What is an air miles credit card?
An air miles credit card is a card that allows you to earn air miles or points through your spending that can then be used to pay for flights, hotels, car hire and other travel-related items. Each card is typically associated with a specific airline reward scheme, but you can earn air miles or points on all of your spending, not just on flights that you pay for with your card.
The number of air miles or points you can earn for every £1 you spend is specific to each card’s offer, but the overall principle is the same: the more you spend, the more air miles or points you earn. The temptation here is to overspend, but this type of card typically comes with a relatively high APR, so it is best to make sure you can pay off your balance in full each month. Otherwise, you run the risk of wiping out any benefit gained by earning air miles or points with high interest rate charges.
How we picked the top air miles credit card deals
What you need from an air miles credit card may be different to what someone else is looking for. We understand that the ‘best’ credit card won’t be the same for everyone. But our aim at The Motley Fool is to provide ratings and top picks that will fit the average reader. When considering our ratings, it could help to think about the cards in the context of your own situation and how well each card will serve your needs.
With that in mind, here are the features we looked at when selecting our list of the best air miles credit cards:
- High yield – If you are thinking of taking out an air miles credit card, one thing to consider is whether it will be able to earn you enough air miles or points to afford those flights you want to book. One of the key factors we considered was a high air miles or points yield per £1 of spending.
- Welcome bonus and referral bonuses – With this type of card, it is likely that you want to maximise your air miles or points earning. So any welcome awards or bonuses for referring a friend can make a big difference.
- Annual fee – Annual fees are quite common with air miles credit cards. So we have taken the annual fee into consideration, as well as what you get in return. Some cards with a higher annual fee offer bigger reward yields, so it’s a matter of calculating whether what you can earn will offset the initial cost.
- Representative APR – The idea with a card like this is to avoid carrying balances forward, as interest charges are likely to cost more than your air miles or points are worth. However, sometimes it is unavoidable. In those cases, it’s preferable to have a lower APR.
- Complementary supplementary cards – With an air miles credit card, it is often a good idea to try to maximise how many air miles or points you can earn. Having a complementary supplementary card means that if your partner or close family is a frequent flyer, they can help build up the reward total through their own spending.
How does an air miles credit card work?
So, how does an air miles credit card actually work? In simple terms, you collect air miles or points as you spend money on your airline card. Once you have earned enough, you can use them to pay for flights or other services offered by your air miles or points scheme.
One important thing to note is that each air miles credit card will earn you air miles or points for flights with a specific airline. For example, if your card earns you Avios (one of the most popular schemes available), you can then use them to pay for flights with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling. So if you regularly fly particular routes, or if you have a specific destination in mind, it’s worth checking that the airline flies there before you commit to taking out the card.
Air miles or points earned through an airline credit card do not have to be used solely to pay for flights themselves. Depending on what scheme you choose, you can often use them to achieve a discount off a flight, or to pay for a hotel upgrade, car hire or other travel activities such as theme park tickets.
How to use an air miles credit card
The best thing to do with an air miles credit card is to simply start using the card for your regular spending. The more you spend on the card, the more air miles or points you will earn. (Keeping in mind, of course, that responsible spending is key for all credit cards, lest you end up with high-cost debt).
Here are some top tips on how to build your reward total faster:
- Use your card like a debit card – If you are looking to build your miles or points total up, the best way to go about it is to spend lots of money. But rather than racking up lots of debt you can’t afford to pay, you could use your airline credit card like a debit card instead. By making your airline credit card your main means of payment, you can start to accrue miles or points for all of your regular spending and put yourself in a good position to maximise your total. However, if you decide to use this approach, it is important to make sure you pay off the amount immediately, or budget to pay the full balance each month. While spending is the best way to build up your total, it’s best to avoid the temptation to overspend, and make sure you stay on top of your balance.
- Purchase flights with your card – If you are a frequent flyer, then it’s a good idea to pay for flights with your airline credit card. Often, you can earn extra air miles or points by doing this. Also, it’s wise to buy from the airline’s partner companies which may also earn you a little extra.
- Add an additional user – Some airline cards will let you add an additional user at no extra cost. If this is the case, getting an air miles card for a partner or close family member could help you build your reward total faster. Their miles or points will be linked to your account, building your total that much faster. One thing to be aware of if you do this is that adding an additional user makes you responsible for their debt and vice versa. Any mistakes, like a late payment charge or going over your credit limit, will show up on both of your credit reports.
- Card referrals – With some cards, you can earn yourself a bonus reward by referring a friend. Often, if they get approved, you will receive a thank you in the form of some extra miles or points.
- Convert miles or points – You may be able to convert any miles or points that you have earned through other schemes, such as Clubcard or Shell Drivers’ Club. Sometimes, you can move them across and further boost your reward total.
Comparing air miles credit cards
When it comes to credit cards, there is often lots of choice. So how do you find the right air miles credit card for you? It is always advisable to compare products to see what is on offer, but do you know what you are looking for? Here’s a helpful list of things you should consider when comparing air miles cards:
- Air miles or points yield – First things first, look at how many air miles or points you will earn on the money you spend. For example, with one card you could earn 1 mile or point for every £1 you spend, while with another card you could be looking at 3 miles or points for every £1 spent. In order to maximise your reward total, consider looking for a card that offers a higher yield.
- Air miles or points value – It’s important to know what all of your accrued air miles or points can get you. For example, maybe look at the different schemes on offer and how many miles or points you will need on each for a return flight to Paris. Then you can directly compare how much you can get with the miles or points you earn as a frequent flyer.
- Welcome bonus – If you want a good head start on your reward balance, think about a card that has a generous welcome bonus. This will typically be something like 10,000 bonus miles or points when you spend £3,000 in the first three months. It’s important to note that welcome bonuses are often tied to minimum spend requirements, so it’s a good idea to consider whether you can afford to spend the amount necessary to qualify for the bonus.
- Annual fee – Airline credit cards often come with an annual fee attached, but not always. Sometimes you can find a card with no annual fee, but the miles or points yield may be lower as a result, and some cards may waive the fee for the first 12 months. Other cards have a higher annual fee, but you are likely to receive more in the way of rewards. It’s best to do your sums and work out whether the rewards outweigh the cost.
- Interest rate – Unfortunately, airline credit cards are not known for their low interest rates. In order to really feel the benefit of a card like this, it’s best to pay your balance off in full each month. If you may not always be able to do this, it makes sense to look for the lowest APR possible.
What’s the catch?
Nothing is perfect, and airline credit cards are no different. There are just a few areas to be aware of if you are considering one of these cards.
- You aren’t getting something for nothing. In order to earn rewards, you will need to spend, and with that comes a temptation to overspend. Additionally, some air miles cards have a minimum spend limit over a period of time in order to qualify for promotional rewards. Consider whether your lifestyle lends itself to this level of spending and whether you can keep on top of your balance.
- Annual fees mean that you may not see any benefit from having a card like this. You need to consider whether you can earn enough in air miles or points to make the fee worthwhile.
- Airline credit cards typically have high interest rates. They are suited to borrowers who can pay their balance in full each month. Any remaining balance could incur interest charges that would wipe out any benefit gained by accruing air miles or points in the first place.
- You may find that some of the airline credit cards available are American Express, which is not always as widely accepted as Visa and MasterCard.
Is an air miles credit card right for you?
An air miles credit card is a type of card that serves a specific purpose, meaning it may not be right for everyone. It is suited to those who are high spenders or frequent flyers and who are prepared to make the most of the benefits on offer. To make the most of this type of card, you need to be prepared to spend enough in order to earn the air miles or points required for a flight.
Airline credit cards rarely include interest-free offers on purchases or balance transfers, instead focusing on what they can offer in terms of miles or points for frequent flyers in the long term. If you are looking to make a large purchase and spread out the repayments over a period of time, or if you need to make a balance transfer, this is unlikely to be the type of card for you.
If you have struggled with debt previously, this type of card is probably not the best fit. Firstly, air miles credit cards typically require you to have a good or excellent credit score. Secondly, the high interest rates attached to them mean that any balances left unpaid could incur interest charges that would outweigh any benefits gained by having the card.
However, if you are a frequent flyer, are prepared to spend the required amount and manage your account carefully, this type of card could unlock a range of rewards for you, including flights, airport lounge access, priority boarding and hotel upgrades.