Best air miles credit cards - Times Money Mentor (2023)

If you are a frequent flyer, you could benefit from free or discounted flights by earning points through an air miles credit card.

If you know the system well and make use of sign-up bonuses to boost your points balance, it’s possible to score a free flight fairly easily.

Below, we explain:

  • What are air miles?
  • How do air miles credit cards work?
  • What are the pros and cons of travel credit cards?
  • What are the differences between credit card rewards and airline rewards?
  • What are the best ways to earn air miles?

Related content: What is travel insurance and is it worth it?

Best air miles credit cards - Times Money Mentor (1)

What are air miles?

Air miles are loyalty points programmes aimed at frequent travellers. They allow you to get money off flights, and benefit from other travel discounts and perks.

They are run by the airlines themselves through frequent-flyer programmes.

But many airlines have partnerships with credit card companies, hotel chains, car rental firms and tour operators, and these allow travellers to earn and spend points through other sources.

What is an air miles credit card?

An airline miles credit card rewards you with points when you make purchases using the card. The market is dominated by American Express, a card company that specialises in rewards programmes.

The more money you spend, the more points (or air miles) you accrue.

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These miles can be exchanged for free or discounted flights, or other travel perks such as seat upgrades, companion vouchers or free hotel stays.

How do air miles credit cards work?

Every purchase you make through the card earns you air miles. This could include everyday spending such as grocery shopping or filling up your car with petrol.

When you have collected enough points, they can be exchanged for travel rewards.

Avios is the name of one rewards programme. Avios points can be collected through certain credit cards and spent through airlines in the International Airlines Group (IAG), including British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia.

Some credit cards will be linked to a specific airline, allowing you to collect air miles for that operator. Examples include the British Airways American Express card and the Virgin Atlantic card.

There are also credit cards where you earn points that can be redeemed through multiple airlines. The American Express Gold card, for example, allows you to exchange rewards points for air miles with a number of airlines, including Delta, BA and Virgin.

Best air miles credit cards - Times Money Mentor (2)

Air miles credit card need-to-knows

If you’re thinking of taking out an air miles credit card, here are some considerations.


  • You can earn rewards for spending that you already do regularly – so you don’t need to change your spending patterns.
  • Points earned through flying and spending can be merged, depending on the airline and credit card provider, allowing you to boost your points balance more quickly.
  • Air miles points can often be exchanged for other rewards, such as hotel stays or days out.


  • Air miles can only be used to cover the cost of the flight. You have to pay any associated taxes and carrier fees.
  • Availability is more limited when booking a flight using air miles
  • Air miles cards are also known as rewards cards, and some charge hefty fees. The American Express Gold card, for example, costs £160 a year (free for the first year). Meanwhile, the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card has an annual charge of £250. So make sure the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • American Express is not universally accepted by retailers and other companies.

With any airline or rewards credit card, avoid using the perks as an excuse to overspend. Only use these cards to do your normal spending. Additionally, you should plan to repay the balance on these cards in full each month to avoid paying hefty rates of interest, which will likely wipe out any perks you’ve earned.

The difference between credit card rewards and airline rewards

Credit card rewards can cover a wide range of incentives and discounts, whereas airline rewards are more specific to travel.

However, sometimes you can convert airline points to other rewards – so there isn’t always much difference.

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Credit card rewards are not as generous as they once were, but some cards offer incentives such as cashback on selected purchases. These are typically operated by American Express, as most UK banks no longer offer significant cashback on credit card payments.

Some high-street retailers, such as Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, offer loyalty points to customers through their own credit cards.

These points can be used to get money off shopping.

Sainsbury’s Nectar credit card, for example, gives 8,000 bonus points to new customers who spend at least £400 in the first two months after opening an account.

Find out more: The best rewards credit cards

Best air miles credit cards

Product / Air miles per £Bonus AviosAnnual Fee (£)
American Express Gold credit card
1 point for every £1 spent on the card
20,000 bonus Amex points on £3,000 spend within 3 months of account opening. These can be swapped for points with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and numerous other airlines0*
British Airways credit card
1 Avios point for every £1 spent on the card
5,000 bonus Avios on £1,000 spend within 3 months of account opening, plus economy class companion ticket each year you spend over £12,0000
Barclaycard Avios credit card
1 Avios point for every £1 spent on the card
5,000 bonus Avios on £1,000 spend within 3 months of account opening, plus cabin upgrade voucher each year you spend over £20,0000
Virgin Atlantic Reward card
0.75 points for every £1 spent; 1.5 points for every £1 spent direct with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays
Flying Club bonus on £20,000 annual spend, such as a seat upgrade or companion ticket 0
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card
1.5 points for every £1 spent; 3 points for every £1 spent direct with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays
15,000 bonus points on first card purchase made within the first 90 days, plus flying Club bonus on £10,000 annual spend£160
British Airways Premium Plus card
1.5 Avios for every £1; 3 Avios for every £1 the cardholder spends direct with British Airways and BA Holidays
25,000 bonus Avios when the cardholder spends £3,000 on the card in the first 3 months, plus companion ticket each year you spend over £10,000 £250
Barclaycard Avios Plus
1.5 Avios for every £1 spent on the card
25,000 bonus Avios when the cardholder spends £3,000 on the card in the first 3 months, plus cabin upgrade voucher each year you spend over £10,000£240

It’s worth noting that if you’ve had an American Express card in the last two years, you won’t qualify for the introductory bonuses.

Top ways to earn air miles

Here are some of the best ways to collect air miles:

  • Fly with the same airline

Airlines reward loyal customers. So if you travel regularly to the same place, it’s worth considering using the same airline.

Many run their own frequent-flyer rewards programme.

  • Pay for your shopping using a rewards credit card

Earn points every time you pay for petrol or do your weekly food shop.

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These points all add up, and could be exchanged for air miles with an associated airline.

  • Use a Tesco Clubcard

If you’re a frequent Tesco shopper, and a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club member, you can earn Virgin Points just for doing your normal weekly shop.

This is because Tesco has partnered with Virgin Atlantic to allow its customers to swap its Clubcard points for Virgin Points. Each Clubcard point can be exchanged for 2.5 Virgin Points, so £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers will net you 625 Virgin Points.

Make sure you scan your Clubcard each time you shop at Tesco to accumulate points. You can set up your Clubcard points to automatically convert to Virgin Points.

You can read more about this partnership at Tesco’s website. If you don’t already have a Clubcard or a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account, you can sign up at the Tesco and Virgin Atlantic websites.

  • Sign up to a premium rewards credit card

You may be able to get bonus points for taking out a premium rewards credit card.

For example, American Express offers 20,000 rewards points for people signing up to its Gold card (you must spend £3,000 in the first three months, but don’t use this as an excuse to spend more than you would otherwise or you could end up paying high interest if you can’t pay the full card balance on time).

These points can be exchanged for Avios points or other loyalty schemes run by airlines.

How to redeem credit card miles to travel

To redeem credit card miles, first check that you can book a rewards flight with a partnering airline. BA, for example, has a flight-finder tool that allows you to see where you can fly with your points, and to check availability.

The value of your points will depend on the airline. If you want free flights, it’s best to be flexible with dates and location.

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Once you have chosen your flight, you will then be able to select the option to pay with points.

If you have an American Express card, you will first need to exchange your points for air miles with an associated airline or points programme. You can do this through the online portal.

Where can I fly to?

Taking the example of British Airways, here’s how you could spend your points:

  • Flights to Europe, UK and Ireland: start from 18,500 Avios points and a £1 fee
  • Caribbean: from 60,000 Avios and a £150 fee
  • North America: from 50,000 Avios and a £100 fee

If you don’t have enough points to cover a free flight, you can pay an additional cash amount.

Find out more: Is credit card travel insurance any good?

How do I check my air miles points?

To see how many air miles points you have accumulated, it’s best to log into your account with the air miles scheme, as opposed to your bank.

For example, log into your Avios account, rather than your Amex account.

Alternatives to air miles credit cards

If you’re not a frequent flyer, or if air miles don’t suit you, there may be other credit cards more suitable for your needs.

These include cards that promote:

  • Balance transfers
  • 0% interest on purchases
  • Cashback on spending and other rewards
  • Fee-free foreign currency transactions


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