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Published August 16, 2022

What Are Credit Card Airline Miles?

Credit card airline miles are a type of reward that can often be redeemed for discounted or free travel when you use an airline loyalty program.

Most major airlines have a loyalty program that lets you earn points or miles and redeem them for cheaper or free airfare. Best of all, these airline miles can be earned without even flying. All you need is a credit card that rewards you with points, also known as “airline miles,” on purchases.

Learn more about how credit card airline miles work and how to maximize their value, and you’ll be jet-setting for less in no time.

Credit card airline miles: Rewards for travelers

Credit card airline miles are the rewards you earn on certain credit cards from sign-up bonuses and everyday spending. Some credit card airline miles are tied to a specific airline or airline network, while others earn you general travel loyalty points that can then be transferred to various airline loyalty programs.

Airline miles are a form of loyalty currency offered by airline carriers that can be redeemed for rewards with that airline and its partners. This rewards currency is often referred to as frequent flyer miles or loyalty points. Regardless of what they’re called, credit card airline miles can typically be redeemed for discounted or free travel, or other travel-related perks.

How do credit card airline miles work?

You can earn airline miles on everyday purchases with an airline-specific or co-branded credit card. Most travel rewards credit cards offer a generous welcome bonus when you sign up. In addition, you earn points on all eligible purchases.

The airline miles you earn will depend on the card you sign up for and its airline partner. For example, you can get a credit card that earns you Air Canada’s Aeroplan points, Westjet’s WestJet dollars, BritishAirways’ Avios or more. You must be a member of an airline’s loyalty program to earn miles with its co-branded credit card or redeem the points earned on a general travel credit card.

The number of points you earn depends on the welcome bonus offered and the earnings rate for the card. When using a co-branded credit card, such as the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite Card, you’ll often earn additional points when making purchases with the that specific airline partner — British Airways, in this case.

The airline miles earned from your credit card purchases are typically transferred to your airline loyalty program when your statement is posted each month. That means you would keep your airline miles even if you cancel your credit card. That said, miles or points in most loyalty programs have an expiry date, so keep your account active to avoid losing your rewards.

What you can do with airline miles

Many people don’t know that airline miles can be redeemed for multiple products, not just flights. Every airline loyalty program is different, but generally speaking, you can use your airline miles for the following:

  • Flights: You can use your airline miles on specific airlines, their partners or the airline network to which they belong.
  • Vacation packages: If the airline offers vacation packages, you can often redeem your loyalty points to buy flights and hotels together.
  • Hotels: Many airline loyalty programs allow you to use your points for select hotels through their booking portal.
  • Car rentals: You can sometimes use your airline miles for car rentals because the loyalty program may partner with car rental companies worldwide
  • Gift cards: If you’re looking to cash out your airline miles, you may be able to get gift cards with select retailers.
  • Merchandise: You can also use your points or miles for merchandise, such as electronics, small appliances and sporting goods.

Remember that the value of your points can change depending on how you redeem your airline miles. Generally, flights can yield the best return. That said, many airline loyalty programs are priced dynamically, so the value of your points may change based on the flight you’re redeeming.

Visa credit cards that earn airline miles

There are multiple Visa credit cards that earn airline miles. This can be convenient since you can choose to focus on a specific airline loyalty program or diversify your points. Some cards offer premium travel perks, like airport lounge access or free checked bags, in addition to miles. Some examples:

CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card

Air Canada is Canada’s top airline, so its loyalty program, called Aeroplan, is popular. The CIBC Aeroplan Visa card may be a good fit for those looking to collect Aeroplan points. Although the card has no premium benefits, there’s no annual fee either.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card

The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege card is popular among those looking to maximize Air Canada benefits. It offers a free checked bag and priority airport services, including boarding, baggage handling and a higher priority for upgrade requests. In addition, you get unlimited access to Maple Leaf Lounges in North America and may get an annual round-trip companion pass when you meet spending requirements in the first 12 months.

RBC British Airways Visa Infinite Card

The RBC British Airways Visa Infinite Card allows you to earn Avios points. This can be handy for people who prefer to fly with British Airways and its partners on the Oneworld network. Another popular benefit of this card is the ability to earn a Companion Award eVoucher when you meet or exceed spending requirements in a calendar year.

RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum Card

This card offers Asia Miles on all your purchases in Canadian dollars, while earning a higher rate on purchases in a foreign currency and online Cathay Pacific purchases.

American Express cards that earn airline miles

While there are only a few American Express cards that earn airline miles, they offer solid perks. The right card will depend on your goals and spending habits. Some examples:

American Express Aeroplan Card

The American Express Aeroplan Card is a mid-tier Aeroplan rewards card. You get excellent travel insurance and a first checked bag free for up to nine people travelling on the same reservation. In addition, based on your spending, you can earn Status Qualifying Miles and Status Qualifying Segments that can help you reach the program’s elite status faster.

American Express Gold Rewards Card

Although the American Express Gold Rewards Card doesn’t earn you airline-specific miles directly, the points you earn can be transferred to various airline loyalty programs. The transfer ratio for American Express Membership Rewards points is 1:1 to Aeroplan points and Avios or 1:0.75 for Air France KLM Flying Blue miles, Delta SkyMiles, Asia Miles and Etihad Guest Miles.

American Express Air Miles Platinum Card

The American Express Air Miles Platinum Credit Card is worth a mention since Air Miles is one of Canada’s oldest loyalty programs. Instead of earning points for a specific airline, your points can be redeemed on one of Air Miles’ partner airlines.

Mastercard credit cards that earn airline miles

The list of Mastercard credit cards that earn airline miles features a variety cards that allow you to earn points with different airlines. Some examples:

WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard

Those who fly WestJet frequently may prefer the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard. Instead of earning points or miles, you get WestJet dollars, which can reduce the cost of WestJet flights. In addition, cardholders get an annual round-trip companion voucher to anywhere WestJet flies for a lower fare plus tax and fees.

MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard

Alaska Airlines may not be a brand recognized across the country, but those based in Vancouver, where the carrier flies from, can travel for less if they have the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard. With this card, you get a complimentary checked bag, price protection on airfares and a companion fare (for a low price plus fees and tax) every year on your account anniversary.

HSBC World Elite Mastercard

The HSBC World Elite Mastercard has a general travel rewards program that earns you HSBC points. You can transfer your points to select network partners including British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, Singapore KrisFlyer and Emirates Skywards.

About the Author

Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert. His website moneywehave.com is one of Canada's most trusted sites when it comes to all things related to money and travel. You can reach him on Twitter: @barrychoi.

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