What is your credit card ‘end game’ strategy?

(This article was updated in May 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 ….

Credit cards

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.

(Here is my full review of Amex Gold, here is my full review of the Hilton Visa)

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:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + Tesco MasterCard (0.3 Avios per £1)

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.

(Here is my full review of the BA Premium Plus Amex, here is my full review of the Tesco MasterCard.)

You may want to switch out the Tesco card for the:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & MasterCard (review)

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:

British Airways American Express (free) + Tesco MasterCard (0.3 Avios per £1)

… as the two highest earning free Avios cards (1 per £1 on the BA card, 0.3 per £1 on the Tesco card).

(Here is my full review of the free British Airways American Express 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:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express (£24) + Tesco MasterCard (0.3 Avios per £1, so higher than the Lloyds card and with added flexibility to use the Clubcard points for non-Avios redemptions)

“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:

British Airways Premium Plus American ExpressIHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard

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.

My full review of the IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard is here.

“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

Conclusion

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.

Last chance to get £50 off BA CE for 1-9 people with Tesco Premium Credit Card
How to earn Avios via Clubcard when filling up at Esso
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. Hi guys

    Wanting a bit of advice!
    I have been building up my points and I am going to be returning back to my homeland in Australia in July of next year. I have hit my bonus on the Gold card and want to cancel it ASAP so I can recycle it one more time before I go home to build up my points balance. I am aiming to use points for business class at least part or all of the way of my one way flight. What is the best place to transfer my AMEX points to so I can cancel with this in mind? Many thanks.

    • That depends whether the points you have already are avios or etihad guest or krismiles etc
      If avios then I’d stick with connecting more of those as it gives various options. Eg BA to Sydney (125k avios) Or BA to Singapore/Kuala Lumpur then a partner (eg Malaysian/Qantas) onwards to elsewhere in oz (Melbourne 137.5k) Or BA or Cathay to Hong Kong then nearly zero fees from HK to oz on Cathay (165k). Or Qatar all the way.

    • Unless you are wedded to Avios (and if so, why?!) best thing to do in my opinion is get an Aussie Amex card with MR points and transfer your UK points to that as you get a transfer at the current exchange rate so an instant bonus of say 65%.

      Current best deal is probably the Explorer (100k bonus for $1,500 spend, $395 fee but $400 travel credit) BUT there are several different MR schemes in Australia and this credits to Gateway not Ascent which means 1MR = 0.75 FF pt instead of 1MR = 1 FF pt. If you want a card crediting to Ascent instead, best one is probably the Platinum Edge (10k bonus for $750 spend (15k if referred), $195 fee but $200 travel credit). Search for the Pointshack guide 6 Sep 2016 for more explanation about the different MR schemes. Let me know if you want a referral for a Platinum Edge card!

      • Thanks for this recommendation, I am however looking to use these points I have now to help get me home in business class so do not need to transfer them to hold onto, just want to put them where I will likely need them in 6 months to help get me home.

        I will definitely use this advice when I do arrive home to begin building my bank of points again.

        • Your choice obviously, but I would have thought the 65% or so bonus you would get would make it worthwhile, deferring a decision on which airline (as long as it would be one to which you can transfer Aussie MR points) to transfer to just being the icing on the cake.

          • Not sure how it is in Aus, but having moved to Singapore, the partner transfer rates are different, so even I had moved UK to SG MR with the “bonus” – they’d then be worth less miles, so it’s a wash! There are also charges here for some transfers

          • As I mentioned above, depends which flavour of MR scheme you are in. Ascent is the top one and that transfers 1 : 1 to Cathay, Etihad, Malaysian, Singapore, Thai, Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic or 4 : 3 to Emirates or 100 : 1 to New Zealand. No charges AFAIK, I’ve never paid any. The Gateway version is 4 : 3 to all the above except New Zealand (100 : 0.75) and Virgin Atlantic is not a partner.

            I was fortunate enough to transfer a significant number of UK MR points at the then exchange rate of $2+ /£1 (don’t remember exactly) when I moved over last year, then booking SQ rewards flights using less than half of the UK MR points I would have had to use had I kept them in the UK. If only we had moved hubby’s UK stash then too…..

  2. Have now stated paying for holiday flights: just bought the £1,086 LHR-MEL in Business from Garuda for the two of us, just back from MAD-SXM-GLA in Business for £860.

    In Scotland, Easyjet cover pretty much where we want to go in Europe with direct flights.

    So now question the value of the 241. Have son and daughter-in-law in DEN, so the BA direct from LHR is good. But hate LHR! And the fees! Easy to fly to MAD too and then take Iberia for other USA. Often fewer Avios and less fees. But with great sales fares, often just better to pay cash.

    Like AA, because you pay for the journey, not for each leg as with BA, and save a fortune on fees if not on BA aircraft.

    Also like SPG, since they have great SPG moments.

    So my strategy? AA and SPG between wife and I, with the other on supplementary card and churn.

    Now Diamond Club has gone, Virgin between us for the Visa and sign ups so as we can fly to Cuba (although now Iberia are doing HAV again, I really like them.)

  3. At the moment I am working towards the Lloyd’s upgrade voucher. Just need to buy my next year’s season ticket to trigger it – works well for me as I have 18 months to go on my interest-free period. I am planning to use it for Club to SYD in early 2018.

    Next I think I’ll apply for the Amex gold, and use that to pay the taxes and fees to BA to get on the way to 2k spend. I thought I’d be able to hit the spend in one fell swoop by paying for the tour I’m going on and so was tempted to get the Amex Plat, pay for tour and immediately cancel, but I think I’m going to pick a tour company who will charge in NZD so the FX fee will be rather high. Instead I think I’ll pay the deposit and then the balance in my next Lloyd’s card year, as that’ll be a good chunk towards next year’s upgrade voucher.

    As a habitual solo traveller the 241 voucher on the BA Amex is not useful for me, and I’d struggle to put £10k a year through a card on my own (at least, not without a generous interest-free period which would allow me to put my season ticket on it and pay it off over a year). I’d need a specific long-term plan with someone to make that worthwhile though.

  4. For non business people living in South Wales with a holiday home in SW Turkey, Avios don’t give us a good return. We rarely travel on any carrier other than Easy Jet from Bristol to Portugal or Turkey or Iceland (last three winters). One year we’ll probably use the 40k Avios I’ve acquired via particularly good deals (eg Times subscription) for flights to Istanbul.

    We do like trips away once per month and our strategy now revolves predominantly around rotating spending on IHG premium and Amex gold cards with two mostly dormant Hh cards for Hilton status/offers. We also have Tesco CC primarily used via petrol spend for occasional train travel to Paddington with Red Spotted Hanky (double up).

    I describe the points game as a real life computer strategy game. Thoughtful time spent on the computer generates points and status that give tangible rewards.

    We are for example off to London next weekend for the first part of my wife’s 50th with “free” train travel to Paddington plus a Hh reward night in the Double Tree West End where we currently have Diamond status and lounge access due to a 90 day status match from IHG platinum. No cost for travel and hotel stay (including drinks/snacks/breakfast). Our next Iceland trip (50th part two) includes a two night stay at the Nordica with a reward stay and diamond status match (lounge and spa access) included as part of the package. Flights to Iceland 150 pound cheaper due to Nectar points mostly from bonus from temporary deviation to Amex nectar rather than Gold.

    I try to use this game as a way of minimising expenditure on trips away whilst staying in more expensive hotels (regularly upgraded) than we would otherwise be inclined to. Our IHG night from the premier card for example will be used next summer at the Estoril inter continental. We’ll stay another night at one of the Lisbon IHG’s or Double tree. Nice weekend away with at least one night in a high-end (for us) hotel and both nights free hotel stays.

    We’ve had some great experiences. The upgrade of a reward stay in the Palacio da Cardosa to a suite probably the best.

  5. I think it’s nearing time to ditch BA. Any suggestions on a travel focused loyalty scheme that doesn’t revolve around them?

  6. I’m wondering what the best cc strategy is when collecting Virgin air miles?

    • Take out the Virgin MBNA Amex + Visa double pack credit card, and churn the AMEX Gold / Platinum charge cards.

      Some people are able to churn the Virgin MBNA cards.

      • Thanks. I’m doing that. I have the Virgin black cards, and am just waiting for the six months to expire before I go for another AMEX.

        I didn’t think you could churn the MBNA cards. I did start off with Virgin white cards but cancelled them after taking out black.

  7. When I called to cancel my Amex BA black card as I had already achieved the companion voucher spend, I was told by the agent that if I did so I would lose the companion voucher and so I should keep the blue card.

    Is this correct? A bit different to what I have read on this site.

    Would rather cancel and then trade between Amex gold and Amex BA black

    Thx a lot

    • It comes up every time. No evidence to date of anyone ever losing a voucher. Only slight risk is whether or not the voucher goes back into your account if you cancel your booking.