Which loyalty credit cards are worth keeping for their benefits even if you don’t use them?

Typically there are three different types of travel loyalty credit cards you can apply for:

Cards you get just for the sign-up bonus

Cards you get primarily for the strong on-going earnings rate

Cards you get but don’t use because they come with generous perks

Head for Points tends to focus on the first two types, but I thought it was worth another look at those loyalty cards which offer decent on-going perks even if you don’t use them.

For clarity, my list does NOT include perks which require you to hit a spending target to receive them such as the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher.  This article (click) looks at the most valuable credit card perks which require you to hit a spending target.

The place to turn for full details of all airline and hotel loyalty credit cards is, of course, our ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page, which summarises all of the cards currently available.

Credit cards

Looking through the list, these are the eight cards you might want to get but keep in your desk drawer gathering dust:

Lufthansa Miles & More American Express and Visa Cards (click here for review)

Holding this card and charging something to it each month (even a £1 recurring charity donation) stops your Miles & More miles from expiring. Miles & More has a very nasty expiry policy if you do not have Silver (Frequent Traveller) or Gold (Senator) status – your miles expiry 36 months after earning them, even if you have other activity on your account. Holding this free card will therefore save you from a potentially expensive bit of mileage expiration.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Hilton Honors Platinum Visa Card (click here for review)

Hilton gives you Silver status in Hilton Honors for as long as you hold the card, which is itself free. Silver isn’t worth much, though – 15% bonus on base points is the key benefit. It does push you off the bottom of the list when the hotel is deciding who gets the room over the air conditioning unit, though!    If you are looking for Hilton status, however, you should remember that you can also get Hilton Gold for free with American Express Platinum for as long as you hold the card.

Having status also means that you qualify for ‘5 night for the points of 4’ when booking reward nights.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (click here for review)

Starwood gives Preferred Guest Plus status to holders of its UK credit card. This gives you guaranteed late check-out and an upgrade to a ‘preferred’ room (ie higher floor). It is debatable whether this makes it worth the £75 annual fee, however.  Representative APR 36.2% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Emirates Skywards Elite American Express and Visa  (click here for review)

This card provides an odd mix of benefits – £150 discount on a Business Class or First Class Emirates ticket (a one-off), 25% off purchases of Skywards miles and check in at Business Class desks at UK airports when flying on Emirates. These are unlikely to justify the £150 fee, however.  Representative APR 60.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

American Express Platinum (click here for review)

This is the most complex and most debatable card here.

The Platinum card comes with a £450 annual fee.  Because you can get a very generous 30,000 Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus (converts into 30,000 Avios or 30,000 Virgin Flying Club miles amongst other things) it may be worth giving the card a try to see if it works for you.  There is a higher bonus of 35,000 points if I refer you – see my review for details.

There are a lot of long-term benefits that can have real value:

  • 2 Priority Pass cards, each getting you and a guest into 700 airport lounges for free.  The addition of the Aspire lounge in Heathrow T5, the Plaza Premium lounges in Heathrow T2 and the Plaza Premium and SkyTeam lounges in T4 have made this benefit more valuable recently.  A Plaza Premium lounge is opening in Heathrow Terminal 5 later this year.
  • Eurostar lounge access (cardholder only, no guests)
  • Lounge access with Delta in the US and with Virgin Australia in Oz.  The latter is an unofficial benefit because it is aimed at Australian Platinum cardholders but lounge staff cannot tell the difference.
  • Access to Amex’s upmarket ‘Centurion’ lounge network at selected US airports
  • Starwood (Sheraton, Westin, W etc) hotels Gold status, which allows you to instantly match yourself to Marriott Rewards Gold status via the Marriott website
  • Hilton (Hilton, Conrad, DoubleTree, Waldorf-Astoria, Hampton) Gold status
  • Melia Rewards (Melia, INNSIDE, Tryp, ME) Gold status
  • Shangri-La Golden Circle (Shangri-La, Traders) Jade status, which allows you to instantly match yourself to Taj InnerCircle Gold status
  • Club Carlson (Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn) Gold status
  • Travel insurance, which is fully comprehensive (some minor benefits such as lost luggage requiring you to pay for your flights and hotels with an American Express card, although ‘big stuff’ like medical cover is covered regardless)
  • Car hire insurance
  • Discounts and/or added benefits in luxury hotels via the Fine Hotels & Resorts and UK Hotel Collection programmes

…. plus some other bits and pieces.

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard and IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard  (click here and here for reviews)

The free IHG Rewards Club MasterCard gives you Gold status in IHG Rewards Club, the Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza / InterContinental loyalty programme. This is not worth much, frankly, but some hotels do give you a modest gift or some points as a welcome gift.

The £99 Premium version of the card gives you Platinum status. The guaranteed benefits are slim, apart from a 50% bonus on base points, but a lot of hotels do offer decent upgrades at this level, especially from the Crowne Plaza brand.

HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard (click here for review)

You receive free airport lounge access at 750 airports worldwide via the LoungeKey programme.  Guests are charged at £15, although if you regularly travel with the same adult it would be cheaper to pay £60 to get them a supplementary credit card on your account.  It is a cheaper way of getting lounge access than buying your own Priority Pass card.  This card is only available to HSBC Premier current account holders, and that a substantial financial commitment to HSBC is required to receive one.  Representative APR 59.3% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

If you get the standard version of the HSBC Premier MasterCard, you also get a LoungeKey card but are charged £15 per lounge visit.  You can also get a free LoungeKey card via the Santander World Elite MasterCard.

Tesco Premium MasterCard  (click here for review)

This card has a hefty £150 fee (offset by a £50 Tesco gift card if you apply before the end of August) but comes with full travel insurance for you and your immediate family.  You should look at the policy carefully before applying but in theory, for a net £100 in year one, it could be cheaper than buying a policy directly.  Representative APR 56.5% variable, including the fee, assuming a £1200 credit limit.

Conclusion

Overall, there are some interesting deals to be had with some credit cards which makes them worth keeping, even if you don’t use them. The most valuable is probably the IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard where you are effectively paying £99 to buy yourself mid-tier Platinum status at Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo etc properties.

For bigger spenders, especially heavy travellers, American Express Platinum is worth a look. The generous sign-up bonus (30,000 Amex points is worth 30,000 Avios or other airline miles when transferred), airport lounge access and the free hotel status cards mean that you don’t have much to lose by giving it a try, despite the heavy fee.

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.

Bits: The Sunday Times on British Airways, £45 flight simulator experience
Is Lufthansa's First Class Terminal still the world's best lounge?
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Comments

  1. OT – I logged on earlier and had a 3,000 bonus available for adding a supplementary cardholder to my ba premium card. Went back later to take advantage of the offer and it disappeared. Same thing happened to my wife on her gold card at the weekend. Anyone else have these 3,000 MR/avois deals appearing and disappearing? Any way to get it back?

    • Andrew says:

      Try scrolling down your transactions in the Amex Mobile App, it sometimes appears there among the transactions.

  2. What would be the best time of the year to cancel AMEX Platinum in order to keep hotel statuses for longer or do they all expire end of December? If I take out the card and cancel by September, how long would my statuses be valid for?

    • Alex W says:

      Depends on the hotel scheme. Cancelling the plat card doesn’t affect the hotel status expiry date.

  3. OT – Am I imagining it or did it use to be possible to have a Gold card and refer someone for BA or SPG and receive 9,000 points. I thought that the person receiving the referral link could choose these cards as alternatives at the bottom of the referral link. However, I’ve just tried to do this and it limits me to the Green/Platinum cards. Am I imagining it or have Amex changed things?

    • Changed about a year ago.

    • Alex W says:

      I don’t think it’s possible. Tried referring from Plat to SPG recently and there is no way to do it without clicking outside the referral page. Tried anyway but it lost the referral code and we got nothing.

  4. Rob –
    Another reason you might like to mention for using multiple cards:-
    Several interest-paying current accounts (Tesco Bank, Santander, Halifax, etc) only pay out their monthly interest or bonus if you pay out two or three Direct Debits in that month. So if you, and your OH, have several accounts to max the interest, you need many CC’s to create the DD’s! I rotate these in my wallet – a contactless payment at the bar (for example only!) keeps these live, while my main spend can be on whichever card I choose.
    I know there is a risk to my credit status, but I have had no problems so far.
    Mark

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