Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What are the best ‘first’ loyalty credit cards to get?

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Head for Points is featured in The Daily Mail today (click here to read it).  This post originally ran last month but I am repeating it today because I thought it would an interesting introduction any Mail readers who choose to visit today – welcome!  It’s a slow news day, after all 🙂 

The UK loyalty credit card market can be very confusing.  It can also be very lucrative – with some huge sign-up bonuses to earn – but knowing where to start is tricky.

Head for Points publishes the only comprehensive directory of UK travel loyalty credit cards which you can find here.  There are over 20 cards included.

I have also written a number of articles over the last year to help you focus on what might work best for you:

UK Rewards credit and charge cards

Comparing the 15 credit cards which now earn you Avios

The top 16 UK loyalty credit card sign-up deals by £ value

What are the best credit card bonuses for LONG TERM spending?

Which loyalty credit cards are worth keeping just for their benefits?

What is the best Avios credit card?  Part 1 and Part 2

What is the best Visa or Mastercard for earning miles and points?

What are the best credit cards for earning Star Alliance miles?

What is your credit card ‘end game’ strategy?

What is the best credit card to use abroad when someone else is paying?

What is the best use of Amex Membership Rewards points?

For this article, however, I thought I would drill down to basics and suggest two cards which make an excellent starting point if you are looking to get your first loyalty credit or charge card.

The first is the Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa card.  The representative APR on the card is 18.9% variable.

What I like about the Hilton Visa card is that the deal is VERY simple and VERY easy to reach.

Get the card (it’s free)

Spend £750 on it in 90 days, which is not a strain

Get a free night at ANY Hilton Group property, anywhere in the world, as long as you stay at a weekend (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) and within six months of triggering the voucher.

You don’t need to focus on the mid-range Hilton properties, you can also stay at the luxury Conrad or Waldorf-Astoria brands.  Free night at the Conrad Maldives or Waldorf-Astoria Rome? No problem. Conrad New York? Conrad London St JamesConrad Algarve?  You’re in (as long as they have standard award availability). Easy.

The best way to get excited about ‘miles and points’ as a hobby to have a successful redemption under your belt.

What could be better than booking a European weekend away and staying in a top-end Hilton, Waldorf-Astoria or Conrad hotel for free?  We recently reviewed the refurbished Hilton Paris Opera, for example, which is well worth a visit.

And, of course, your partner could get their own Hilton credit card and get their own free night voucher. That would get you a 2-night stay and you could be pushing £750+ of value from your weekend away.

Long term, I don’t recommend keeping the Hilton card unless you are a dedicated Hilton HHonors collector. You only earn 2 points per £1, so you would need a ludicrous £35-40,000 of spending to get one free night at the Conrad New York. If you occasionally need some Hilton points to top up your account from hotel stays, you could transfer American Express Membership Rewards points instead.

The only reason to push spend onto the card is that you receive Hilton HHonors Gold status when you spend £10,000 in a calendar year.  However, you can also get free Hilton Gold as a benefit of American Express Platinum and Hilton is also running status matches at the moment.

As a good ‘first card’ for newcomers to this hobby the Hilton Visa has a lot to recommend it.   The application form for the Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa card is here.

My second choice is American Express Preferred Rewards Gold.

American Express has a very strong position in UK travel cards, primarily through the two British Airways credit cards.

However, even if you are an Avios collector, I recommend you start with Preferred Rewards Gold.  This is why:

The card is FREE for the first year

The sign-up bonus is huge – 20,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.  These convert 1:1 into Avios points.  You need to spend £2,000 in three months to trigger the bonus.

You get two FREE passes for airport lounge access, giving you a taste of what you can expect once you earn enough miles for Business or First Class flights

It gets you used to how charge cards work (you MUST clear your balance every month, it is not possible to pay interest and roll over your balance)

Even if you do eventually plan to get a British Airways American Express card, picking up 20,000 Avios from Preferred Rewards Gold will give your Avios account a good boost.  It is also possible to have Preferred Rewards Gold and a British Airways Amex credit card.

Whilst American Express Membership Rewards points convert 1:1 into Avios points, you can also do a LOT more with them.  They convert to many other airlines including Virgin Atlantic, as well as Eurostar, Hilton, Starwood and Carlson hotel programmes.  You can even forget about miles and points and convert them into Amazon or other High Street gift vouchers.

This is why it is a good first card.  You don’t need to commit to any particular loyalty programme.  Keep your points inside the Amex Membership Rewards scheme whilst you learn more about the different airline and hotel schemes.  When you are ready to commit, you can move your points over from Membership Rewards.  And, if you decide this hobby isn’t for you, you can cash in your points for a shopping voucher instead!

I do not necessarily recommend paying £140 for Preferred Rewards Gold after the free first year.  You can cancel at any point, however.  Amex will even let you re-apply after a six month break and get the sign-up bonus again!

The application form for American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is here.


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

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our August 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.

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

For a non-American Express option, we also recommend the Barclaycard Select Cashback card for sole traders and small businesses. It is FREE and you receive 1% cashback on your spending:

Barclaycard Select Cashback Credit Card

1% cashback and no annual fee Read our full review

Comments (87)

  • mark2 says:

    It is ironic that the people who claim to be liberal are making such illiberal comments.

  • Nick says:

    OT – Been looking at the QR deals out of CAI to BKK. Spied a deal next march out of all 4 sectors 3 were in First class, either the 777 (yes i know its intra ME), but F in the A380 DOH to BKK. £626 plus positioning cost seemed a steal plus the avios and TP. Anyone else been looking at this?

    • Rob says:

      Deal is correct, Qatar has yet to reprice following the collapse of the E£ last week.

  • the real harry says:

    little known fact that Daily Mail is the most visited newspaper website in the world (I know you won’t believe me but it was discussed recently on Radio 4’s The Media Show)

    it’s extremely big in USA, Aus, NZ

    apparently the ‘sidebar of shame’ (ie the gossipy tidbit rubbish) is the main attraction – not the real current affairs news coverage

    • the real harry says:

      MailOnline and the next page for the ‘sidebar of shame’

      Martin Clarke has made the website into a traffic magnet but can it keep up with cash-rich rivals?
      Martin Clarke does not want his photograph taken. The man who publishes dozens of revealing celebrity pictures a day on MailOnline says he is too tired, having been up since 3am editing the website’s coverage of the Scottish referendum. “Not today, mate,” he says. Perhaps seeing the irony, he relents. “Quick, do it then.”

      Mr Clarke, an old-school newspaper man, has created one of the world’s digital news success stories. He took the Daily Mail – a title so traditional that its editor is said to have his emails printed out before reading them – and spun off a news and entertainment site that now attracts 11m users a day.

      MailOnline’s revenues are on track to grow by nearly half to £60m this financial year. It is expanding its US operations under the leadership of the man who is sitting beside the ballot-fatigued Mr Clarke today: BuzzFeed’s former second-in-command Jon Steinberg.

      Mr Clarke suggests the website can aspire to be “as profitable as the newspaper”, which brings in between £70m and £80m in operating profit a year.

      “There are going to end up being four or five big global news brands,” the MailOnline publisher says, naming Yahoo, CNN, the BBC and The New York Times. “We need to be one of them, we’re going to be one of them.”

      MailOnline, part of the London-listed company Daily Mail and General Trust, is currently the world’s most popular English-language newspaper website (three Chinese publications rank higher). When other news sources such as Yahoo are included, it ranks number two in the UK, number seven in the US, and number five in Australia.

      Its long headlines hook readers on stories; the page layout keeps them reading; and the “sidebar of shame” – as a box of celebrity misdemeanours is known – means the next guilty pleasure is never far away. If you are tired of MailOnline, you are tired of Kim Kardashian’s life – and most readers are not.

      But there are sceptics: MailOnline’s biggest source of revenue is selling banner advertisements, which Mr Steinberg himself once described as “a terrible advertising product”.

      It faces well-funded competitors such as BuzzFeed and Vice News, which are more adept at lucrative sponsored content, known as “native advertising”. And then there is the cost base: to produce its daily mix of more than 750 articles, MailOnline employs 615 people, including 406 editorial staff. That is the case even though many stories are taken from news wire services, or repackaged from other newspapers.

      “It remains unprofitable today and it seems that every increase in revenue is ac­companied by a further increase in cost,” Mike Darcey, chief executive of its rival News UK, owner of The Sun and The Times, said this year. “Does this ever resolve itself, do revenues ever outstrip costs? Personally I have my doubts.”

      Mr Clarke, not known for having a thick skin, calls that assessment “utterly wrong”. Unlike print products, MailOnline’s distribution costs barely rise as its readership grows, he argues.
      “Why don’t you ring Mr Darcey and ask him how much longer The Sun paywall is going to be up? And when he brings it down, would you ask him to give me a call because there are a couple of bones I’d like to pick with him? I’m not like Darcey, I don’t spend my time telling other people how to run their businesses.”

      A spokesman for Mr Darcey said giving away The Sun’s content would make “no business sense”.

      MailOnline has cost its parent group about £35m to date. Without continuing investments in the US, Australia and soon elsewhere, it would be profitable, Mr Clarke says. “But we don’t want to be a bit profitable in Britain, we want to be very profitable globally.”

      At present the hype surrounds news sites aimed at those born in the 1980s and 1990s, known as “millennials”. Buzz­Feed was valued at $850m by an investment from venture firm Andreessen Horowitz; in contrast equity analysts value DMGT’s media division, which includes the Daily Mail print titles and MailOnline, at about £1bn.

      Can the UK site match BuzzFeed’s new $50m war chest? “We’re not investing anything like that,” says Mr Clarke. “That would probably be more than we really need. We’ve got good plans for video, but I don’t want to set up a film studio … You can only do what you’re good at. We’re good at news.”

      He wants MailOnline to focus on global stories such as “Isis, Gaza, Ebola, the Malaysian jets”. Television does foreign news “in pretty much the same way”, he adds. “Even relying on agency copy and stringers, we can own those stories.” So MailOnline is investing in more journalists to deepen its coverage.

      Mr Steinberg, meanwhile, is charged with increasing MailOnline’s work with brands. MailOnline is hoping brands will pay £65,000 per sponsored article in the UK, with a guarantee of 450,000 page views. Some of these pieces will sit in new boxes on the left-hand side of the page.

      The native advertising will be clearly labelled. However, unlike at BuzzFeed, the same journalists who write editorial content also write sponsored articles, creating potential conflicts of interest.
      Since joining MailOnline three months ago, Mr Steinberg has become a partial convert to banner ads. “I’d say my view on high-impact homepage takeovers has certainly changed,” he says, referring to advertisers’ ability to place advertising on the site’s background.

      In the US MailOnline is branding itself “Daily Mail”, and recently paid more than £1m to buy the web domain dailymail.com from a newspaper in Charleston, West Virginia. Mr Steinberg is keen to play on the newspaper’s heritage. “It feels like Burberry,” he says. “There’s an aspect of the brand that is aspirational.”

      Not everyone would agree. The actor George Clooney called it “the worst kind of tabloid” after an inaccurate story about his fiancée’s family.

      “We made a big error,” says Mr Clarke. But he goes on: “Our best readers are celebrities. They love the pictures of themselves. I’m not hobnobbing with celebrities everyday, but when I do run into people like the Kardashians, they adore what we do.”

      MailOnline is keen not to become dependent on social media for its articles to reach readers. A tweak to Facebook’s algorithms caused its traffic to surge in January and then fall back. “I don’t want to be somebody who’s just providing free content for Facebook,” says Mr Clarke.

      About 40 per cent of MailOnline’s traffic comes from readers who access it via the homepage or its mobile apps. That is a reflection on Mr Clarke himself, who spends hours each day ranking stories, writing headlines and picking photos. Does he ever look at the site and think it is just perfect? “Never,” he says.

      One former employee has lambasted life at MailOnline as a “battery hen operation”. But Mr Clarke seems to enjoy its demands. As Mr Steinberg says: “The minute you walk out of here, he’s going to rip the homepage up.”

    • Alan says:

      Indeed – lots of friends from Oz read it and couldn’t understand why I was supporting the petition against BA providing it – they had only see the trashy content and hadn’t realised how horrendous the main content is!

  • PM says:

    If there was any doubt about the clear lack of knowledge and intelligence from DM readers, take a look at the comments. So many wannabe experts who have no idea whatsoever.

    I for example, by playing the game cleverly have accumulated about 200k avios (used quite a few as well in the meantime) in a year without having a phenomenal salary or spending extra amounts. (probably more than the average DM reader though)

    So even if you try to enlighten the DM readership they are still just as dumb as the journalists feeding them.

    • Anon says:

      Aye, the comments section is hilarious, huge level of ignorance and cognitive dissonance.

      Let them think its a lie, a joke, a scam, too much hassle, I’m sure we’re more than happy for them not to turn left, we need some reward availability for the rest of us..

    • Grimz says:

      +1 with a household salary of around 45k a year!

  • Paul L says:

    50% redemption sale/last minute section on BA? Does this happen often at BA?

  • Alistair Todd says:

    Slightly OT but relating to the HHonors Platinum Visa…

    It offers “2,500 Bonus Points for each of your first four stays at any Hilton Worldwide hotel in your first 12 months of card membership”. I’ve stayed 3 times since getting my card and have not received any bonus points. I’ve asked HHonors customer service about this and they say “sorry for the confusion, please add your visa card number to your HHonors account”.

    I don’t know what that means. They seem to be talking about adding it as a payment card, but I didn’t see anything in the Ts&Cs to say that you have to pay for your stays with the Visa card in order to get those 2500 bonus points.

    Anyone have any experience with this?

    • Alan says:

      Yes I’ve had the card multiple times and this is always an issue. Normally they manually credit the points for you but their automated system does seem to have difficulty tracking the stays if you don’t have the Visa card in your HHonors profile. Of course if you get them manually credited then add the card to your profile you may receive them again 😉

  • Pol says:

    My favourite comment is this one:

    Yep Davina – a con – like so many other things….. local council sent TWO staff members to homes [at what cost?] to entice residents to sign up to have their bin inspected from time to time – so they could win some mad prize money!!! but actually to be penalised / fined when the *wrong stuff* is found in their bins – can’t complain as they signed up to it !!!

  • Vas says:

    Quick question on Amex Gold if I may. If I was to indeed take your advice and cancel and then re-apply after 6 months, what happens to the Reward points already accumulated?

    • Alan says:

      You need to move them somewhere else or you’ll lose them! I believe you get a one month grace period although I’d just move them before cancelling myself.

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