What are the best bonuses for LONG TERM card spending?

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Many of the credit card posts on Head for Points are focused on sign-up bonuses.  Get a card, spend the minimum required to trigger the bonus, cancel the card, move on.  After a period, you can re-apply for the first card you got and claim the bonus again.

However, if you are a high to medium spender, the few thousand pounds of card spend required each year to hit your sign-up bonus targets is not a stretch.  You need to consider where to put the rest of your annual spend.

All of these cards carry a 3% foreign exchange fee when used abroad.  If you want a dedicated credit card to use abroad, take a look at the Virgin Money Travel Credit Card (click here).  This card is free and charges NO foreign exchange fees.  It also offers 0% interest on purchases for 12 months and 0% interest on balance transfers for 12 months, with no fee.  Representative APR 19.9% variable.

(EDIT: This article was updated on 2nd January 2019 and all of the information is correct as of that date.)

What are the best UK credit and charge card bonuses for long term spending?

Many issuers offer incentives for spending £10,000+ per year on their cards.  The value of these perks is often underestimated – they are often worth far more than the points for your normal spend.

In order of value, lets take a look at what is out there.  This analysis ignores the value of any sign-up bonus or ‘first year free’ deal – I am looking for the best long-term solution.

The results summary is, based on spending just enough to trigger the relevant long-term bonus:

  • British Airways American Express Premium Plus – 10.1% back on first £10,000
  • British Airways American Express (free version) – 6.1% back on first £20,000
  • IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – 2.3% back on first £10,000
  • Generic cashback Visa or Mastercard – 0.5% back, usually in vouchers

The free Virgin Money Reward card varies by status:

  • Base Virgin Flying Club member – up to 2.4% on first £20,000
  • Silver Virgin Flying Club member – up to 3.4% on first £20,000
  • Gold Virgin Flying Club member – up to 6.4% on first £20,000

The £160 Virgin Money Reward+ card also varies by status:

  • Base Virgin Flying Club member – up to 4.4% on first £10,000
  • Silver Virgin Flying Club member – up to 6.3% on first £10,000
  • Gold Virgin Flying Club member – up to 12.3% on first £10,000

I will explain the basis of my calculations below.

Our base comparison –  The Amazon Platinum Card or similar

This is typical of the best free Visa or Mastercard cashback cards currently available, giving you 0.5% of your general spending back in the form of Amazon vouchers.  You will get a similar return from the John Lewis / Waitrose card.

Representative APR 19.9% variable.

The winner British Airways American Express Premium Plus card

This is not exactly a surprise.  Spend £10,000 on this card and you get a voucher which gives you 2 Avios redemptions (on BA planes, ex-UK only) for the miles of one.  On an average redemption (2 Club World tickets to San Francisco on a peak day), this saves you 150,000 Avios points!

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Avios point valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £1,100.  You also earn 15,000 Avios for spending £10,000 (worth £110 assuming 0.75p per Avios) with an annual fee of £195.  The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £1,015 (£1,100 + £110 – £195) or 10.1% of spend.

Representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit Interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable.

BA Amex - NEW

Runner-upBritish Airways American Express card

The standard, free, British Airways Amex gives you a 2-4-1 voucher when you spend £20,000, and a lower 1 mile per £1 on your spending.  Using the same maths as above, £20,000 of spend gets you £1,100 of 2-4-1 benefit plus 20,000 Avios for your £20,000 of spending, worth £150.  There is no fee.  The net benefit for spending £20,000 = £1,250 or 6.1% of spend.

However, if you plan to earn the 2-4-1, the British Airways Premium Plus Amex is more attractive.  The card has a higher earnings rate and the 2-4-1 voucher lasts for two years instead of one.

Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Honourable mention, airline category Virgin Money Reward Mastercard 

The new Virgin credit cards are very hard to value because you have a choice of rewards which are determined by your Virgin Flying Club status.

Spend £20,000 on this card and you can get:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Economy (base members), Premium (Silver members) or Upper Class (Gold members) or

A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 to fly to San Francisco on a peak day.  A base member redeeming in Economy will save 50,000 miles; a Silver member redeeming in Premium will save 75,000 miles and a Gold member redeeming in Upper Class will save 155,000 miles.

Someone using the upgrade voucher to redeem in Premium rather than Economy will save 25,000 miles.

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Virgin Flying Club mile valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ between £375 and £1162.  The upgrade voucher would be worth £187.50.  You would also 15,000 miles for spending £20,000, valued at £112.50. The card itself is free.

This means the net benefit for spending £20,000 = between £300 and £1228, or 1.5% to 6.4% of spend.

Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Virgin Reward Plus credit card

Honourable mention, airline category Virgin Money Reward+ Mastercard 

This card is equally hard to value.  Spend £10,000 on this card, which has a £160 fee, and you can get:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Economy (base members), Premium (Silver members) or Upper Class (Gold members) or

A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 to fly to San Francisco on a peak day.  A base member redeeming in Economy will save 50,000 miles; a Silver member redeeming in Premium will save 75,000 miles and a Gold member redeeming in Upper Class will save 155,000 miles.

Someone using the upgrade voucher to redeem in Premium rather than Economy will save 25,000 miles.

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Virgin Flying Club mile valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ between £375 and £1162.  The upgrade voucher would be worth £187.50.  You would also 30,000 miles for spending £20,000, valued at £225. The card has a £160 annual fee.

The low end valuation is a base member using the upgrade voucher: £187.50 value from the voucher plus £225 of value from miles earned, total £387.50 back on £10,000 of spending, less the £160 fee.

The high end valuation is a Gold member using the 2-4-1 voucher:  £1162 value from the voucher plus £225 of value from miles earned, total £1387 back on £10,000 of spending, less the £160 fee.

This means the net benefit for spending £10,000 = between £252 and £1227, or 2.5% to 12.3% of spend.

Representative APR 63.9% variable including £160 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.  Interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable.

Honourable mention, hotel categoryIHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

The premium version of the IHG Rewards Club card gives you a voucher when you spend £10,000 for a free night in ANY IHG Rewards Club property.  I am assuming you use this somewhere expensive, such as the InterContinental in London, Paris, Hong Kong, New York etc for a £250 room.

In addition, you would have earned 20,000 points from your £10,000 of spend which I value at £80.  The card fee is £99.  The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £231 or 2.3% of spend.

Representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

I also considered the value of the long-term spend bonuses on these other cards, but dismissed them as poor value:

Starwood American Express – upgrade to SPG / Marriott Gold status for spending £15,000 and a free night voucher for spending £25,000.  SPG / Marriott Gold has only modest benefits and is often available for free, eg as an Amex Platinum benefit.  The free night is valid only at hotels costing up to 25,000 points, which limits its use considerably, and the value of such a free night (generally around £100) is a small reward for such substantial expenditure.  The card has a £75 fee.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £15,000, paid when you next renew.  I would value the 10,000 points at £75 (assuming you transfer to airline miles and achieve 0.75p of value).  You also receive two additional Lounge Club vouchers with each renewal.  Given the £140 annual fee after the first year, your net return is low.

I am happy to hear arguments for and against my views here – many of these rewards are subjectively valued, dependant on your travel patterns.

(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.)

LOTS of American Airlines (very comfy) business class seats between London and the US for Avios
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  1. if a card was never activated is it still classed as opened?

  2. I like the Lloyds card. I easily spend £800 abroad a year, which at 3% is the break even for the £24 fee. The Avios and voucher are a bonus. Avios its earn and burn where possible, they’re certain to be devalued. With Amex I’ve churned a few times. For me it makes sense. If they stop that I probably wouldn’t use their cards, certainly not Platinum, BA would be a maybe. They could structure their offers to better reward spend and loyalty over churn. But ultimately we all have variations on strategy, I for instance find hotel points a bit nothing, and prefer to stick with rewards, more flexible and I don’t care about invoices as I’m paying myself.

    • I’m fairly certain it’s up for a chop. There’s no way it’s making anyone money with the 0.3% interchange fee cap. I’m actually surprised it’s still there.

      • It’s for the chop because Amex has withdrawn its licence from Lloyds. This is actually the last card standing I think – have all the MBNA, TSB and Barclays Amex cards now been closed to new applicants?

        • So will existing card holders have their accounts closed?

        • At some point – but a lot of the cards closed to new applicants are still ticking along so we could be talking a couple of years. When it closes to new customers is a different question.

        • The Original Nick says:

          So it’s just a waiting game for us holders of the Lloyds cards of when we lose them? I’ve used my upgrade voucher for the return from YYZ to LHR.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          Speaking of the Lloyds card, when does the voucher year fall? Is it calendar year, year from card anniversary date, or some arbitrary date of Lloyds’ choosing which they don’t communicate to anyone (which given the hassle with the signup bonuses some years back, wouldn’t surprise me)?

          If I’m going to lose it, I’ll do everything I can to get a couple more upgrade vouchers if possible!

        • The_real_a says:

          @Guesswho its aniversary date. You need to speak to llyods to find out when this is, as its the date your application was accepted. The transaction must be settled and not pending on thid date to count. I had a run in with lloyds about this last year.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          @T_r_a – thanks, that’s good to know – I can more or less remember when the anniversary was, but will confirm closer to the time so I can trigger two (hopefully)! Fingers crossed anyway, cheers!

  3. Scozer99 says:

    Another data point, I cancelled my wife’s platinum card yesterday and she was offered an extra membership point per £ for 3 months but no mention of churning rules changing.

    • RussellH says:

      Exactly the same as what happened to me when I phoned to cancel my SPG Amex on 8 Dec. I decided to accept the offer and am doing quite well out of it. I actually get slightly more than one extra SPG point, as I often get an additional bonus point when the amount charged is not a whole number of pounds. No logic that I can see, though, as to when it happens.

      I could live with a smaller sign up bonus, but a significantly better ongoing earning rate. It would surely make far more sense to Amex too.

  4. Just cancelled the free Amex ba card they specifically advised me to wait 6 months no ifs no buts about it!

  5. Dwb1873 says:

    Surprised it’s taken this long. They obviously know who does it – they aren’t stupid. So guess something else (financial) has changed that now makes it matter.

    Personal opinion – I think they should reward sticking with a card more rather than incentivising churn/ sign ups.

    • Hence, the ability to refer across all cards for 18k from platinum. That sounds like a very strong incentive to me. Ofcourse something else has changed; capped fees on cobranded cards is all but certain. Churners, they could simply reject them if they wanted to without any other changes. This is all about protecting their income and growing their business in a changing market place, not a war on churners.

  6. Michael says:

    I still have not figured out how to refer from platinum referral link to eg BA card, as I am only shown the platinum or gold cards as an option to choose then and when clicking through to the other cards the individual referral link disappears in the web URL.

    Please can someone explain this again for dummies.

    • Michael – it’s pretty simple.

      Refer a friend like usual, and then press ‘view other cards’ and then select ‘credit cards’, and then select the card you want. It’s tracked when i’ve done it for friends previously..

      • Charlie says:

        …so I open the referral link and it reads ‘You have been referred for Amex Platinum, etc.’

        I press the button that reads ‘View our other cards’ and the browser scrolls to the bottom of the page where Amex Gold and Green are shown.

        Where do you then ‘find’ the other cards to apply for while retaining the referral link?

        • The cards are there to view on the page, look more closely. When you click on the cards you will see the enhanced sign up bonus, another clue the referral is going through ok.

        • Charlie says:

          Adblock stops it working!

        • Charlie says:

          Thanks all. Adblock on Safari only shows the gold and green cards. How odd. Disabling it shows all with enhanced sign up bonuses.

        • Every time people report website problems on HFP it turns out to be an apple problem. It’s long past the time when the 19% of you on iOS came across to join the 80% of us on androud who know better 🙂

        • Charlie says:

          Not an apple problem… an adblock problem. Works fine on apple when it’s not on.

          And it’s on MacOS :p

    • When your referee [sic ]clicks on the link they can also choose any card they want.

  7. OT: VS is still charging 10% of cash ticket for infant (on lap) booking. Is there a way to eliminate this cost ? I’m looking at one way U class in Dec and cash price is £5k and 10% of it is lots of money for a on infant. I know it’s Delta policy which has been adopted by VS system and I thought they fixed it but looks like it hasn’t!!

    • New Card says:

      I’m starting to wonder whether they have any intention of changing this back to the old policy. Makes my VS balance rather useless for the foreseeable if they keep this rule.

    • I think someone told me the call centre can fix it but not 100% certain …..

      • I spoke with call centre too but no avail. I did explain to the agent that it wasn’t VS policy but she refused to accept my point and insisted that it has to be revenue ticket for infant. Unsure if I had to proceed or wait for skyteam merger, tickets are for Xmas break so they are fast selling and have to act quickly.

        • I did an upper redemption to Miami for May and paid 95k miles and it was approx £120 for baby. I can’t find my eticket email.
          Not sure whether is is 10% I never asked them to breakdown charge amount but I know tax on upper fare was approx £540

  8. Nathaniel says:

    With the Amex Gold, if the £15k target has been hit, can I pay the £150 annual fee for year 2, collecting the bonus 10,000 points and then get a pro-rata refund?

  9. I’ve always wondered whether a tiered, curved spending bonus (for AMEX MR) in a year period would be feasible/appealing/legal (?!). Something like…
    Bonus after £2k spend = 1000 points
    Bonus after £5k spend = 2000 points
    Bonus after £10k spend = 5000 points
    Bonus after £20k spend = 10000 points
    Bonus after £30k spend = 25000 points
    And so on??
    Seems like it would be a fantastic way of driving loyalty/focused spend and the reset after a year reducing churning. Perhaps slight point increases the longer you keep the card?

    • + increased bonuses depending on ARCC/Gold/Plat level?

    • I’ve always wondered why they don’t do this also.

      I guess the hfp community are the ones in the know about churning… friends of mine have stuck with their gold card Amex or free ba credit cards since I referred them many years ago – they don’t like the sound of cancelling and reapplying etc as it’s ‘too much hassle’ even though I’ve tried explaining that’s partly how I get to travel the world at the front of the plane!

      • That’s how our Aadvantage MBNA cards were issued.. we had tiered bonus, IIRC. Think it was 5k for 1st few K, then 10K for another 10k, then 20k for next level. That was about 4 years ago, and lured us into mbna. Still struggling to collect for our future hnl trip!

        • Wonder why the tiers were scrapped?

        • guesswho2000 says:

          That was only one off though it was a signup bonus, not an ongoing thing, which is what I think MarcB was referring to?

          I had that same card, easiest AAdvantage miles I ever earned, something like 5k miles on first transaction, 10k at GBP2.5k and 20k at GBP5k spend. I know the signup bonus was 35,000, minimum spend was GBP5,000 within 180 days.

        • That was an amazing offer, about 3 years ago. Can’t remember how I spent mine now.

    • RussellH says:

      Makes sense to me.

      Those of us with a Marriott Mastercard still benefit from an annual bonus of 2 000 points on the card anniversary, though for some reason you still get it whether or not you have used the card.

      A tiered annual bonus would have made much more sense, say:

      250 pts if you just stuck the card in a drawer
      1 000 points for an annual spend of £500
      2 000 ” £1 000
      5 000 ” £2 500
      11 000 ” £5 000

      and so on.

      If Amex want to reduce churn, then reduce the initial bonus and come up with something along these lines.

      They do need to rebate at least some of any annual fee in terms of points, as part of such a scheme.

  10. Craig Strickland says:

    Something similar on the BAPP card, nothing until £10k when earning the 241 voucher. Then bonuses after that as you spend more.

  11. Reflecting on the discussion today, I suspect HFP drives a significant proportion of amex business in the UK and that what the HFP community take out in incentives, they largely compensate for in reliable customers who put above average numbers and values of transactions through their accounts. I doubt amex would want to run the risk of alienating us by overly disincentivising our community and the the HFP capacity to grow and sustain interest in their products. Therefore, while recognising the need for them to adjust to a changing matket place, I doubt they will totally scrap sign up bonuses. I think it is more likely they will just increase the ‘fallow period’ to the touted one or two years, and might also scrap pro rata refunds. Whilst not great, I think most of us could live with such changes, especially if the ability to refer across all cards remains.

    • Will be interesting to see what develops. I have held the BAPP for a number of years, paying the annual fee. But, if my ability to earn avios is sharply reduced to the point i cant get one avios redemption per year (long haul) then would have to consider whether keeping the BAPP would be worth it or not. Amex will have to find new ways to incentivise people to keep spending via Amex to justify the annual fees and retain customers, they need to still differentiate themselves from Visa and Mastercard.

      • ATM I am only doing one longhaul avios redemption a year for my partner and I, and TBH the value per avios is not great and the effort required is difficult to rationalise. I guess I only do it because I still enjoy the hobby and following all the developments on HFP and trying to stay ahead of the game. With the ever-changing nature of it, it is difficult to get bored..When I get my backside sat on that redemption seat I always feel I worked a lot harder for it than those flights I pay for.

      • Silver status for the £195 fee and bronze for the free card could be the carrot in the future, for some, I believe. Earning the avios will be still be the issue in the future though. Will be a fair bit of burning over the next few months which may make redemptions harder to snag. All in alll not great news.

    • Firstly amex know they can could scrap sign on bonuses completely and HFP would still promote them. The ongoing earnings rates and benefits are far better than the alternatives.

      Secondly I doubt amex make any money out of the typical HFP reader. A couple who refer each other every 6 months for the gold card and walk away with 66,000 MR points and 4 lounge vists a year all for only spending 4k are not really the customers amex want to encourage.

      While I’m sure there is a proportion of the readership who put 6 figures or more through their amex cards and never churn I’d guess these are in the minority. Perversely, since the interchange fee changes, amex’s losses increase the more a customer spends. If they’re only making 0.3% then i don’t see how they can cover their costs on the BA cards. Their ideal BA customer is one who pays the BAPP fee and then never touches the card again.

      • The on going earning rates are only good if you can collect enough points to make a worthwhile redemption, with the loss of bonus points spending on an Amex and paying an annual fee may not stack up.

      • RussellH says:

        Amex are not making only 0.3% – they charge many of their merchants far more than that. And who do they pay the interchange fee to? Themselves, as they are vertically integrated.

        • That is the irony, and indeed is the million dollar question of how the courts intend to enforce this.

          Amex, bizarrely, may create an interchange fee! It can then whack whatever other charges it wants on top.

      • We had planned to walk away with 244k MR/Avios with 13k spend. Possibly with 266k with 2k bigger spend. I even created a model in Excel. It’s binnable now.

  12. Amex did not confess to this churning change as of this morning. I have 5 days until my six month anniversary. The game is certainly looks up however even if I get away with it this time.

  13. James H says:

    I cancelled my gold card on the 22nd July. Does the 6 months currently referred on the Amex website equate to 6×31 days or simply 22nd Jan etc?

    I was going to hold off a couple of weeks to be safe, but want to get a move on! This will be my first and last churn as I never got around to it in the years I’ve been collecting.

  14. I’m slightly confused by the statement ‘You also earn 15,000 Avios for spending £10,000’ in relation to the BA premium plus card. Does this refer to an annual bonus? I’ve had my card for around 5 years and have never cancelled and re-applied, or got any additional bonuses and definitely nothing annual. I just called Brighton and they told me no annual bonus on BAPP just on Amex preferred rewards gold.

    • No, that is your base spending – I was adding the value of your base Avios AND the 241 to get your TOTAL combined return on £10,000 of spend.

      • Ah sorry thanks for clarifying. As I mostly collect Avios by buying enough BA flights to keep a silver exec club card, it looks even better value since a lot of my spend gets 3 points per £!

  15. If Amex go for 2 years or never then it will kill it for a lot of people. If you are happy to do ex-EU’s then why bother with the BAPP when you can get a cash ticket for a £1000.

  16. Here in Australia, you can’t get a sign up bonus within eighteen months of having ANY (Australian issued) Amex (Amex not other bank issued) card. So no bonus for taking out a Platinum if you have previously had a Virgin Amex card within the last eighteen months for example. I really can’t see how that can be a sensible policy as it just drives business elsewhere. I could understand if it was one bonus per eighteen months per card “family”. Let’s hope that’s not what they are planning in the UK.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      I’d just planned to comment that! We can apply for cards with countless other banks, all of which offer decent signup bonuses (mostly QF, but also VA) yet Amex don’t seem interested. With the exception of the David Jones cards, which have a poor variant of the MR programme, but are good for QF points or SPG at the normal 2MR-1SPG rate.

      There’s a couple of their other cards I’d be more than happy to push my spending through, but as it stands Amex now only get my $ when I’ve got no other signups to hit. Even restricting it to no bonuses for cards of the same rewards currency, as per the UK terms, would be fair, even with the 18 month limit (although 6-12 would be nicer!).

      And the companion cards are all being chopped here too, ANZ binned them earlier this year and Westpac are going to do the same soon.

    • Optimus Prime says:

      People in FT saying it was about time they closed this dodgy loophole and we should pay for our flights.

      I’d like to know how many air miles they’ve racked up off business trips.

      As someone’s said here and there – even Amex CS advise you get the card again in 6 months for the bonus and sometimes they even ask you to check HfP out!

      • I have never quite understood the sense of entitlement people often have when their companies pay for their business travel. It’s very prevalent on Flyertalk and it’s quite odd.

      • The BA forum is full of either business travellers or high earners (often both) who seem very entitled, there are those with their GGL status getting annoyed about people flying business in Qatar to get Silver status, complaining about lower status passengers getting bronze status.
        The crazy thing about the BA loyalty programme is that they benefit and yet don’t often make a conscious choice to fly BA, it’s just company policy. While the long haul business leisure flyers have limited benefits for choosing BA.
        Unsurprisingly they seem very pleased about these changes and that the churners will be stopped from “gaming the system”. Which ironically they spend half their time doing on the forum!

        • Just as a lot of people on HfP regard points collecting as a hobby, a lot of BA flyer talk posters regard flying BA as a hobby, going on frequent Tier Point runs to maintain status.

        • To be honest stereotyping FT posters is no better than some of the remarks made there. What about the many who frequent both sites. FT is a superb resource for understanding. BA and how things work with both BA and more widely the Oneworld Alliance.

  17. I currently hold the free BA AMEX and how much Avois do I get if I send a referral link to my wife and she applies for Gold charge card?

  18. Can I ask for a little advice please?
    My husband has the BAPP card and I am a Supplementary Cardholder.
    If he refers me for a card do I get the Bonus Avios or am I not eligible for the bonus?

  19. Thank You.

  20. HI sorry this is OT but I want to close my wifes Amex Platinum card as I have one too. Can I move the MR points to my account? I am going to get her a card under my Amex Platinum. If not whats the best thing to do. I have a US ICC Card could I move her points there?

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