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What I learned when I met all the big players in UK travel credit cards

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I spent Tuesday at a conference in London focussed on travel loyalty credit cards.  Whilst I don’t like taking a day out of my schedule, I felt it would be good to get a feel for how the industry is responding to the EU-imposed fee cuts.

It was a fun event and I was impressed by how many of the delegates read this site.  Hi to Lauren, Jason, Nauman, Sanam, Katie, Tibor, David and many others.

UK Rewards credit and charge cards

I have done my best to sum up what I discovered in the bullet points below:

There appears to be a challenge to Amex’s view that the British Airways card is exempt from the 0.3% fee cap.  If you have read our previous articles on the new EU rules, you will know that directly issued Amex cards are exempt.  It seems that poorly worded legislation may mean that, whilst the BA card was never meant to be included (as it is directly issued by Amex) it may get dragged in.  This is linked to BA’s role in the process which means that the card is not strictly vertically integrated.

Travel loyalty cards remain hugely attractive for issuers.  Bad debt is very low.  Monthly spend is high.  Whilst very few people pay interest, those that do are paying it on large balances.

70% of co-branded credit cards are issued by retailers (M&S, Tesco, John Lewis, House of Fraser etc).  The travel segment is smaller than you imagine.

US research shows that the average spend on a co-branded credit card is 3x higher than the average spend on a ‘no rewards’ credit card.

48% of people in a recent survey felt that earning points was more valuable than earning cash via a cashback credit card

The EU fee cap is a seismic change for the industry.  However, the holders of travel loyalty cards are smart and look for value – simply slashing the rewards is not a viable strategy.

The loss of revenue will be partially clawed back from annual fees and a greater push to generate fees from, for example, balance transfers.

The way forward will involve the airlines and hotels investing more in their co-brand cards.  Getting their brand in your wallet drives loyalty and brand visibility – some of the value from this should be passed back.

With more loyalty cards requiring annual fees, the airlines and hotels will need to start giving back more in benefits.  IHG is leading the way here with Gold and Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club.  Perhaps we may see BA Bronze or Virgin Silver status given out with their premium (high fee) credit cards?

In terms of what the future holds, there were three interesting ideas I heard about:

Creating a new UK domestic payment scheme.  Many countries have their own domestic payment schemes which compete with Visa and MasterCard.  Carte Bancaire is very successful in France.  Turkey and Canada have major schemes.  Even Bulgaria and Serbia have them.  Such a scheme could be exempt from the new EU legislation.  They usually involve a JV with Visa or MasterCard to allow the card to be accepted abroad.

Creating a private credit card.  In the US, American Airlines issues a credit card which can ONLY be used for purchases with AA.  It is not branded Visa / MasterCard etc.  I doubt BA could make this work in the UK but potentially a coalition of major supermarkets, garages and travel companies could launch their own card network.

Apple Pay and Google Pay will play a major role going forward.  They are a threat – if you load your BA Amex details to Apple Pay then you don’t ‘see’ the card when you use it and the brand visibility is lost.  They are also an opportunity – Apple Pay could use Avios as a direct incentive to use its platform, or could re-sell them to merchants who would award them to customers who use Apple Pay.  

(My personal view is that it is logical for Apple and Google to launch their own credit cards and possibly even payment networks.  It would, for a start, be a good way of putting their excessive amounts of surplus cash to use.)

As you can see, there is a lot going on.  You should expect more big changes to your favourite travel credit card over the next year.

PS.  I also believe I know why the Marriott credit card has been temporarily suspended for new applications.  This link lists everyone called Marriott who has applied for, and received, permission from the Financial Conduct Authority to promote credit cards in the UK.  Guess who is not there?  Did they forget to get a licence?  Compare that to Hilton, IHG, British Airways etc.

Want to earn more points from credit cards? – June 2021 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our June 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the other top current deals:

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review

Earning miles and points from small business cards

If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these offers.

Amex American Express Business Gold card

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express card

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

Comments (123)

  • Stephen says:

    Apple Pay certainly isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a threat to branding, as Rob suggests in his post. Every time I use Apple Pay I see a picture of the card appear on the phone right in front of me (this is also the case with an Apple Watch).

    In fact this potentially leads to more brand exposure than a contactless card, which doesn’t need to be taken out of a wallet, etc.

    The problem I’ve seen so far, from a branding pov, is with mbna. All my Amex cards, and my normal bank cards, have branded images to represent the card. However, my Virgin Black cards do not – they are shown as a generic mbna Rewards (Visa) and Rewards+ (Amex) cards – apart from that they are plain black or white, with nothing at all to indicate they are my Virgin cards. If I had more than one mbna card I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart!

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