New year, new credit card? The best bonuses and market gossip

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It is three months since I last did a round up of what is coming and what is going in the world of UK airline and hotel credit card sign-up deals.  The reason for the delay is that things got a little quiet.

Since October, we have had ‘MBNArmageddon’ with EIGHT airline credit cards taken off the market on the same day.  The following cards are no longer available to new applicants:

Lufthansa Miles & More

Emirates Skywards

Emirates Skywards Elite

Virgin Flying Club White

Virgin Flying Club Black

Etihad Guest

United Airlines MileagePlus

American Airlines AAdvantage

Our updated directory of the 15 remaining UK travel credit cards can be found by clicking the ‘Credit Cards’ tab at the top of the site or – for email, Flipboard, Apple News or mobile readers – by clicking here.

Don’t forget that 13th January is the last day to pay HMRC tax bills with a personal Visa or MasterCard credit cardLearn more in this article.

What is new?

The market has been very static since MBNA culled its line up in October.

The one bit of news on the horizon is that Virgin Atlantic will be back in the market with a new product within the next two months.  Virgin Money will be the issuer.

I know a little more about this than I am allowed to reveal, but not much.  I don’t know about sign-up bonuses or what the long-term spend incentives will be.  I hope to have early access to the information when it is ready to go.

Are any other ex-MBNA airlines ready to launch a new card?

No, not as far as I know.  I know from discussions with two of the airlines on the ‘ex MBNA clients’ list that they are virtually nowhere in terms of discussions with new providers.

It could be that their contracts with MBNA stopped them from talking to other issuers whilst MBNA was still accepting new applicants.  It is also possible that MBNA pulled the rug suddenly and took the airlines by surprise.

It seems that Lloyds Bank, the new owner of MBNA, was not keen to operate rewards cards long term.  Look at the American Airlines card – the new version, only launched this year, was not an American Express and had a high annual fee.  It should have been workable even under the new EU interchange fee rules.  Lloyds / MBNA still decided to pull it.  I know that Lloyds / MBNA has no interest in launching new products, without an Amex, for Lufthansa, United, Emirates or Etihad.

We still don’t know when Lloyds Bank is going to pull the plug on the Lloyds Avios Rewards card.  The plug has to be pulled, because American Express has withdrawn all of its licences.

This is the end of the gossip and speculation paragraphs!

American Express Rewards Credit Card

What else is going on?

If you don’t follow HFP closely, you may have missed the mainstream launch of the American Express Rewards Credit Card (ARCC) in the Autumn.

ARCC is a standard Amex-branded credit card.  It has no annual fee and no substantial benefits, except for the ability to collect Membership Rewards points at 1 point per £1 spent.

There are three versions of the card available:

LOW RATE – 5,000 Membership Rewards points bonus and a representative APR of 9.9% variable (click here)

or

BASIC – 10,000 Membership Rewards points bonus and a representative APR of 22.9% variable (click here)

or

PURCHASES – NO sign-up bonus but 0% APR on purchases for 18 months and a representative APR of 22.9% variable beyond that (click here)

The first two cards require a £500 (5,000 points version) or £1,000 (10,000 points version) spend within three months to trigger the bonus.  You won’t get a bonus if you’ve had a Gold, Green or Platinum Amex in the last six months.

There are two reasons why you should consider getting an ARCC card:

As I wrote in this article, it is your solution if you are planning on cancelling a Gold or Platinum Amex to avoid the annual fee, but do not want to cash in your Membership Rewards points just yet.  The free ARCC card keeps your Membership Rewards points alive.

As I wrote in this article, the ARCC card is BETTER than the free British Airways Amex card if you don’t plan on spending £20,000 to trigger the 2-4-1 voucher.

Starwood Preferred Guest:

In the US, American Express has signed a deal with Marriott – who now own Starwood – to become a Marriott credit card partner.  This makes it more likely that the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card will remain in some form if Amex can make the interchange fee sums work.

It is worth taking a look at the Starwood Amex if you have never had it.  My full review is here.  The key point is that you will get the sign-up bonus of 10,000 SPG points – worth roughly £150 of hotel stays or 10,000 airline miles or Avios – irrespective of whether you have the BA, Gold or Platinum Amex cards.  You can learn more here.

Representative APR 39.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Other offers:

British Airways is still running an improved sign-up bonus on its two British Airways American Express cards.  No closing date has been given for this deal.

There is a slight tweak this time.  The Premium Plus card is offering 25,000 Avios for signing up.  The free BA Amex, however, is only up to 5,000 Avios from the usual 3,000 Avios – this is usually increased to 9,000 Avios.

I would guess that Amex is trying to encourage more people to take the Premium Plus card by widening the gap in the sign-up bonus.  Frankly, you shouldn’t get the free BA Amex if you are planning to earn the 2-4-1 Avios flight voucher – this article explains why.

best travel credit cards

What are the best travel credit card sign-up deals this month?

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are my top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.   Only the British Airways offers are special deals whilst the IHG and Amex cards are consistently strong offers.

These deals are listed in no particular order and their position on the list is not a sign of how good or bad the offer is.

British Airways American Express

For an unspecified period, the bonus on this free card increased from 3,000 Avios to 5,000 Avios.  My full review of the card is here.  You can apply here.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.  Do note, however, my comment above about the new Amex Rewards Credit Card which may be a better choice for many people.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

For an unspecified period, the bonus is increased from 18,000 Avios to 25,000 Avios.  Note that the annual fee increased last year from £150 to £195.  I wrote a full review of the British Airways Premium Plus card here.  You can apply here.  Representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Amex Plat

American Express Platinum

The sign-up bonus on this card is 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.  You need to spend £2,000 in 90 days to trigger the bonus.

Your points can be transferred into various airline and hotel programmes.  You could get 30,000 Avios, 30,000 Virgin miles, 60,000 Hilton points, 90,000 Carlson points, 2,000 Club Eurostar points etc etc.

You receive a pro-rata refund on the £450 fee when you cancel the card and you will retain most of the benefits – Starwood Gold (which you can instantly match to Marriott Gold), Carlson Gold, Hilton Gold, Melia Gold and Shangri-La Jade – for the rest of the year even after you cancel. The Amex Platinum benefits package is extensive, though, and once you’ve got it you might find the numbers add up for you. I have had one for 15 years.

My full review of the Amex Platinum card is here. Amex’s own home page is here.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

This is currently an outstanding deal which is showing no signs of going away. You pay no fee for the first year and earn 20,000 Membership Rewards points (see here for what 20,000 MR points can get you – 20,000 Avios points for a start!).  You need to spend £2,000 in 90 days to trigger the bonus.

If you are new to this hobby, I would make this your first American Express card.  One benefit of earning American Express points is that you only need to transfer them to an airline or hotel scheme when you are ready to redeem – there is no risk of being caught out by devaluations!

My full review of Amex Gold is here. The Amex home page to apply is here.

Amex Gold

IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard

This is my preferred Visa / MasterCard because of the strong overall package.  Whilst there is a £99 annual fee, this is offset in Year 1 by the 20,000 bonus IHG points you receive.  You get IHG Rewards Club Platinum status for as long as you hold the card.  You will also receive a voucher for a free night at any IHG Rewards Club property when you spend £10,000 per year.  Representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

The Tesco card is also an option

Whilst it has no sign-up bonus, the no-fee Tesco Clubcard MasterCard remains the best free Visa or MasterCard for earning Avios for 95% of people (the HSBC Premier cards are better but this has very strict criteria for signing up).  You receive 0.3 Avios per £1 if you convert your Clubcard vouchers into Avios.  There is also the potential to use the points for Virgin miles or a totally different Clubcard Boost deal.

0.3 Avios per £1 is still not great unless you assume that there will be occasional conversion bonuses – and the nasty ’rounding down per transaction to nearest £8′ rule means that you will get less than 0.3 Avios is reality.  There are various versions of the Tesco card but the best are:

Up to 29 months interest free period on all purchases (representative APR 18.9% variable) or

Up to 20 months interest free period on all purchases and 0% interest on balance transfers for 3 months (representative APR 18.9% variable)

Bonus on small business cards

Head for Points focusses primarily on personal cards. However, if you are a sole trader or run a very small business, you may also want to check out the American Express Platinum Business Card and the American Express Gold Business Card. There is currently a 20,000 points (= 20,000 Avios) bonus on the Gold Business card and a 40,000 points (40,000 Avios) bonus on the Platinum Business card.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

Why the Lloyds Avios Amex fraud happened (probably)
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Comments

  1. the real harry1 says:

    might suit your student sprog for Easter vac?

    Air China flights available directly on their website to New Zealand for multiple dates in March, April and May 2018.

    Examples:
    OUT 9 March -> RTN 23 March – £517.51
    OUT 18 March -> RTN 1 April – £517.51
    OUT 10 April -> RTN 24 April – £520.51
    OUT 6 May -> RTN 20 May – £520.51

  2. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who manages to justify the annual fee for the Amex Platinum. Compared to the US card which gives a sizeable amount of the fee straight back in credits, the benefits feel pretty feeble to me. The complimentary partner cards may go some way to dividing the “cost”, but by the same token many of the benefits (lounge access excepted) are shareable anyway.

    The smattering of mid tier statuses may be valuable in keeping you out of the worst rooms, there again I’m Platinum with SPG (one of the better chains for status recognition) and things are quite variable even there.

    Just genuinely curious to understand the value proposition for those who use it. I know different cards have different “Amex Offers”, so maybe those are genuinely quite appealing.

    • Many of us old timers still get a free BAPP for having Plat which knocks off £195. Travel insurance save a decent chunk and if you give out supplementary cards to your extended family they get it too. Rest of it is down to travel patterns – whether you value the Priority Pass airport lounge access, Eurostar lounge access, the car hire insurance, the Fine Hotels & Resorts luxury hotel benefits (the guaranteed 4pm check-out is worth a lot to me), hotel status cards etc. My wife also benefits from the PP and hotel status benefits on work travel.

      I also only make HFP payments on my card and therefore write off the £450 as a business expense.

      • Thanks, that’s actually very insightful! I can actually see how it might be valuable. The HSBC Premier World Elite seems like a slightly stronger offering for (admittedly less good) lounge access and insurance. I hadn’t realised about car hire insurance, actually, that would add up to a substantial saving if like me you buy the car company’s full package every time.

        I still don’t think I can justify it, without the same annual fee discounts and tax write-downs, and indeed no partner with whom to share the benefits, but at least I can understand why people in their right mind do have the card 🙂

        • the real harry1 says:

          I can’t justify it either fwiw – we fly too infrequently

          the 10-shot PP for about £11.50 each lounge visit will make more sense for some (though you can’t get a free guest in)

          or the Plat stacks up if you time it right, ie: a) hit bonus spend target nice & quick & bank the points; b) get in a few lounge visits; c) cancel promptly for a rather minor pro rata cost ie x days/ £450

        • Insurance4carhire – https://www.headforpoints.com/hfp/insurance4carhire/ – will sell you annual coverage for as little as £40 in Europe and no more than £110 to include North America, so you can’t value the benefit at more than that. If you are renting a lot and paying for extra cover at the depot then you should get a policy like this instead.

  3. Slamberry says:

    On the subject of new cards, Amex Platinum are giving some unexpected (at least to me) MP’s away: I just added my OH as an AU to my Platinum Charge Card and received 5,000 MP’s as a “1st Platinum Supp Bonus”. I then referred her from my Amex Platinum to a BA Premium Plus Card. I expected nothing to happen as they are in different schemes: one collects MPs and one collects Avios – however, when she clicked on the link the standard 25,000 Avios bonus had jumped to 26,000 so she signed up and was instantly approved. Two days later I checked into my MR account and Amex had dropped an 18,000 MP referral bonus in there. Is this suppossed to happen Rob? I’ve heard of some people getting 18,000 for referring from Plat to Gold (which I believe should be 9,000) but this was a (pleasant) surpise…

  4. Any thoughts on whether the Hilton Barclaycard will get pulled given the interchange fee cap?

    • No, not heard anything from Hilton. I do know why IHG dropped them, however, and it is difficult not to see Hilton following suit if Barclaycard takes the same approach.

      • Slamberry says:

        Interesting. Rob, you value a HH point at 0.33p under the present 2017 regime and you earn 2 per £1 of regular card spend, so that’s a 0.66% return against a 0.3% interchange fee cap. IHG points were worth 0.4p – 0.5p but you only got 1 point per £1 spend, so they yielded / cost (depending upon whether you are the cardholder or the car provider) a 0.4% – 0.5% return/ cost on spend against the 0.3% interchange cap. I’d assumed the IHG decision was based on this maths. I suspect the decision on the HB card’s future lies squarely in the interplay between what Hilton want to charge and what Barclaycard want to pay per point. If Hilton won’t budge on the present arrangement, I’m guessing it comes down to whether Barclaycard are willing to share some of their interest income from cardholders carrying a balance and pay Hilton a little more per point.

      • Thanks.

        May have to try get one soonish in case it gets pulled!

  5. I’m sure this has been asked before, so I apologise for asking again but can someone clarify the situation with fees and the AMEX Gold and Platinum MR cards please?

    I currently have a Gold Card that I will use to refer my wife when her 6 months fallow period is over. I will cancel and renew 6 months later – pretty standard practice.

    I was considering upgrading my card to the Platinum card for a short while so that I can refer my wife and get the better sign up bonus (not decided yet though as cash is not that abundant at the moment). Obviously, after I refer my wife I can cancel my Platinum card and get a rebate on the unused months but, if I referred my wife for a Platinum card would she be able to “downgrade” to a Gold after getting the 30,000 points bonus and be refunded the annual fee and, not be charged a fee for the Gold card?

    Or is this all too much faff anyway and I should stick to the original plan for Gold/Gold churn?

    Cheers

    • If you upgrade to Plat before you refer your wife for Gold using https://www.americanexpress.com/uk/content/platinum-charge/upgrade/ you will get 20,000 MRs for £1k spend.
      Then refer your wife for a card. It has been reported on here she can opt for the Gold and you will collect 18k MRs. I believe your wife will get 21k MRs (rather than 20k MRs if not referred). She can then upgrade to Plat in future.
      If you refer and she takes a Plat, the £450 fee will be due immediately and if she downgrades to Gold she will receive a pro-rata refund on the £450 however will be charged for Gold.

      If it was me I would upgrade to Plat and refer to take Gold.

      Ewan

  6. Alan

    If you upgrade from Gold to Plat using https://www.americanexpress.com/uk/content/platinum-charge/upgrade/ you will get 20,000 MRs for a £1k spend.

    It has been reported here that a Plat can refer someone who can then take Gold. The referrer gains 18,000 MRs. Not 100% clear what the recipient gets – suspect it is 21,000 MRs for a £2k spend (against 20,000 if not referred).

    If you were to stay Gold and refer to Gold, you’ll miss out on a good chunk of points. If you upgrade to Plat and refer to Plat, the £450 fee is due at the outset and whilst your wife will get a pro-rata refund when downgrading to Gold, she will continue to pay for the Gold.

    If I was you I would upgrade to Plat and refer your wife for Gold then get her to upgrade at some point.

    Ewan

    • Thanks Ewen, I was confused about whether she would be charged for Gold for downgrading (which you have now confirmed) so it doesn’t make sense to refer her to Platinum.

      Just refer her to Gold and get her to upgrade shortly before referring me I guess.

    • Just thought of another question, sorry. If you upgrade do you have to pay anything for any supplementary cards you hold on the account (wife has a supplementary card to my Gold Card)?

      • On the Gold card:
        Your first Supplementary Card is complimentary; each additional Supplementary Card will be charged at £45 per year.

        On the Plat:
        Extend your benefits to those closest to you and earn points for their purchases with up to five complimentary Supplementary Cards (one Platinum and a combination of four Gold or Green Cards).

        If your wife is already a Supp on your Gold card, when you upgrade to Plat she will continue to be a Supp on your account. This means she will automatically be sent her (supp) Plat card including her own Priority Pass card (so you can each take yourself +1 into a lounge i.e. good for a family of 4!

    • Just running the numbers and the upgrade would cost £37.50 per month. I would need at least 2 months to do the spend for the upgrade and then to get my wife’s referral sorted so that would be £75 (at least). The benefit (Over remaining Gold) would be 20,000 + 9,000 (extra for wife’s referral over a Gold referral).

      So, 29,000 MR points would cost me (at least) £75 which is equivalent to 0.26p per point. If I can’t get it done in 2 months then I’m looking at 0.39ppp. I know these valuations are far less than the point’s suggested value and many on here would jump at the chance of buying points at these levels, but I’m not sure that it would actually make economic sense to me, personally.

      Probably stick with Gold for now.

      Thanks for your input though Ewan, it helped a lot.

      • Alan – remember that Amex charges are refunded pro-rata, so if it’s 2 months and one day which it takes to make that spend on the Plat, you won’t be charged for a full 3 months. That’s if you do indeed get charged for holding the Plat when after the upgrade (might be lucky).
        Ewan

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