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

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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 many different Visa and Mastercard products.    Today I want to run through them all briefly and suggest possible reasons for getting them.

(EDIT: this article was updated on 1st July 2018 and all of the information was correct as of that date.)

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Experian Credit Score.

All of these cards add a 3% foreign exchange fee, so you might want to get a separate free credit card to use abroadThe Virgin Money Travel Credit Card (click here) is free and has NO foreign exchange fees.  There are no travel rewards card without a foreign exchange fee.

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.

With the Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & Mastercard now closed to new applicants, your Avios options are limited.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (but high income needed):  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 hereUntil 18th September you get 1,000 Clubcard points (worth 2,400 Avios or 2,500 Virgin miles) as a sign-up bonus.  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.

Virgin Flying Club cards:

Best long-term card OVERALL as long as you can use the miles – either Virgin Reward Mastercard (free) or Virgin Reward+ Mastercard (£160)

Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available.  You get 0.75 miles per £1 on the free card and 1.5 miles per £1 on the paid card.  This is FAR better than any Avios or hotel card.  You also get a 2-4-1 or upgrade redemption voucher for hitting spending targets.  The only downside is that, with no short haul routes, you are unlikely to earn enough miles purely from the credit card to get a good redemption so the cards are best suited to regular Virgin flyers.  Representative APR 22.9% on purchases, the Reward+ card has an overall APR of 63.9% including the fee, assuming a £1200 credit limit.

Of little use to most people:

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.

Credit cards


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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  1. OT: Marriot/Avios Saga – Any chance of getting stuck 1000 avios at Marriot account.

    • Hope not but probably yes:(

    • Jonathan says:

      I threatened reporting them to the ASA for false advertising and a demanded compensation etc. After 2 weeks (and circa 9 emails back and forth) i got a response from a manager saying the points were free so there will be no compensation but they had made a request for the points to be awarded manually. To which i checked over teh weekend and they had duly arrived. So i replied saying can you now do the same for my wife, mum and dad who also signed up for the offer to get a response that each person needs to contact them directly. Marriott customer services is non existent, worse than BA!

  2. Rob

    With the IHG cards at gold and platinum depending which card you went for would Hilton status match accordingly do you think (assuming you took a stay at an IHG property). I.E. could I get Hilton gold if I had IHG gold status via the card in theory and so on?


    • I got Hilton Gold from having IHG gold from credit card, I could also show 4 IHG stays in the previous quarter

    • Nick, I got IHG platinum via the £99 credit card, applied to Hilton for a status match and was given a status challenge: 4-7 stays for Hilton gold, 8+ stays for Hilton Diamond. I’m now HH Diamond and furiously trying to re qualify for 2018.

      Hilton Diamond is an excellent status: exec lounge access, free breakfast and frequent upgrades.

    • Not sure, now that IHG has Spire Elite. For safety I’d get the Premium card for IHG Platinum because then your worse case scenario is Hilton Gold and you might get Diamond.

  3. Boon Koh says:

    Be aware with the unpredictability of getting The free night cert with the Hilton credit card. Both my wife and I signed up in July and hit the £750 spend in mid July, but still haven’t received our certificates yet 6 weeks later. The T&Cs say up to 8 weeks to receive, so you really do need to time your spend and the 8 weeks, as you only have 6 months to redeem it!

    • Agree, I received mine almost immediately but my wife’s voucher hasn’t arrived 6 weeks later. I’ve emailed them 3 times – still waiting

    • Currently facing same problem, having hit target mid-July. Secure messaging & calling Barclaycard has been unsuccessful. Wanted to redeem at Conrad Seoul for trip at end of the month. Any suggestions?

    • Is that 6 months after the account is opened or 6 months after the certificate arrives?

      • 6 months from certificate issue date

        • Cheers Rob. So going along the time line of using them next May, and looking at the comments on here, I should look to hit the spend target in December to give enough time for the Certificates to be issued.
          Hopefully the Conrad Tokyo will not be fully booked by then

  4. Does anyone know if there is a bigger sign up bonus coming to any of the above cards in the near future?

  5. Michael Jennings says:

    On thing that is not mentioned in this article is that applying for and spending money on the IHG credit cards has been coming up in IHG’s Accelerate promotion. If it helps you trigger a few targets (it will for me between September and December) then the card is potentially a lot more valuable then its sign up and spending rewards make it initially appear. How much more valuable is going to vary a lot from person to person though.

  6. This site has been awesome in allowing me to get to a number of interesting places in a style I have come to love. So my I would interested in how others view this
    U.K. Spend
    Amex cards
    Amex gold + swapping between Virgin and BA to pick up the sign up
    Non Amex
    Hilton as you score points than Holiday Inn. Or Virgin if on this cycle.
    Foreign Spend
    Halifax Clarity Card. The roughly 3% that you don’t get charged on currency can’t be beaten.

    • Scallder says:

      Paul – if you spend more than £800 abroad a year, then at 3% the £24 charge on the Avios Amex and Mastercard pack pays for itself, and you’ll pick up Avios for it. I don’t have a Halifax clarity account, however we put everything through those Avios cards abroad, and if we do need to take cash out (which I try and minimise to the most extent possible), then we have the Nationwide FlexPlus account which gives free withdrawals globally (Visa, so perhaps slightly different exchange rates to a MC).

      You should think about the SPG Amex as well whilst it’s around, can put some spend through that for sign up bonus (only £1k needed) and can then convert to Avios or Virgin at 1:1 or 1:1.25 if done in 20k chunks.

      • But if he does have a halifax clarity then the £24 is wasted money until offset by avios earning

    • Lloyds Avios for me on foreign spend for sure – no 3% fee, but also Avios plus upgrade voucher!

  7. I’m thinking about cancelling the Etithad, Virgin and Hilton cards which I don’t use. Only got it for the signup bonus. Any reason why I should keep any of these?

    • Hilton Silver status, that’s about it

      • Thanks Rob.

      • Is the Hilton card not worth keeping for long term spending on Hilton stays? Unless you are spending to hit a sign on target with another card, does the Hilton card not get you more Hilton rewards than an Amex etc spend?

        • I’ve kept my Hilton card vs. swapping Amex MP into Hilton points for a couple of reasons Wivus:
          1) 1 membership point= 2 hilton points, which is what the Hilton visa card gets you (so no advantage in terms of pure spending, unless you are churning for the bonus MP). You also get 3 hilton points per £ when buying Hilton stays.
          2) It’s a Visa, so acceptance rate among retailers in the UK is higher than the Amex cards
          3) If you spend £10k on the Hilton you get gold status, which (depending on how often you stay in Hiltons) is usually v good. I got a room upgrade and free breakfasts at a lot of the Hiltons I’ve stayed at due to this.
          You’d have to work out if it’s worth upgrading to an Amex plat for all the extras (including Hilton Gold), but for me it’s not worth it, so I’ve kept my Hilton visa 🙂

        • Thanks Jon, all good reasons.
          I have the Platinum, so Hilton Gold already. Going to cancel that soon but you keep the status until the end of next year.
          The long term view for myself is I stay a lot at Hiltons for business (20-30 per year) so the spend there at x3 is the reason I will keep it I think. Holidays at their better hotels are quite acheivable
          Also no fee so no harm to the bank balnce

        • totaltool says:

          Wivus, if you cancel now won’t you just get the HH Gold Status for 2017 which is in effect 31 March 2018?

        • If you get Hilton status now, it’s valid until 31 March 2019

    • What’s the effect on credit rating for cancelling cards?

  8. How many Avios would you need to generate to offset the £24 fee. I would only use the Lloyds card abroad.

    Do you have to use the voucher for flights departing the UK, as the BA 241?

    • Scallder says:

      unless you have another FX free card, £800 of foreign spend at 3% would pay the £24 back itself. In terms of number of Avios, all depends on your own valuation, but at 1p per Avios, you’d need to accumulate 2,400 a year to make the £24 worth it.

      Voucher doesn’t need to depart the UK (which for HK and Brazil (I think) makes it very beneficial as legally you can’t put on fuel surcharges on a one-way ticket), but does have to be BA metal.

  9. 2400 avios…and you can it on ba starting anywhere in the world

    • Thanks. I’m going for it then!

    • New Card says:

      Plus the earning rate on the Amex is 2.5 avios per £1 for the first six months. That’s close to unbeatable and one can easily offset the fee many times over with that…

    • Wouldn’t it be 9,600 in the sense that you are effectively paying 24 pounds to earn an extra 0.25 beyond what can be earned on a free card (BA Amex), though the upgrade voucher and absence of foreign currency transaction fees will reduce this considerably for many.

      • No. OP would only use card abroad. BA Amex costs 3% to use.
        BA Amex: -3% + 1% = -2%. Free card
        Lloyds Amex post first 6 months: 0% + 1.25% = +1.25%. Costs £24
        Break even 1.25x – 2400 = -2x
        x = £738 of spend

      • merchon55 says:

        “Plus the earning rate on the Amex is 2.5 avios per £1 for the first six months. That’s close to unbeatable and one can easily offset the fee many times over with that…”

        The double points is capped at £2500 spend each month so at best you’d get 22500 bonus avios for £15000 spend, which is NOT GOOD AT ALL

  10. Andrew_A says:

    There is also a 29 month interest free period on purchases on the Lloyds cards which could make it quite easy to bring spend forward to hit the £7000 for the upgrade voucher.

  11. Why are visa offerings in Europe abysmal?; plenty of visa signature cards available in the US hardly anything in the UK if at all.

    • Thanks to the 0.3% interchange fee cap introduced by the EU!

      • It’s gutting that the financially stupid will no longer fund our travel and lifestyles 🙂

      • Even before that, card sign up bonuses were much higher in N. America especially in Visa/MasterCard.

      • Caps in place in Oz now too, would be amusing to see how the US blogs coped if it happened there!

        • guesswho2000 says:

          Yep, and it’s hit earn rates since it came in on 1/7. ANZ have also binned Amex cards, but the other banks haven’t, yet. Same issue with the cap on bank issued Amex cards as in the EU, and Amex/Diners own cards are exempt.

          Australia’s rewards market may cope better, because most rewards cards already carry annual fees anyway, and signup bonuses are generally pretty good. Also, we’re mourning the gradual disappearance of 1pt/AU$1, but it’s still achievable on a Visa/MC, so not all bad yet…

      • merchon55 says:

        FAKE NEWS!

        The UK has NEVER had credit card deals like the USA. Lev441 might want to blame the EU for this, but should do their HOMEWORK first!!!

        • Remoaner?

        • guesswho2000 says:

          No, but compared to elsewhere, the UK has generally been quite good (as has Australia). The imposed interchange cap is the main driver behind the worsening of earn rates.

  12. Lloyds upgrade voucher:
    I have looked at previous HfP articles on this but I couldn’t see the answer, so apologies if I was being blind:
    The Ts&Cs say: “Upgrade vouchers can be used to upgrade either 2 one way flights for 2 people travelling at the same time and to the same destination or 1 return journey booked on a British Airways main line service. British Airways codeshare flights are excluded. Flights from London City airport are excluded.”

    I see comments that whoever wrote these Ts&Cs seem not familiar with how airline ticketing works.

    Apparently people have been successful using it for E.g. JFK-LHR (so the exclusion of just LCY seems rather odd – does it mean “to or from LCY” ?)
    But how about EDI-LHR-JFK as one redemption? Does that count as two flights or one?
    It says “flights”, in which case the answer would be two but does it really mean “direction on a PNR”?
    How about BOS-LHR-FRA?

    • the_real_a says:

      The flight must begin or end in the UK… you can pin on a UK domestic connection (as on any Avios Club redemption) and pay no extra Avios (but additional £50 in tax) – so EDI – LHR – XYZ is perfectly fine (and have booked this myself). XYZ – LHR – EDI is also perfectly fine.

      One of the reasons for the exclusion for LCY was because BA1 did not have premium economy, and such Avios could not generate a “price” for the club upgrade. As i understand it they can now do this theoretically and i know someone has booked BA1 from LCY using hte upgrade voucher. Since there is no lounge in LCY i can see no reason why one would “waste” the voucher on anything from LCY other than BA1.

      • the_real_a says:

        I should add that the domestic connections are not upgraded to domestic business even when using the voucher, but you CAN use LHR lounges on the club portion of your itinerary.

        • Ermm they should be! Certainly no issue getting my voucher redemption booked into CE for the domestic connections. Remember it’s not really an upgrade voucher, more an Avios discount. So they make a normal CW booking (with CE domestic connection), but then discount the Avios to only charge you the WTP amount (plus no extra Avios for connection anyway, although do have extra tax).

        • the_real_a says:

          That’s really interesting – the opposite of what i have been told by the agent each time i booked. Perhaps things have changed recently.

        • I don’t think anything has changed, I last made a booking a couple of months ago and there was no problem getting the domestic connection in CE. Was there definitely availability in that cabin OK? (I may have just given them flights that only had Club availability, can’t quite remember)

      • the_real_a says:

        XYZ – LHR – EDI is counted as ONE flight, so you can upgrade on the return portion of that flight using the voucher as well.

  13. Hi all, quick question. I’ve got the Amex gold preferred and referred my wife about a week ago. She got the card. I’m now about to hit the anniversary on mine, and thus wanna cancel it as soon as I get the bonus points for reaching the 10k spend. Will i still get the referral bonus if I cancel my card before she hits the 2k spend requirement?

    Many thanks for your help!

    • Yes referal points should come through a week after approval.

    • Yes you get it as soon as her card is issued by amex so a few days after applying.

      It seems like you don’t get the 10000 bonus until 1 month after renewal date so have to pay about £15 of the fee

    • You get the bonus within 48 hours of her acceptance.

    • Yes, the referral bonus bears no relation to the person you refer hitting the sign up bonus, they only have be accepted for the card. If you click the T&Cs info on the referral page it’s got a nice wee table that lays out the rules and amounts/timings.

    • Also if you want to you after you get that 10k bonus..you could upgrade to plat for 20k MRs bonus for maybe one month..then fee refund or maybe not even charged. Some people on here not charged fee…worth a shot . Genghis do you have the link? Tnx…P

  14. No need to pay for credit reports. They’re free with Clearscore and MSE Credit Club (one Equifax, one Experian).

    They also give you your odds of being accepted for loads of cards and if you’re pre-approved which is pretty handy.

    • And Noddle using Call Credit, though perhaps the least useful of all of them but another indicator nonetheless.

  15. 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…

    • RussellH says:

      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.

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