How to earn rewards with a frequent flyer program without flying
The secret to huge airline rewards in your chosen frequent flyer program is not flying. It definitely helps but for most of us, circumnavigating the globe on a regular basis is not an option and hence you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no point joining a frequent flyer program. Don’t worry because there is another way.
Your flexible friend can be your very best friend when it comes to frequent flyer rewards but where should you start? Which is the best airmiles credit card for you?
Note: Now if just the mention of credit is bringing you out in a cold sweat, you might want to start with credit scores, myths and management as this gives you the lowdown on everything you need to know before you start applying for travel credit cards.
How many AVIOS might I earn from credit cards?
In case you are in any doubt about how lucrative this strategy can be, the following table shows you how many points you might earn, in addition to your airline credit card bonuses, just by diverting your usual spending onto your credit card instead of a debit card.
The different earnings rates are shown along the top with the total earned points at the bottom based on estimated annual spend for each category. If you want to work out exactly how beneficial this approach could be for you, the attached avios points calculator will allow you to calculate what you might personally earn depending on your own likely spending and the earnings rate per pound.
Simply insert the amount for each spending amount into the relevant column on the Excel spreadsheet, overwriting the contents and it will work out the possible points for you.
|Rate per £1 spend||0.75||1||1.25||1.5||2||3||4|
At the least attractive accumulation rate, this spend earns enough points for a short-haul reward flight with AVIOS.
Alternatively, with an earnings rate of 3 AVIOS rewards per £1 of spend (see Virgin Black and British Airways Premium cards), that same spending earns over 40,000 in AVIOS. That puts you well on the way to funding a long haul flight in business class when booked with a companion voucher.
Now don’t forget this doesn’t even include any sign up bonuses you might earn or double dip options, meaning you could easily double this amount (by the way if you are a US resident, or in possession of US credit cards then these numbers will look paltry compared to what you might earn in the US. Hop on over to The Globetrotting Teacher and Economical Excursionists for an idea of the possible earnings for you!).
Which air milesUK Travel credit cards credit card is right for you?
Assuming you have read the credit card golden rules and are satisfied that you can manage your credit cards responsibly, you are ready to consider the myriad options for bagging some bonus points with your flexible friends.
Which credit card will be the best travel credit card for you depends on a number of factors, including:
- Whether you are prepared to pay an annual fee
- Which airline you wish to accumulate points for (see this handy airline alliance infographic if you are unsure)
- Whether you wish to keep your options open and be able to redeem points with more than one airline
- Whether you can meet the minimum spending requirement in the allotted time
Don’t worry, all this detail is captured in this UK Travel credit cards comparison but this information rapidly becomes outdated so I would encourage you to always double check the detail with the credit card providers website before applying. You can also download this infographic showing you the best options in the UK.
Here is the lowdown on all the available UK airmiles credit cards currently.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express cards allow you to earn membership rewards which can be converted into airmiles with many frequent flyer programmes including AVIOS, Etihad Guest, Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines, Delta Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. You can see the full list on your Membership rewards page which looks like this.
This offers great flexibility as it allows you to defer the decision as to which airline you wish to use until you are ready to book. Membership rewards can then be converted to any of the partner airlines at a 1:1 conversion rate.
WARNING: don’t forget to transfer any stray points before closing any AMEX card accounts as you will lose those points.
There are a number of options in the UK but my preferred card is the American Express Gold.
My preferred card – American Express Gold
The American Express Gold card* offers 20,000 points on sign up after spending £2,000 within three months. If you use this referral link, you earn an additional 2,000 points plus you earn 1 point for every £1 of spend increasing to three for travel booked through AMEX Travel.
The annual fee of £140 is waived in year one making this an ideal option for churn and burn strategies plus it offers a range of extra benefits including airport lounge access, hotel spending credit and car rental discounts.
Pro: Generous sign up bonus
Con: £140 fee from year two (but cancel and reapply instead!)
American Express Platinum Card
The American Express Platinum card offers 30,000 points on sign up after spending £2,000 within three months with the same earnings rate as the Gold Card.
It offers a range of extra benefits including unlimited airport lounge access, concierge service and little extras in select restaurants. Frankly, I am not sure this really justifies the annual fee of a massive £450 although the Elite tier status at Accor and Starwood might sway it for those regularly using these hotels.
There is also a business card version offering a sign up bonus of 40,000 so if you have a business be sure to check this option out!
Pro: Generous sign up bonus
Con: £450 fee!!!! OUCH!!
The American Express Green Card
The American Express Green Card offers no sign up bonus, the same earnings rate as the cards above and basic travel insurance. You can get a better deal elsewhere!
Con: £60 annual fee and no sign up bonus! In my opinion, you would be better applying for the American Express Gold Card.
White label credit cards – AMEX and Visa/Mastercard Duos
In addition, American Express and MBNA offer white labelled credit cards which allow you to earn points for a specific airline including British Airways, Virgin, and Lufthansa. Points earned from using these credit cards are automatically transferred to the relevant programme but without the option to transfer them to a different airline should you have a change of heart. Choose wisely…
Many come as either a VISA and AMEX duo or Mastercard and AMEX duo meaning you will never find yourself high and dry if a retailer doesn’t accept AMEX. Beware, the non AMEX card pays a lower rate so it pays to attempt to pay with AMEX, wherever you can, in the first instance.
Lufthansa Miles & More credit card (VISA/AMEX)
The Miles & More credit card offers a paltry 1,500 reward miles when you make your first purchase within 90 days of opening the account.
You do however earn 2 points per £1 spent on the AMEX and 1 for every £1 on the VISA, although the rate drops to 1.5 and 0.75 respectively after six months but this is still an attractive earnings option if you are building up points in the Star Alliance programme. Remember Singapore Airlines, Turkish and Lufthansa are all part of the same airline alliance.
Pro: Ownership of the card prevents expiry of any Lufthansa miles that normally automatically expire after 3 years
Con: Rubbish sign up bonus although if your points are about to expire, and you save them, it could be worthwhile! In fact, I have just applied for the card for this very reason!
The Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
With the Virgin Atlantic Black card you will earn 18,500 points when you make your first purchase within 90 days plus you earn two Flying Club miles for every £1 of spend on the AMEX and four miles for every £1 spent on the card on Virgin Atlantic holidays and flights.
The respective earnings rate on the VISA is one point for every £1 of non Virgin spend and two points for Virgin Atlantic holidays and flights.
Pro: Complimentary companion voucher after spending £7,500 on the card but beware, all vouchers are not created equal.
Con: £140 annual fee
The Virgin Atlantic White Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The Virgin Atlantic White card is the basic version of the credit card paying only 3,000 bonus miles once you make your first purchase within 90 days.
The earnings rate is half that of the black card at one Flying Club mile for every £1 of spend on the AMEX and two miles for every £1 spent on the card on Virgin Atlantic holidays and flights.
The respective earnings rate on the VISA is one point for every £2 of non Virgin spend and one point for every £1 of spend on Virgin Atlantic holidays and flights.
Pro: No annual fee
Con: Low sign up bonus and ongoing earnings rate.
Emirates Skywards Elite Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The Emirates Skywards Elite card rewards sign up is 10,000 points after the first purchase within 90 days. The earnings rate is the same as the Virgin Black card (obviously you need to spend the money on Emirates to earn the higher rate!) but take note the equivalent APR is 60.5% and it has a slightly higher annual fee.
Pro: 10,000 sign up bonus but the Virgin Card offers a better deal!
Con: High equivalent APR and £150 fee
Emirates Skywards Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The Emirates Skywards card pays 5,000 miles on sign up but has the benefit of no annual fee. The earnings rate is the same as the Virgin White card.
Pro: No annual fee and higher sign up bonus than the Virgin White card
Con: Lower earnings rate
Etihad Guest Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The Etihad Guest credit card pays 5,000 miles on sign up and purchase within 90 days but offers 1.5 miles for every £1 of spend on AMEX and 1.5 miles for every £2 of spend on the VISA.
One super benefit of this card is the ability to fast-track to Etihad Guest Silver Tier if you complete a return flight within 12 months of account opening.
Pro: no annual fee and higher earnings rate
Con: May not be a great option for UK residents unless you are likely to be travelling to the Middle East frequently as Etihad are not members of an airline allliance.
The Mileage Plus Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The Mileage Plus credit card offers a slightly better earnings rate than some of the other cards with 2.5 miles per £2 of spend on AMEX and 1.25 miles per £2 of spend on VISA.
Pro: No annual fee
Con: No sign up bonus and there are cards with a higher earnings rate offering an enticement upfront too
MBNA/AAdvantage Credit Card (VISA/AMEX)
The MBNA AAdvantage card pays 5,000 on sign up and purchase within 90 days. It has an earnings rate of 1.5 AAdvantage miles for every £1 you spend using the AMEX card and 1.5 AAdvantage miles for every £2 you spend on VISA.
American points are ideal for domestic flights in the US but beware you cannot transfer these points to Oneworld even though they are both part of Oneworld alliance. You can however use them for flights on other airlines within the alliance.
This may be a worthwhile alternative to the British Airways Premium card as the earnings rate on non airline spend is the same, but without the annual fee, albeit the sign up bonus is considerably less.
Pro: No annual fee and higher earnings rate
Con: No companion voucher and lower sign up bonus than other cards
British Airways American Express Premium Card
The British Airways American Express Premium Card pays a whopping 25,000 bonus (or 26,000 if you apply using this referral link) Avios when you meet the spending criteria. It also pays an attractive earnings rate of three Avios for every £1 spent with BA and 1.5 Avios for every £1 spent elsewhere. Do check the exact figure before applying as this figure is forever changing (I’m aware of at least three changes this year alone!)
You earn a companion voucher each year you hit the £10,000 spending threshold meaning you only need to redeem enough points for one person to fly together (albeit you do pay taxes and fees for both travellers!).
There is an annual fee of £195 (recently increased from £150) which may be offputting to some but I feel it is totally worth it because I’ve earned companion vouchers which have allowed me to travel in business to Montreal, India and Japan amongst others, each time paying less than the cost of economy tickets for the privilege.
Pro: Generous sign up bonus
Con: £195 fee and no VISA or Mastercard option
British Airways American Express Standard Card
This BA credit card is perfect for those wishing to earn a companion voucher and avoid an annual fee.
It has a lower earnings rate of one AVIOS for £1 of spend, a lower sign up bonus of 9,000 Avios (subject to minimum spending requirements) and a higher spending threshold of £20,000 to achieve the companion voucher (only valid for 12 months).
That £20,000 spend earns you 29,000 points including sign up bonus whereas the premium card will earn you 55,000 points for the same amount of spend.
Pro: No annual fee
Con: Lower sign up bonus and earnings fee, plus no VISA or Mastercard version
TSB Premier Avios Credit Card (Mastercard/AMEX)
The TSB Premier Avios Credit Card carries an annual fee of £50 and an earnings rate of 1.25 AVIOS per £1 spend on the American Express card.
£15,000 of eligible spend in one year earns you a companion voucher but this can ONLY be redeemed for economy class flights.
You will save money using this companion voucher but given a large part of the economy fare is taxes and fees, what you save is much less than if you were redeeming for a business class fare so I would not be rushing to sign up for this card on the basis of the companion voucher.
Pro: No overseas transaction charges and double AVIOS on overseas spend
Con: No sign up bonus
TSB Avios Credit Card Account (Mastercard/AMEX)
The TSB Avios Credit Card has no annual fee but a lower earnings rate of 1 AVIOS per £1 spent on the American Express card and 1 AVIOS per £5 spend on the Mastercard.
Pro: No annual fee, no overseas transaction charges and double AVIOS on overseas spend
Con: No sign up bonus
Lloyds Bank Premier Avios Rewards Credit Card (Mastercard/AMEX)
The Lloyds Bank Premier Avios Rewards Credit Card has an earnings rate of 1.5 AVIOS per £1 spend. It doesn’t offer an airline credit card bonus but it does offer an upgrade to Business Class (or from Club to First) when you spend £5,000 a year.
The upgrade is valid either for two people one way or for one person return and the booking must be made through the AVIOS store.
There is a £140 fee and given the lack of sign up bonus, I think the British Airways American Express Premium card is better value.
That card has the same accumulation rate and a high sign up bonus. Although the annual fee is £10 more, the companion voucher can be redeemed for business class.
Pro: Higher earnings rate
Con: No sign up bonus and restrictive companion voucher
Lloyds Bank Avios Rewards Credit Card Account (Mastercard/AMEX)
The Lloyds Bank Avios Rewards has a lower annual fee of £24 and the earnings rate is 1.25 points per £1 of spend on American Express or 1.25 AVIOS per £5 of Mastercard spend.
It doesn’t offer a sign up bonus but it does offer an upgrade to Business Class (or club to first class) when you spend £7,000 a year.
The upgrade is valid for either two people one way or one person return and the booking must be made through the AVIOS store.
Pro: Higher earnings rate than the British Airways Standard card
Con: No sign up bonus and £24 annual fee
WARNING: a word of warning with this card. My husband applied for this card and satisfied the spending requirement for the upgrade voucher. That was months ago and we have not received the voucher or the points. He has chased several times to no avail (although they did pay us some compensation as a gesture) so I would be wary of recommending this card. That said, I also have previously used this card with no issue!
Flybe Credit Card
Unless you regularly fly business with Flybe, I would steer clear of the Flybe credit card as you can only use it for flights with Flybe and £250 spend earns you one reward flight.
Pro: Low entry point for earning a free flight
Con: No sign up bonus and limited to one airline
Tesco Bank Clubcard Credit Card Account
The Tesco Bank Clubcard isn’t an airline award card, however it does offer conversion options for AVIOS.
Be warned, however the earnings rate was recently dramatically reduced with the introduction of Premium credit card which carries a £150 annual fee.
You now earn 1 Clubcard point for every £4 of spend in Tesco and 1 point per £8 of non spend in Tesco. This makes this card highly unattractive in my view as you now need to spend £1,000 in Tesco to secure a £2.50 voucher which converts into 600 AVIOS with British Airways or 625 Flying Miles with Virgin.
At best this is a rate of 0.625 which is pitiful compared to other earnings rates. For non Tesco spend, it is almost insulting at half this rate!
Pro: No annual fee
Con: Low earnings rate and little else to excite unless you want 21 months interest free credit! Swank honeymoon maybe?
Tesco Bank Premium Credit Card
The Premium version of the card allows you to earn 1 Clubcard points for every £1 spend in Tesco and 0.25 Clubcard points per £1 everywhere else. £1,000 spend in Tesco would therefore earn you 1,000 clubcard points which would convert into 2,400 AVIOS or 2,500 Virgin Flying Miles. This is a reasonable rate of 2.4 or 2.5 miles per £1 spend.
If you only use the card for non-Tesco spend where you earn 0.25 clubcard points for every £1 spend, that same £1,000 would earn you either 600 BA miles or 625 Virgin Flying Miles – an earnings rate of 0.6 or 0.625 respectively.
However it is still better than the Lloyds Bank AVIOS which earns 0.25 AVIOS per £1 for the MasterCard.
Other master cards offer a higher accumulation rate albeit they are not linked to AVIOS. They are MBNA Aadvantage (0.75 per £1), and Miles and More card (1 per £1).
Pro: In my opinion, travel addicts would be better investing this annual fee into a card with a better accumulation rate
Con: £150 annual fee with a poor earnings rate for the fee
I have pulled together a handy comparison of UK Travel credit cards which covers all cards earning airline credit card bonuses or points, but beware things change fast so it always pays to check before committing.
Also if you are checking our your options, beware that the credit card companies lack consistency in the way they show the earnings rates. Sometimes, they show them as points per £1 and other times as points per £2 or £5. I have therefore converted them all into points per £1 so you can compare on a like for like basis.
So which card is the best?
If you don’t fancy wading through the spreadsheet showing you all the options, then here are my views on which are the best for different goals. This is subjective and others may have a different view, but I am happy to debate the pros and cons, so feel free to have your two penneth in the comments below.
Best for sign up bonus: British Airways Premium Plus card
Best for earnings rate: Emirates Skywards Elite (annual fee version) or Miles and More (no fee)
Best for flexibility: American Express Gold
Best for use overseas: Any of the TSB and Lloyds cards
Your challenge tasks this week
Otherwise, here is a summary of your tasks this week.
- Pick a reward credit card and apply (if you didn’t already do this last week)
- Log the details on your Credit card tracker
- Start diverting spending which you were previously putting on debit cards onto your credit cards
- Ensure you transfer funds from your bank account to your credit card account regularly to cover the spending
- Pop over to the Facebook Group and share your progress
- Grab your capturing the golden rules of travel hacking using credit cards
- If you need any help getting organised, check out LeAnna’s post with her top tips for managing 60 credit cards!
Have your say
I would love to know how you are getting on with the challenge or even hear any feedback you have in relation to the ease of following each challenge. Feel free to comment below with any suggested improvements or you can email me. I’d love to hear from you!