This article was updated in October 2016
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 pseudo cashback card, the most generous of which is currently the ASDA Money MasterCard. The ASDA Money card pays back 0.5%. You also receive this as ASDA vouchers which means that you should treat it as more valuable than the equivalent value in miles or points. It isn’t the sexiest card in the world but you can’t have it all!
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.
Travel rewards credit cards have high interest rates and are not suitable for you if you do not clear your balance in full every month. You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as the AA Low Rate Card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 6.4% variable on purchases and balance transfers.
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 including details of the refer a friend bonus. Representative APR 23.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
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
The word ‘best’ should really be in inverted commas, because ‘best’ is simply not good enough. 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 a lot lower. A £7.99 purchase earns NOTHING whilst a £15.99 purchase only earns 1 point. 0.5% cashback from the ASDA card also trumps 0.3 Avios per £1, let alone whatever rate you get after rounding down has taken place. 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 Premier Avios Rewards American Express and MasterCard (review) – the £150 annual fee does not justify the core extra benefit which is a 2-4-1 voucher for ECONOMY redemptions on BA and Eurostar when you spend £12,000. 0.3 Avios per £1 spent. Interestingly, this card has disappeared from the Avios website – albeit not the Lloyds website – so it may be heading for the scrapheap. Representative APR 52.1% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
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 ASDA cashback card instead. Representative APR 23.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.
TSB Avios American Express and MasterCard (review) – no fee, 0.2 Avios per £1 spent on the MasterCard. You are better off paying £24 for the Lloyds Avios Rewards card with a higher earnings rate, upgrade voucher and no FX fees, or getting the free ASDA 0.5% cashback card.
TSB Premier Avios American Express and MasterCard (review) – £50 fee, 0.25 Avios per £1 spent on the MasterCard. You get a 2-4-1 voucher for Economy BA Avios redemptions after spending £15,000 but such redemptions are almost always poor value anyway. Lloyds Avios Rewards is a better option – cheaper, the upgrade voucher is more flexible than an ‘economy only’ 241, no FX fees. Alternatively, the ASDA card is a better deal with 0.5% cashback. Representative APR 23.7% variable including fee based on a £1200 credit limit.
Tesco Premium MasterCard (article) – £150 annual fee. You wouldn’t get this card for the earning rate – which is poor 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.
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 9,000 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 25,000 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. 15,000 mile sign-up bonus AND a £50 Kaligo.com hotel voucher at the moment, as a temporary promotion. 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 a special 10,000 miles at present 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.
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.