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? – 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.

  • The Original Nick says:

    Sorry, slightly O:T, Will the Amex Platinum supp card work for shop small?

    • the real harry1 says:

      yes if registered in that supp a/c for the SS campaign, you can also register it at Amex SS Central (where the map is, you’ll find another registration page)

      • The Original Nick says:

        Cheers Harry. I got back last night from being stuck in Amsterdam. I ended up flying Rotterdam to London City instead of AMS-LHR. And I made sure I had my free on board G&T.

  • mark2 says:

    As ever, I remind you that Lloyds has statement credit offers like Amex (sometimes stack) if you also have current account (not sure without).
    Also many people have received generous compensation when Avios have not been added automatically (my wife £600 but others have had more).

    • AndyGWP says:

      I can confirm you only get these if you have the lloyds current account 🙁

  • FlyingChris says:

    O/T Shop Small – what are people’s strategy to get missing transactions manually credited? Both Phone & Chat have insisted I wait 90 days before claiming a manual refund, despite pushing back saying this never used to be the case. Considering the promotion is a bit of a crapshoot to whether the transaction will even track in the first place – in combination with Amex’s rapidly deteriotating customer service – losing a lot of accululated goodwill for this customer…

    • the real harry1 says:

      we have a transaction record of all Amex purchases, so that is easy to keep track of & remedy missing credits just by comparing the £5 statement credits against purchases

      ISTR they said wait 90 days LY as well but were happy to sort it out in January

      the ones where the map is wrong & an outlet has disappeared or won’t take Amex are harder this year to get a credit on, you have to turn on the charm a bit or simply make your story a bit more compelling, eg ‘but the barman had already poured my 3 pints and it said Amex accepted here on the door plus I’ve used Amex there in the past’ etc

  • Darren says:

    Re Hilton Honors, how difficult/easy is it to achieve 760,000 for the holy grail 10 night trip to Rangali for a none business traveller? Therefore no business Hilton hotel stays but I’m sure I could add a couple of leisure stays.

    From my limited research a first step would be signing up to Amex Plat, Hilton VISA x2 for the free nights a bulk transfer of Amex MR and purchasing points. Feasible or just buy a stay with cash with the free nights included?

    I recently read Trip Reps review which is inspirational.

    • Rob says:

      7 nights is easier, 2 card free nights then 5for4 for 380,000 points. That is 190k Amex which is still a couple of years of cross- referring your partner. Virgin transfers into Hilton and Tesco to Virgin to Hilton could also help.

      The Hilton credit card is your LAST step though as the voucher is only valid for 6 months.

  • PaulH says:

    If moving from the AMEX Platinum to the free AMEX Rewards Credit Card (to retain the Membership Rewards points account)… when I apply for a new AMEX Plat after 6+ months will I still be awarded the relevant AMEX MR sign-up bonus?

  • Federico says:

    Does it make sense to take on the BAPP, churn the £3k for the bonus, then go to the SPG, churn the £1k then go to the gold Amex, churn the £2k and so on on a 12 month basis? Keeping each card for four months?
    I don’t really need a super health credit score and I have already a platinum cash back 🙂

  • mark e says:

    For me its all about putting as much spend as possible on my IHG Premier card . I did hold the Platinum AMEX for a month in the summer when I had three trips by air and I made good use of the lounge access .

  • Sh83 says:

    OT – Amex Plat here & referred 2x Amex Golds last month and got awarded with 18k MR for each!!! 🙂 was only expecting 9k each. Is this a glitch, a promo or now the norm?

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