(EDIT: this article was updated in March 2017)
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. This article (click) looks at the most valuable credit card perks which require you to hit a spending target.
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.
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. Representative APR 22.9% variable.
Hilton gives you Silver status in Hilton Honors 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 status also means that you qualify for ‘5 night for the points of 4’ when booking reward nights. Representative APR 18.9% variable.
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. Representative APR 36.2% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
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. Representative APR 60.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
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 may be worth giving the card a try to see if it works for you. There is a higher bonus of 35,000 points if I refer you – see my review for details.
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. A large Plaza Premium lounge is opening in Heathrow Terminal 5 later this year.
- Eurostar lounge access – we also managed to get the Paris lounge to allow us to bring in our (obviously non-Platinum card holding) children last year although I don’t know if this is official policy or not
- Lounge access with Delta in the US and with Virgin Australia in Oz. The latter is an unofficial benefit because it is aimed at Australian Platinum cardholders but lounge staff cannot tell the difference.
- Access to Amex’s upmarket ‘Centurion’ lounge network at selected US airports
- Starwood (Sheraton, Westin, W etc) hotels Gold status
- Hilton (Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Waldorf-Astoria, Hampton) Gold status
- Melia Rewards (Melia, INNSIDE, Tryp, ME) Gold status
- Shangri-La Golden Circle (Shangri-La, Traders) Jade 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.
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.
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 – assuming that it remains a benefit when the card is relaunched soon – 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.
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.