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Fed up with hearing about other people snapping up free flights? Here’s a confusion-free guide to joining the air miles club

Do you know your KrisFlyer miles from your Enrich Points? Or your MileagePlus from your Skywards Miles, Membership Rewards, Avios and Virgin Points?

Understanding air miles – ‘points’ that can be spent on flights and other services offered by airlines – can be headache-inducing.

Each airline seems to have its own set of rules and method for redeeming points. Some, but not all, carriers allow points to be transferred to other airlines.

On top of this, air miles gathered by one airline might have more redemption value than those of others.

So here’s our keep-it-simple guide:

Credit cards are a surefire way of racking up air miles/points – without even taking a flight. Above, we help you decide which one is best for you

Step one: Get your head around it

Air miles may also be described as loyalty points. When buying a flight – or some other products explained below – you can gather these air miles/points. Later, they can be used for money off flights or sometimes the entire cost of flights.

But you need to sign up to an airline’s ‘loyalty scheme’, sometimes also called ‘reward programme’.

If you join one airline, it is usually linked to other airlines as part of a ‘loyalty network’, making gathering air miles/points easier.

Step two: Sign on the dotted line

The most useful airline reward programmes in the UK are British Airways’ Executive Club (for collecting Avios points), and the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (for Virgin Points).

To start your air miles/points adventure, sign up to both of these at and

The most useful airline reward programmes in the UK are British Airways’ Executive Club (for collecting Avios points) and the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (for Virgin Points), says aviation expert Daniel Ross. Pictured: Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787

These two are handy as British Airways allows you to pick up air miles when buying tickets from other members of the Oneworld Alliance, which includes American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways, among others.

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic is linked to the other SkyTeam members including the likes of Air France, Delta, KLM, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia and several others.

Step three: Use your membership

When buying flights, give your membership number as appropriate for either the BA Executive Club (covering BA and other Oneworld Alliance members) or the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (for Virgin Atlantic and other SkyTeam members).

Air miles will begin to accumulate and can be redeemed for use on future flights.

Step four: Get a credit card

HOW FAR LOYALTY POINTS TAKE YOU  British Airways Heathrow to Paris in economy: 4,750 Avios + taxes and fees.British Airways Heathrow to Los Angeles in business class: 62,500 Avios, plus taxes and fees.Virgin Atlantic Heathrow to Dubai in economy: 10,000 Virgin Points + taxes and fees.Virgin Atlantic Heathrow to Cape Town in business class: 57,500 Virgin Points + taxes and fees.

Credit cards are a surefire way of racking up air miles/points – without even taking a flight.

There are two types of cards.

The first is a co-branded credit card that earns air miles that are specifically redeemable for a single airline or a group of airlines.

Then you have credit cards that earn their own ‘points’ that can then be converted into air miles.

There are a total of ten credit cards that can help accumulate air miles in the UK. To check the benefits they offer, see our chart.

Of these, the American Express Platinum Card is best for frequent flyers, with perks such as unlimited lounge access and comprehensive travel insurance.

For those making two or three return trips a year, the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card may be better suited. For first-timers in the ‘air miles/points world’, and those not wishing to pay an annual fee, the Nectar Credit Card packs great perks plus excellent earning potential.

Step five: Get shop points

Both the BA Executive Club and the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club have sections on their websites that effectively act as ‘shopping malls’ – and when buying items via the shops in these malls you can earn air miles.

For example, if you are considering buying a new Apple Watch, instead of going to Apple’s website, log into the shopping portal of your choice (either BA’s eStore or Virgin’s Shops Away) using your frequent flyer login details. Once logged in, simply click on the Apple icon which will then direct you to Apple’s website where you make your purchase as normal. For just those few extra clicks, you can earn, in some cases, more than 20x Avios or Virgin Points per £1 spent depending on the brand.

Step six: Grocery rewards

If you have signed up to a Clubcard at Tesco or have a Nectar Card used at Sainsbury’s, you can also collect air miles/points.

You can opt to have your Tesco Clubcard Points automatically converted into Virgin Points. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s Nectar Card points can be converted into British Airways Avios points.

Nectar Cards are especially good as users are often awarded bonus Nectar Points at certain times of the year, which can add up nicely.

Daniel Ross is an aviation expert.

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