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? – 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)

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

  • Chris C says:

    My card to “settle down” is the Lloyds Avios as the 0% FX is very useful and it is the cheapest way for me to earn avios (I wouldn’t make use of the hotel benefits most cards offer) whilst I churn Amex Gold and the upgrade voucher is a nice added extra. When I’ve reached about 100k avios, I’ll then switch to BAPP with the aim to achieve the 2-4-1 as quickly as possible (I try and time it around xmas time where I and my SO have travelcard renewals). After that, I’ll revert back to using the Lloyds Amex.

    • Doug M says:

      Agree on Lloyds Avios card. Typically solo traveller so the voucher is useful, also the 1.25 Avios is decent. I reckon to spend £3 to £5K a year in the USA, and perhaps £1K in Europe. So the £24 is more than covered in the FX savings alone, Avios a bonus. Unlike many I’ve so far used the vouchers only on SH, just for the CE luggage allowance when positioning for an Ex-EU. Many on FT have argued that’s a waste, but I disagree. I’ve tended to need all my TP to maintain status, so I find £500 to £600 in ‘taxes’ on a LH redemption punitive to the point where so far I’ve managed to get Ex-EU USA multi-hop trips under £1200 earning TP and more Avios for RFS SH redemptions. This year I should be TP rich so will probably use the voucher on a LHR departing non-stop, not travelling via Dublin Stockholm or Helsinki, which will be a little odd. Proper Amex cards I tend to churn, keeping Platinum until they want to charge me, just applied for BA which I’ll churn asap, also running an SPG at the moment. Fortunately a fair bit of work expenses to funnel through these cards.

  • Swiss says:

    If you don’t like the look / feel of the Tesco card but like the benefits, why not link it to a Curve card and leave the Tesco one in a drawer at home?

  • Andrew says:

    I am on my second Amex Gold Rewards card and am tempted by the upgrade to the Platinum card and the 20,000 membership rewards. I am not on a big salary (£20k) but could reach the required £1,000 spend in approx 8 weeks so owning the Plat card for 2 months would cost me approx £80.
    My question is, do you need to be a big spender to have the Platinum card?!
    Thanks

    • CBoy says:

      Hi Andrew

      Sometimes when you upgrade the fee is not charged until the anniversary of when you originally applied for the initial gold card, so you could upgrade, spend to get the bonus and then cancel without any fee. I am not a big spender but regularly churn the Amex gold/ platinum cards.

      • Graham Walsh says:

        I was changed the next day when I upgraded 🙁

        • memesweeper says:

          which is exactly what is supposed to happen. Assuming you weren’t planning to keep the card I guess you need to spend fast and get your points worth quickly, or just cancel immediately and get the fee refunded.

    • fivebobbill says:

      Andrew, if you mean by *a big spender*, your income / spending history, income is no longer a factor, and if you already have Gold then I don’t see an issue with history either.
      As for the fee some have mentioned above. I have 2 friends upgraded to Amex Plat this year, they were both chasing the bonus and made their £1k spend fairly quickly (within a month) then cancelled – neither were charged a fee as it hadn’t hit their account at time of closing.
      Whether they were just lucky or there is a particular upgrade timing, maybe somebody else would know – ie CBoy above believes it’s the anniversary date of your Gold.

  • Kathy says:

    I cancelled my Tesco Mastercard at the weekend – I hadn’t used it for so long that the direct debit had been made dormant. Might apply for another one some time there’s a good bonus on. I’ve got the Hilton Visa but I may also cancel that and re-apply in 2019, hoping for another free night bonus, as I’m not anticipating any Hilton stays next year.

    At the moment I’m aiming to earn the free night on the IHG premium card and the upgrade voucher on the Lloyds Avios card for this year. The Lloyds card has already paid for itself as I had £3200 of FX spend through it (although sadly on the Mastercard, not the Amex). I’m expecting to spend another £1000 in FX at least on it during my month-long trip to NZ/Sydney next year. If I can get the IHG free night that card will have effectively paid for itself – assuming I use it somewhere that costs more than £99 for the night – and I should have enough IHG points for another night, so that should be a nice cheap weekend away.

    Will probably cancel the IHG premium before the end of my card year but keep the Lloyds for another year. Planning to churn the Amex gold again in the second half of next year – but I think I’ll send the points to Virgin rather than BA this time, diversify a bit.

    • memesweeper says:

      > Will probably cancel the IHG premium before the end of my card year

      … which means you won’t get the free night. You get the voucher at 12 months. Yes, this sucks, compared with the Hilton card.

      • Rob says:

        ….. except, on a long term view, IHG is better because you’ll get the voucher every year. £99 for Platinum status, 2 points per £1 (0.8p of value at least) and a free night worth £250 if used well for spending £10k is a good deal.

  • Wivus says:

    O/T ish. How do Barclaycard/Hilton inform you about the free night? Is it via e-mail, the card website or the hotel web site? Letter?
    Thanks

    • MarkH says:

      They send you an email saying your Reward Certificate has arrived with instructions on how to use it

      • Wivus says:

        Thanks Mark. I’ll sit and wait patiently then 🙂

      • AndyW says:

        It’s from Hilton. Mine was about 3 days after I hit the spend!

        • Wivus says:

          Thanks Andy. I hit the spend on mine, and Mrs W, about a month ago. Might give them a chase. Thanks again.

        • MarkH says:

          Apparently they get sent out in batches every 6(?) weeks so you might get the voucher straight away or have to wait a while depending on when you hit the spend target

  • Rob says:

    Just on the Lloyds AMEX, although no FX fee watch out on the rates used.

    In Barbados I was getting around 1% worse than the spot, however, in Japan it was more like 50bps different. EUR spend also around 50bps worse. However, some transactions (including the largest one) were very close and within 15bps.

    • RTS says:

      AMEX FX rates are significantly poorer than the likes of MasterCard.

      • Rob says:

        Yup, though I worked it out and still makes sense to use Lloyds AMEX abroad even with 1% difference; cost per point using standard 1.25 would be around 0.8p each and I generally extract around 1.1p per point on redemptions so worth it for me.

        • John says:

          Since you can’t tell what the rate is going to be, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had Amex rates beating Mastercard (on the same day of spending) and then the next day the Mastercard rate was better than the spot rate. Back in early 2016 when the £ was dropping daily sometimes the Visa rate would beat the spot rate too (made a few quid withdrawing cash on Supercard and selling it back at a bureau de change)

  • Ben says:

    O/T, but I was wondering how tight people have cut it arriving at the airport and still making their flight on time?
    Had an interesting experience yesterday that I can only compliment Stuttgart airport for.

    Flying down to Zurich for work, flight was scheduled to leave at 08:20 (Swiss).
    My bus was delayed, meaning I didn’t get into the terminal until 8:03am. Somehow, managed to get through security, to my gate and on to the empty bus they were holding for me in 5 minutes. Was on the plane by 08:10.

    Cannot imagine this happening at any UK airports (maybe City) so Kudos to Stuttgart Airport!

    • the real harry1 says:

      happened to me a few years ago at Glasgow – I lived & worked up there (flat in the West End!) – turned up a bit casual about 90 mins before my flight only to find at the desk that I’d left my passport at home

      mad dash home – had to retrieve my car from the car park etc – back & dumped car again – they’d held the flight for me by a few minutes whilst I was checking in, the check in agent sort of rushed me through security and to the gate, to walk somewhat red-faced past slightly cross passengers (no business allowed for flights under 4 hrs was our policy) who knew exactly why the plane was being held

      so that wasn’t even arriving & flying T-10 like you but T+5 🙂

    • Rob says:

      LCY is just down the road for me and generally allow 30 mins, however, last time I got off the DLR with 22 minutes to spare and made it fine. Have heard of 15 minutes….!

    • Jonathan says:

      Japan Airlines close check in 15mins prior to departure for domestic flights (including with luggage!) I benefited from this at Sapporo in January after missing my train to the airport. Arriving at the airport 18mins prior to departure I’d pretty much given up hope & was planning on playing the stupid foreigner card but they didn’t bat an eyelid. Very impressed when my suitcase & skis were waiting for me on the carousel in Osaka!

      • Scallder says:

        How did you find the skiing in Hokkaido? Have read a fair bit about it recently and everything I read makes me want to go! Although might need to be one for 4-5 years time due to a new little one at home…

    • John says:

      Piccadilly line problems meant I was at Hammersmith 45 minutes before my flight was due to depart LHR T1. Still made it via black cab and had time to check bags too.

      Once arrived at TXL 5-10 minutes before departure, had mobile BP and no bags to check, and fortunately people on my flight were still going through security so they hadn’t closed the gate yet.

  • Simon says:

    Worth mentioning that that the earning rate on Lloyds is 1.25 on the amex part (so batter than the basic BA card). I think the the mastercard version I have never made it out of the envelope itr came in.

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.