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ALL MBNA airline credit cards withdrawn – what are your alternatives?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


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)


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


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


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


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


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)

  • JamesB says:

    OT @Rob, please send me a referral for SPG card, I will use it today or soon after receiving. Please note the new email address you see is correct. Thanks.

  • Leo says:

    What about existing cards, then? to be cancelled soon?

    • Rob says:

      At some point …. but no-one knows if that is next month or next year.

      • flyforfun says:

        If so the better refund any annual fees paid. 🙁

        • Mummy55 says:

          My card fee has just appeared on my statement today. (£140).
          Should I pay it ??

          • Rob says:

            If a single transaction goes through your card after today then you are forced to pay it, as you are deemed to have ‘accepted’ the charge. They will only refund you if no payments go through between today and when you cancel.

        • TripRep says:

          Mummy55 – Assume you mean the Virgin Black, have you earnt your PE Upgrade vouchers, do they show on your VS FC a/c?

          My card year ends later this month, I’m cancelling as soon as the PE Vouchers hit my VS FC a/c, if a £140 fee appears on the card I believe it is possible to get it wiped if your cancelling and have no outstanding spend on it.

  • Heran says:

    I suppose EU’s cap is to encourage cashless society. While UK’s previous rate may be higher than 0.3%, credit cards are in general more accepted in the UK than most other EU countries except Scandinavia countries. There is no evidence such cap will increase CC usage significantly and it should let market decide.

    • Rob says:

      I went coin-less recently and, with a few exceptions, my trousers look better and I’ve had no problems (except when I didn’t have 30p for the loo at Euston ….).

      • flyforfun says:

        I was in Norway last week. In a gents loos in a shopping centre all the lock ups had card machine readers on them! No urinals so you really had to pay to spend a few kroners.

      • Fenny says:

        Until our tea trolley installs a contactless card reader, I will need to have several lots of 40p, plus any extra cash for shortbread, each day for my coffee intake.

    • Cate says:

      We haven’t used cash for about 10 years and are better off for it. Once you get into the swing of it you’ll find that others who still use cash will stretch your patience. We both keep 10 pounds in the cars just for emergencies.

  • Cate says:

    Hmnnn….with a restricted pool of viable alternatives on the horizon some point collectors could find themselves solely reliant on MR points to satisfy award targets. Not sure that’s a good thing for bonus churners who usually exit the MR system for six months and then reapply. Has Amex suddenly become too valuable to churn?

    It’s all change everywhere this month isn’t it and we’re only on the 8th 🙂

  • Frenske says:

    I’ve applied last Friday for the Virgin Black. Application accepted after testing I actually work where I said I work, though need to keep fingers crossed it will happen. Oddly they only want to give £1K limit whereas AmEx gives me 4.5x that.

  • Clive says:

    So… this week BA has mentioned dynamic pricing for avios spending and now a chunk of the available points cards have disappeared. Virgin’s Flying Club seems at risk of a dynamic spending model once the AF/KLM join up takes effect. Those of you who have been at this hobby for many years – is this just typical ‘ups and downs’ or are things drying up?

    • Rob says:

      The overall trend is towards making things harder, but the first sign of an economic downturn will mean the 100% Tesco transfer bonuses etc come back. The upside is that there are always more places to earn and, importantly but rarely factored in, the quality of seats available for redemptions (Qatar QSuite, Etihad First Class Apartment etc) is higher than ever.

    • Richard says:

      As someone who is 20 and only just getting into this, it does feel like a lot of the good opportunities are disappearing before I can get to them. Especially if the Starwood Amex goes next year with the merger. Hey ho.

  • Alex P says:

    Apologies for this being off topic but I couldn’t find a way of posting to a more relevant one:

    I’ve just got another Amex gold rewards card after cancelling the old one 6 months ago. I’m eligible for the new sign-up bonus again but will I also get a new lounge club membership card or does my existing membership just get re-instated?


  • David says:

    “The only half-decent Visa / MasterCard option is via the IHG …”

    Don’t forget the Hilton Visa card from Barclaycard is still available. In terms of alternative routes to earn loyalty currencies losing direct cards:

    Given standard earning rate of 2 HH per £ spent generally (more if you spend in a hilton) I make that:
    10k HH = 1.5k AA = 0.3/£
    10k HH = 1k United = 0.2/£
    10k HH = 1k Etihad = 0.2/£
    10k HH = 1k M&M = 0.2/£
    10k HH = 1.5k VS = 0.3/£

    In the case of AA and VS that would be better than the IHG free card. (Not the paid).
    and the Hilton Barclaycard also has no fee.

    (Note above is subject to me being half asleep)