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Airline Credit Cards

Earn miles for flights and upgrades worldwide

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Sally | Edited by Martin

Updated June 2016

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 on this card

You should be a regular flyer

Will you need other credit soon?

You'll gain more if you've a companion

The best schemes are Amex-only which is more limited

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 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 card for multiple 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).

Two short-haul return flights on £2k spend

Amex Preferred Rewards Gold*

Get the Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* charge card and you'll get 20,000 free Rewards points when you spend £2,000 in the first three months, which is enough for two short-haul return flights to Paris or Amsterdam, or one return to Rome with BA (plus taxes of around £35).

You'll collect Amex reward points as you spend which you can then convert into miles for several different frequent flyer programmes, including all the major global ones.

Need to knows
  • This card usually has a £140 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, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Finnair, Iberia, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Singapore Airlines - you can see the full list on the Membership Rewards site.
Eligibility Calculator
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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 £140 from year two onwards
  • Min income: N/A
Key questions

What can 20,000 pts get you? A short BA return flight, including trips to Paris, Milan and Berlin (you pay c.£35/person taxes) or one way for a longer journey, including Istanbul. Alternatively, £100 in gift cards for M&S, Homebase, House of Fraser, PC World and more (though vouchers sometimes sell out, so check what's available).

Alternatively, just add the points to your current stash. They can be converted into 13 frequent flyer programmes (including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), or three hotel reward schemes, among other things.

Amex says you'll get the points as soon as you hit the spending trigger, but they can take up to a month to arrive in your Card member account.

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.

Top Avios cards

Avios is one of the most popular airline loyalty schemes, so we've rounded up the top Avios-linked credit cards - they're a great way to boost points further.

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.

BA Amex

Companion ticket on £20k spend, plus intro 3,000 bonus miles

BA Amex*

This BA Amex* has no annual fee, and it gives bonus Avios when you join and hit the spending trigger on the card. Plus if you reach a spend of £20,000 in a year, you'll earn a companion ticket.

Need to knows
  • You'll earn 1 Avios point per £1 spent on the card.
  • Spend £500 in the first three months and you'll receive 3,000 bonus Avios points.
  • You'll still have to pay taxes on any flights that you redeem using Avios points.
  • A companion ticket allows someone to travel with the cardholder in the same cabin class without using points for them. The cardholder must still pay Avios as normal, and both must pay taxes and charges. It's valid for 12 months but Avios reward flights can book up quickly, so you'll need to book well in advance and be flexible.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gains.
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 other 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 this is only on BA flights. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges and the companion ticket is valid for 12 months. 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 one return or two one-way flight upgrades on flights paid for entirely with Avios points. You'll need to have used Avios to book the flights, and you'll need to pay taxes and charges on top.

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 - 2.5 Avios points per £1 spent. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • Upgrades are for one fare class above the one you've booked - so economy to premium economy, premium economy to business. Upgrade vouchers are valid for 12 months.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gains.
ELIGIBILITY CHECK NOT AVAILABLE
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: 23.7% (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 other 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.

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? You need to spend £7,000 or more on the cards a year to qualify for an upgrade. You'll get two upgrades - either on two one-way flights or one return flight. You can upgrade 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. Vouchers are valid for 12 months and booking is subject to availability - 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 per year, 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 economy 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. If you spend £5,000 in a year, you'll get two flight upgrades - either for two one-way tickets, or one return - on flights paid entirely with Avios points.

Plus, hit £12,000 of spending in a year, you'll get a companion ticket which can be used when redeeming your Avios points on any economy fare (you'll still need to pay the taxes and charges). You can use the companion ticket for Eurostar tickets in standard class 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 - 3 Avios points per £1 spent. See Boost Your Avios Points.
  • A companion ticket allows someone to travel with the cardholder in the same cabin class without using points for them. The cardholder must still pay Avios as normal, and both must pay taxes and charges. It's valid for 12 months but Avios reward flights can book up quickly, so you'll need to book well in advance and be flexible.
  • Companion tickets are only valid on economy bookings made with Avios - other class fares won't be matched so it's more limited than the BA companion tickets.
  • Upgrade vouchers are valid for 12 months from the date they're issued.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gains.
ELIGIBILITY CHECK NOT AVAILABLE
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: 52.1% (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 other 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? You need to spend £5,000 or more on the cards a year to qualify for an upgrade. You'll get two upgrades - either on two one-way flights or one return flight. You can upgrade 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.

BA Amex Premium Plus

Free companion ticket on £10k spend, plus 18,000 Avios points

BA Premium Plus Amex*

This BA Amex* charges a huge £195 annual fee, so only get the card if you'll use the rewards. It gives bonus Avios when you join and hit the spending trigger 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 18,000 Avios points when you spend £3,000 in your first three months, enough for a return to Rome.
  • A companion ticket allows someone to travel with the cardholder in the same cabin class without using points for them. The cardholder must still pay Avios as normal, and both must pay taxes and charges. It's valid for 24 months but Avios reward flights can book up quickly, so you'll need to book well in advance and be flexible.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying the 22.9% rep APR which would wipe any gains.
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
  • Rep variable APR: 76% (incl fee, 22.9% on purchases) Official APR example
  • Annual fee: £195
  • Min income: N/A
  • Miles expire Three years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?
Key questions

Which other 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 it's only on BA flights. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges and the ticket is valid for 24 months. 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 the 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.

Top Virgin Atlantic cards

Airline cards don't begin and end with Avios. Almost every airline has one, but the offers aren't necessarily that good. Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club is one of the other big schemes and its credit cards come with decent intro bonuses.

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

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.

If you're a bigger spender and reach £15,000 spent on the card in a year, you'll also earn a companion ticket though you'll need to book a qualifying fare directly with Virgin to use it and you'll pay taxes and charges on both tickets.

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 get an intro bonus of 3,000 miles on your first purchase within 90 days.
  • Companion tickets are valid for 12 months, though book early - flights are subject to availability. You'll need to call to book anyway so you'll be told the eligible qualifying fare options then, though it's likely to be the more expensive fares, not the cheapest ones that MoneySavers would usually go for.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gains.
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 (Amex); 1 for every £2 (Visa)
  • Rep variable APR: 22.9% 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 £7.5k spend, plus 18,500 intro bonus miles

Virgin Atlantic Black

For very frequent Virgin flyers, the Virgin Atlantic Black card is packed with rewards, but charges a huge £140/yr fee, so make sure it's worth it for you.

Plus, if you spend £7,500 in a year, you get a companion ticket you'll also earn a companion ticket though you'll need to book a qualifying fare directly with Virgin to use it and you'll pay taxes and charges on both tickets.

Need to knows
  • 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 1 mile per £1 spent on the Visa.
  • You'll get an intro bonus of 18,500 miles on your first purchase within 90 days.
  • Companion tickets are valid for 12 months, though book early - flights are subject to availability. You'll need to call to book anyway so you'll be told the eligible qualifying fare options then, though it's likely to be the more expensive fares, not the cheapest ones that MoneySavers would usually go for.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gains.
ELIGIBILITY CHECK NOT AVAILABLE
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: 57.4% (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? 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.

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 35,000 100,000 100,000

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 max the gains

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 between £100 - £30,000, 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.

    But, be aware of using PayPal to pay on a credit card, as you will lose this valuable section 75 protection. Read the full guides to Section 75 refunds and using PayPal to pay on a credit card.

  • 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.

  • Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

    As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it’s in your account.

    Full help to take advantage of this and pros & cons in our Top Cashback Sites 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).