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.


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.

  • Keith S says:

    OT: If you purchase something to hit the bonus, and then refund it in the following month, will you still get the bonus?

    • Jon W says:

      I was wondering the same. Thoughts please?

    • John says:

      On Amex, the signup bonus posts with the transaction that takes you over the threshold. If that transaction is refunded, then the signup bonus will be refunded.

      If you want to make a fake purchase, then don’t make it the one that goes over the threshold. For example, if the spend requirement is £2000, then buy a refundable flight ticket for £1998 *and wait until the points have posted*. Then buy a coffee or something for £3. The bonus will post with the £3 transaction. Reversing the £1998 transaction should not cause the bonus to be automatically removed.

      And of course do not make it so obvious that you are taking the piss.

  • Mark says:

    Are the renewal offers for Credit cards comparable or always targetted? Some offer nothing, some are really good.

    Amex Gold is 10000 Avios i think?

    BAPP i’ve seen a 5000 Avios offer drop in from time to time

    No renewal perks from anyone else yet

    • John says:

      Amex Gold gives you 10000 MR points if you have spent £15000 in the previous membership year. It is not a “renewal offer”.

      The BAPP “renewal offer” is the ability to earn another 241.

  • Cate says:

    Our end game is to get seats on airlines we want to fly so that dictates which cards we take/keep/churn although reading through people’s comments on here I find it difficult to consider Lloyds credit cards. We both have amex plat and SPG: plat for car hire insurance and MR transfers direct to the miles we’re saving, SPG because we like their hotels and ability to swap points for miles.

    I’m interested what Virgin are going to release as we have a small amount of points with them courtesy of the Virgin Waitrose shopping tie up. However I won’t get their cards unless Virgin pulls off an interesting partnership with another airline.

    • Alan says:

      You can use VA miles to fly on Delta. The recently announced tie up with KLM and Air France will, hopefully, expand the range of destinations going east.

      • Cate says:

        Thanks Alan. I’m keeping an eye on it and sure Rob will write it up when Virgin release their new card.

    • Ian says:

      You can take out worldwide car hire insurance for about £50 a year. So if that’s the only reason you keep the platinum card you might be better off looking at that

      • Cate says:

        Thanks Ian. The MR points transfer 1:1 to our airline partner and they’re tricky to get hold of else wise. Good point though which I’ll book and come back to for future reference.

    • Doug M says:

      I had some initial issue getting the then referral bonus on the Lloyds card, no problems since. If they do have a problem linking your Lloyds and Avios accounts, and you’re prepared to make the effort from comments on here it can be very very rewarding.

  • Ben says:

    Do you ever look at the impact that churn has on your credit rating? Or where using the same provider may bypass additional checks, as this may be interesting to those about to take out a mortgage. Lots of checks from different organisations can’t be great.

    • John says:

      Credit searches are no longer visible on your credit report after 6 months.

      The UK has no universal credit rating, so you would need an underwriter from every credit card provider to break their NDAs if you wanted to know how they view churning.

    • Doug M says:

      Yes, it made mine considerably worse, but it seems to bounce back quite quickly. It’s not a major concern for me.

  • Ben says:

    Semi O/T. I have the platinum card. Can I refer myself for the SPG Card?


  • Lev441 says:

    Currently working towards a Marriott travel package… think it’s a real sweet spot!
    Stopping churning as wanting to get a mortgage at some point in the next year or so.

    • Ian says:

      Worth buying Starwood points if that’s your aim. There’s a promotion on them at the moment. You can buy 30,000 a year.

  • Nate1309 says:

    On the look good in your wallet cards you should have the ARCC. I have had it since the day it came out and use it almost daily and a conservative estimate would be 80% tell me how cool it is. Not one person has ever commented on my Platinum card.

  • YB says:

    Question. We didn’t use the upgrade link to go from Amex Gold to Amex Platinum, but did it over the phone instead. The additional trigger hasn’t been added to our account. has anybody had any luck getting Amex to add the additional trigger and bonus by calling up afterwards?

    • the real harry1 says:

      if by ‘trigger’ you mean the spend target for the 20K MR points, don’t worry, it doesn’t show

      Amex have a record of your calls as well

    • George says:

      I had two phone conversations with Amex about the offer, and they specifically said that if you have an online offer (either open to all, or something emailed specifically to you) then you must apply online, as the telephone agents can’t know what you’re talking about.

      I’d say, you can do a bit of arguing over the phone, considering where you are right now, and it might be worth taking a screenshot of the offer online and submitting it via the Document Centre to Amex.

      Good luck!

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