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 points for flights and upgrades

Get Our Free Weekly Email!

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes - join the 10m who get it. Don't miss out

Sally | Edited by Martin

Updated August 2016

Airline credit cards

Slash the cost of flights worldwide for you and your partner, just for spending on a piece of plastic. Airline credit cards offer Avios and other frequent flyer points.

You earn miles or points as you spend, not as you fly, plus you can get huge bonuses for signing up. This is a full guide to the top-paying airline credit cards and how to use them, boost your miles and do it all safely.

Who's this guide for? Frequent flyers who spend on credit cards. If you're a lower spender, Top Cashback Credit Cards can be a better option. Though do note: airline and cashback credit cards are only good for those who repay IN FULL every month.

Not what you want? Other related guides...
Tricks to Boost and Max Avios | Cheap Flights | Credit Card Freebies

The 10 need-to-knows

You can combine any miles you earn from spending with those you earn from flying, or through other credit card reward schemes, such as converting Tesco Clubcard points. Added together, your stash can build up much more quickly. Our Tricks to Boost and Max Avios Points guide has full info on that scheme, though there are others.

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

  • You'll NEED a good credit score – protect it using our eligibility calc, pre-applying to find which cards you're likely to get

    These are mostly credit cards, so you'll need to pass a credit score to get them. Most cards require you to have a reasonable credit history and a decent income. If that's not you, don't apply, but for more information, see our Credit Scores guide.

    The only way to know if you'll be accepted is to apply, but each application marks your credit file. Some cards let you do a pre-application check to work out whether to go ahead, or you can use our Credit Card Eligibility Calculator, which shows your odds of getting almost every top card, so you can hone your choice to minimise applications.

    Quick questions

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

    Will credit scoring affect the deal I get and my credit limit?

  • If you can't repay in full every month, DON'T get an airline card

    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, the interest cost on all reward cards will dwarf any gain you get.

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

  • They work best for high spenders

    Higher spenders can take advantage of the perks that some of these cards have, such as companion tickets and big intro bonuses, especially if you're willing to pay an annual fee.

    For example, the BA Premium Plus Amex below gives you a companion ticket if you spend £10,000/year on the card, but you need to pay a huge £195 annual fee. The BA Amex is the fee-free version, though you'd need to spend £20,000/year to get a companion ticket.

    These cards do work better if you're a high spender, but they also only work well if you'll use the points you earn through them. If you don't but want to get something back from your credit card, you may want to consider a cashback credit card.

  • You shouldn't aim to borrow or withdraw cash on these cards

    They're a tool to get you rewards and we rate them based on that. If you need to borrow as well, you're far better off focusing on getting the lowest interest rates – that'll save you much more money. See 0% Spending Cards and Best Balance Transfers for more info.

    And when it comes to withdrawing cash the rule is simple – never, ever, ever use these cards for cash withdrawals. Do so and you'll often be charged a fee. Even if you pay the card off in full, you'll usually be charged some interest.

    Quick question

    Why shouldn't I balance-transfer to one of these cards?

  • You'll gain more if you've a companion (if you spend a lot)

    A number of the cards include 'companion tickets' if you spend a large amount, ie, £20,000/year. They usually allow you to take someone with you on the same conditions as you – if you go long-haul business class, so do they.

    While this is a boon in its own right, it has another advantage. If you earn miles or points another way, such as by frequently flying on an airline for work or other reward schemes, it effectively doubles their value too.

    Quick question

    What is a 'companion ticket'?

  • The best schemes are Amex-only, which is more limited

    All the top cards are American Express, which isn't as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard. We can't find any decent non-Amex options but some cards offer a Mastercard/Visa on the same account, although you won't earn as many points when you use them.

  • Choose the right frequent flyer scheme for you

    The British Airways Avios scheme is one of the most popular and can be great value. Yet if you never fly BA or aren't likely to start flying where BA flies to, it's unlikely to be worth getting a credit card earning Avios points.

    You might be better off with the Amex Gold which offers points for a variety of schemes, or Virgin Atlantic if that's your preferred airline.

  • Use these cards for ALL spending to max your point-earning potential

    These cards are designed to encourage you to spend but 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, 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.

    You could max it even further by using the card for expenses if you need to reclaim them. 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 (though you'll still be up even if it is).

    For a host of other tips relating to the Avios scheme, including manipulating credit cards to earn over 85,000 Avios a year, see our Tricks to Boost and Max Avios guide.

    Quick questions

    Can I add an additional cardholder to my account to boost miles/points?

    Can I buy extra points/miles?

  • Carefully consider getting one if you need other credit soon

    You need to weigh up whether getting one is going to harm other more important credit applications you may have on the horizon – multiple searches on your credit file can damage your chances of getting future credit.

    So if you think you'll need to apply for important credit soon, such as a mortgage, hold off applying as you'll need to spread out your applications.

  • As with all credit cards, you get Section 75 consumer protection

    In a nutshell, this means that if you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000, here or abroad, and pay on a credit card, the card issuer's equally liable with the retailer if something goes wrong.

    This protection only applies to credit cards, not debit cards or any other plastic, but it's hugely important. If you ordered 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'll lose this valuable Section 75 protection. Read the full guides to Section 75 refunds and using PayPal to pay on a credit card.

Best buy Top card for multiple schemes incl Avios

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's).

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 British Airways (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 them off in full at the end of EVERY month.
  • No interest is 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
(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
  • 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 points 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 to 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's), or three hotel reward schemes, among others.

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 you and they get a bonus of 2,000 miles.

Best buys 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 9,000 bonus miles

BA Amex*

This British Airways 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 £1,000 in the first three months and you'll receive 9,000 bonus Avios points.
  • You'll still have to pay taxes on any flights 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 has 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 – so you get one of each – 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 gain.
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 British Airways 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', or fee). 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.

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 fee – but worth it for huge spenders:

If you're willing to pay a £195 fee 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 £195 towards a flight?

BA Amex Premium Plus

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

BA Premium Plus Amex*

This British Airways 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 25,000 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% interest on purchases which would wipe any gain.
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 cardholder, 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's 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.

Best buys 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, the Virgin Atlantic White* is one of the top cards. It gives you better rewards the more you spend.

If you're a big 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. Plus spend £10,000/year and you'll get a single one-way premium economy upgrade on a flight paid for entirely with points.

Need-to-knows
  • You get 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 qualifying fare options then, though it's likely to be the more expensive fares, not the cheapest ones that MoneySavers would usually go for.
  • Upgrades are for economy to premium economy only. Upgrade vouchers are valid for 12 months and you can earn a maximum of two vouchers per year. You'll need to have used Flying Club miles to book the flights, and you'll need to pay taxes and charges on top.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gain.
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: 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 Airways and Singapore Airlines. 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's 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, and 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. But you'll need to book a qualifying fare directly with Virgin to use it and you'll pay taxes and charges on both tickets. You'll also get a single one-way premium economy upgrade on a flight paid for entirely with points once you spend £5,000/year.

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 qualifying fare options then, though it's likely to be the more expensive fares, not the cheapest ones that MoneySavers would usually go for.
  • Upgrades are for economy to premium economy only. Upgrade vouchers are valid for 12 months and you can earn a maximum of two vouchers per year. You'll need to have used Flying Club miles to book the flights, and you'll need to pay taxes and charges on top.
  • Repay IN FULL every month to avoid paying interest, which would wipe any gain.
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: 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 Airways and Singapore Airlines. 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's 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.

Best buys Other airline cards incl Emirates & Lufthansa

If you don't fly regularly with the airlines covered by the Avios or Virgin Atlantic cards above, here are some quick details of other airline credit cards from some of the big airlines. All the options below come with a Visa and an Amex on the same account.

Card Miles per £1 spend Sign -up miles bonus Other perks Annual fee APR (See official APR examples)
Emirates Skywards (eligibility calc / apply*) 1 on Amex (1 per £2 on Visa)

5k after first purchase within the first 90 days

10% off Emirates holidays, 25% off purchasing miles N/A 22.9%
Emirates Skywards Elite (eligibility calc / apply*) 2 on Amex (2 per £2 on Visa) 10k after first purchase within the first 90 days Spend £15k/yr for companion ticket to use on flex economy £150 60.5% (incl fee)
Etihad Guest (eligibility calc / apply*) 1.5 on Amex (1.5 per £2 on Visa) 15k on £2k spend within the first 90 days Silver Tier status after booking an Etihad return on the card, £50 Kaligo vch (hotel booking site) N/A 22.9%
Miles & More (eligibility calc / apply*) 1.5 on Amex (1.5 per £2 on Visa) 10k on £1k spend within the first 90 days Boosted miles for the first six months - get 2 per £1 on Amex, 1 per £1 on Visa N/A 22.9%

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 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 and cons in our Top Cashback Sites guide.