Which loyalty credit cards are worth keeping for their benefits even if you don’t use them?

Typically there are three different types of travel loyalty credit cards you can apply for:

Cards you get just for the sign-up bonus

Cards you get primarily for the strong on-going earnings rate

Cards you get but don’t use because they come with generous perks

Head for Points tends to focus on the first two types, but I thought it was worth another look at those loyalty cards which offer decent on-going perks even if you don’t use them.

For clarity, my list does NOT include perks which require you to hit a spending target to receive them such as the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher.

The place to turn for full details of all airline and hotel loyalty credit cards is, of course, our ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page, which summarises all of the cards currently available.

Credit cards

Looking through the list, these are the eight cards you might want to get but keep in your desk drawer gathering dust:

Lufthansa Miles & More American Express and Visa Cards (click here for review)

Holding this card and charging something to it each month (even a £1 recurring charity donation) stops your Miles & More miles from expiring. Miles & More has a very nasty expiry policy if you do not have Silver (Frequent Traveller) or Gold (Senator) status – your miles expiry 36 months after earning them, even if you have other activity on your account. Holding this free card will therefore save you from a potentially expensive bit of mileage expiration.

Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa Card (click here for review)

Hilton gives you Silver status in Hilton HHonors for as long as you hold the card, which is itself free. Silver isn’t worth much, though – 15% bonus on base points is the key benefit. It does push you off the bottom of the list when the hotel is deciding who gets the room over the air conditioning unit, though!

Having Hilton status also allows you to book five consecutive reward nights but just pay for four.

IHG Rewards Club Visa and IHG Rewards Club Premium Visa  (click here and here for reviews)

The free IHG Rewards Club Visa card gives you Gold status in IHG Rewards Club, the Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza / InterContinental loyalty programme. This is not worth much, frankly, but some hotels do give you a modest gift or some points as a welcome gift.

The £99 Premium version of the card gives you Platinum status. The guaranteed benefits are slim, apart from a 50% bonus on base points, but a lot of hotels do offer decent upgrades at this level, especially from the Crowne Plaza brand.

Marriott Rewards MasterCard (click here for review, this card is currently suspended for new applications)

The Marriott card comes with Silver status in the Marriott programme for as long as you hold it. (Actually, you get 10 nights towards elite status. This gives you Silver status by default and also reduces by 10 nights the number you need for Gold.) Again, Silver status is not worth a huge amount (see here) but you get 20% bonus points and access to some elite-only reward options.

You also get 2,000 Marriott Rewards points each year which is a generous gesture given that the card is free.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (click here for review)

Starwood gives Preferred Guest Plus status to holders of its UK credit card. This gives you guaranteed late check-out and an upgrade to a ‘preferred’ room (ie higher floor). It is debatable whether this makes it worth the £75 annual fee, however.

Emirates Skywards Elite American Express and Visa  (click here for review)

This card provides an odd mix of benefits – £150 discount on a Business Class or First Class Emirates ticket (a one-off), 25% off purchases of Skywards miles and check in at Business Class desks at UK airports when flying on Emirates. These are unlikely to justify the £150 fee, however.

American Express Platinum (click here for review)

This is the most complex and most debatable card here.

The Platinum card comes with a £450 annual fee.  Because you can get a very generous 30,000 Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus (converts into 30,000 Avios or 30,000 Virgin Flying Club miles amongst other things) it is worth giving the card a try to see if it works for you.

There are a lot of long-term benefits that can have real value:

  • 2 Priority Pass cards, each getting you and a guest into 700 airport lounges for free.  The addition of the Aspire lounge in Heathrow T5, the Plaza Premium lounges in Heathrow T2 and the Plaza Premium and SkyTeam lounges in T4 have made this benefit more valuable recently.
  • Eurostar lounge access – we managed to get the Paris lounge to allow us to bring in our (obviously non-Platinum card holding) children last Summer although I don’t know if this is official policy or not
  • Lounge access with Delta in the US
  • Le Club Accorhotels Platinum status
  • Starwood (Sheraton, Westin, W etc) hotels Gold status
  • Club Carlson (Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn) Gold status
  • Travel insurance, which is fully comprehensive (some minor benefits such as lost luggage requiring you to pay for your flights and hotels with an American Express card, although ‘big stuff’ like medical cover is covered regardless)
  • Car hire insurance
  • Discounts and/or added benefits in luxury hotels via the Fine Hotels & Resorts and UK Hotel Collection programmes

…. plus some other bits and pieces.  Hilton HHonors Gold status is due to be added in 2016.

Conclusion

Overall, there are some interesting deals to be had with some credit cards which makes them worth keeping, even if you don’t use them. The most valuable is probably the IHG Rewards Club Premium Visa where you are effectively paying £99 to buy yourself mid-tier Platinum status at Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo etc properties.

For bigger spenders, especially heavy travellers, American Express Platinum is worth a look. The generous sign-up bonus and the free hotel status cards mean that you don’t have much to lose by giving it a try, despite the heavy fee.

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.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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Comments

  1. Accrued 50k membership rewards points on my Gold charge however I’m now into my 2nd year (so paying for it). Was holding out for a transfer bonus to either Avios or Virgin however I’m sceptical now whether we’ll see one anytime soon…

    Keen to cancel to reset my 6 month period but don’t want to cancel then bonus shows up following week!

    What would people do in this situation? Thanks

    • John,
      Collect, cancel and reset is my view.

    • Just look at the maths. You’ve got 50K MR points worth £500. You hope to get a transfer bonus worth – what? – 20%, 30%? – ie £100-£150.

      That’s doubtful. But your fees are certain: £140 per annum.

      Plus you could reset the clock & grab another 20K in 6 months.

    • That’s a good point, I’m in the same bag. Have gold charge with 220k points but no real travel plans any time soon so keen to hear any suggestions from anyone?

      I have applied for the gold credit card and have heard that people have cancelled the amex charge yet kept the credit alive and thus the MR account active. Doesn’t help the 6 month period issue tho…

      Cheers

  2. OT but received my Tesco pet insurance paperwork today. I believed I was signing up for a ‘pay monthly’ by DD policy but they structured it as a fixed sum loan for 12 months that gets paid off by DD each month. Did anyone else have same experience and has anyone been successful in this potential arbitrage opportunity?

    • That’s worrying, because loans are a ‘finance’ that get reflected in your credit history. It can be harder to break the agreement (you may have entered into) to keep the contract for 12 months. Definitely don’t just stop the DD but if you cancel, phone up to say you’re cancelling.

      I looked carefully to see if I was signing a loan agreement and there was no indication of this.

      • I know. I didn’t see any mention of a loan agreement. I’ve decided to cancel within the 14 day cancellation period – otherwise I’d effectively be buying avios at a price at which I’m not a buyer.

        • https://yourcommunity.tescobank.com/t5/Pet-Insurance/If-I-change-my-mind-about-Tesco-Pet-Insurance-can-I-cancel-the/ta-p/349

          If I change my mind about Tesco Pet Insurance, can I cancel the cover?

          started by Employee David_1 on ‎01-05-2015 09:28 AM

          If you change your mind for any reason, you can cancel the policy within 14 days of the cover starting. This is called the ‘cooling off period’. If you cancel in the cooling off period, you will receive a full refund for any payments you’ve already made, provided you haven’t made a claim.

          After the cooling off period, you can still cancel your policy at any time, but you won’t receive a refund for any payments already made.

          • Andrew H says:

            I received my insurance paperwork today as well. I got the same – fixed loan agreement.

          • Mine is yet to come but I think a screenshot of the FAQ I posted plus maybe transcript of chat confirming same would be good enough to continue

    • Guesswho2000 says:

      I’ve had Tesco car insurance paid monthly before, has the same fixed sum loan agreement malarkey as you mention, but they don’t (or didn’t!) report it to any CRAs, nor did they perform any credit searches (only quotation searches, which only you can see).

  3. Does anyone know how long Hilton Gold lasts for if you get it by spending 10k on the credit card?

  4. Enigma368 says:

    Hugely off topic but I was checking Aer Lingus prices on Amex Travel because of the £50 rebate and for the flights I wanted, Amex Travel is £130 compared to £172 for the exact same flights(in the cheapest bucket) on AerLingus’s website. I see lastminute.com is also £130. I always assumed an airlines website would be the cheapest, I’ve never seen an OTA sell the same flights for a considerably lower price. I have gone through to the payment page and the price sticks..

    • Well I just booked our 5 tickets back to LHR on 2/1/17 – & Opodo appeared cheaper but dumped a load of charges on me right at the end.

      So I just went with BA using a foreign credit card (no fees).

      A lot cheaper than Avios RFS in this instance, we’re all 5 coming back for £250 (4x HBO + 1x ET) vs 5x RFS £415. Of course, they are different tickets/ seats to RFS but we don’t need luggage coming back, 1x ET because I thought 1 suitcase could be useful plus it means I get to choose emergency exit seat.

      Happy with that but kind of defeats the object of me collecting Avios when you get the cash T-355 cheap seats :)

      • Darn site cheaper than any of the LCCs, Wizz, Ryanair, EJ or new boy Norwegian, plus we get the beer & snack, 1 suitcase :)

        Worth staying up, now I can’t sleep lol

  5. rams1981 says:

    Harry, I have found I can use my UK AMEX on BA’s website using a foreign address and it still goes through with no fees.

  6. Bit of a technical question here

    I currently hold the Amex gold card, 3 months into my 2nd year of membership (hence have paid the £125 fee). I was looking to cancel the card fairly soon (and thus receive a pro-rata fee rebate), after referring my wife for her own Gold card.

    I received the Platinum upgrade email, and hence am minded to do this first, cancelling after a couple of months. If I do this, would I be due both a rebate for the Platinum card (c.£375) plus an additional rebate for the remaining months of my gold card (c.£75), or would I just get the former? Or would I get the gold card part-rebate at the point of upgrading to Platinum?

    • I reckon you would get the Gold refund now, be charged the Platinum fee now and then get the Platinum refund later.

      Amex has a poor track record of remembering to charge the Platinum fee when you upgrade, judging by emails I receive ….

      • Would it be best waiting for the Gold charge to be taken before upgrading? Or prior to the end of year 1?

    • I upgraded yesterday, online account today shows gold card now as a plat and pro rata refund for gold card already showing too.

  7. Notwithstanding the effect of repeated applications on one’s credit file, I speculate that, as seen with Barclays and their branded cards, the days of churn and burn, followed by repeat applications and additional Avios et al, may well be coming to an end.

    Couple this also with the reduced Visa and Mastercard fees in Europe and Amex looks a very difficult acceptance for payment when it costs twice or three times that of other credit cards. If my businesses did any volume on Amex, I would likely shut off that channel but as we only do a little, I swallow the cost.

  8. I have a Amex Corporate Gold International Dollar Card. Does anyone know why Amex do not offer a Platinum version of this?