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ALL MBNA airline credit cards withdrawn – what are your alternatives?

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Last week I ran this article suggesting that you should act immediately if you wanted to apply for any of the MBNA airline credit cards.

It was good advice.

All eight MBNA airline credit cards were pulled on Monday evening.  Slightly surprisingly, this included the new American Airlines card which is only a few months old and which did not have an American Express element.

These are the cards you can no longer get:

Lufthansa Miles & More

Emirates Skywards

Emirates Skywards Elite

Virgin Flying Club White

Virgin Flying Club Black

Etihad Guest

United Airlines MileagePlus

American Airlines AAdvantage

You should NOT assume that these cards will return under a new issuer.

We know that the two Virgin Atlantic cards will return shortly under the Virgin Money banner.  However, I know from some discussions I have had that you should not necessarily expect the other cards to return.  If you think that they are all primed to relaunch next week, you are very wrong.

Two linked events caused this.  The core driver was the European Union cap on interchange fees.  This restricted the fee that payment processors could charge retailers for accepting credit cards to 0.3%.   It is very difficult to run a successful mileage card on this basis.

The second driver was American Express being caught up in the 0.3% cap, even though it was originally expected to be exempt.  American Express decided to pull all of its licensed cards from the market, which means that MBNA, Lloyds, TSB and Barclays had to stop issuing Amex-branded products. (The Lloyds Avios Amex is still being issued but the end is nigh.)

I am a little surprised that the American Airlines card was pulled.  This had already been relaunched without an American Express element.  It combined a chunky fee (£70) with a very high earning rate (1.25 miles per £1 on a Visa).  I thought this might prove sustainable but MBNA clearly had other ideas.

So, overnight, one third of the UK airline and hotel credit and charge card market disappeared.

What are my alternatives?

If you currently hold these cards (I have the Lufthansa ones, my wife has the Virgin ones) they will continue to operate for a while.  Whether that is weeks, months or years I don’t know.

If you had been planning to get one of these cards but never got around to it, here are your options:

Lufthansa Miles & More / American Airlines AAdvantage

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold or American Express Platinum (points convert 2:1 into Starwood Preferred Guest, then 1:1 – or 1:1.25 for larger amounts – into Miles & More or AAdvantage)

or

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (best choice – points convert 1:1 into Miles & More or AAdvantage, or 1:1.25 for larger amounts)

The only half-decent Visa / MasterCard option is via the IHG Rewards Club MasterCard (0.2 miles per £1, assuming you convert 10,000 IHG points into 2,000 airline miles) or, with the £99 IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard, 0.4 miles per £1.

Emirates Skywards

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold or American Express Platinum (points convert 1:1 into Emirates Skywards)

or

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (points convert 1:1 into Emirates Skywards, or 1:1.25 for larger amounts)

The only half-decent Visa / MasterCard option is via the IHG Rewards Club MasterCard (0.2 miles per £1, assuming you convert 10,000 IHG points into 2,000 airline miles) or, with the £99 IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard, 0.4 miles per £1.

Etihad Guest

You can use the Amex Gold, Platinum or Starwood Amex options as per Emirates

or

HSBC Premier MasterCard (0.5 miles per £1) or HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard (1 mile per £1) – these cards are only available to HSBC Premier current account holders

You can also use the IHG option for a Visa / MasterCard (0.2 or 0.4 miles per £1).

Virgin Flying Club

You can use the Amex Gold, Platinum or Starwood Amex options above as per Emirates

or

Tesco Clubcard MasterCard (0.31 miles per £1) or Tesco Premium MasterCard (0.62 miles per £1)

or

you can also use the IHG option for a Visa / MasterCard outlined above (0.2 or 0.4 miles per £1)

or

wait for new Virgin Money-issued Virgin Flying Club credit cards

United Airlines MileagePlus

You can use the Amex Gold, Platinum or Starwood Amex options above as per Lufthansa / American.  However, because Starwood has a poor transfer rate to United, you should move your Starwood points across to Marriott Rewards and convert from there.  The exact rate will depend on the amount you transfer.

You can also use the IHG option for a Visa / MasterCard (0.2 or 0.4 miles per £1).

Reviews and to apply

Here are my reviews of the cards mentioned above, which also explain the sign-up bonuses available:

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – review, apply 

American Express Platinum – review, apply 

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – review, apply 

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard – review, apply 

IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard – review, apply 

Tesco Clubcard MasterCard – review, apply 

Tesco Premium MasterCard – review, apply 

HSBC Premier MasterCard – review, apply 

HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard – review, apply 


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

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

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:

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

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.

Comments (161)

  • Simon Cross says:

    Will Brexit mean that UK issued credit cards no longer be subject to the 0.3 percent interchange cap and therefore will airline loyalty cards return?

    • Guesswho2000 says:

      Very unlikely that it’ll be reversed. Similar has occurred here in Australia, so it’s not just a Europe thing (although obviously it’s not EU legislation at work here!).

      • Paul says:

        1/3rd withdrawn and BAs dominance of the U.K. market rises significantly. Bad news all round.

    • Genghis says:

      “The Great Repeal Bill would transpose existing EU legislation into domestic UK law”
      http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-39439554

    • Nick says:

      It was the British who pushed for this rule within the EU, so even without the GRB there is near certainty that it would stay.

      Remember that the government is trying to protect consumers overall, rather than a very niche group of miles collectors. On balance – annoying though it is for both us and the credit/finance lobby – I think it’s the right thing to do.

      • John says:

        I don’t think capping interchange fees is helpful per se.

        I agree with banning card surcharges for consumers, and the rest can be sorted out by the market.

      • W says:

        Agreed especially given the BoE reported rise in minimum monthly payments on credit and rising households debts.

      • Alan says:

        Although given this is only a component of the cost that smaller retailers end up paying it doesn’t yet appear to be making any positive difference to consumers.

        • Rob says:

          Of course it does. Changing prices is expensive – shops hate it. So you do leave it as long as possible. No idiot reprices stock daily as electricity goes up or the cashier gets a pay rise etc.

        • Genghis says:

          But there have been multiple comments here from small retailers about the card providers not passing on any of the savings to the small retailers?

        • Alan says:

          I don’t follow, Rob – of course I wouldn’t expect them to reprice daily but if they’re not seeing any reduction in costs then there’s nothing for them to reprice anyway! Sure Tesco, ASDA, etc. will see a drop but I’m talking about the vast majority of other retailers who will still be stuck paying many multiples of the interchange rate.

          • Rob says:

            I reckon if you look at the dynamics of a small shop there isn’t much to reduce. The terminals aren’t cheap. I don’t know how many sales visits are required to set up and manage an account. The overheads may be disproportionately high already compared to the card volume your local hardware shop or butcher is putting through.

          • Alan says:

            I’ve seen a *lot* of places using iZettle now (in Edinburgh and London) – very low startup costs, zero monthly fee and still fairly reasonable if you want a till unit (https://accessories.izettle.com/?_ga=2.163506238.346201362.1510182994-1003187001.1510182994). On the upside they take all card types so great for using Amex with no hassle!

  • Lux says:

    Wow. Ouch. Damn, that’s a big blow. Might be time to head for HSBC Premier card.

    My Emirates Elite card is due for renewal this month so will see if I’m charged the fee and allowed to continue.

  • Guesswho2000 says:

    This is a shame, and I’m hoping the AAdvantage card stays live for existing customers for a while at least, I’m using it every month to keep my miles alive for 18 months. Not a lot of earning options in Australia, bar SPG, which could itself be gone eventually.

    • David says:

      At least any activity does the trick in terms of keeping AA miles alive.

      With Miles & More unless you have the card product (or status) your miles are on a fix expiry – regardless of activity. That is very troubling development for non-intensive earners of them in the UK.
      I’d hope for a M&M relaunch (perhaps with creation?).
      Otherwise, perhaps they could do a deal with Amex, removing miles expiry for people who link a Plat account or something (and become a MR conversion partner).

      • Sol says:

        I really hope none of these are picked up by Creation. They are terrible at running credit organisations and I’ve had nothing but trouble (missing points, rubbish statements, poor service, poor website, card declined overseas etc…). Worth reading the trustpilot reviews and I back the fact they get 1 star. .

        • Fenny says:

          I’ve only had half a dozen transactions on my Creation account, which was enough to make me never use it again. I only got it to pay a specific transaction, which I completely failed to get through their system. I shall only keep it for the IHG status.

      • Rich says:

        Yes, a bit of a bugger. A monthly transaction on the MBNA cards (via Curve) was the only thing keeping my M&M balance alive. Will probably have to cash these out into an Amazon voucher now unless some other method comes along quickly.

    • Hingeless says:

      Why bother collecting AA miles in oz, I find Asia miles are the easiest to collect via a credit card and can be used on AA and all other one world airlines

      • guesswho2000 says:

        I’ve already got a load of them sat there, and can (and have) redeem on FJ from time to time. It’s still not a bad programme in terms of redemptions, though it used to be much better. Whether I’d start collecting now (unless I was flying between AU-US regularly) is another matter.

        I had the AA card years ago, when the 35k signup bonus was offered. Also, when I was UK based, I used to have AAdvantage Platinum, at the time the 100% bonus on discount Y meant I got ~40k miles from every return trip LHR-SIN-MEL at the back of the plane. And LHR-DXB-MEL on QF was 80k each way in First as a redemption.

      • Alan says:

        Etihad redemptions was the main reason for the folks I knew collecting them when I was there. One of them even got me to buy miles and do a redemption for him as the pricing was so good!

  • David says:

    Another – at least potentially – linked event is Lloyds Bank acquiring MBNA.
    Obviously, this is not as significant a driver as the Amex driven changes, but we don’t know what their long term plans, or perhaps what their ‘revised’ long term plans are.

    (I’m thinking in terms of the pulling of the AA card so soon after relaunch).

    Now some further thoughts:
    Lloyds of course have the Avios card (as you mention). While I’m sure IAG and/or BA could have a very good bidding war if they did want to switch to a non-Amex card product (as per IB recently), but it would certainly be possible to have some kind of exclusivity of airline partnership clause at play.
    Either already existing (and thereby preventing the folding of the AA card into Lloyds, or as part of Lloyds seeking to keep an Avios card product.

  • Lee says:

    I’ve just taken a 4 year money transfer from my AA Amex card with MBNA so I suspect it will be around for a while.

    Got a large chunk of money at a ridiculous low rate.

    As I never had a visa with it I only have the Amex.

    • David says:

      The card account product can remain active for as long as MBNA wish, but they can transition it away from being linked to an airline FF scheme, etc very easily.

      Most recent example being when bmi diamond club credit cards finally closed, MBNA just issued new cards with generic MBNA branding. The card product itself remains unchanged, what benefits you get with it change (such as earning FF miles).

      • HAM76 says:

        That’s what Barclay’s did with the BA card in Germany…. Everything remained indentical including the price. One would just not get any miles nor a 241 voucher, anymore.

  • John says:

    So are the Lloyds Avios cards going to be pulled too?

    • W says:

      Yeah can you clarify. I was confused by the bit that says Lloyds no longer issue Amex. Certainly not pulled from the website and looks like business as usual.

      So for now best direct earning is the piss poor Lloyds Avios MasterCard. For those that don’t qualify for this exclusive HSBC thing.

    • Rob says:

      At some point

      • W says:

        So we could be left with just BA, Amex direct and Virgin Money?

        • Rob says:

          Creation and possibly NewDay (who do the Amazon, House of Fraser cards but have little travel exposure apart from the TUI card) may fill the gap. These are very lean businesses whose overhead structure can probably support the new industry dynamics.

  • Polly says:

    Rob,

    Slight edit required. Make sure you add in World Elite to the 2nd HSBC MasterCard tho, or folks will think they earn 1 mile per £ on the premier MC. Thanks…

  • Paul says:

    I missed the news about the Virgin cards going to Virgin Money. Any details on the benefits/earning rates on these new cards?