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

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 17 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 ASDA Cashback Credit Card.  This card is free and offers 0.5% cashback on all spending and 1% on ASDA spending, paid in ASDA vouchers.  The representative APR is 19.9% 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.

Most rewards cards are not suitable products 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 Tesco Clubcard MasterCard Low Rate card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 5.9% variable – and you can transfer your Clubcard points into Avios or Virgin Flying Club miles.

Visa MasterCard

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 Honors Platinum Visa 

The sign up bonus on this card 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 0.7p.  This is VERY favourable compared to, say, 0.2 Avios per £1 on a competing card.  However, you should consider earning Hilton points via American Express Gold instead – you get the same 2 Hilton points per £1 spent (Amex points convert at 1:2) but you get a lot more flexibility as you can also convert your Amex points into Avios, Virgin, SPG, Carlson, Emirates etc etc.  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 review here for more details.  If you’ve got the money behind you to get Premier, the cards are great.  The standard MasterCard is FREE, has no sign-up bonus 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

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.  You get extra value because Clubcard points have many uses – as well as Avios, you could send them to Virgin Flying Club or a totally different Clubcard partner altogether.  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.

Of little use to most people:

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?

If you ARE a big spender (£5000+ per month) then you should focus on Emirates Elite, Virgin Black and American Airlines due to their high earning rate.  These cards all carry annual fees but they are quickly amortised if you spend a lot.

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 Visa (review) – this is an EXCELLENT card for a big spender, with the £70 fee quickly forgotten when you are earning 1.25 miles per £1 spent.  If you have an American Airlines pot this is definitely worth considering as a way of building it up further.  There is a 5,000 mile sign-up bonus.   Representative APR 38.4% variable including fee based on a £1,200 credit limit.

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 and there is a sign-up bonus.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Emirates Skywards Elite American Express and Visa (review) – £150 annual fee but a 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 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, especially as there is a sign-up bonus too.  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.  There is a small sign-up bonus 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.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the 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.

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Comments

  1. Londonbus says:

    I’m living outside the UK and my travel patterns are complex. The only reason I can see having the MBNA Miles and More card is to prevent points expiry…

    • You do not have to spend significant amounts on the card(s). I have separate Amex and Visa cards (from many years ago) and mainly use them for buying an occasional newspaper. Monthly bills usually less than £5, but keeps the few M+M points I still have alive.