Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What is your credit card ‘end game’ strategy?

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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? – January 2023 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.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 21st February 2023, the sign-up bonus on the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card is increased to 35,000 Avios from 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

35,000 Avios (ONLY to 21st February) and the famous annual 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:

SPECIAL OFFER: Capital On Tap has increased its sign-up bonus to points worth 30,000 Avios if you apply by 4th February. This is exclusive to Head for Points readers. Click here to apply.

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

Get a 30,000 points bonus, worth 30,000 Avios, until 4th February 2023 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 (3% for 3 months if you apply by 31st March) and no annual fee Read our full review

Comments (148)

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  • Frenske says:

    My end game is to maximize the Virgin Black card I got just before the cancelled it. So hopefully by October I should have two upgrade tickets and enough points to fly to Caribbean.

  • Elizabeth says:

    This might be a stupid question, but is it possible to hold 2 of the Lloyds Avios Rewards cards at once? My fiancé and I both have one each in our own names, but I’m looking at options for cards that we could use for joint expenses that we would pay off from a joint account. The fact that the Lloyds card comes with a MasterCard and has no foreign transaction fees means it would be a very useful joint card for us, because we normally travel together and not everywhere we shop takes Amex. It would be nice to put an end to the “whose card is this going on?” discussions. 😉

    • Andrew says:

      Credit cards are never in joint names. You can have an account with an “authorised user” though. Then just set up a DD that settles directly to your joint account.

      Better off layering the sign-up bonuses though. Maybe taking out a BA Amex each with the both DDs charging to the joint account? That’s unless you are aiming for a 2-4-1 voucher where splitting the spend wouldn’t help. Or one of you takes out a BA Amex with “authorised user” for domestic spend and the other takes out an f/x free Virgin Money Card with “authorised user” for international spend.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks for replying, Andrew. Sorry, that’s what I meant – I’d apply for the second Lloyds card, which would be paid from the joint account, and add my fiancé as an authorised user.

        I agree that layering the sign-up bonuses would be better, and actually one of my concerns is that splitting our spending across three cards would mean we wouldn’t hit any spending targets! We might manage with the “joint” card though, because flights and hotels would go on there. I have the BA Amex this year because I’m putting as many wedding expenses as possible on it, but we wouldn’t normally spend enough to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher.

        • Genghis says:

          As a work around, getting a supplementary card for each of you on the other’s card might work to separate out “joint” expenses?

        • Elizabeth says:

          Thanks for replying, Genghis (for some reason there’s no reply button on your post, so I’m having to use the one on mine…) I’m not sure if I understand what you’re suggesting, though – if we both get supplementary cards for each other’s accounts, does that not still mean that one person will be paying for the whole purchase and the other person has to pay back their share?

          I guess one option might be for me to keep my BA Amex as my card for my individual spending (downgrading to the free card after the wedding), and adding my fiancé to my Lloyds card, changing the DD for this to come out of a joint account. He then keeps his Lloyds card for his individual spending, and I just have to find a card for my individual non-Amex spend. We wouldn’t get any sign-up bonuses this way, but it would probably be the simplest option.

        • Genghis says:

          Yes. You’d still have to repay each other but at least the joint expenses would be segregated on the statement.

    • the real harry1 says:

      Have you thought about getting Halifax Clarity MC? no fees & also gives free foreign use ie perfect exchange rate & no ATM fees, you can fund your ATM withdrawals same day to avoid interest (not that the interest is particularly worrying)

      so a main cardholder with the other as supp gives you that joint card, no points but you have other cards for that

      • Worzel says:

        +1.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks for replying, Harry. I have considered that card, but it seems a shame to not earn any Avios on joint purchases when we can earn them with the Lloyds cards. I also have a Monzo card that I can use if I need to withdraw cash abroad (we always take some currency with us so the £200 monthly limit on free withdrawals isn’t a problem). I think the simplest option might be what I suggested in my post to Genghis above.

  • Graham Walsh says:

    Just a thought, to churn Amex Plat the only option is dump the points to Avios or Virgin I guess as holding the ARCC still counts as holding an Amex card, so not possible to apply again in 6 months

    • mark2 says:

      True; this is a disadvantage if you want to keep your options open. There are other destinations for MR points e.g. SPG, Hilton.

    • Rob says:

      Correct. ARCC is only for you if you don’t want to pay the fees on Gold or Plat but still want to keep your MR account open. It doesn’t start the 6 month clock.

  • Phil says:

    Rob, in my mind many people are put off owning an AMEX card due to lack of acceptance, but at the low earnings rate on the Tesco card, it’s still always better to have AMEX.

    The reason being that you can still buy your food shopping and most other large purchases with an AMEX, getting you at least 1 Avios per £. If you lose out on 0.15 Avios because you can’t buy a packet of Polo Mints at your local newsagent… meh.

    • Alan says:

      Agree. There is a misconception that AMEX isn’t accepted very widely. The big 4 supermarkets all take it (along with their petrol stations) as does Amazon and a lot of online retailers take Paypal which you can hook up to your AMEX card.
      In a routine month well over half of our spending goes on AMEX. The Visa/MC cards don’t get used much at all.

      • Andrew says:

        Even Poundland accepts it – and is cheaper for Toblerone than any Airport offer.

      • Anna says:

        Agree! My MasterCard only gets any regular use at Lidl, and that’s because they offer far better value on a range of products that the big 4 just can’t, or don’t want to match.

  • Scottydoggiom says:

    OT .
    If i have Marriott Gold status from holding the Amex Platinum , i believe this comes with breakfast for 2 ? What if im staying 2 adults 2 kids , do you still have to pay for the kids breakfasts ?
    Its the Marriott at Gatwick airport , i looked on their website and it said £14.95 per person for breakfast , doesn’t say a different price for kids . Don’t fancy paying £30 for 2 kids to eat rice crispies and toast

    • ankomonkey says:

      I think it depends on hotel. I have had free breakfast for 4 (2 adults and 2 children) as a Marriott Gold, but I think it’s up to each hotel rather than a standard approach to give it to all room bookings of over 2 people.

    • wally1976 says:

      If you’re referring to the Courtyard Marriott at LGW, gold members aren’t entitled to free breakfast at Courtyards at all unfortunately. We stayed there (2A + 2C too) in the summer both before and after our hols – on the way out we did Number 1 lounge for breakfast (and Grain Store for inflight food) and on the way back we walked to McDonalds for breakfast (we won’t be walking there again though; it’s not far but not recommended unless you have a death-wish!).

  • Joshua S says:

    Hi all,

    BA cancelled my flight from Milan to London on Sunday, claiming “bad weather conditions”, rebooking me onto next day’s flight. Am I eligible for EU261 compensation?

    Thanks

    • Steve says:

      Think ‘weather conditions’ are one of those factors that fall outside the scope of EU261

      • Joshua S says:

        Well, other flights did make it to London though .. it was only BA that decided to cancel everything, I guess due to the fact that airplanes could not leave London to come to Milan to pick us up.

      • The_real_a says:

        Well. BA claims knock on disruption is excluded from compensation. This is not true. The rule is if your flight COULD have been run by the provision of a spare aircraft then its EU compensation.

        • the real harry1 says:

          yep but BA are never going to concede on this without a fight

          advice seems to be avoid CEDR & go straight to MCOL after you get a ‘deadlock’ letter from BA (ie ‘our position on this is not going to change’)

          if you don’t start MCOL proceedings, you are just going to get BA saying it was bad weather/ extraordinary circs

          I think @ Joshua is highly unlikely to succeed, though – because for him that was a genuine bad weather event on the Sunday itself

          delays and cancellations from Monday & Tuesday are much more likely to get a result

    • Mike says:

      Grey area but look at the FT forum as there was a discussion about this just the other day. One or two recent stated cases that involved deicing of planes. They also have a duty of care re your overnight expenses (e.g. £200 for the hotel)

      https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1882179-de-icing-really-considered-extraordinary-circumstances.html

  • the real harry1 says:

    Does anyone know offhand if the green corporate Amex cards come with any kind of spend target/ bonus when first issued? I know it’s unlikely but you never know…my wife just got one

    rang Amex last night and forgot to ask, now she’s out

    • George says:

      Sadly there is no signup bonus on any of the Green corporate cards (local or forex). There is also no defined upgrade bonus for moving up the tier, but if you gently press at the CS teams via secure message, they’ll normally offer 10k points or so to upgrade.

      • the real harry1 says:

        thanks – thought so

        just looked up the 3 corporate cards & it says the annual fee is £45 for her card, which I guess her company is paying

        strangely, the Amex CS guy last night said that if my wife actually wants to collect MR points on this card, she’ll have to pay another £36 pa & the points won’t start accumulating until she signs up to that – does that sound right?

        so one of the benefits of holding Amex (MR points) isn’t a benefit as advertised https://business.americanexpress.com/uk/corporate-card – though the Amex guy did say my wife’s company had authorised cardholders to collect points in their own right

        all very odd to my mind, I never bothered much to actively gather MR points when I had a green card some 20 years ago, but the points still accumulated on a fairly healthy corporate spend and I ended up with nearly 100K Virgin miles when I handed back the card & had to stash the points somewhere or lose them

        • George says:

          I’m not sure – we’ve got Platinums (but small business not corp) and I remember reading that Green can earn MR but only if you enrol – I know the foreign currency cards get 1 year of complimentary enrolment, whatever that is. I guess the company may have elected not to ‘pay’ for MR access for employees, but has allowed them to do it themselves?

    • Scallder says:

      Harry – the £36 charge does sound right. I used to work for one of the big accountancy firms (albeit i left 4 years ago) and we had corporate cards but had to enrol for MR and pay the £36 fee.

      In the end I just ended up putting all my work expenses on my personal VA Black card as they didnt seem too fussed if we didnt use the corporate card, even though it was official policy to do so…

      • the real harry1 says:

        thanks for confirming

        I think my wife might struggle with that! I said last night to just pay the £36 and stick it in as an expense – no chance, says she

        she will probably now put absolutely everything company-related through on that green card (which is a massive shame!) so we might as well pay it ourselves & get the points

        strange company in some respects, they have a useless travel agency (that they’re supposed to use 100%) with costs way higher than the going rate

  • Mike J says:

    Slight OT but does anyone know how long it takes for the MR points to credit after you refer somebody for an AMEX? Also, does the person referred need to trigger the signup bonus or simply receive the card?

    • Dave H says:

      I referred my daughter last month, my points arrived in 5 days and before she received her card.

    • Anna says:

      We’ve had them post within a week, but also after 6 weeks with different referrals, there doesn.t seem to be a standard interval. If you speak to Amex they will just tell you that it takes “up to” 60 days, or whatever is in the Ts & Cs.

    • Manya says:

      I was on the phone to Amex for a similar query. Up to 30 days is what the rep told me.

    • fivebobbill says:

      Mike, so long as the person you refer uses the link you send them from MR then the whole process is automatic. I have made 4 referrals this year for various cards, and on each the bonus points have appeared on my account withing a week (before the other person has received their card).
      This all assumes of course that the person you refer has been successful in their application, although 2 of my referrals got a *we are unable to make a decision at this time, we’ll be in touch* notice… and I got my bonus points before they were even informed they were successful!

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