many air miles credit cards offer bonus points when you sign up or start spending on the card. In some cases, spending £2,000 in the first couple of months can earn enough airmiles for a return flight between the UK and mainland Europe.
You can often earn a ‘companion ticket’ by spending a significant amount on an air miles credit card in a year. A companion ticket allows someone to travel with the cardholder in the same cabin class without using points for them.
Some airmiles credit cards offer perks such as upgrade vouchers, travel accident insurance, or airport lounge access.
Additional things you could spend points on: While most people will put their airmiles towards plane travel, many of the schemes do let you use them to pay for other things as well.
Avios, for example, allow you to book hotels, hire cars or even pay for theme park tickets, while you can use Virgin points to buy a balloon ride or as part payment for a trip into space with Virgin Galactic.
Figures were calculated by multiplying the cost per air mile for each card by the number of air miles required for the trip with the provider associated with that card, and also include any applicable annual card fees. The “With introductory card offers” figures additionally take into account any offers available to new cardholders, which enable customers to accumulate miles at a quicker rate. All other offers or bonus schemes are excluded from both sets of results. All cost per air mile data was taken from non-AMEX cards, and final trip costs do not include any additional tax or flight fees that may be payable when booking an air miles flight. Real costs may vary and given figures should be taken as a guide only.
MoneySuperMarket internal data 2016-17