Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What is your credit card ‘end game’ strategy?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

People who drift into this odd hobby of ours often apply for a couple of credit or charge cards almost at random, perhaps because they were on promotion or because they didn’t know any better. They don’t have a long term strategy at that time, not surprisingly.

I thought it was worth taking another look today at where I think you should look to end up in terms of your credit card plans.  If you have just become involved in miles and points, the question to ask is:

“What credit cards should I get now, and which credit cards should I end up with?”

It’s like a substantially less exciting version of dating! You may meet someone who is good for a short fling, but at the same time you also know that you will end up settling down with someone who better shares your long-term ambitions ….

What cards offer the most generous sign-up bonuses?

If you are just coming into the world of miles and points, you may be looking for a card to give you a ‘big hit’ in terms of points. This will help you build up your balances quickly and get a good redemption under your belt.

Based on the size and flexibility of the rewards, the most valuable American Express and MasterCard / Visa option would be:

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (20,000 Avios for signing up, no fee in year one, good earnings rate) + Hilton Honors Platinum Visa (free night at ANY hotel in the wider group for spending £750)

These two cards will effectively give you £500-worth of sign-up bonuses between them, and will help you get the first redemption under your belt. And once you’ve done, say, a free weekend in Venice / Rome / Berlin with your other half (flights on Avios, hotel via the Hilton Venice, which is a lot smarter than you might imagine / Waldorf-Astoria Rome / Waldorf-Astoria Berlin / Waldorf-Astoria Amsterdam) you’ll be hooked.

Here is my full review of Amex Gold, here is my full review of the Hilton Visa.

You are then in a position to think about where you want to go next with your credit card strategy …..

Which cards offer the largest mileage benefits for on-going spending?

For most people, your ‘end game’ with loyalty credit cards – assuming you are focussed on Avios – will probably be:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1)

The 2-4-1 voucher with the BA PP Amex, when you spend £10,000, is the most valuable perk in loyalty credit cards, as I showed mathematically here. And the Tesco Mastercard is the highest earning Mastercard / Visa for Avios unless you meet the very tough requirements for the HSBC Premier card – although 0.3 Avios per £1 is still not great.

Here is my full review of the BA Premium Plus Amex, here is my full review of the Tesco MasterCard.

You may want to switch out the Tesco card for the:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & Mastercard (review)

There are two possible reasons to do this. If you spend £7,000 on the Lloyds card, there is an upgrade voucher which lets you redeem 2 x one-way Avios flights for the cost of the next cheapest cabin. First Class is excluded. The other benefit is that the Lloyds card comes with NO foreign exchange fees, saving you 3% on all your overseas spending.

Combined, these two benefits may justify the £24 annual fee. The headline earning rate on the Mastercard is 0.25 Avios per £1 which is lower than Tesco although Lloyds does not round down transactions in the same way as Tesco.

The Curve Card – with its 1% fee on foreign spend – is a potential option to pair with the Tesco card (3% FX fee) if you don’t want to pay the fee for the Lloyds card. You will even get paid £5 for trying out Curve.

You can still apply for other cards as good bonuses come along, especially once you’ve spent the £10,000 on your British Airways Premium Plus Amex to trigger your 2-4-1 Avios voucher. But these cards are both good choices for the long term.

“I don’t earn enough to spend £10,000 per year to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher on the BA Amex”

In that case, you are more likely to end up with:

British Airways American Express (free) + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1)

…. as the two highest earning free Avios cards (1 per £1 on the BA card, 0.3 per £1 on the Tesco card).

Here is my full review of the free British Airways American Express card.

“I tend to travel on my own so I can’t use the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher”

If this describes you, take a look at this article on cards for solo travellers. You will probably find the upgrade vouchers earned via the Lloyds Avios Rewards cards more useful. You are probably looking at:

Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express (£24) + Tesco Mastercard (0.3 Avios per £1, so higher than the Lloyds card and with added flexibility to use the Clubcard points for non-Avios redemptions)

“I have over £10,000 of Visa / Mastercard spend per year which cannot be made on an American Express card”

If this is you, I would suggest:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

Whilst the IHG card has a £99 annual fee, there are some good benefits. As well as a high earning rate (2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1, worth 0.8p – 1p) you receive a free night voucher for any IHG property when you spend £10,000 in a card year. If used at a top InterContinental, the voucher could be worth £250+. You will also receive Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club simply for having the card.

My full review of the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard is here.

“The Tesco card is embarrassing when I open my wallet and puts off the girls / boys”

In this situation, because the earning rate is poor on almost all other Visa and Mastercard products, I would go with:

British Airways Premium Plus American Express + whichever Visa or MasterCard is currently offering the most attractive sign-up bonus in your opinion

Cancelling an Amex Gold?

Here’s a good tip. If you are planning to cancel an American Express Preferred Rewards Gold to move on to a British Airways American Express, or simply to avoid the annual fee for Year 2 onwards, here is something to consider.

If you get the free Amex Rewards Credit Card, you will not have to empty out your Membership Rewards points account. The ARCC card allows you to keep your Membership Rewards points active without paying a fee.

Conclusion

The point of this post is that, after a bit of churning, you will want to ‘settle down’ with cards which offer genuine long-term value and which can genuinely help you reach your Avios goals. One of the combos above may be your best bet.


Want to earn more points from credit cards? – December 2022 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, here are our top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonuses.

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the best of the other deals currently available.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

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

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

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

The Platinum Card from American Express

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

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend 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 Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

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

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

10,500 points bonus – the most generous Avios Visa 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 (148)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • rob says:

    Thanks HfP; I’m a year or so in to this but still feel like a newbie, so a very useful article.

  • Alex W says:

    My end game this year is to churn SPG and Plat/Gold with Mrs W to get enough for a Marriott travel package. We have both triggered IHG free night thanks to tax bills etc. Plus a 10k transfer from Virgin and Mrs W even got to to Spire Elite!

  • eddie mcdonald says:

    i have held both the golds reward and the hilton rewards cards previously. Can you re-apply and gain the perks again??

    • Ian says:

      As long as you have not held any of the Amex Membership Rewards cards in the last 6 months you will receive the sign up bonus again if you reapply for the gold card.

    • Mike says:

      You can reapply for the Gold rewards card every 6 months but you’re better getting someone to do it for the 9000 referral bonus. – get Rob to refer you as he deserves the referral for all his hard work ???? I believe the Hilton card does not allow a further bonus but others on here have reported a bonus after a reasonable absence. We’ve just used our 2 nights in Helsinki – standard room upgraded for 50 Euro pn giving access to the exec lounge – well worth it in any Scandinavian country.

    • Ian says:

      And with the Hilton card, in theory you can only receive this sign up bonus once. But if you wait a few years you might get lucky

  • chris jones says:

    How long can you churn?

    I am a serial plat churner!

  • Manya says:

    Can someone please share the Amex gold to Platinum upgrade link?

    I’ve recently hit the sign up bonus for Amex gold and wife has had the card in her own name within the last 12 months so cannot refer her. With an upcoming rail season ticket renewal I have a big spend coming up which I would like to trigger a sign up bonus.

  • Simon says:

    Rob, as I mentioned when Imsaw you at the football in October, I am no longer convinced by the value of the BAPP given the number of business class fare sales which come along for eastbound flying and, more pertinently, lack of ability to use the 2-4-1 voucher in a productive way because young family mean the best we can hope for most years is a weekend away and while CE isn’t a horrific use of the voucher, I’m not going to be that far ahead of paying for those tickets too.

    So my question is what is your long-term solution for someone who doesn’t want/need one of the cards to be an Avios earner? I’ve settled on IHG for now, with a side order of an ARCC to maintain access to MRs (and once I have used those, will churn back to Gold) but would appreciate your views, and of course those of others here too.

    • Ian says:

      I would suggest the SPG Amex is the best option. 1 Starwood per pound (3 Marriott), and also transferable to a lot of different airline programs. It’s my number 1 card for ongoing spend.

  • Rob says:

    Another Rob here but this year alone:

    BA Plat spend 10k for the 241

    Wife BA Plat spend 10k. (We dont churn the BA AMEX)

    AMEX Plat spend 2k, refer wife after 6 months and then cancel, she spends 2k, refer me after 6 months and repeat.

    Got married this year so referred both my parents to the AMEX plat then cancelled.

    Virgin White (Virgin cards not available any more)

    Virgin Black

    HSBC World Elite

    Lloyds AMEX cards is my present card trying to spend 2.5k per month due to 2x bonus

    My Lloyds bonus expires this month so will move onto the SPG amex and then back to the AMEX plat, i try always to spend up to the bonus/vouchers then move onto something else. I have a spreadsheet so can easily track.

    Great night last night Rob, many thanks again!

    • Jonathan says:

      Interested in your experience of the HSBC World Elite. I’ve recently got the regular premier credit card as I couldn’t justify the annual fee after sign up – and I don’t have priority pass through plat which you do.

      • Rob says:

        A bit of a pain, the wording for the 2nd 40k points is not clear so have been arguing that it should be posted after spending 12k not after spending 12k after 12 months. Anyway, now just gone through 2nd year and already charged me £195 so raised a complaint that will take up to 8 weeks to sort.

        I think there are a few of us here who have had issues with the world elite. So interested to hear other experiences.

        • Ian says:

          Yeah I’ve been in the same boat. They refuse to give me my 2nd 40,000 points. I raises a formal complaint and still they refused. I couldn’t be bothered to take it further in the end. But it’s very poor on their part.

          Other than that I’ve enjoyed having the World Elite. I’ve huge the lounge access over 40 times this year and used the card to pay large HMRC bills which has earned me a nice stack of Krisflyer points. Took my first Singapore Airlines flight a few days ago. Sydney to Singapore in Suites class. Absolutely incredible.

      • Polly says:

        Elite is a great card if you have loads of MC or visa spend. They had a deal last year if you transferred your account you got £200 refunded after one year. So effectively cancelled first year fee. Useful if no plat for lounges as it has lounge key. But you would need to get a second card at £60 if you have a partner to access lounges with you.
        Problem was you had to hold on to points for one year before dropping down to the free card. But that triggered the new annual £195 fee, non refundable. Many of us were getting caught in this cycle. Lots of phone calls later they agreed to cancel the new fee. Totally inflexible customer services. Not a patch on Amex cs. HSBC cs didn’t even know enough about their own card. At one point l was informing them of their own t and c on the card. Unreal..
        If you didn’t want plat, at least the elite fee is more palatable, but LK does not allow guests.

        We intend to stick with the free card now as at least we get a half point for every £1 we spend unlike tesco with its £8 minimum, which is annoying. And hope for a good 50% BA transfer bonus like last year. None so far this year.

        • Rob says:

          Hi Polly, good to see you at the event last night!

          Thanks for that, will let you know how i get on with HSBC.

          Heard that the transfer bonus is unlikely to be around again as this time would be funded by HSBC themselves.

        • Polly says:

          Hi Rob, Genghis etc
          Lovely to catch up with you.
          Yes Rob will watch this space with HSBC. Do update. Wonder if BA might fund the bonus now they are making millions again!

  • Ian Snowley says:

    A very useful review for Avios collectors, could you do something similar for non-avios/Virgin fans please?

    • George says:

      I guess it’s difficult to gauge without knowing the details of the new Virgin cards – AFAIK best long term rate for Amex is Gold with £15k spend and double on travel, and a Clubcard MasterCard for non-Amex. Looking forward to seeing what Virgin Money come up with.

    • Andrew says:

      What is your goal?

      Sometimes “cash is king” – that’s why I keep my ex Diamond Club MBNA account that offers 1p/£1 cash back on Amex and 0.5p/£1 cash back on Visa.

      Likewise sometimes the interest rate matters – that’s why I keep my Barclaycard with an APR of 8.9%. My car & home insurance renew in December and I pay them off between now and Easter rather than the egregious interest rates charged by insurers for monthly repayments.

      If spending on holiday, there’s little point in collecting points if you are paying 2.99% exchange fee – so f/x free Virgin Money card it is (unless employer is paying of course).

      Staying in an IHG Hotel, but I don’t have a Creation Card… Then my John Lewis Mastercard it is for a 30% discount and some token JLP points.

      There are so many options, you just have decide what is important for you.

    • Alan says:

      We use/churn the AMEX Gold and also have the Virgin Atlantic white cards which give 0.5 miles on the Mastercard. Unfortunately though, I think that you can no longer get the VA cards – but, I understand from HfP that new cards, issued by Virgin Money, will be available in the new year. Depending on their benefits it may be worth going for those.

      I’m also tempted to go for the Starwood AMEX card to take the bonuses between Gold Card churns as, I believe, you can exchange those points for VA miles. The card isn’t free though – so that needs to be factored in.

    • Memesweeper says:

      Assuming you don’t already have Virgin cards I’d go for:

      Amex SPG (£75/year)
      Tesco Clubcard

      You should consider how much you spend to ensure the SPG will pay for itself.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.