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What credit card should I use to pay for my holiday?

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By the time you read this post, I will be back in London.  However, as I edit this post, I am still sitting in Dubai pondering how to pay the hotel bill.

It’s not that I can’t afford it – I was more concerned with which ‘miles and points’ credit card I should use to settle the bill!  I thought I would run through my thinking.

Credit cards

There was a MASSIVE shift in the market last October when Lloyds introduced the Lloyds Avios Rewards credit card (representative APR 22.7% variable, including fee).  For the first time in the UK, we had a credit card with NO foreign exchange fees (saving you 3% compared to 99% of UK credit cards) and gave you reward points at the same time!

There is a £24 fee on the Lloyd Avios Rewards card, but if you spend more than £2,000 abroad then the Avios earned will offset the fee.  Alternatively, there are some great free cards with no FX fees such as the Bank of Ireland UK-issued Post Office card (representative APR 17.8% variable).

However, for one reason or another, I never got around to applying for either.  I simply have too much plastic already.  Our hotel room this week is also being paid for on points, so our spending will be lower than usual.

Comparing the options

Here is what my wife and I have in our wallets and what we would get for every £1,000 of foreign spend:

American Express Platinum – would earn me 1,000 Membership Rewards points per £1,000. Good for 1,000 Avios or a variety of hotel schemes.  I am not short of Membership Rewards points at the moment, however, so the marginal value of another 1,000 is modest.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus (representative APR 56.4% variable including fee) – would earn me 1,500 Avios.  My new British Airways Amex card year started in February, so I am working towards my new 2-4-1 voucher.  A bit of overseas spending would certainly help.  However, I have a huge pile of Avios so, again, another 1,500 per £1000 doesn’t add much.

Priority Club Black Visa  (not available again until June) – As I wrote recently, I have just successfully applied for this card again.  The Priority Club Black card earns 2 points per £1, but you get double points for foreign spend.  Given that I value IHG points at 0.5p, that would be the equivalent of 2% back.  We only have about 300,000 Priority Club points between us, so the points we would earn are more meaningful.

More importantly, the Priority Club Black Visa has a ‘free night certificate’ which is triggered when you spend £10,000 on the card.  If I used that at the InterContinental in Paris, London or Cannes (not unlikely) I’d be getting at least £250 of value from the voucher.

bmi Platinum MasterCard (no longer available to new applicants) – would earn me 2,500 Avios per £1000 spent. I have the old-style version which pays 2.5 miles per £1.

Tesco Clubcard MasterCard (representative APR 18.9% variable) – would me earn me a poor 250 Clubcard points per £1000 of spending.

Marriott Rewards MasterCard (representative APR 16.9% variable) – this card does offer double points for foreign spend.  However, the earnings rate is so poor that even then I would only get 2,000 Marriott points, worth about £10, for every £1000 of foreign spending.  Not worth it given that I need to pay the 3% foreign exchange fee.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (representative APR 36.2% variable) – would earn me 1 SPG point per £1 spent.  There is no bonus for foreign spend or for staying in a Starwood hotel, so no additional perks for using it abroad.  SPG points convert to airline miles at a 1 : 1.25 ratio based on converting 20,000 at a time.

House of Fraser Mastercard (representative APR 19.9% variable) – a card my wife has. It is not bad, paying 1% cashback in House of Fraser vouchers. We would therefore get £10 back per £1000 of spending if we used this card.

NatWest MasterCard (no longer available to new applicants) – my wife also has one of these, it pays out in useless YourPoints worth about 0.5p per £1 spent. I can’t even be bothered to work out how little I would get!

What did I decide?

On the face of it, it seems to be a toss-up between the British Airways Premium Plus, the bmi Platinum MasterCard and the Priority Club Black Visa.

In no case, of course, do the direct benefits offset the 3% foreign exchange fee I have to pay – I am fully aware of this.  However, the spend we do would help push me towards my next 2-4-1 voucher on the Premium Plus Amex or the free night voucher on the Priority Club Black Visa.  This nudges them ahead of the bmi card, despite it paying 2.5 Avios per £1!

Because of the double points for foreign spend on the Priority Club Black card, I think it just wins.  I will have no trouble hitting the £10,000 target on my BA Amex via UK domestic spending, so I might as well take the foreign spend bonus on the Priority Club card.

I will also make a mental note to ensure that one of us gets a ‘no FX fees’ card before our next overseas holiday where we will not be getting our accommodation for free …..

(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.)

Comments (38)

  • Clive J says:

    I’m imagining a scene where a massive queue builds up behind you at check-out as you line all these cards out on the desk and work out which one to use 🙂

  • pazza2000 says:

    Slighty related… I’m trying to make payments towards a BA holiday with 3V cards having read that they can be used, however it is failing as the billing address is incorrect. The billing address I assume being the address to which I registered the cards with. Any ideas?

    • idrive says:

      is your BA account registered at the same address as the 3v?

      • pazza2000 says:

        Yes it is, although that shouldn’t make a difference is imagine anyway.

    • Blacksmith says:

      Keep trying with the 3v card. I have had success on the second or third attempt with the address issue. It seems like the 3v system responds intermittently to the address query.

      • pazza2000 says:

        Tried again tonight, two or three attempts per card less a £1 pre auth charge each time, No success! I only activated the cards last night, although every billing address detail I’ve entered on BA.com matches the address registered to the character.

        • Fenny says:

          It’s probably the BA website that’s the problem. I’ve just emailed them to tell them their site sucks and if they’re going to email me offers, I expect not to end up in a constantly reloading page loop where the search doesn’t work. As the website is the way most of their customers interact with them, it would help if they actually invest some time and effort into making it work properly.

          I suppose I could offer them an apprentice!

  • Blackberryaddict says:

    I mostly use my Amex Gold for foreign spend – especially on business travel, but also on personal. Foreign hotels tend to yield 3 MR points per pound. The thing is, even if I used a exchange fee-free card, I don’t think I would add up all the fees I have saved and go to the BA website to buy Avios. Or go through even more complicated hoops as described above to get more Avios. Life really is too short for that. But at the end of the year on 15k spend I’ll have 45-50k points – that’s two UUAs to the US. That’ll do me fine.

  • Adam says:

    I know we’ve gone slightly O/T with our “Which cards we use for overseas spending”, but I use Halifax Clarity for card payments and – whilst not being a huge advocate of packaged current accounts – my Nationwide FlexPlus Visa Debit card for commission-free and fee-free cash withdrawals abroad.

    My ‘value for money’ decision on the Nationwide account (£10pcm) for this year at least was the inclusion of a 5* defaqto-rated Worldwide Family Travel insurance.

  • Jason K says:

    I hit the £7k spend on my Lloyds Amex in the US in December. Had already offset the fee with TC, earned just over 18k avios, and will save 25k avios using the upgrade voucher for my next solo trip to the US. Not bad, especially since I’d already hit all my other spend targets.

  • Jean Baird says:

    I am unsure about the difference between the BA Amex and the ordinary Amex and do we receive the same offers on both cards.

    I have a BA card and use it all the time although it is difficult to get flights using just avios points you seem to have to book way in advance and my lifestyle just does not allow that

    Many thks

    • Rob says:

      If you don’t spend enough on your BA Amex to trigger the 241 voucher, you may be better off with an Amex Membership Rewards card (Platinum, Gold) or the Starwood Amex. These allow you to convert to a large number of airline and hotel schemes, so you retain flexibility and can move your points to whoever has availability at the time you need to book.

  • Simmo says:

    Does anybody know how many points would you get on a Priority Black VISA for spend at a IHG property in a foreign currency? 4x, 8x, or ??

    I have £1000 of IHG hotels booked abroad which need to be paid for (without additional meals, drinks etc)

  • Nik says:

    I use Halifax Clarity overseas but slightly finessed by having the Reward version; not sure if this is still available but you get £5 each month you spend at least £300.