What is the best Visa or MasterCard travel loyalty credit card?

This article was updated in January 2017

I continue to get a steady stream of reader emails looking for advice on the best Visa or MasterCard miles and points card.  With earning rates being cut following the EU cap on interchange fees, it isn’t easy.

The Head for Points credit card guide covers 21 different Visa and MasterCard products.    Today I want to run through them all briefly and suggest possible reasons for getting them.

Bear in mind, during this process, that you may be better with a cashback card, the most generous of which is currently the AA FuelSave Credit Card.  This card is free in the first year and offers 0.5% cashback on all spending, 2%-4% cashback on fuel purchases and – in year one – free AA breakdown cover.  The representative APR is 22.4% variable.

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here for a free 30-day trial of Equifax’s online credit report service.   Note that a monthly fee of £14.95 will apply following the 30 day free trial of this product if you do not cancel within the trial period.  You can cancel your subscription at any time.

Hilton Visa

Avios and hotel cards:

I am bundling the Avios and hotel cards together because most people have both an Avios account and an account with the major hotel chains and may be ambivalent between them when it comes to points earning.

Best sign-up bonus (free card): Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa 

EVERYONE who reads HFP should get this card – although, as you can now only get the bonus once, you need to time it right.  The sign up bonus is a voucher for a free weekend night at any Hilton Group hotel, triggered when you spend £750.  The only catch is that it must be used within 6 months.  Long term, it isn’t a bad option – you get 2 Hilton points per £1 which I would value at 0.6p.  This is VERY favourable compared to, say, 0.2 Avios per £1 on a competing card.  My full review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (for most people):  Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & MasterCard 

This is a double pack with a £24 fee.  The earnings rate stinks (0.25 Avios per £1) BUT MasterCard spending counts towards the upgrade voucher you receive for spending £7,000.  This voucher allows you to book a Club World BA redemption for the Avios of World Traveller Plus or a WTP redemption for the Avios of World Traveller.  Short-haul, you can book Club Europe for the Avios of Euro Traveller.  You could save 50,000+ Avios if you use the voucher smartly.

Add in the fact that the card has NO FX FEES and you have a good package.  Lloyds service is poor but you can hold your nose and get through that.  My full review is here.  Representative APR 23.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (high income readers):  HSBC Premier MasterCard or HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard 

You need to have a (free) HSBC Premier current account to get these cards.  Read my coverage here and here for more details.  If you’ve got the money behind you to get Premier, the cards are great.  The standard MasterCard is FREE and earns 0.5 Avios per £1.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.  The World Elite card has a £195 annual fee but comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Avios for spending £12,000 in your first year, free airport lounge access and pays a generous 1 Avios per £1 spent.  Representative APR 59.3% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (no annual fee) – Tesco Clubcard MasterCard

If you apply via this exclusive HFP link – the offer is not on the Tesco Bank website – you will receive 1,000 Clubcard points (2,400 Avios) for signing up and making one purchase.  You get 1 Clubcard point per £8 spent which translates into 0.3 Avios per £1.  However Tesco rounds down each transaction to the nearest £8 which means your actual earning rate is lower.  My full review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Worth considering as a hotel card (no annual fee) – IHG Rewards Club MasterCard

This card comes with 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I would value at £40-£50.  As an added bonus, you receive permanent Gold status in IHG Rewards Club.  For a free card, the earning rate is pretty good.  You receive 1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1 spent which is worth 0.4p – 0.5p.  My full review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Worth considering as a hotel card (£99 annual fee) – IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard

This card comes with 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I would value at £80-£100.  As an added bonus, you receive permanent Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club.  A high spender would do well with this card.  You receive 2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1 spent which are worth 0.8p – 1p.  When you spend £10,000 in a card year, you receive a voucher for a FREE night at any IHG property – worth £250 at a top InterContinental.  My full review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Visa or MasterCard Avios products of little use to most people:

The cards below are, for most people most of the time, beaten by one of the cards listed above:

Lloyds Choice Rewards American Express & MasterCard (review) – £24 fee and 0.2 Avios per £1 compares badly to the Lloyds Avios Rewards card, given that this card has no upgrade voucher.   Get the AA FuelSave cashback card instead.  Representative APR 23.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Tesco Premium MasterCard (review) – £150 annual fee.  You wouldn’t get this card for the earning rate – which is poor (given the annual fee) at 0.6 Avios per £1, and in reality even lower due to the way Tesco rounds down your transactions.  Some people may find value in the travel insurance and the generous bonus for spending over £5,000 at Tesco per year – the card only really works if you would trigger this.  Representative APR 56.5% variable, including the fee, assuming a £1200 credit limit.

Credit cards

Non-Avios cards:

This section is trickier to call.  Unless your Visa or MasterCard spending is huge, you will never earn enough miles purely from the card to redeem for a flight.  You are only likely to be interested in these cards if you already collect miles in that programme.  In this scenario, the question to ask is:  is the card a better deal than a cashback card?

Note that none of the paid cards listed here offer any sort of pro-rata fee refund if you cancel.

Virgin Atlantic White American Express and Visa (review) – good earning rate at 0.5 miles per £1, given the £0 annual fee and 3,000 mile sign-up bonus.  However, Visa spend does NOT count towards the Premium Economy reward upgrade on an Economy redemption after spending £10,000 per year (two can be earned per year) or the fairly useless companion voucher (valid only on a paid flight in a flexible booking class in any cabin) when you spend £15,000 in a year.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Virgin Atlantic Black American Express and Visa (review) – excellent earning rate at 1 mile per £1 but you need to offset the £140 annual fee against this.  For the first year, the 18,500 mile sign-up bonus makes it attractive.  Visa spend does NOT count towards the Premium Economy reward upgrade on an Economy redemption after spending £5,000 per year (two can be earned per year) or the fairly useless companion voucher (valid only on a paid flight in a flexible booking class in any cabin) when you spend £7,500 in a year.  Representative APR 57.4% variable including fee based on a £1200 credit limit.

American Airlines AAdvantage American Express and Visa (review) – this is an EXCELLENT card, with no fee and 0.75 miles per £1 spent on the Visa.  If you have an American Airlines stash this is definitely worth considering.  There is a 5,000 mile sign-up bonus too.   Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Emirates Skywards American Express and Visa (review) – not as generous as the American card, but 0.5 miles per £1 is still good for a free card.  This is a 5,000 mile sign-up bonus too. Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Emirates Skywards Elite American Express and Visa (review) – £150 annual fee but a very strong earnings rate of 1 mile per £1 spent on the Visa.  For a heavy spender this is worth a look, and even an average spender may find it good for the first year given the 10,000 miles sign-up bonus.  My review outlines the other perks offered although I don’t value any of them highly.  Representative APR 60.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Etihad Guest American Express and Visa (review) – 0.75 miles per £1 spent on the Visa is a good deal given the lack of a fee.  5,000 mile sign-up bonus.  If you fly Etihad the other perks are worth a look too – bonus miles on Business and First Class flights taken within your first 90 days and Silver status after one return flight.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Flybe MasterCard (review) – the card is too complex to explain easily!  My review has all the details but I don’t recommend it.  Even the sign-up bonus of a free flight is less generous than it seems.   Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Lufthansa Miles & More American Express and Visa (review) – with 0.75 miles per £1 on the Visa and no fee, this card is a good deal if you have a Miles & More account.  Holding it also stops your miles expiring, which is valuable given the harsh three year cut off.  The sign-up bonus is 1,500 miles and you also get 33% bonus miles for the first six months which a high spender could find valuable.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

United Airlines MileagePlus American Express and Visa (review) – finally, we have the United card.  It offers 0.625 miles per £1 spent on the Visa and has no fee.  There is no sign-up bonus.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Conclusion:

These are certainly not vintage times for anyone looking for a new Visa or MasterCard.  However, I hope I have been able to show here that there are some decent deals about and hopefully one will suit your miles and points goals.

Further reading: click here for our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page summarising all the current offers, and click here for all of our ‘Credit Card Reviews’ articles.

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.

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Comments

  1. Rob, can you provide a little insight into how/why the USA and UK are so different for Credit Cards. In the USA you can get 60,000-100,000 sign-up bonuses even for visa and mastercards, is it just that there is more competition or are there other reasons? We spend a few weeks a year there and you are always bombarded with offers, which has always annoyed me as we seem like such poor relations, thank you, Adrian

    • Interchange fees in the US are 1.75% for Visa (vs 0.3% in the UK now) and roughly 3% for Amex. They are a licence to print money. Add in the fact that there are few regulations on who you accept means that they are happy to take any no-hoper with a pulse in the hope they default and start racking up big interest bills.

      The US banks pay bloggers up to $300 per application plus the sign-up bonuses. That is why the top US miles and points bloggers are multi-millionaires although they go to extreme lengths to pretend otherwise.

      • Thanks Rob

      • I guess I chose the wrong profession…

      • Genghis says:

        If only you were US based Raffles

        • He could ostensibly be US based (and still keep the wife & kids happy) if he used vpn, got up @ noon & went to bed @ 2am.

      • What’s the going rate from UK banks and credit cards?

      • Lady London says:

        I am sure this is true Rob. Especially about the “the US bloggers go to extreme lengths…. to pretend they’re not multimillionaires”. I don’t have time to follow the US bloggers anymore. But the one that sticks in my mind was when my former favourite youthful blogger flew First Class from the US to Tokyo, heavily critiquing the food and wines en route, and then claimed he was checking in to some Youth Hostel there.

        Yerhh… maybe he checked in to some Youth Hostel… on his way to the Park Hyatt! :-)

  2. It looks like Marriott credit card is back today – also with Creation
    https://apply.creation.co.uk/microsites/marriott/

    • Well Shelly, with this message when you try to apply :

      :-))

      Application not available
      Thank you for clicking to apply for the Marriott Rewards® Credit Card. Unfortunately, we are temporarily not accepting applications for this credit card. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

      • Shelly says:

        Oops sorry, I didn’t click on the link. I was busy trying to find the IHG standard card (which I found and it works) and came across the application for the Marriot card.

    • Marriott forgot to get a licence from the FCA to promote credit cards. This can take up to 12 months to get and requires them to employ staff with certain qualifications in a UK office, which they may be unwilling to do. Ironically, because I DO have a licence – there is no reason why Marriott couldn’t relaunch the card via Head for Points as long as they don’t advertise it themselves. I doubt they would do that though.

  3. So possibly a dumb question but what happens if you have the Barclays IHG card? When and if, will they stop offering points? Will I be able to have both IHG cards at the same time!!? So many questions!! Loll probably have to wait till tomorrow for Raffles article!

    • I have IHG for clarification on this. I am 99% certain you can have both cards, and I am 50% certain that Barclays will not renew existing IHG cards beyond their current membership year.

      • Weren’t IHG UK blissfully unaware of anything happening around a new IHG card launch ?

        • No, this new card has been designed, contracted and is overseen by people in Denham.

          Update on the above, though – I am told the Barclays cards are going nowhere fast. This means 2 x free night vouchers for anyone spending £20k per year and willing to pay two fees.

          • When you say no, do you mean they were aware ?

            A while back on FT you recounted being at an IHG event and that no one seemed to know anything, including people sitting in the same office as the ones involved.

          • That is true, but none of the people I was with were working on the project – they were all ‘digital acquisition’ or whatever these people call themselves these days! They knew the card was being worked on but that was it. Frankly I doubt they cared less.

            One thing about running this site is that whilst I am multi-disciplinary (both acrss programmes and across the different parts of each programme), the people I meet are generally silo’d.

            You also need to remember that there is probably no-one working at IHG in the UK who knows as much about the hotel loyalty sector as you or me. That’s not showing off, that is just a realistic assessment.

      • Further dumb question – what happens if you renewed your membership year in say March and paid the £99 again? Can they stop offering points during that membership period? Surely there comes a point in time when they will have to stop taking the fee if they will not be in a position to offer points within the following 12 months….

        • Once you’ve paid your £99 you are fine for the year (or they have to refund you). I was told by IHG today that the Barclays cards are going nowhere so presumably they signed a long contract ….

          • You’d wonder then why the withdrawal from new barclays visa cards, and the launch of a new Creation mastercard. Someone upset with the arrangement, or perhaps not happy with the “if you have Hilton, you can’t have IHG” rules ?

          • If you’ve seen the Flyertalk thread with all the complaints about the way Barclays has run the card …..

          • Although I think quite a few of us on that thread actually loved it because we earned so much money back compared to the annual fee! 😀

        • Several people got their fee refunded by just asking (nothing to do with the card not being offered anymore)…

          • Yes I saw that – well certainly one or two. The reason I didn’t ask for the £99 refund (having spent a great deal on the card via supercard and tax/VAT) was exactly so they couldn’t welsh on the points deal by just refunding the said £99 as per Raffles’ reply to my comment. If IHG had planned to terminate the card you wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on if you hadn’t paid the fee in the first place. The ability to earn the amount of points I was (am still?) earning more than off set the fee.

    • Shelly says:

      I applied for the standard card (no fee) this morning which I already hold with Barclaycard and I’ve been accepted if this helps :)

  4. Sticking with my MBNA Diamond Club card for the moment.

    2 Avios per £1 spent on Amex and 1 Avios per £1 spent on Visa is still one of the best on the market.

  5. Hi

    My free American express gold expires 10th July and I have spent the limit to qualify for the bonus. I assume I will be charged the £140 renewal fee soon after the 10th and get my 10,0000 points, If I transfer them out and cancel straight away I will get a pro rate refund on the £140 fee? is that correct ?

  6. Same deal with RBS. The 3% on DDs is fantastic, I pay council tax and utilities, etc. this way – more valuable than using PayPoint/Amex

  7. I have a friend who wants to apply for the Amex gold card from our platinum refer a friend link – I know people have mentioned this before but where does he have to click to get the gold option instead of the platinum option – thanks

    • Bottom left of the page 😀

      Shame they’ve made this less clear than it used to be!

      • Form was redesigned this morning it seems. The links to other cards are now ‘above the fold’.

        • Glad they’ve seen sense! :)

          • Must’ve have been sometime today because I was on the phone to them about this very issue earlier on and the other card options still weren’t appearing.

  8. Well, the Creation IHG MCs came out of the blue, and in comments rather than editorial. Thanks, folks. :)

    I’m very happy with my Creation Everyday MC and Creation Marriott MC both with good limits. Just trying to work out whether Creation would allow an additional points card. I’d even be prepared to do an MBNA-style variation of existing limits. Decisions, decisions!

    • Roger, I’m now on my 4th existing Creation card – Marriott, Everyday, Flybe and now IHG. All with good limits. You may well be ok.

  9. FWIW, the eligibility calculator said Eligible. :)

    Not sure whether this had taken my 2 existing cards into account …

  10. So I just checked the HSBC Premier World Elite card details, and it says;

    40,000 reward points
    when you spend £2,000 on your card in the first 3 months of card membership.
    40,000 reward points
    when you spend £12,000 or more on your Card within the first 12 months of card membership.

    So 80k avios from joining? That’s pretty good, no?

  11. I have the opportunity to upgrade to HSBC Premier World Elite Master Card but I am not sure I will go ahead…
    The good – Up to 40,000 miles (80,000 points) bonus in the first year, then 1 mile for every £1 spent; backend the Supercard for travel spend.
    The meh – I already have plenty of lounge access between BA Gold and Amex Plat. Also Boingo wifi with Amex Plat, and already Fon wifi globally. I don’t see any hotel perks, already have enough hotel status via Amex Plat anyway.
    The bad – Do I really want to pony up another £195 (+£60 for a supplementary card) when I already pay for BA Amex Platinum credit and Amex Platinum charge cards.

    The 40,000 miles bonus is a bit better than breakeven after accounting for the fee. So I don’t think the World Elite Master Card is worth it. Have I miss anything?

    • Danksy says:

      Horses for courses I guess – I’m ditching Amex BAPP for a bit since I have two companion vouchers which frankly are worthless given the sale prices for business and discounted ex Dub,OSL, MAD prices..

    • Shelly says:

      I have just upgraded to the world elite card and managed to convince them to waive the fee on the first year

  12. If you ever had cards issued by creation you will know bad they with IT and managing the account online.
    Still no way od downloading statement data!
    At least the card is open for applications…

  13. Viktor says:

    Is it possible to get the free night certificate again on the Barclays Hilton when it was awarded before the change of terms?

  14. Don’t see as being mentioned … there is starwood 3-for-2 offer on world mc site where you can login with hsbc world elite