What is the best FREE Visa or MasterCard for earning miles and points?

I have had a few emails from readers recently looking for the best Visa or MasterCard miles and points card.  It has got tough now that the IHG Rewards Club and Marriott cards have disappeared and the Tesco card has halved its earning rate.  I thought it was worth a recap of the few remaining options.

The best miles and points credit and charge cards tend to come from American Express.  It is unfortunate, however, that they are not accepted everywhere.  You will need a Visa or a MasterCard as a back-up card.  The big question is ‘Which one?’.

This article only looks at the ‘no annual fee’ options and ignores cards which require an annual fee.

The important thing to remember is:  most Visa and MasterCard loyalty cards do NOT offer good value once you have triggered the sign-up bonus. You may be better with a cashback card, the most generous of which is currently the ASDA Money MasterCard.

Credit cards

The ASDA Money card pays back 0.5%.  You also receive this in cash, immediately, which means that you should treat it as more valuable than the equivalent value in miles or points.  It won’t impress the girls at Pret when you use it to pay for your coffee but cash is cash …..

We all place different values on miles and points, so it isn’t always easy to say when a loyalty card gives you a reward that is worth more than 0.5%. This is especially true of airline miles – it is easier to place a value on hotel points because the cost of a room usually falls within a modest range.

Let’s take a look at the earning rates for all of the free MasterCard and Visa products out there. I have NOT looked at the various MasterCard or Visa cards which come with a fee, as there is a complex trade off between the fee and the higher points earned which needs to be looked at on an individual basis.

My valuations, which you can criticise as much as you want (!) are:

  • Avios points and other airline miles – 1p (I personally value Avios at 0.75p but I am in a minority here)
  • Hilton HHonors points – 0.3p

Here are your options (remember, this list only covers free cards) along with the value of the reward if you use the valuations above:

0.75p per £1 – American Airlines Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.75 miles per £1

0.75p per £1 – Etihad Guest Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.75 miles per £1

0.75p per £1 – Lufthansa Miles & More Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.75 miles per £1

0.5p per £1 – HSBC Premier MasterCard based on 0.5 Avios points, Etihad Guest, Krisflyer or Asia Miles mile per £1 spent (note that this card is only available to HSBC Premier current account holders and has strict financial criteria for acceptance).  This is the best Avios option.

0.625p per £1 – United Airlines MileagePlus Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.625 miles per £1

0.6p per £1 – Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa based on 2 Hilton HHonors points per £1

0.5p per £1 – Virgin Atlantic White Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.5 miles per £1

0.5p per £1 – Emirates Skywards Visa (issued with an Amex) based on 0.5 miles per £1

0.312p per £1 – Tesco Clubcard MasterCard based on 0.125 Clubcard points (0.3 Avios, 0.312 Virgin miles) per £1This is the most generous Avios option if you don’t qualify for HSBC Premier.

0.2p per £1 – IHG Rewards Club MasterCard based on 1 IHG point per £1

0.2p per £1 – TSB Avios MasterCard (issued with an Amex) based on 0.2 Avios per £1

The analysis, of course, isn’t that simple.  You need a LOT of airline miles to get full value from them, as that usually means enough to redeem for a business class flight.  American Airlines and Etihad may top my list but, unless you already collect their miles from flights, you will struggle to get enough just from a credit card for a decent redemption.

This is why, for most people, you end up gravitating towards the Tesco or Hilton cards (assuming you also pick up some Hilton points now and then from hotel stays).

Don’t forget perks for additional spending

Now, of course, the earning rate is only part of the story.

Some of the cards above have additional long-term bonuses or benefits.  This can make the card more valuable than the headline numbers show.

Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa – spend £10,000 per calendar year on this card and you are upgraded to Hilton HHonors Gold status.  You receive Silver status just for having the card.

Lufthansa Miles & More Visa – using this card once a month stops your Miles & More miles from expiring

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard – gives you Gold status in IHG Rewards Club

Note that spending on the Visa card which comes with the Virgin Atlantic White cards does NOT count towards the upgrade voucher or companion voucher.  Virgin only counts spend on the American Express card.

Remember that, whilst not featured on this list because it has an annual fee, the Lloyds Avios Rewards MasterCard has valuable perks for high spenders including an upgrade voucher.  You can learn more in my review here.

The sign-up bonus is the best reason to get many of these cards

Most of these cards have a sign-up bonus – the Hilton card, for example, gives you a free night anywhere for spending just £750.  A full list of bonuses can be found on our ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page.

Overall, though, you need to think carefully before getting a miles and points MasterCard or Visa for long term spending.  Be sure you can justify a good reason for not using an ASDA Money cashback MasterCard or something similar instead.

Personally, it is telling that two of the three Visa or MasterCard products I have at home – my grandfathered BMI MasterCard paying 2.5 Avios per £1 (!) and the Marriott MasterCard are all no longer available.  If I was starting out now,  I would be churning through cards for the sign-up bonuses and then ditching them as soon as possible.  Once I’d done that, I would probably bite the fee bullet and decide that paying £24 for the Lloyds Avios Rewards card was a better option than anything offered by a free card.

Further reading: click here for our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page summarising all the current offers, and click here for our ‘Credit Card Reviews’ articles.  Representative APR rates for the cards above can be found on these pages.

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.

British Airways launches new route to Chile - good Avios availability
Bits: new Qatar 241 deals (Sydney from €2,100), 30% bonus when you buy Hyatt points
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  1. Hingeless says:

    Very OT

    Has anyone had the 1,000 Etihad points yet for the Heinemann offer as posted on HfP on 9th March. All my family members applied that day

    “According to the rules, you will receive 1,000 Etihad Guest miles within two months. No purchase is required”.

    I am wondering if they will post at the end of this month, but Etihad are possibly the worst airline i have had dealings with for posting points other than when you fly with them.

    • Alex W says:

      Not yet. I have given up and deleted Etihad from my award wallet accoun as their recaptcha was infuriatingly messing up my update every day.

      • I know, how irritating is it :(
        I’ve kept it on there but it takes ages to do all my accounts because of Etihad.

        • whiskerxx says:

          Not nearly as irritating as someone actually STARTING the comments with an off topic post!!

          • Hingeless says:

            Would you prefer me to have waited so it was the second comment, would that make you feel better next time?

            • I think the word ‘Bits’ might have attracted you like a magnet, Hingeless :)

              Nobody can possibly object to an O/T post there (unless they are ‘retentive’ if you know what I mean lol)

        • Andrew H says:

          Absolutely agreed! Etihad is the only one that messes up my auto-update on AwardWallet.

          I also haven’t got the Heinemann points. This doesn’t surprise me, as I had a hell of a time getting them to upload 2,300 points from my holidaycheck reviews.

          • Andrew H says:

            Also, I ADORE O/T posts. :)

            Yes I do – – and like the example above, it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one waiting for points earned long ago!

            • well whiskers has fought a long battle against O/T posts but I disagree & see that objection in a mildly critical way, it’s about age, intellect & capacity to accept a wee bit of uncertainty – that isn’t worth rehashing now I guess

              As they get older & more useless, I see that elderly people don’t like seeing the rules being broken

    • Not me

  2. Alex W says:

    The best Mastercard is Curve because you can link it to an Amex. Just remembered it’s not free though it’s £35.

    +1 for Lloyds Avios rewards. I’ve got the Premier. Just manged to get 2.8p per Avios using the companion voucher to Vegas in July (in Economy though). But I think I got lucky there, so I think I will downgrade it to the non-premier card next year.

    Re: the Hilton card, I kind of wish the sign up bonus was points instead of the free night voucher. I rarely (never?) stay at the top end properties, and using it for a cheaper property seems like a waste. Points would be more flexible too, without the draconian 6 month expiry date of the voucher.

    • Charlie says:

      Was just about to mention curve, but forgot about the fee. Does anyone have any idea when Curve is going to be available beyond iPhones (specifically Andriod)? Can’t wait to get this card!

      • Raffles mentioned annual fee Curve is a one off fee and in my opinion it brilliant! I use it wherever Amex isn’t accepted and it gets put on whichever card you want to use so instead of .2 I’m getting 1.5 Avios (BA Amex) and the odd £200 a month from an ATM there are limits but used as an alternative to the normal Visa MasterCard it’s great!

        • Hey Bob, re Curve, mine is on its way.. Do you get any trouble with double charging??.. The Curve Twitter account is all people seem to mention along with the odd decline. Looking forward to getting it though!

          • The_Real_A says:

            Yes it has happened twice. Usually it will just fall away, but its still in BETA so if you have a limited credit limit it might not be a product for you.

      • Alex W says:

        I used my wife’s iPhone, took 5 minutes to set up and just left Curve linked to my BAPP ever since.

      • Nope, sadly no sign of Android support yet. I asked to be kept on the beta list but haven’t heard anything – they hadn’t even started Android development a couple of months back. Whilst the bmi MC still works I’ll stick with that when Amex isn’t accepted – at 1.25 per GBP it’s a great rate anyway.

    • Definitely the Curve for me, linked to the BAPP 1.5 Avios for every bit of spend. This makes up a little in the loss of 3V cards, as at least I’ll get full Avios now for all Sky/BT, utility and council tax payments etc.

      • Hi
        How do you pay your council tax etc from the curve?

        • You could use PayPoint in Co-Op, but no need to use Curve for that.

          Many of of us just use Amex via same method, I stuck £1000 in this month to hit my new target & council automatically refund any overpayment as a cheque.

          Maybe OP meant they managed to get Curve payment treated as debit card on council site ie no credit card fee.

        • Genghis says:

          I used paypoint at Co Op first time last week, paying by Amex, and worked a treat. Staff ignored the notice on the council tax bill stating ‘cash only’.

    • I have recently used my Hilton Hhonors voucher to book the Doubletrees Suites on Times Square for New Years Eve – they accepted the booking even though the stay is out with the six month window – I checked whether the stay needed to be completed in the six months or if the voucher only needed to be used – they were happy to follow the latter approach. Rate for this one night on Hilton website – $4,999 plus tax – think I got a good return for my free night!

  3. Agreed about the Lloyds card, whilst the 0.2p per £1 rate is very poor the spend does count towards the upgrade voucher which can be very valuable, the Virgin cards earn more miles per £1 but the Visa spend doesn’t count towards the voucher.

    Just come back from Australia and ended up using the Lloyds Mastercard a lot due to the other major benefit of the card which is no foreign transaction fees, found most places in Australia didn’t take Amex. Everywhere used contactless though so the Lloyds card was easier than my Supercard.

    • My dad has an Australian Amex and I never get the impression that he had trouble using it – except in tax-evading restaurants.

      • I live in Australia – acceptance of Amex is patchy at best, especially outside the big cities and in cafes, but few places won’t accept VISA/Mastercard for $10 or more. Here in Tasmania I doubt I am able to use an Amex more than once or twice a week and I probably come across places, mostly cafes, that don’t take cards about as often.

    • Yeah, contactless is fantastic in Oz – have found it weird not being able to use it as much now I’m back (let alone going back to swipe and sign in the USA!!). Amex was fine at many restaurants and supermarkets/petrol stations. They do ShopSmall there too and I used it at a lot of local retailers for a few hundred dollars off in total!

  4. Pret accepts Amex anyway if you want to impress anyone there!

  5. rams1981 says:

    Curve refunds for duplicate transactions on 9 May have now gone through without contacting Amex to query them

    • rams1981 says:

      And the limit seems to work. I was just under my £5k limit. Did a £250 transaction taking me over. It posted to curve and my pending transactions in Amex but was rejected by the merchant. Hopefully doesn’t come through on my Amex statement.

    • Mr Dee says:

      They still haven’t refunded all these duplicate charges and little update from them

  6. But you might as well connect the Supercard (I hope that’s what you meant) to a card which pays better rewards. Supercard uses the same rate as Nationwide Select, but Supercard uses the Visa rate on the day you spend while Nationwide uses the rate from 2-3 days later.

  7. Paul Molyneux says:

    Curve card is definitely worth a consideration. Only having one CC in my wallet linked to whichever Amex I am churning and can still take out £200 a month in cash. Only problem at present is you need a visa/MasterCard for super card for abroad spend. Unless does anyone know if you can link your super card to curve card???

    • Robman says:

      I originally signed up for the premium version of Curve, have the card and it’s all working fine. Only thing is that until they define their points scheme, not getting any value from having paid for premium membership ( other than the small card wallet). Has anyone been successful in downgrading to the £35 membership and getting a refund of £40?

    • Alex W says:

      You can use Curve abroad with 1% fee I think? Well worth it for 1.5 Avios per £ and triggering spend bonus I think.

      • Genghis says:

        For using as a card and not ATM, yes 1% fee. I used at weekend for CNY payments

      • I used Curve and Halifax Clarity for identical purchases, one immediately after the other, abroad and the difference was more than 1% – closer to 2%. Be good if other people could do the same kind of experiment to see if this is always the case.

        • I found the same. It was definitely more than 1%. And they didn’t break down the charges so I was unable to see exactly which exchange rate they used.

    • Duncan Stevenson says:

      I’m still waiting on my Curve (technically it arrived this morning but I’m out all day!) but a friend received his and it would not link to Supercard, so that loophole seems to be out. Still, a 1% fee for 1.5 Avios isn’t terrible. Technically less than 1% as the Visa rate offered by Supercard is typically slightly worse than the MasterCard rate Curve uses.

    • Yes you can. I have done it and been using SuperCard for various spends and cash withdrawals (in the UK). Although SuperCard does say there’s a charge for UK spend, so far I haven’t seen any. And of course this has made my VAT bill payment to HMRC all the more rewarding since HMRC consideres SuperCard as a Visa Debit. Only snag is the limits imposed by Curve which do not allow me to spend more than £2000 a day.. so my VAT bill payment needs to be split over a few days.

      • Brian W says:

        Gulz, are you saying you have managed to link your Suparcard to your Curve Card? Everyone other post I have seen re this has underline the fact that it doesn’t work and Curve themselves state you cannot link any pre-paid card (i.e. a Supercard) to Curve. Would be interesting if the Curve app has let you sucessfully verify your Suparcard?

        • I have absolutely linked the Curve to Supercard and spend over £2.5k on it – 2 x £1000 at HMRC + 2 x £250 ATM Withdrawals + another £130.
          The HMRC transactions were done a couple of days ago. Now I am unable to make any further payment to HMRC on SuperCard – either because SuperCard realised that I am using Curve, or I have hit my monthly limit with Curve. Will try paying the balance to HMRC during the 1st week of June. If that works, the latter would be the cause me thinks.

  8. Genghis says:

    Good shout. And no need for any DDs

  9. Frenske says:

    Ends at the end of 2016.

    • Nick M says:

      They did a trial Sept-Dec 2015 and then extended to Dec 2016… so I’m hopeful it will continue, although I haven’t used this much as it’s only for contactless transactions (and therefore limited to £30) – should probably put it back into my wallet!

      • Yeah I had ME Bank 5% on debit card transactions for a few months – loved it! Then ING 2% but also fee-free ATM withdrawals where they even refunded ATM operator fees if charged, that was pretty good (with 3% credit interest too)

  10. 1) If myself and wife apply for the Hilton Barclaycard – could we get a Friday & Saturday at the same hotel(same room) if there is availability?

    2) If that works would it be possible to get a 3rd night if a relation gifted us his hilton voucher ( but he does not checkin)


  11. Sorry, for 0% fix please read 05 f/x.

  12. Well I’ve the TSB card which give me 5% on the first £100 spent contactless and I also have the Black Virgin Cards, which I kind of deem as a free Visa as I only signed up to it for the Amex rate and the bonus points on offer.

  13. Oyster says:

    Sort of OT, but is Curve treated as a debit or credit card? For example where someone wants to charge 2% for using a credit card but free for debit cards.

    • I used mine the other day to book a ferry – it took Amex but wanted a £6.35 fee for using it so I used my Curve linked to the same AMex and said it was a MC debit card and it went through fine with no charge! :)

    • The_Real_A says:

      Credit Card (its a prepaid mastercard actually which is an entity in its own right)

    • Nick M says:

      Binlist has classified mine as a US debit card… however when trying to link it to various apps I’ve been told “credit cards not accepted”. I think it may be a bit hit/miss

    • Several times I’ve tried to use it as a MC debit card only to be told that the card number is incorrect. Most sites seem to recognise it as a MC credit card.

  14. BigDave says:

    my curve card should be shipping from today – really hope this start up takes off big time and
    doesn’t die a short death.

  15. krys_k says:

    Can the Hilton card be churned for another free night? If so, how long? I used it to book a night at Conrad NY. Can I now safely cancel or do I need to keep card until I utilize booking on July? Cheers.

  16. It feels so shallow, but I do prefer paying with my Amex Plat rather than say my Tesco card. I know rationally that most of the time it is only me and the person taking payment that sees the card but I can’t escape the better feeling I get from the Amex. What is wrong with me!!

    • I did pull out my Platinum at a hotel reception yesterday purely for a potentially improved upgrade! I do not normally have it on me but need it for the Eurostar lounge later.

      • Genghis says:

        And did pulling out the Amex Plat get you that improved upgrade?

        • When i filled out my BA Amex application, I jokingly wrote ” Lord Simon Wxxxxxx” under how I wanted my name to appear on the card…. They did it…. That has definitely helped a couple of times in USA when checking in to hotels. Bless them…..

        • No idea! Got upgraded 2 levels and they sent me a bottle of champagne on the house so can’t complain :-) Luckily on the train back so didn’t have to down it.

  17. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    OT: Android Pay (Apple Pay equivalent) is now live in the UK – search ‘Android Pay’ in the Play Store. Unfortunately no Amex or Barclaycard support (although you can use Barclaycard’s app for mobile payments), so of limited use to people here I expect.

    • Frenske says:

      Also I can only connect my Nationwide DEBIT card to Android Pay.

    • Yeah, pretty stupid Barclaycard are launching their own special NFC app – they already support Apple Pay so would make more sense for them to support this too.

      MBNA cards have pretty generic appearances (certainly my bmi and VS ones), makes it a bit difficult to tell them apart. Loyalty cards look atrocious, basically just grey with some text, no barcode or anything!

      Glad it has finally launched though, hopefully it’ll get better quickly and gather more retailers.

  18. OT:
    Do I need the DVLA when renting a car in Amsterdam? I tried to read online and it only states: need valid drivers license and no mention of the code.

    • GESalesEngineer says:

      Hi Boi – In theory yes. Its free and last for 28 days now so not a big hassle, at Hertz (where i hold Gold Club) I haven’t been asked but at Avis (booked via BA) I was.


      • Thanks Dave. I guess safest thing is to get it just in case…

        • Yes, it’s free so no harm to have but on my last 4 Hertz rentals (Oz and US) they’ve never asked at all – I’m in Gold Plus Rewards though so basically just wave my driving licence at them as I drive away 😀

  19. Wally1976 says:

    OT has anyone received the 5000 reward points from Eon? It’s 28 days for me now, I emailed them yesterday and they replied saying I’d get them soon but that it can take up to 28 WORKING days. To which I replied quoting the terms which clearly just say 28 days. Getting impatient as I want to get on the cheap EDF offer which ends on Friday.

  20. You could just open a Halifax Reward current account, do a transfer of £750 in and out of it each month and get £5 without having to bother with doing £100 worth of contactless spend.

    • Or you could do both and get £10.

      I do it because I might as well. TSB is useful for TfL payments.

    • Halifax requires 2 active direct debits

      • Use Paypal to direct debit from your account each month if you don’t have any others.

  21. Callum says:

    It may sound pedantic, but Tesco isn’t 0.3 Avios per £1, it’s a maximum of 0.3 Avios per £1. Looking at my current Lloyds credit card statement, I would have received 30 Avios with Tesco or 42 on the Lloyds Mastercard. Bearing in mind Lloyds isn’t on the list because of the fee, it still would have been 34 with the TSB card.

    • Tesco CC is nearly pointless apart from PFS

      • Callum says:

        Yeah that’s why I closed my account. The credit card still works as a clubcard after it’s been closed so I still get the PFS benefit anyway (assuming that’s petrol?).

        • What does the Tesco Mastercard do at the petrol station? I have one, but always use my Amex for petrol – am I missing something?

          • Use tesco MasterCard as your club card at the petrol station and pay with for example Amex (or your card of choice for a better /different benefit) I get 1 tesco cc point per £ spent on fuel when using the tesco MasterCard (regardless of how i choose to pay)

    • Agreed, but it is complex to explain this each time.

      • It’s too complicated to put:

        Up to 0.312p per £1 – Tesco Clubcard MasterCard based on 1 Clubcard point (1.2 Avios, 1.25 Virgin miles) per £8 (rounded down to the nearest £8 for each individual transaction). This is the most generous Avios option if you don’t qualify for HSBC Premier.?

        You’ve just agreed that you’ve written inaccurate advice for the sake of missing out a half line explanation!

  22. James PG says:

    OT – I’ve tried searching but am struggling to find the latest word on the issue, especially since Amex FX has closed.

    I’m off to the USA in a few weeks and need a decent amount of USD. What’s the best way to get some Avios out of the transaction?

    Thanks in advance

    • No financially sensible option now except using Curve at an ATM linked to an Avios card.

      • Genghis says:

        But this is up to £200 at 1% loading or for over £200 1%+2%+£2. Try using Curve to buy currency at Best Foreign Exchange (if possible)

        • Would be surprised if they took credit cards without a similar fee.

          • Brian W says:

            Curve have confirmed on Twitter very recently (last couple of weeks max) that if you pay for FX at a manned counter they (Curve) do not add on any FX fee and the transaction is still billed to the selected underlying card as a standard purchase.

            • I have used my Curve at a Co-op Travel branch to buy Canadian dollars and can confirm it went through as a normal transaction. No extra fees, nor did it count against my ATM limit.
              The only issues I have had with it so far have been online transactions, i.e. I couldn’t pay my O2 bill with it. I haven’t tried Sky yet.