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Last updated
January 31, 2023
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What is an airmiles credit card?

An airmiles credit card is a type of rewards card. Airmiles cards give you travel points and perks in return for your spending. The more you spend, the more points you get.

You can swap your points for free or discounted plane tickets, seat upgrades upgrades, hotels or for days out. That’s why they’re often referred to as airmiles credit cards.

There are different points schemes, such as Avios, Virgin Atlantic or Amex (American Express only).

Sainsbury's also lets you swap your Nectar points for Avios and vice versa.

You can use Avios and other points for more than just flying. Redeem them on flights and hotel stays, or use them on gig tickets or theme park entry.

Some cards charge you an annual fee, though the card provider might waive it for the first year.

Airmiles can be spent on more than just plane tickets."

Watch: Airmiles credit cards explained

Airmiles cards are different to travel credit cards and airline rewards cards

Travel cards aim to give you the best rates on spending abroad. Plus, you’ll have the added protection of using a credit card.

You could save a lot of money on your overseas trips by using both an airmile and travel card.

Some airlines, like British Airways, also provide credit cards. These are sometimes called rewards cards or airline credit cards.

Airline cards give customers points and rewards based on every mile that they fly with that airline. You can also get points for normal spending on the card.

Plus, you’ll earn points if you book hotels and arrange car hire through the airline.

Travel cards save you cash when abroad, airmiles cards get you there for less."

Pros and cons of an airmiles credit card

Pros
Cheaper flights and seat upgrades
Travel perks like airport lounge access and priority boarding
Companion flights - allowing someone else to travel with you
Cons
Annual fees on some cards
Higher than normal interest rates
Only work on some airlines, which might not have the cheapest flights or all destinations
Interest rates on different types of cards compared
The average interest charged by different types of UK credit card.

Source: Defaqto and Uswitch data, correct as of December 19, 2022

How do air miles credit cards work?

When you use your air miles card to make purchases, you build up points.

Extra Avios points can also be collected via stores such as Sainsbury's, Hackett and The Bicester Collection.

There are 4 different Avios schemes, that all let you accumulate Avios points:

  • British Airways Executive Club

  • Aer Lingus AerClub

  • Vueling Club

  • Iberia Plus

You can join all 4 schemes and shift your points between them. But British Airways is the most commonly used.

You can also convert your Avios points into Nectar points, and vice versa.

You then ‘spend’ your points on flights and travel, in the same way as you’d spend money.

If you do not have enough points for a return flight, you could use your points to go one way. You’d then need to pay by cash or credit card for the return journey.

Remember, you still have to pay for the tax, so even your ‘points flight’ will not be completely free.

You can often upgrade your flight using your points. So you could pay with a credit card for economy flights, but use your points to fly business class. For frequent flyers, this is a decent perk.

Some cards are dedicated to a single airline like British Airways credit cards or Virgin Atlantic cards."

What is the best Airmiles credit card?

There are lots of different schemes and reward plans from airmiles credit cards. You can compare deals using our comparison service.

The best airmiles credit card is the one that fits your spending and lifestyle. Some airmiles credit cards give you:

  • Airmiles or points to use on airline travel and packages

  • Free flights and holidays

  • Discounts on gig tickets, theme parks and other days out

So ask yourself if you want to use your points for gigs and day trips as well as flying? Or are you a frequent flyer who’d get the most benefit from the perks of an airline credit card?

Remember, when you do book a flight with your points, availability is likely to be more limited than if you were paying normally as you will be limited to the airlines your points work on. And you still have to pay taxes.

Think about when and how you would use your points. If you do not think you’ll use them much on flights, you might be better opting for a cashback or other reward card instead.

Look out for sign-up bonuses. For example, extra membership rewards when you sign up or if you spend more than £3,000 in your first year."

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How do I collect airmiles?

One of the best-known ways to earn airmiles or Avios is to make regular flights with the same airline.

But airline credit cards are another great way to get Airmiles. And you earn those points with your regular spending.

If you have an airline credit card you can collect Airmiles whenever you make an eligible purchase on your card.

You’ll earn a set number of points depending on what you spend. For example, you might earn 1 Avios point for every £1 you spend on the card.

Avios points needed for a free flight upgrade[1]
20,000

Most airline credit cards will allow you to earn air miles for virtually any purchase on your card. The standard exceptions include foreign exchange and any spending over your credit limit.

Some airline credit cards offer you bonus miles when you activate the card or make your first purchase.

You can also earn bonus Avios points for hitting certain spending triggers. For example, if you spend £10,000 in the first year of card use. If that’s the case, an airline credit card is only right for you if you spend a lot.

Some airline rewards schemes also let you earn Airmiles by opening a linked savings account. These sometimes work by paying ‘interest’ in miles instead of cash.

Finally, some store reward cards allow you to convert your loyalty points into Airmiles (for example Sainsbury's Nectar points).

How to turn reward points into travel savings

When you fly or spend money on your air miles card, you accumulate loyalty points. You can then combine these to put towards a flight, hotel or another trip.

You may be able to add an automatic setting, which means you do not have to manually convert the points.

Some credit cards give you different points which you can exchange or convert to airmiles.

For example, Sainsbury's Nectar scheme lets you go exchange your Nectar points for Avios.

Every 400 Nectar points is worth 250 Avios, while every 300 Avios is worth 400 Nectar points. You can go in and convert points yourself, or set up an automated conversion.

If you’re a member of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club loyalty scheme, you can swap your Tesco Clubcard points for flying miles. In this case £2.50 of vouchers is equivalent to 625 flying miles.

Likewise, £5 in Tesco vouchers gives you £15 to spend via Hotels.com.

American Express Membership Rewards points can also be swapped for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points on a 1:1 basis.

Because it takes a lot to build up points, these cards are well suited for big spenders."

Air miles credit card FAQs

Are Airmiles cards worth it?

You should only get an airline credit card if you know you’ll be able to pay off the balance in full every month. This is because they charge high interest rates on your balance.

Some cards also come with hefty annual fees of up to £150, though these cards normally offer higher rates of reward.

If you’re looking to borrow and pay it off slowly, you might be better off getting a credit card with the lowest interest. See our list of top 0% purchase credit cards.

How does an Avios credit card work?

Avios is a rewards scheme that is linked to airline frequent flyer clubs. The Avios credit card, works in a very similar way to supermarket and loyalty cards, such as Nectar and Tesco Clubcard.

The value of your Avios points varies depending on how and where you spend them. They don't have a fixed value.

Sometimes they’re worth more if you are taking advantage of a special promotion.

You can move or combine Avios points from different sources in order to build up enough to exchange for flights or holidays.

What does 'most popular and ‘popularity’ mean?

When we use the term ‘most popular or ‘popularity’ on Uswitch in reference to credit cards, these cards are ranked by the number of clicks they have received on the site in the past 48 hours.

The most clicked on cards are at the top, with the least at the bottom. This reflects how popular they are with visitors to Uswitch.com. Consequently, this is a good table to look at if you’re interested in seeing which cards most people think are worth getting.

Does Uswitch compare all the credit cards on the market?

We compare credit over 100 credit cards from all of the major banks and credit card providers.

However, we do not compare all the credit cards that are available in the UK.

This is because some credit card providers have offers that are only available exclusively through their own website or branch, or through other comparison websites - in the same way some credit cards are exclusively available through Uswitch.

There are also many credit cards that are only available to people in member organisations and clubs.

Credit card guides

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How to use a credit card
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What are the differences between credit and debit card?
What are the differences between credit and debit card?

About the author

James Andrews
James has spent the past 20 years writing about and editing personal finance articles and guides in the UK. His driving mission has been to help people make better decisions with their money.

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References
1. British Airways: Example for a peak one-way upgrade from London to New York, upgrading from premium economy (World Traveller Plus) to business (Club World)