Your browser isn't supported
It looks like you're using an old web browser. To get the most out of the site and to ensure guides display correctly, we suggest upgrading your browser now. Download the latest:

The MoneySaving Forum: join to chat & swap tips with other MoneySavers. Learn how in the Forum Introduction Guide

Airline Credit Cards

Earn miles for free flights worldwide
Airline credit cards

Earn flights worldwide for you and your partner, just for spending on a piece of plastic. Frequent flyer credit cards are an easy way to travel the world in luxury at a reduced cost.

This is full guide to the top paying airline credit cards, how to use them, boost your miles and do it all safely.

Who should get one?

Frequent flyer credit cardsAirline credit cards are an extension of frequent flyer programmes. You earn miles or points as you spend, not as you fly, plus you can get bonus ones for signing up.

Miles earned from spending can be combined with those you've earned from flying – or through other credit card reward schemes, such as converting Tesco Clubcard points. Added together, you can build up your stash much more quickly. See Boost Avios Points for full info.

When you've collected enough miles they can be converted into flights (taxes and charges must still be paid). Availability is much more limited than when paying for flights, so ensure you're flexible when booking.

One thing to bear in mind...

The more you spend, the more often you fly, and the further you go, the better these cards are for you.

For that reason, we've focused this guide on higher spenders. If that's not you, read the Top Cashback Credit Card and Cheap Flights guides.

If you think frequent flyer miles cards are for you...

You'll NEED a reasonable credit score

You shouldn't be aiming to borrow with this

You should be a regular flyer

Will you need other credit soon?

You'll gain more if you've a companion

And always remember...

The golden rule of debt repayment

Always set up a direct debit to repay the card in full each month, so you'll never pay interest.

Card companies offer reward schemes because they want to encourage you to spend on the card so they can earn interest from it. If you don't repay IN FULL by direct debit, the interest cost on all reward cards will dwarf any gain you get.

Check if you'll get the top cards

Credit card providers set their own criteria for for what they look for in a customer and it's often a bit of a minefield wondering if you'll be accepted or not. And as applications leave a mark on your file, too many hits could have a negative effective.

Most cards in this guide have a link to our eligibility checker tool, which we've designed to allow you to check your chance of getting most of the cards below. We do a 'soft' credit search which YOU can see, but lenders CAN'T, so it has no impact on your future creditworthiness - and lets you see the chance of you getting the card without applying for it.

We check the details you give us against providers' criteria, then give you your percentage chance of acceptance. Although it's not a guarantee to acceptance, the link below will show you your likelihood of getting many of the cards listed on this page.

Top Avios cards

We've crunched the numbers on the big frequent flyer credit cards to narrow down the best way to earn miles while you spend.

All the top cards are American Express - which isn't as widely-accepted as Visa or Mastercard in smaller stores. We can't find any decent non-Amex options but some cards offer a Mastercard/Visa on the same account, although the miles here aren't as good.

Don't compare miles or points per pound spent across different schemes as they vary. It's all about how far you can fly on different spending.

It's also possible to earn Avios points with the Tesco credit card, but this never comes top - the main advantage here is spreading the cost of a big purchase (see 0% Spending Cards).

Fee-free Avios card:

Most airline cards have an annual fee, as the rewards you can get are often worth quite a lot. However, this card from Amex is fee free, and allows you to collect Avios points.

Halifax* - 15mths 0%, 0.8% fee

'Free' companion ticket on £20k spend, plus intro 9,000 bonus miles

BA Amex*

Spend £20,000 on this BA Amex* card in a year and you get a 'free' companion ticket to use when you redeem your earned Avios points in exchange miles. Good if you're a bigger-spending couple and will use long haul flights.

Need to knows
  • You'll earn 1 Avios point per £1 spent on the card.
  • You'll also get an intro bonus of 9,000 Avios points when you spend £1,000 in your first three months. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • 9,000 points will get you an economy flight to Paris - although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £95.
  • You'll still have to pay taxes on any free flights that you redeem.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
Key questions

What airlines can miles be redeemed against? Avios can be redeemed on BA and other Oneworld airlines, including American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. See the Avios site for where you can go.

What's the deal with the companion ticket? The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the cardholder (if you go first class, so do they), though only on BA. It's valid for 12 months. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time as seat numbers can be limited when redeeming miles.

Is there a way I can boost the number of points I get? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost Avios further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker.

Low annual fee - boost Avios:

This card has an annual fee, but it also allows you to collect Avios faster than the fee free card above.

Free flight upgrades, plus intro double Avios points

Lloyds Avios*

This Lloyds Avios* charges an annoying £24 annual fee but if you spend £7,000 in a year you'll earn two free flight upgrades on flights paid for entirely with Avios points (excluding taxes and charges). This is a dual Amex and Mastercard - but spend on the Amex where you can as the points earned on the Mastercard are low.

Need to knows
  • You'll earn 1.25 Avios points per £1 spent on the Amex and per £5 spent on the Mastercard.
  • You'll also get an intro bonus of double Avios points when you spend on the Amex in your first six months. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • Spending £7,200 will get you an economy flight to Paris (excl free upgrade)- although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £95.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Standard miles: 1.25 for every £1 (Amex); 1.25 per £5 (Mastercard)
  • Rep variable APR: 22.7% (incl fee) Official APR example
  • Annual fee: £24
  • Min income: n/a
  • Miles expire: Three years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?
Key questions

What airlines can miles be redeemed against? Avios can be redeemed on BA and other Oneworld carriers, including American Airlines, Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

Is there any way I can boost the miles I get? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost Avios further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker.

Are there any other perks? This card also gives you fee-free spending abroad (most cards add a 3% foreign spending load). It's not worth getting the card just for this, but if you're looking to get it anyway, this is a good perk. See Cheap Travel Money for more options.

How do I get the upgrades? If you spend £7,000 or more on the cards through the year, that allows you to upgrade two flights - either two singles or one return - from Euro Traveller to Club Europe, World Traveller to World Traveller Plus, or World Traveller Plus to Club World.

In order to be eligible, you must pay for the flight you wish to upgrade with Avios points. It's subject to availability, and upgrades on some routes may not be possible at particularly busy times of year. Check before you book.

Big annual fees - but worth it for huge spenders:

If you're willing to pay a fee in the region of £150, you can boost the rewards and perks you get even further. But think whether it's worth it - would you be better off just putting that £150 towards a flight?

Free upgrades and companion ticket, plus double intro Avios

Lloyds Premier Avios Amex*

This Lloyds Premier Avios Amex* charges a huge £140 annual fee, so only get the card if you'll use the rewards. Spend £5,000 in a year and you'll get two free flight upgrades and if you reach a spend of £12,000 in a year, you'll get a worldwide companion ticket which can be used when redeeming your Avios points. You can use it for Eurostar tickets too.

Need to knows
  • You'll earn 1.5 Avios points per £1 spent on the Amex and per £5 spent on the Mastercard.
  • You'll also get an intro bonus of double Avios points when you spend on the Amex in your first six months. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • Spending £6,000 will get you an economy flight to Paris (excl free upgrade)- although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £95.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Standard miles: 1.5 for every £1 (Amex); 1.5 for every £5 (Mastercard)
  • Rep variable APR: 50.8% (incl fee) Official APR example
  • Annual fee: £140
  • Min income: n/a
  • Miles expire Three years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?
Key questions

What airlines can miles be redeemed against? Avios can be redeemed on BA and other Oneworld airlines, including American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. See the Avios site for where you can go.

How do I get the companion flight? The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the card holder, though only on economy class tickets. It's valid for 12 months and you'll also need to pay taxes and charges. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time as seat numbers can be limited when redeeming points.

How do I get the flight upgrades? If you spend £5,000 or more on the cards in any year, you can upgrade two flights - either two singles or one return - from Euro Traveller (economy) to Club Europe (premium economy), World Traveller to World Traveller Plus, or World Traveller Plus (premium economy) to Club World (business).

In order to be eligible, you must pay for the flight you wish to upgrade with Avios points. It's subject to availability, and upgrades on some routes may not be possible at particularly busy times of year. Check before you book.

Is there a way I can boost the number of points I get? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost Avios further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker.

Are there any other perks? This card also gives you fee-free spending abroad (most cards add a 3% foreign spending load). It's not worth getting the card just for this, but if you're looking to get it anyway, this is a good perk. See Cheap Travel Money for more options.

Halifax* - 15mths 0%, 0.8% fee

'Free' companion ticket on £10k spend, plus 25,000 Avios points

BA Premium Plus Amex*

This BA Amex* charges a huge £150 annual fee, so only get the card if you'll use the rewards. It gives bonus Avios when you join and spend on the card, plus if you reach a spend of £10,000 in a year, you'll earn a companion ticket.

Need to knows
  • You'll earn 1.5 Avios points per £1 spent on the card.
  • You'll also get an intro bonus of 25,000 Avios points when you spend £3,000 in your first three months. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • A spend of £6,000 will get you an economy flight to Paris - although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £95.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
Key questions

Which airlines can miles be redeemed against? Avios can be redeemed on BA and other Oneworld airlines, including American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. See the Avios site for where you can go.

How do I get the companion ticket? The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the card holder, though only on BA. It's valid for 24 months. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time as seat numbers can be limited when redeeming points.

Is there any way I can boost the number of miles I collect? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost Avios further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making them grow quicker.

Confusingly, both the BA Executive Club and Iberia Plus points are called Avios too. Avios points are worth the same, regardless of scheme.

Avios says the main Avios scheme's better for irregular travellers and the BA Executive Club's best for frequent flyers, offering benefits such as free airport lounge access. However, you can move or pool Avios and BA Executive Club points at any time, so if you change your mind later, it doesn't matter.

Other airline cards

Airline cards don't begin and end with Avios. Almost every airline has one, but the offers aren't necessarily that good. We've picked the best of the rest here.

Top Virgin airlines card:

'Free' companion ticket on £15k spend, plus 3,000 intro bonus

Virgin Atlantic White*

If you're a frequent flyer, but don't want Avios, then this is one of the top cards. This Virgin Atlantic White* card gives you better rewards the more you spend. For £10,000 you'll earn an upgrade from economy to premium economy. If you're a really big spender and reach £15,000 in a year, you'll earn a free companion ticket.

Need to knows
  • You get both an Amex and a Visa card when you open this credit card account.
  • You'll earn 1 mile per £1 spent on the Amex and 1 mile per £2 on the Visa.
  • You'll also get an intro bonus of 3,000 miles on your first purchase within 90 days.
  • Spending £7,500 will get you an economy flight to Edinburgh (excl free upgrade) although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £40.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Standard miles: 1 mile for every £1 (Amex); 1 for every £2 (Visa)
  • Rep variable APR: 17.9% Official APR example
  • Annual fee: n/a
  • Min income: n/a
  • Miles expire: Three years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?
Key questions

What airlines can miles be redeemed against? Flying Club miles can be redeemed on Virgin Atlantic and partner airlines including ANA, Jet, Singapore Airlines and US Airways. See the Virgin site for where you can go.

What's the deal with the companion ticket? The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the cardholder (if you go first class, so do they), though only on Virgin Atlantic. It's valid for 12 months. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time as seat numbers can be limited when redeeming miles.

Is there any way I can boost my points total? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost your Flying Club miles further by adding a partner to your account. The miles accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker.

'Free' companion ticket on £15k spend, plus intro 18,500 miles bonus

Virgin Atlantic Black*

For very frequent Virgin flyers, the Virgin Atlantic Black* card is packed with rewards, but charges a huge £140 annual fee, so make sure it's worth it for you. Spend £5,000 in a year, and you get a 'free' upgrade. Spend £7,500 in a year and you get a 'free' companion ticket (you'll pay taxes on both).

Need to knows
  • Spend anything on the card within the first 90 days, and you'll get an intro bonus of 18,500 miles.
  • You get both an Amex and a Visa card when you open this credit card account.
  • You'll earn 2 miles per £1 spent on the Amex and 1mile per £2 spent on the Visa.
  • Spending £4,625 will get you an economy flight to Edinburgh (excl free upgrade) although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £40.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE’s free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Standard miles: Amex: 2 miles for every £1; Visa: 1 mile for every £1
  • Rep variable APR: 52% Official APR example
  • Annual fee: £140
  • Min income: n/a
  • Miles expire: Three years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?
Key questions

What airlines can miles be redeemed against? Flying Club miles can be redeemed on Virgin Atlantic and partner airlines including ANA, Jet, Singapore Airlines and US Airways. See the Virgin site for where you can go.

What's the deal with the companion ticket? The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the cardholder (if you go first class, so do they), though only on Virgin Atlantic. It's valid for 12 months. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time as seat numbers can be limited when redeeming miles.

Is there any way I can boost the points I collect? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost your Flying Club miles further by adding a partner to your account. The miles accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker.

Top alternative - earn points for several schemes:

This card's a bit different, as it's a charge card. That means you need to be able to pay it off every month. But it's got a great intro bonus, 20,000 miles when you spend £2,000 in the first three months. The card's unique in that you can convert the points you get into airmiles under several different schemes (including Avios & Virgin).

Convert Amex points into air miles for several different airlines

Amex Preferred Rewards Gold*

This Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* charge card allows you to collect Amex reward points which you can then convert into miles for several different frequent flyer programmes, including all the major global ones. But the card's major boon is that it gives you a bonus 20,000 Amex Reward points if you hit a £2,000 spending trigger within the first three months.

Need to knows
  • This card usually has a £125 annual fee, but this is waived in year one.
  • Charge cards allow you to spend on them, but require you to pay off in full at the end of EVERY month.
  • There's no interest charged, but there's a £12 fee - and a default on your credit file - if you fail to fully repay.
  • Reward points can be transferred into several airline schemes including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
  • Spending £9,000 will get you an economy flight to Paris - although you'll also have to pay taxes and charges of about £95.
ELIGIBILITY CHECK NOT AVAILABLE
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Standard miles: 1 mile for every £1
  • Rep variable APR: n/a - it's a charge card, so you must repay in full
  • Annual fee: No fee in year one, but £125 from year two onwards
  • Min income: £20,000
Key questions

What else can points be used for? £100 in gift cards for Amazon, M&S, Homebase, House of Fraser and more (though vouchers sometimes sell out, so check what's available). Or transfer them into hotel loyalty schemes such as Hilton Honors, or use them towards items including luggage and kitchenware.

Is there any way I can boost my points tally? If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost your points further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making your points grow quicker. One supplementary card (for a partner/friend) is provided free, though any more will cost £45.

Or, if you have a friend who has the card, get them to recommend you, and both you and they get a bonus of 2,000 miles.

Can I buy extra points or miles?

All the above schemes allow you to buy extra points or miles, so if you're just short, you can top them up. Better still, if you're collecting miles and also redeeming a companion flight, you effectively get double the value.

BA Avios Avios Flying Club
Cost per point/mile 1.7p-3.1p 1.7p-3.1p 0.7p-3p
Limit on points/miles you can buy 35,000 35,000 100,000

Once you have joined your scheme, extra points or miles can be bought online at Avios, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. Watch for promotions - sometimes you can get up to 30% extra free.

How to get the best out of these cards

For some, it's possible to use nifty tricks to really rack up the miles...

  • Long-haul and business class provide best value

    Using your miles for long-haul business class flights gives you a substantially better cash equivalent return - on some cards with companion tickets, you can get up to 5% back on your spending on the card. All the schemes require you to pay taxes, which defeats much of the gain on short-haul trips.

    This is, of course, at business class flights' list value, and you pay a huge amount more for that extra comfort - many days' worth of five-star hotels. So it depends on how much you value flying business, as you get more flights using your miles for economy trips and don't have to wait as long to earn enough.

  • Use it for ALL spending

    These cards are designed to encourage you to spend. Obviously we'd never want you to spend more than you need. Instead, use the card for all normal day-to-day purchases, instead of debit cards, or cash, cheques or other credit cards. Then set up a direct debit to repay in full each month and you'll soon see the miles adding up.

    Beware of setting up regular payments from it, or any other credit card, though. These are technically called recurring payments and unfortunately, unlike standing orders or direct debits, once set up you can't cancel them, only the company you're paying can. If you're in dispute, this can be a nightmare (see the Recurring Payments guide for more).

  • Plus you get extra protection too

    There's another big bonus to using any credit card. You actually have far more consumer protection. This is all down to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which says... 75. — (1) If the debtor under a debtor-creditor-supplier agreement falling within section 12(b) or (c) has, in relation to a transaction financed by the agreement, any claim against the supplier in respect of a misrepresentation or breach of contract, he shall have a like claim against the creditor, who, with the supplier, shall accordingly be jointly and severally liable to the debtor.

    Which of course, reads like gobbledegook. Yet in a nutshell, it means:

    Buy something costing over £100, here or abroad, and pay on a credit card, and the card issuer's equally liable if something goes wrong.

    Now this protection only applies to credit cards, not debit cards or any other plastic, but it's hugely important, especially in the current credit crunch climate. If you order something and the retailer went kaput, you'd still be able to claim your money back from the card company. Read a full guide to Section 75 refunds.

  • Make your partner a cardholder too

    Assuming you are in a trusting relationship, arrange for a second card on the same account for your partner, so both your spending collects the miles. This technique is particularly useful for cards that need you to hit a certain target to get a free companion flight.

    Remember, with credit cards there's no such thing as a joint card - it's your card and you're giving them permission to spend on it. Any spending is yours to pay off, not theirs.

  • Boarding pass card

    Use companion tickets wisely

    Some frequent flyer programmes give you a companion ticket over a certain amount of spending. This means you get to take someone else with you under exactly the same conditions for no extra miles.

    In other words if you're going business to Miami, they come for free (though most cards require you to pay taxes for both as well).

    If your card does that, it's worth waiting until you've got the companion voucher before spending your miles as you get much better value from them. Remember, they usually only last a year.

  • If you can use it for expenses

    For those who have work expenses they need to reclaim, this can be a powerful way to earn more miles at no cost to you, provided you can cope with paying the bill in full each month. Check it's fine with your employer though, and there's a chance it could be seen as a taxable benefit (you'll still be up even if it is though).

  • Keep your eye open for miles sales

    In recent years, frequent flyer schemes have done miles sales, which temporarily reduce the number of miles or points needed to fly somewhere. Be ready to pounce if they happen.

  • Ensure you claim miles when you fly too

    These cards are just one part of frequent flyer schemes.

    You also earn miles when you fly, so make sure that whenever you go on a qualifying airline, you claim the miles to maximise the gain. With Avios, you can also earn points for spending in various places - see the Boost Your Avios guide.

Beware of transfers or cash withdrawals

Balance transfers on a frequent flyer cardIt's important to understand you normally only earn the miles when you spend on the card. Other transactions don't apply. Worse still, there can actually be nasty consquences for doing anything other than spending on a frequent flyer card.

  • Never use frequent flyer cards for withdrawing cash

    Withdraw cash and you'll often be charged a fee. Even if you pay the card off in full, you'll usually be charged some interest. The rule's simple: never, ever, ever use these cards for cash withdrawals.

  • Avoid balance transfers on a frequent flyer card

    It's no coincidence that some frequent flyer cards offer miles when you transfer a balance – they want to tempt you to both spend on the card and shift debts to them. As you'll be unlikely to repay the balance in full every month, you'll end up paying the interest which will eat away any gain.

    However, if the card is offering 0% on balance transfers, you can use it to your advantage. Card providers must allocate repayments to the most expensive debt first, so as long as you fully repay the spending amount each month, you won't be charged interest. You must ensure you repay in full before the 0% ends.

    This can get complicated, so usually the best option is to use separate cards for earning miles and balance transfers (see the Balance Transfers article).