The best reward credit cards for airmiles

Rewards credit cards are a great way to make the most of your purchases and cut the cost of travelling. We look at the best reward cards available now and the perks available.

Woman relaxing with a glass of champagne aboard a private jet
(Image credit: Getty images)

If you are the sort of person who pays their credit card bill off in full each month, and you want to reduce the cost of your next holiday, then an airmiles rewards credit card can be a great option.

If you are looking to shift your debt then a 0% balance transfer card may suit better. And if you're looking to  spread the costs of purchase in smart way

As the name suggests, rewards credit cards offer you some form of reward for using them for your shopping. These rewards can vary dramatically between different cards, from cashback to points for particular loyalty schemes.

One type of rewards card is the airmiles reward credit card. These cards allow you to earn airmiles when you spend with them, helping you reduce the cost of your holidays. What’s more, some come with additional travel perks, like access to airport lounges. 

Below we’ve rounded up the best reward credit cards available today. Our links take you to our eligibility checker (opens in new tab) via our sister site GoCompare (opens in new tab), unless otherwise stated, so that you can see how likely you are to be accepted for the card. Note, some cards come with an annual fee, so make sure the rewards outweigh the benefits for you.

The best reward credit cards for airmiles

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The first thing to point out here is that many of the top airmiles reward credit cards are offered by American Express. It’s important to remember that American Express is not as widely accepted as MasterCard or Visa, which will impact your ability to accrue airmiles whenever you spend.

What’s more, different cards will help you gain points towards different travel schemes. For example, British Airways runs the Avios scheme, while Virgin has the Flying Club scheme ‒ if you are determined to fly with a particular airline, then it makes sense to focus on the credit cards that correlate with that scheme.

Barclaycard Avios (opens in new tab)

Barclaycard Avios (opens in new tab)

As mentioned, the Avios scheme is run by British Airways, so the points you earn from the Barclaycard Avios card can be used to lower the cost of flying with BA (or one of its partner airlines, like American Airlines and Iberia).

Here’s what you need to know about the card:

  • Earn one Avios for every £1 spent on the card
  • If you’re new to Barclaycard and spend £1,000 in the first three months, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 Avios.
  • Spend £20,000 on the card over the first 12 months, you’ll get a British Airways cabin upgrade voucher which you can use to upgrade your seat on a flight.
  • No monthly card fee
  • Representative APR: 23.9%

To put those Avios into context, a flight within Europe will cost from 18,500 Avios, while you will also need to pay at least £1 on top.

Barclaycard Avios Plus (opens in new tab)

Barclaycard Avios Plus (opens in new tab)

If you like the Avios scheme, but want to enjoy a greater rate of rewards, then the Barclaycard Avios Plus credit card may be worth considering:

  • Earn 1.5 Avios for every £1 spent on the card
  • If you’re new to Barclaycard and spend £3,000 in the first three months, you’ll get a bonus 25,000 Avios.
  • Spend £10,000 on the card over the first 12 months, you’ll get a British Airways cabin upgrade voucher which you can use to upgrade your seat on a flight.
  • £20 monthly fee
  • Representative APR: 72.4%

The Avios Plus card allows you to build up a much bigger Avios balance for the same amount of spending on your card, while it’s also much easier to qualify for the upgrade voucher. However, it will set you back a whopping £20 monthly fee so realistically it’s only going to be an option for higher earners.

British Airways American Express Credit Card (opens in new tab)

British Airways American Express Credit Card (opens in new tab)

If you don’t want to go down the Barclaycard route, then there is also an American Express offering tied into the Avios scheme:

  • Earn one Avios for every £1 spent on the card
  • Spend £1,000 in the first three months, and you’ll get a bonus 5,000 Avios.
  • Spend £12,000 on the card over the first 12 months, you’ll get a British Airways cabin upgrade voucher which you can use to upgrade your seat on a flight.
  • No monthly card fee
  • Representative APR: 26%

The American Express card is similar in terms of earning Avios on your spending and the lack of a fee, though you won’t have to spend as much in order to qualify for the upgrade voucher.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card (opens in new tab)

British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card (opens in new tab)

Again, there’s a premium version on offer too if you’re willing to pay an annual fee: 

  • Earn 1.5 Avios for every £1 spent on the card
  • Spend £3,000 in the first three months, and you’ll get a bonus 25,000 Avios.
  • Spend £10,000 on the card over the first 12 months, you’ll get a British Airways cabin upgrade voucher which you can use to upgrade your seat on a flight.
  • Earn three Avios for every £1 spent on British Airways flights and holidays
  • £250 annual fee
  • Representative APR: 103.7%

This card is very similar to the Barclaycard Avios Plus card, and actually comes with a slightly higher fee, though there is the chance to boost your rewards when spending on British Airways flights and holidays.

Virgin Atlantic Credit Card (opens in new tab)

Virgin Atlantic Credit Card (opens in new tab)

If you prefer to fly with Virgin, then the Virgin Atlantic Credit Card is definitely worth a look:

  • Earn 0.75 Virgin points for every £1 spent, rising to 1.5 points when spending with Virgin Holidays or Virgin Atlantic
  • Free companion ticket/upgrade when you spend £20,000 in a year
  • No annual fee
  • Representative APR: 22.9%

To put those points into context, standard season return flights start from 18,000 points for trips to Israel, rising to 20,000 points for flights to the Caribbean or north-eastern USA.

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card (opens in new tab)

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card (opens in new tab)

Virgin also offers a premium version of its regular airmiles card, which offers bigger rewards but also a hefty fee:

  • Earn 1.5 Virgin points for every £1 spent, rising to three points when spending with Virgin Holidays or Virgin Atlantic
  • Free companion ticket/upgrade when you spend £10,000 in a year
  • Bonus 15,000 points if you make a purchase with your card within the first 90 days
  • £160 annual fee
  • Representative APR: 63.9%

So again, in return for a large annual fee, you have the chance to earn substantially more points when using your card.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (opens in new tab)

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (opens in new tab)

If you are happy to swap between different airlines, then the Preferred Rewards Gold might be a better option. You earn American Express points on your spending, which can then be traded in for use with more than a dozen different airline schemes.

  • Get one point per £1 spent
  • Two free visits to airport lounges per year
  • Bonus 20,000 points when you spend £3,000 on the card in the first three months
  • Annual fee of £140 (but it’s waived for the first year)
  • Representative APR of 61.8%
American Express Rewards Credit Card (opens in new tab)

American Express Rewards Credit Card (opens in new tab)

Alternatively, there’s a fee-free version which might work out for you, since you earn points at the same rate, though miss out on the free lounge passes:

  • Get one point per £1 spent
  • Bonus 10,000 points when you spend £2,000 on the card in the first three months
  • No fee
  • Representative APR of 26%
American Express Nectar Credit Card (opens in new tab)

American Express Nectar Credit Card (opens in new tab)

The Nectar points scheme is a standalone loyalty scheme, but you can convert your Nectar points into Avios, allowing you to save on a British Airways flight.

For every 400 Nectar points, you can get 250 Avios.

Perhaps the best card for collecting Nectar points comes from American Express:

  • Two Nectar points for every £1 spent on the card, rising to at least three points when shopping with Nectar retailers
  • Bonus 20,000 Nectar points when you spend £2,000 in the first three months with the card
  • £25 annual fee, waived for the first year
  • Representative APR: 31.3%

There are plenty of other Nectar-affiliated credit cards on offer, including from Sainsbury’s Bank. However it’s worth remembering that Sainsbury’s Bank dropped the rate at which you earn points on its cards last month, making them less attractive.

Tesco Clubcard credit cards

Along similar lines, you can convert Clubcard points into Virgin Points, with every £2.50 in Clubcard points (250 points) translating into 625 Virgin Points.

With all of Tesco Bank’s various Clubcard credit cards, you accrue five Clubcard points for every £4 spent in Tesco and one for every £8 spent elsewhere.

Tesco’s cards will be a useful option if you do all of your grocery shopping in the supermarket, but otherwise you may struggle to earn a sufficient return to convert the points into a tangible discount on your holiday.

How to use airmiles reward credit cards

If you want to get the maximum return from your rewards credit card, then it’s a good idea to put as much of your monthly spending on it as possible. That way you earn more rewards based on the money you are going to be spending anyway.

It’s really important that you don’t take this as your cue to overspend though, or splash out on things you don’t really need. Instead, it means that when you might normally pay with your debit card or an online payment system like PayPal, you can instead put that spending on the credit card.

Rewards credit cards of all kinds are only really a good idea if you can pay your balance off in full each and every month. That’s because otherwise the interest you’ll be charged on your outstanding balance will eat into the value of any rewards you build up.

There’s no point earning the points to reduce the cost of a flight if you end up paying more than that reduction in interest on your credit card debt.

Also, never withdraw cash on a rewards credit card – as you’ll end up paying an eye-watering interest rate. Most credit cards charge interest on cash withdrawals from the moment the money is in your hand, so even if you pay your balance in full at the end of the month you could still be charged interest.

It’s also crucial that you only sign up for an airmiles reward credit card that offers you something that you will actually use. Opt for an airmiles card with an airline that flies to the destinations you want to visit or a points card that earns points you can spend in the places you love.

The drawbacks to using airmiles reward credit cards

There are a few important drawbacks to bear in mind when using an airmiles reward credit card.

The first is that flights are almost never actually free. Sure, the rewards points you’ve built up will make a difference but you will often have to pay taxes and fees on top. These can vary based on the airline, class of travel and destination, so it’s important to include those when calculating what flights you can afford to go for.

The airmiles rewards cards that allow you earn points the fastest also come with monthly or annual fees. As a result, you will need to work out for yourself whether that fee is worth it, given your travel plans and typical spending. It may be that you end up worse off with a ‘premium’ card.

Finally, you need to be aware of the fact that the value of the rewards you earn aren’t set in stone. The company operating the scheme could devalue your points at any time. As a result, you might 6,000 airmiles to buy a short haul flight rather than 4,500, for example. If you don’t want to run the risk of your valuable points suddenly being a lot less valuable, you may want to consider a cashback credit card instead. That way only inflation can make a dent into the value of the rewards you earn on your spending.

John Fitzsimons
Contributing editor

John Fitzsimons has been writing about finance since 2007, and is a former editor of Mortgage Solutions and loveMONEY. Since going freelance in 2016 he has written for publications including The Sunday Times, The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Forbes, and is committed to helping readers make more informed decisions about their money.

With contributions from