(EDIT: This article was updated in September 2015, the numbers are correct as of 22nd September 2015)
Our ‘Credit Cards Update’ tab lists all of the card deals currently available. What I thought might be interesting, though, would be to rank the sign-up bonuses in terms of cold hard cash. Put simply, if I get this card and cancel it quickly, how much value can I get?
These are objective calculations based on the following formula:
The value of the sign-up bonus – see below for my methodology
The annual fee, if any
For Amex Platinum, BA Premium Plus Amex and SPG Amex, the fee refund if you cancel after a typical 4 months
Notes on valuation
The biggest question mark is over the value of the sign-up bonus. For hotel cards, I have valued points based on the number required for a top-end redemption which I value at £250 per night. The exception is Starwood, which makes high category awards disproportionately expensive.
For airline miles, I assume they are worth 1p each. I know that I generally use a 0.75p value for Avios, but you can get 1p easily with, for example, Reward Flight Saver short-haul redemptions.
(Of course, for airlines like Lufthansa where short-haul redemptions are bad value, a small amount of miles can be effectively worthless. In some programmes, you would need to already have a decent balance to get full value from the bonus miles.)
I have valued Amex Membership Rewards points at 1p, since they transfer 1:1 into airline miles and I am valuing those at 1p.
The ‘free money’ £ value I quote is therefore calculated as:
‘value of sign-up bonus’ minus ‘annual fee’ (for an Amex, I assume you cancel within 4 months for a 2/3rd fee rebate)
Bring on the winners!
OK … here we go! Remember that full details on all the cards can be found on the ‘Credit Cards Update’ page.
This analysis does not include cards with no sign-up bonus, which is the why the Lloyds and TSB Avios cards do not appear.
GOLD! £250 ‘free money’ – Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa
Sign-up bonus of 1 free night in any Waldorf, Conrad, Hilton etc hotel (easily worth £250 if used well), no fee. £750 spend in 90 days required.
GOLD! £250 ‘free money’ – Etihad Guest American Express & Visa
25,000 Etihad Guest miles and no annual fee. £1,500 spend in 90 days required. This is a special offer which runs until 30th November. However, it is impossible to get this value from the miles unless you are adding them to an existing balance
SILVER! £200 ‘free money’ – American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
20,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £200 if turned into 20,000 Avios or other airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile achieved) and £0 fee for the first year. £2,000 spend in 3 months required.
SILVER! £200 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios (£250 assuming 1p per Avios achieved), £150 fee but £100 fee refund if cancelled after four months (although this may invalidate your 241 voucher if you have triggered it but not redeemed it). £2,000 spend in 3 months required.
BRONZE! £180 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic Black Amex and Visa
32,000 miles (£320 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, £140 fee. £3,000 spend within 90 days required.
BRONZE (but effectively GOLD – see notes!) £150 ‘free money’ – American Express Platinum
30,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £300 as gets you 30,000 airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile achieved), £450 fee but £300 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months.
Most importantly, though, you will retain your Starwood Preferred Guest Gold card, Club Carlson Gold card and Le Club Accorhotels Platinum card for a full 12 months, even if you cancel. This adds substantial extra value to the package.
£100 ‘free money’ – Lufthansa Miles & More American Express and Visa
10,000 Miles & More miles until 30th September. Valued at £100 assuming 1p per mile achieved. No fee. However, it is impossible to get this value from the miles unless adding them to an existing balance.
£100 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic White Amex and Visa
10,000 miles (£100 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, no fee. £1,000 spend in 90 days required.
£90 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express
9,000 Avios (£90 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, no fee. £1,000 spend within 3 months required.
£75 ‘free money’ – Starwood Preferred Guest Amex
10,000 points (valued at £100 as good for 10,000 air miles, assuming 1p per mile achieved), £75 fee but £50 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months. £1,000 spend in 3 months required.
£55 ‘free money’ – Marriott Rewards MasterCard
10,000 points (22% of a top end £250 night), no fee. £200 spend within 6 months required.
£50 ‘free money’ – IHG Rewards Club Visa
10,000 points (20% of a top end £250 night), no fee. Bonus triggers on first purchase.
£50 ‘free money’ – American Airlines AAdvantage Amex and Visa
5,000 miles (£50 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, no fee. Bonus triggered with first purchase within 90 days.
£50 ‘free money’ – Emirates Skywards American Express and Visa
5,000 miles (£50 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus when you make your first purchase. No fee.
£25 ‘free money’ – Tesco Clubcard MasterCard
1,000 Clubcard points are available if I refer you, you otherwise you get nothing! These are worth 2,400 Avios or 2,500 Virgin Flying Club miles which I am assuming 1p per mile is achieved on redemption. No fee. (The referral can also be backdated with the Tesco card. If you have applied in the last 2-3 months, email me at raffles [at] headforpoints.co.uk and I will send you the relevant form.)
The sign-up bonus on the Emirates Elite and IHG Rewards Club Premium Visa cards does not cover the non-refundable annual fee, so there is no value to be gained in getting these cards and cancelling quickly.
If there is anything to learn from this bit of fun, I suppose it is this:
If you and your partner only ‘churned’ the best 3 credit cards each, you could get over £1,200 of value between you based on my valuation model. That is certainly nothing to be sniffed at!
Secondly, do not underestimate the value of the hotel cards, especially for churning. Whilst a small number of airline miles has little value, a small number of hotel points can get you one night somewhere, and one night is often all you need. If you and your partner both applied for the Hilton card, you would get two free nights which would make a great long weekend.
Representative APR rates for the cards above can be found on our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page.
Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.