An airmiles credit card is a type of reward credit card. When you spend on an airmiles credit card you’ll receive points: the more you spend, the more points you get. When you've collected enough miles, you can use them to buy flights on selected airlines.
Who offers airmiles credit cards?
The two main airmiles 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
- United Airlines: MileagePlus
- American Airlines: AAdvantage miles
- Etihad: Etihad Guest Miles
- Flybe: Spend&Fly
Pros and cons of airmiles credit cards
Airmiles can be earned on everyday spending, not just when you buy flights. If you use the card for all normal day-to-day purchases, instead of debit cards, cash, or other credit cards, you can accumulate a large number of airmiles relatively quickly.
Many airmiles 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 airmiles 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.
Some airmiles schemes allow you to spend points on other travel-related purchases as well as flights. This might include hotels, package holidays, cruises, car hire, travel insurance, airport lounge passes, airport parking, theme park tickets, and days out.
You might be able to spend airmiles on more airlines than you realise. For example, BA is part of OneWorld, which means you can spend Avios on OneWorld partners including American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, and Finnair. Virgin Atlantic’s partner airlines include Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines.
Airmiles credit cards are not a cheap way to borrow money. They tend to have above average interest rates and often an annual fee too. To get the most benefit from an airmiles credit card, you need to pay off the balance in full each month. If you don’t, interest costs are likely to dwarf any gain you get.
Airmiles credit cards work best for big spenders. Even then, they are only worthwhile if you'll use the points. If you’re not a regular traveller, an airmiles credit card is unlikely to be the best credit card option for you.
The majority of airmiles credit cards are operated via American Express, which isn't as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard.
When you buy a flight with airmiles, you still have to pay cash for associated taxes and surcharges. These fees can make up a large proportion of the cost of some flights and can mean it’s not always worth spending airmiles on cheap economy flights.
You can’t spend airmiles on any flight you choose with an airline – you’re limited to ‘reward flights’ which may be booked up quickly or not suit your travel itinerary.
If you stop using your card for too long, airmiles can expire. Avios points expire if you stop spending or collecting them for 36 months.
Eligibility for cards
You’ll need a fairly good credit score to be eligible for most airmiles credit cards. This means you must have stuck to 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 airmiles 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.
What to consider when choosing an airmiles card
The golden rule of airmiles credit cards is to only use them if you can pay off your entire balance each month. Otherwise the interest you pay will dwarf the rewards you receive.
If you want to travel to a specific destination, pick an airmiles card that works with an airline which flies there. If you haven’t decided where you’d like to go, choose a card that lets you accumulate the most airmiles in return for your spending.
Consider whether an airmiles credit card is best for your lifestyle. Other cards which offer reward points, vouchers or cashback might be a better option.
You get much better value for your airmiles if you fly long haul and in business or first class. Using airmiles for a short flight in economy won’t save you much money.
If an airmiles credit card comes with a fee, work out whether it’s worth paying. Some cards with hefty fees offer the opportunity to earn airmiles at a high rate – this might be worth it if you’re a big spender but if the fee comes to more than the airmiles are worth, you could lose money by taking out the card.