Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

2013 in review – Part 3 – how credit cards now drive the ‘miles and points’ hobby

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This is the last part of my look back at 2013.  Previous articles looked at my personal travel highlights and top promotions and the large number of devaluations this year.

Credit card sign-up bonuses have now become a key driver of this hobby.  Whether you like it or not, it is a fact of life.   It is convenient that, because you need a decent income to ‘play’ the miles game (because you still need to pay those taxes ….) you are also likely to qualify for multiple credit card sign-ups and be able to clear your bill each month.

Ironically, despite all of the activity by Amex this year, the winner of the Head for Points ‘Credit Card Promotion of the Year’ award for 2013 is MBNA’s American Airlines card.


Back in February, MBNA offered a whopping 35,000 miles for taking out this (free) card.  There was a £5,000 spending requirement – pretty tough – but you had six months to achieve it.  The card was also an Amex / Visa combo, which it easier to achieve the target spend, especially if you charged the council tax bill which arrived in April!

American Airlines has some sweet spot redemptions from the UK – just 30,000 miles one-way to India or the Middle East on BA, Qatar, Royal Jordanian or Etihad (Etihad is not a BA partner).  You can also fly to the US without paying any fuel surcharges if you redeem AA miles for a flight on an AA plane.

MBNA’s generosity did not cover all of its cards, though.  Amazingly, the Virgin Atlantic credit cards – which MBNA issues – did not run a single improved sign-up bonus all year.

American Express

American Express has been consistently active throughout 2013.  Amex is happy for you to have multiple cards, receiving a bonus for each, and will also let you re-apply for a card after a six month gap.  Whilst you don’t want to give Amex any reason to blacklist you – if you fall out with Amex, you will struggle to get very far in this hobby – many people have benefitted hugely from Amex’s generosity this year.

New issuers

Last month, I was forced to split the ‘Credit Cards Update’ page on Head for Points into two!  The number of new card launches this year made it unwieldy!

The most surprising launches were from Emirates and Etihad, both of whom launched cards via MBNA.  Neither did enough to get me over-excited, though – the BA Amex sets the bar pretty high.  MBNA also relaunched the United Airlines card at the end of the year, albeit with minimal benefits apart from a sign-up bonus.

My ‘Credit Card Launch of the Year’ award goes to the new Lloyds Avios Rewards card.  Yes, their customer service is shocking, to put it mildly.  However, by launching the first credit card to offer NO 3% foreign exchange fee AND give reward points they have done something radically different.  If their customer service was any good, this card would be a belter.

My ‘humane killing required’ award goes to the TSB Avios Duo cards.  When Lloyds relaunched its Avios cards, the old product was rebranded under the TSB name.  Lloyds / TSB now offers FIVE credit cards which award Avios points, far too many to make sense and only one (the £24 Lloyds Avios Rewards card) is actually worth bothering with.

Finally, an honorary mention to the HSBC Premier MasterCard.  Whilst you need to have a lot of money invested with HSBC to get this, the ‘1 Avios per £1’ return for a non-Amex credit card (and a free one at that) is incredibly good.

Coming up ….

Whilst I’m not sure of the exact date, my understanding is that the British Airways credit card contract is up for renewal soon.  I was told that it is possible that one issuer may get everything – BA, and Iberia Plus.  This may lead to some aggressive moves to retain the contract, with MBNA certain to put up a major fight.

Looking forward, credit cards are set to remain a key part of the ‘miles and points’ hobby.  Yes, it is crazy that the free Amex Gold gets you a sign-up bonus equivalent to taking 20 return BA flights from London to Manchester (if you have no BA status), but that is now the nature of the business.  The airlines are addicted to the inflow of cash from the card companies.

PS.  Perhaps 2014 may finally be the time that Barclays gets around to rebranding the Priority Club credit cards as IHG Rewards Club.  They have had six months to do it so far, with no progress!

Comments (39)

  • Paul says:

    Thanks for SPG referral earlier in the year. My wife and I held one each and netted over 50000 points. Both cancelled and will churn again in the new year.
    For the first time this year have aggressively churned with Amex. A platinum card at 500000 plus referral bonus, a Gold card and now 6 months and 14 days after cancelling, a new BA PP card for my wife with sign up and referral bonus – 34000 Avios!
    Have also had the platinum credit cards with their own smaller bonuses.
    Missed out on AA card
    Now just need conversion bonus from Amex to Avios and from Tesco. I did 3 V for 4 months and luckily spotted your warning that NS&I route was closed, so did not get caught out.

    Thanks for the blog and regular emails, it’s made for a very lucrative year and am looking forward to 2014 and yet more deals.

  • MaltaPointsTom says:

    As you say, the UK credit card and points market is a pretty buoyant one.

    A lot has been made of the superior offers available in the US, but this is like a Ferrari owner looking forlornly at his neighbour’s Bugatti.

    Malta is a good example of rock bottom. We have Amex here (of sorts – essentially just the eurodollar card) and a few other ‘points earning’ credit cards of dubious value. However, and this includes Amex, there are never, ever, any sign-up or redemption bonuses available. The best you can ever hope for is a 1 point per €1 earnings rate – whoop de doo. I am not altogether sure if the neglect here is because we’re little Malta or reflected throughout continental Europe. I certainly think that if the “Malta” Amex (i.e. eurodollar) made the slightest effort to entice people with even a derisory bonus, it might well clean up because all the alternative credit card offerings are so weak (with the HSBC Premier CC perhaps excluded, but who wants to invest €70k in HSBC Malta?)..

    All of my substantial points earning comes from my UK Amex cards, which are registered to my “UK address”, without issue. MBNA are much stricter (electoral roll checks etc) and I don’t have a prayer of getting one of their cards.

    As an aside, I also regard myself as a bit of a manufactured spend junkie, but have still yet to find any credible option over here. Believe me I am trying.

    Gone on a bit of a rant here I know, but my point is – you’ve got it pretty good back in Blighty.

    • Brian says:

      The poor sign-up situation is true in Austria, too, so perhaps it is continental Europe on the whole.

      • Rob says:

        It is. Remember that credit cards are still not that common in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Germany.

        • MaltaPointsTom says:

          Damn these continentals and their responsible approach to borrowing!

        • susan says:

          Or Italy. Over here one thinks nothing of carrying several €50 notes whereas even a few £20s seems excessive in the UK. It’s not uncommon to see €500 notes being used in shops. My Italian doctor doesn’t take cards because “it takes up to a year to get paid by the bank”!

        • What's the Point says:

          We got stuck at a Berlin Metro station the other day, because the unmanned ticket machine would only take some form of German Maestro card – WHO…..
          None of my Euro notes would work so ended up going to buy a cheese sandwich with a 20 Euro note, to get some shrapnel to feed into the machine.
          What a bunch of debt free goody two shoes!

          • Alan says:

            Yep, I’ve run into exactly the same problem with Berlin metro station ticket machines!! Thankfully the ones in Copenhagen had no such qualms about a UK credit card (managed a weekend there purely on cards, didn’t have to take any DKK out the cash machine at all – had my Metro Bank card with me just in case though :D).

            I always pay all my cards off in full every month though, so I don’t see it as debt, just consolidated spending once a month – this makes it much easier to manage than a debit card and also allows for bonus points and for the cash to earn some interest in the meantime (granted that’s not so much the case nowadays with the pitiful savings interest rates!)

    • Kieran says:

      I posted below complaining about a similar situation in Ireland before I saw your post (no ability to earn miles here at all). I would be interested in how you got yourself a UK credit card though!

  • CliveJ says:

    I got an Amex Gold referral earlier in the year and have to say the ‘first year’ deal on the card has been fantastic, especially the crazy treble point thing that went on for couple of months. I even did three referrals of my own for another 27k points. I may ask for an SPG referral before it runs out in Jan but that may depend on whether or not my local council will take Amex.

    • CV says:

      Agree on the Amex Gold, the benefits on the card have been great, so much so that i considered paying annual renewal fee to keep it. But didn’t!

  • Wizzyfax says:

    20 return flights to Manchester?

    20,000 MR points from gold? I’m confused…..

    • Rob says:

      If you pay for a return flight London to Manchester, you will earn 1,000 Avios as a BA Blue member. Amex Gold gives you 20,000 Amex points, equivalent to 20,000 Avios if you convert them, for signing up.

      The question is whether it is, for want of a better word, ‘equitable’ that you have to do so much flying to equal the miles earned from spending 2 minutes filling in a credit card application.

  • Worzel says:

    MaltaPointsTom(9:09 am)-understood, and always good to see the other side.

  • Nathan says:

    The 1st year free thing with Amex gold, if you wait 6 months and reapply is that year free too?

  • Nick says:

    Is it possible to cancel an Amex card online does anyone know? Or do you have to call them. Need to cancel Amex SPG and a Gold rewards.

    • Will says:

      Call or by post. Can’t do it online. Calling is the best route

      • Andy says:

        You can do it online – if you go to contact us you also then see an option to email them. There isn’t an appropriate category but. I just put it under account management or something similar. You’re best to tell them you don’t want to discuss this over the phone but ask them to accept your online instructions, I have done this several times very easily. Saves me bothering my wife to phone up,

        • Will says:

          Good to know. Thanks

        • Will says:

          Tried this yesterday and got:
          “We would like to have a word with you over the phone before we go ahead and cancel your Card account. Our Customer Satisfaction Team would like to review possible options as they have the authority to close your Card account.

          They can be reached on free phone 08000121207 or +441273 576374, who are available Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 8 pm. ”

          I was clear in the original message I didn’t want to discuss by phone. Shall I push back and try again? What is your experience Andy

          • Rob says:

            I always write, cut up the card and include it with a short covering letter.

            However, nothing to lose by ringing. This is Amex, not some two-bit loan outfit. They will politely accept your instructions and close your account. You may be offered an incentive to stay, these can be quite good so don’t dismiss it out of hand if offered.

          • Alan says:

            Indeed I was offered an excellent SPG bonus to keep the a/c open so I accepted and kept it open a few months longer!

      • Nick says:

        Thanks Will.

  • Roisin says:

    As a newbie, whats the best UK card at the minute I should go for and how long does it take to process?