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Airline Credit Cards Earn miles for free flights worldwide

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Airline credit cards

Earn flights worldwide for you and your partner, just for spending on a different 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...

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 your eligibility for the best buys

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.

British Airways

Companion ticket on £20k spend* BA Amex - Taxes not included.

Good if... you're a higher spender but want a fee-free card, with the opportunity to get a companion ticket

On the BA Amex* (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) you accrue one Avios point for every £1 spent. In addition, spend £20,000 on your card in a year and you'll get a free companion ticket to use when you redeem your miles.

So it's good for bigger-spending couples, wanting long-haul flights - though you must pay taxes and charges.

London to...
Paris
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Biz
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£9,000
£40,000
£100,000
Approx
taxes
£95
£660
£1,120
Introductory offer: 3,000 Avios

Apply now and you'll get an extra 3,000 Avios if you spend £500 within the first three months - it's not quite enough for a free flight but it works towards one.

For additional ways to earn with Avios, including converting Tesco Clubcard points, see Boost Your Avios Points. Be sure you repay in full, otherwise the gain will be eroded by the 15.9% representative APR.

If you want to boost your Avios quicker, and will make paying an annual fee worthwhile, see the BA Premier Plus card below.

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.

Lloyds Duo

Free business class upgrades*Lloyds Avios - Taxes not included

  • Intro Avios:
  • 2x points
  • Apply*
  • 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: 3 years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?

Good if... you're after a quick way to get an upgrade

London to...
Paris
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Biz
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£9,000
£80,000
£200,000
Approx taxes
£95
£660
£1,120

The Lloyds Avios* (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) gives 1.25 Avios points for every £1 spent. It comes with both an Amex and a Mastercard, though only spend on the Amex as it gives the most points (the Mastercard gives 1.25 points per £5). There's also an annoying £24/year fee with this card.

'Free' upgrade with £7,000 spend

Spend £7,000/year and you'll be sent a voucher for two flight upgrades, either for two single flights or one return journey. This means you can get a New York return upgraded to business class for the 60,000 Avios cost of premium economy, or to premium economy for the 40,000 Avios economy cost.

You must pay for the flights solely with Avios - part Avios, part cash or cash bought tickets don't count - and it's subject to availability. It's better if you're flexible about when to use them to save disappointment.

Introductory offer: Double Avios

For the first six months, you'll get double Avios points for spending with the Amex card. For additional ways to earn with Avios, including converting Tesco Clubcard points, see Boost Avios Points.

Ensure you repay in full to avoid the 22.7% representative APR. If you want to boost miles further, there's also the Lloyds Premier Avios card below.

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?

British Airways

Double ticket for big spenders - plus bonus* £150 annual fee. Companion ticket with £10k+ spend.

Good if... you'll spend enough to make the fee worthwhile, and will use the companion ticket

The BA Premium Plus Amex* (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) gives 1.5 Avios points for every £1 spent. With this card, the threshold to get the companion ticket is £10,000. See Boost Your Avios for additional ways to earn Avios.

London to...
Paris
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Biz
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£6,000
£26,666
£66,666
Approx taxes
£95
£660
£1,120

The annual fee on this card is a huge £150 and will show on your first statement. Be sure you'll use the points, otherwise you're just wasting cash. The APR on purchases is 19.9% (or 56.4% representative including the annual fee).

Introductory offer: 18,000 Avios

Apply now and you'll get an extra 18,000 Avios points, if you spend £3,000 within the first three months. That's enough for a flight to Rome, though you'll need to pay taxes on top.

Lloyds

Business upgrade and companion ticket* £140 annual fee. Companion ticket with £12k+ spend.

  • Intro Avios
  • 2x points
  • Apply*
  • 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 3 years after you collect your last. Can I buy extra miles?

Good if... you're a bigger spender and interested in upgrades and companion tickets

On the Lloyds* Premier Avios Amex (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) you earn a big 1.5 Avios per £1 spent on Amex. It comes with a Mastercard too, though only spend on Amex as it gives the most miles (the Mastercard gives you 1.5 points per £5).

However, there's a huge £140 annual fee so be sure you'll use the rewards, otherwise you're just wasting cash.

If you reach £12,000 spend in a year, you'll get a worldwide companion ticket (you'll still need to pay taxes or Reward Flight Saver if flying short-haul using Avios), which can be used when redeeming your Avios points. You can use it for Eurostar tickets too.

If you don't think you'll spend that much or don't need the extra flight, it's not worth paying the fee - you might want to consider the lower-fee version above.

London to...
Paris
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Biz
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£7,200
£32,000
£160,000
Approx taxes
£95
£660
£1,120

The APR on purchases is 17.95% (or 50.8% representative APR including the annual fee).

'Free' upgrade with £5,000 spend

Spend £5,000/year and you'll be sent a voucher for two flight upgrades, either for two single flights or one return journey. This means you can get a New York return upgrade to business class for the 60,000 Avios cost of premium economy, or to premium economy for the 40,000 Avios economy cost.

You must pay for the flights solely with Avios - part Avios, part cash or cash bought tickets don't count - and it is subject to availability. It's better if you're flexible about when to use them to save disappointment.

Introductory offer: Double Avios

For the first six months, you'll get double Avios points for spending with the Amex card. For additional ways to earn with Avios, including converting Tesco Clubcard points, see Boost Avios Points.

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:

Virgin

Flying Club miles plus companion ticket on £15k spend* Virgin Atlantic White - Taxes not included.

Good if... you're looking for an alternative to the Avios scheme

The Virgin Atlantic White* card (you can use our eligibility checker for this card) gives one Flying Club mile for every £1 spent. It comes with both an Amex and a Visa, though only spend on the Amex as it gives the most miles. In addition, spend £15,000 on your card in a year and you'll get a free companion ticket to use when you redeem your miles.

London to...
E'burgh
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Upper
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£7,500
£35,000
£120,000
Approx
taxes
£100
£700
£1,300

You can boost miles by converting Tesco Clubcard points. You'll get 625 miles for every £2.50 of vouchers. See the Tesco site for full details.

Be sure you repay in full, otherwise the gain will be eroded by the 17.9% representative APR.

"Free" upgrade with £10,000 spend

Spend £10,000/year on the Amex card and you’ll get an upgrade from economy to premium economy. You must pay for the flight using your Flying Club miles and you can only earn a maximum of two upgrades a year (so even if you spend £40,000 you’ll still only qualify for two, not four, free upgrades). The upgrade is only applicable to premium economy, upgrades to other cabins are not permitted.

Introductory offer: 10,000 FLYING CLUB MILES

Apply now and you'll get an extra 3,000 Flying Club miles when you make your first purchase within 90 days. The bonus won't get you very far, as Virgin tends to fly further afield, although it now offers flights from London to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester (7,500 miles needed). With 10,000 points you can also get an upgrade from economy to premium economy.

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).

Virgin

20,000 BA Avios or Virgin Flying Club miles* Amex Preferred Rewards Gold - Repay in full every month.

  • 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 1. £125 from year 2 onwards
  • Min income: £20,000

Good if... you want to earn points for several schemes, or are looking for a general reward card

Surprisingly, this is a charge card, not a credit card. But accepted new Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* card holders get 20,000 Rewards points when they spend £2,000 in the first 3 months. It usually has a £125 annual fee, but for now is fee-free in the first year. To avoid paying £125, diarise to cancel before year two starts.

London to...
Paris
New York
Cape Town
Class
Econ
Econ
Biz
Passengers
1
2
2
Spend
£9,000
£40,000
£100,000
Approx
taxes
£95
£660
£1,120

You earn 1 point per £1 spent on your card, boosted to 2 points per £1 when spending on travel (plane fares, rail fares, etc) and when spending abroad. You also earn 2 points per £1 on petrol and supermarket spending for the first year.

How do CHARGE cards work? Charge cards allow you to spend on them, but require you to pay off in full at the end of EVERY month - set up a direct debit to ensure you don't forget. There's no interest charged, but there's a £12 fee - and a default on your credit file - if you fail to fully repay within 10 days of getting your statement.

You'll need an income of £20,000+ to be considered for this product, and you'll be credit scored. The charge card is accepted in all retailers that take Amex (see our Who takes Amex? forum discussion).

Introductory offer: 20,000 reward points

Apply now and you'll get an extra 20,000 Amex Reward points miles when you spend £2,000 in the first three months. The points can be converted into a host of things, including two short BA return flights, including trips to Paris, Milan and Berlin (you pay c.£30/person taxes) or one for a longer journey, including Istanbul.

Alternatively, just add the points to your current stash with 10 frequent flyer programmes, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

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
24,000
24,000
30,000

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.

Think before adding the 'insurance'

Payment protection insurance is commonly sold with credit cards - the idea is it'll make some payments for you, usually for a year, if you are unable to (eg, if you lose your job).

There have been hundreds of thousands of cases where it has been mis-sold where borrowers didn't realise they were signing up for it, or it was totally unsuitable for them, and some big lenders have been fined.

The protection isn't always bad, though policies sold with cards are often overpriced (you pay a monthly amount depending on the size of your balance). If you want it, compare the lender's cover with standalone providers such as Paymentcare or Best Insurance.

Always be vigilant to check you aren't getting more than you bargained for when you fill in the application, then check your statement each month to check you aren't inadvertently paying for extras if you didn't ask for them.

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, click here to find out more
  • 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 cardUse 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).

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Airline Credit Cards
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