(This article was updated in March 2017)
People who drift into this odd hobby of ours often apply for a couple of credit or charge cards almost at random, perhaps because they were on promotion or because they didn’t know any better. They don’t have a long term strategy at that time, not surprisingly.
If you have just become involved in miles and points, the question to ask is:
“What credit cards should I get now, and which credit cards should I end up with?”
It’s like a substantially less exciting version of dating! You may meet someone who is good for a short fling, but at the same time you also know that you will end up settling down with someone who better shares your long-term ambitions ….
What cards offer the most generous sign-up bonuses?
If you are just coming into the world of miles and points, you may be looking for a card to give you a ‘big hit’ in terms of points. This will help you build up your balances quickly and get a good redemption under your belt.
Based on the size and flexibility of the rewards, the most valuable American Express and MasterCard / Visa option would be:
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (20,000 Avios for signing up, no fee in year one, good earnings rate) + Hilton Honors Platinum Visa (free night at ANY hotel in the wider group, even the Conrad Maldives, for spending £750!)
These two cards will effectively give you £500-worth of sign-up bonuses between them, and will help you get the first redemption under your belt. And once you’ve done, say, a free weekend in Venice / Rome / Berlin with your other half (flights on Avios, hotel via the Hilton Venice, which is a lot smarter than you might imagine / Waldorf-Astoria Rome / Waldorf-Astoria Berlin / Waldorf-Astoria Amsterdam) you’ll be hooked.
You are then in a position to think about where you want to go next with your credit card strategy …..
Which cards offer the largest mileage benefits for on-going spending?
For most people, your ‘end game’ with loyalty credit cards – assuming you are focussed on Avios – will probably be:
The 2-4-1 voucher with the BA PP Amex, when you spend £10,000, is the most valuable perk in loyalty credit cards, as I showed mathematically here. And the Tesco MasterCard is the highest earning MasterCard / Visa for Avios unless you meet the very tough requirements for the HSBC Premier card – although 0.3 Avios per £1 is still not great.
You may want to switch out the Tesco card for the:
There are two possible reasons to do this. If you spend £7,000 on the Lloyds card, there is an upgrade voucher which lets you redeem 2 x one-way Avios flights for the cost of the next cheapest cabin. First Class is excluded. The other benefit is that the Lloyds card comes with NO foreign exchange fees, saving you 3% on all your overseas spending.
Combined, these two benefits may justify the £24 annual fee. The headline earning rate on the MasterCard is 0.25 Avios per £1 which is lower than Tesco although Lloyds does not round down transactions in the same way as Tesco.
Supercard from Travelex is a potential option for foreign spend to pair with the Tesco card if you don’t want to pay the fee for the Lloyds card.
You can still apply for other cards as good bonuses come along, especially once you’ve spent the £10,000 on your British Airways Premium Plus Amex to trigger your 2-4-1 Avios voucher. But these cards are both good choices for the long term.
“I don’t earn enough to spend £10,000 per year to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher on the BA Amex”
In that case, you are more likely to end up with:
… as the two highest earning free Avios cards (1 per £1 on the BA card, 0.3 per £1 on the Tesco card).
“I tend to travel on my own so I can’t use the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher”
If this describes you, take a look at this article on cards for solo travellers. You will probably find the upgrade vouchers earned via the Lloyds Avios Rewards cards more useful. You are probably looking at:
“I have over £10,000 of Visa / MasterCard spend per year which cannot be made on an American Express card”
If this is you, I would suggest:
Whilst the IHG card has a £99 annual fee, there are some good benefits. As well as a high earning rate (2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1, worth 0.8p – 1p) you receive a free night voucher for any IHG property when you spend £10,000 in a card year. If used at a top InterContinental, the voucher could be worth £250+. You will also receive Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club simply for having the card.
“The Tesco card is embarrassing when I open my wallet and puts off the girls / boys”
In this situation, because the earning rate is poor on almost all other Visa and MasterCard products, I would go with:
British Airways Premium Plus American Express + whichever Visa or MasterCard is currently offering the most attractive sign-up bonus in your opinion
The point of this post is that, after a bit of churning, you will want to ‘settle down’ with cards which offer genuine long-term value and which can genuinely help you reach your Avios goals. One of the combos above may be your best bet.
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.