Unfortunately, generous airline rewards credit cards are becoming rarer as banks continue to either scrap cards completely or scale back perks.
The latest blow came from Lloyds Bank, which last week announced major changes that make existing Avios customer reward cards far less lucrative.
But they are not extinct just yet. And if you play your cards right, they can still prove beneficial, offering free lounge access, companion tickets and upgrades on your everyday spending.
Adding one to your wallet? Here are our top tips to make an airline credit card work harder for you.
Virgin Atlantic: Virgin Bank recently launched two credit cards – the biggest rivals to the British Airways American Express cards
Choose the right scheme
Most people gravitate towards Avios as BA offers a good selection of European flights starting from around 8,000 points – fairly achievable for average spenders.
Companion tickets and seat upgrades are an eye-catching perk but remember points are only worth something to you if you are actually able to use them.
Don’t, for example, pick an airline that has no flights from your local airport or that only flies to destinations you are unlikely ever to go to.
Don’t forget to check other airlines linked to the same scheme.
Virgin Atlantic, for example, partners with American airline Delta. For BA Executive it’s Iberia, American Airlines and OneWorld partners airlines including Finnair and Qantas.
If you don’t want to tie yourself to one scheme, try the American Express Membership Rewards scheme.
It offers points that can be swapped like-for-like with several airlines including Virgin, BA, Etihad and Emirates.
Boost your spending
The key to getting the best out of these cards is to use them for as much of your everyday spending as possible.
Using them for work expenses you later reclaim and routinely using them for the weekly food shop or your commute are the easiest ways to bump up spending quickly.
Most cards also let you take out supplementary cards for a partner or family members.
This means more spending on the card, and therefore more points.
But make sure you only give extra cards to those you trust as you will be solely responsible for the debt.
Always pay them off
Rewards schemes are not a loyalty perk, they are designed to get you to spend more in the hope that it will earn a credit card company more money.
There is therefore one BIG condition.
You need to make sure you pay them off each month. If you don’t, the value of these rewards will be quickly swallowed up by interest applied on any balance brought forward.
Set up a direct debit for the full amount each month to ensure you never miss a payment (which incurs penalties) and you avoid clocking up interest. You can read more about small print traps in our credit cards guide.
If you don’t pay off your card each month, you might be better off with a card that will waive interest on your debt instead, giving you some breathing room to help you pay it off quicker.
You can find out more about the best credit card deals, and how to use these cards in our complete guide to cashback credit cards.
Swap rewards points to boost earnings
Use a cashback website or supermarket rewards scheme to really boost earnings.
Cashback website, Topcashback pays money to users who click through its site before shopping online.
You can then convert these into Avios. When This is Money tried, a John Lewis insurance policy earned £16.53 in cashback – worth 1,653 Avios.
Click through Topcashback’s website before you take out an Admiral insurance policy at the moment, for example, and you earn £100 cashback – that would be worth a huge 10,000 Avios – more than enough for some European flights.
Shop at Tesco? You can exchange Clubcard points for Avios and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.
Every 1p in Clubcard points is worth 2.5 Flying Club miles or 2.4 Avios.
Spend them wisely
Don’t forget an airline point is only worth as much as you redeem it for.
Exchanging them for a reserved seat on a BA flight and you get pretty poor value, but pick a short haul return or a one-way ticket and you get bumper value from your points.
Read more in our guide to how much an Avios point is worth.
Are there any alternatives?
Don’t rule out a cashback card instead.
Depending on your spending, and when and where you hand over the most, you might be better off considering a cashback credit card and spending your earnings on cheaper budget airline flights.
The American Express Platinum Cashback credit card costs £25 per year and pays up to 5 per cent in the first three months, then up to 1.25 per cent back on spends.
A £1,000 monthly spend on the card earns £195 in the first year after fees and £100 every year after that.
This is Money also likes the Tandem cashback credit card offering 0.5 per cent cashback on spending and free overseas use, and the free Amex Cashback Everyday credit card, again paying 5 per cent for three months and up to 1 per cent after that.