The top 12 UK loyalty credit card sign-up deals by £ value

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What I thought might be interesting to look at today, in very mercenary terms, would be to rank the best UK travel credit sign-up bonuses in terms of cold hard cash. Put simply, if I get this card purely for the sign-up bonus, how much value can I get?

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

These are objective calculations based on the following formula:

The value of the sign-up bonus – see below for my methodology

The annual fee, if any

For Amex Platinum, BA Premium Plus Amex and SPG Amex, the fee refund if you cancel after a typical 4 months

Notes on valuation

The biggest question mark is over the value of the sign-up bonus. For hotel cards, I have valued points based on the number required for a top-end redemption which I value at £250 per night. The exception is Starwood, which makes high category awards disproportionately expensive.

For airline miles, I assume they are worth 1p each.

(Of course, for airlines where short-haul redemptions are bad value, a small amount of miles can be effectively worthless. In some programmes, you would need to already have a decent balance to get full value from the bonus miles.)

I have valued Amex Membership Rewards points at 1p, since they transfer 1:1 into airline miles and I am valuing those at 1p.

The ‘free money’ £ value I quote is therefore calculated as:

‘value of sign-up bonus’ minus ‘annual fee’ (for an Amex, I assume you cancel within 4 months for a 2/3rd fee rebate

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Experian Credit Score.

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.

Bring on the winners!

OK … here we go! Remember that full details on all the cards can be found on our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page.

This analysis does not include cards with no sign-up bonus.

GOLD!  £200 ‘free money’ – American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

20,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £200 if turned into 20,000 Avios or other airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile achieved) and £0 fee for the first year.  £2,000 spend in 3 months required.  Representative APR 57.6% variable including the annual fee (free in year 1) based on a notional £1,200 credit limit. 

GOLD!  £205 ‘free money’ – HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

40,000 Avios or other airline miles (£400 assuming 1p per Avios achieved) for spending £12,000 in your first year.  This assumes that HSBC lets you have the full bonus without paying the fee for Year 2, which is still proving troublesome for many people.  £195 fee, non-refundable.  Note that HSBC Premier has strict eligibility criteria. Representative APR 59.3% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

GOLD!  £205 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios points (£250 assuming 1p per Avios achieved), £195 fee but £150 fee refund if cancelled after four months so net cost of £45. £3,000 spend in 3 months required.   Representative APR 76.0% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit Interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable.

SILVER!  £150 ‘free money’ – American Express Platinum

30,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £300 as gets you 30,000 airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile achieved), £450 fee but £300 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months, so net cost of £150.

Most importantly, though, you will retain your Marriott Bonvoy Gold card, Radisson Rewards Gold card, Melia Rewards Gold, Shangri-La Jade and Hilton Honors Gold cards for a full 12 months, even if you cancel.  This adds substantial extra value to the package.

American Express Platinum

BRONZE!  £100 ‘free money’ – Amex Rewards Credit Card

10,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £100 as gets you 10,000 airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile achieved), no annual fee.  There are three different versions of this card as this article explains – you only receive 10,000 points with the version here which requires £1,000 of spending within 90 days and has a representative APR of 22.9% variable.

BRONZE!  £100 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard 

10,000 miles (£100 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, no fee.  5,000 miles post with your first purchase within 90 days and a further 5,000 post after spending £1,000.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

BRONZE!  £90 ‘free money’ – Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard 

25,000 miles (£250 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, £160 fee.  15,000 miles post with your first purchase within 90 days and a further 10,000 post after spending £1,500.  Representative APR 63.9% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

£75 ‘free money’ – Starwood Preferred Guest Amex

30,000 points (valued at £100 as good for at least 10,000 air miles,worth 1p per mile, but worth 1.5p if used for hotel rooms), £75 fee but £50 fee refund if cancelled after 4 months so net cost of £25. £1,000 spend in 3 months required.  Representative APR 39.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

£50 ‘free money’ – IHG Rewards Club Mastercard 

10,000 points (20% of a top end £250 night), no fee. Bonus triggers with a £200 spend within 90 days.  Alternatively, the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard comes with £100-worth of points but has a £99 fee.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

£50 ‘free money’ – British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios (£30 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus, no fee.  £1000 spend within 3 months required.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

(The HSBC Premier card and Tesco Clubcard Mastercard currently have no bonus.  The bonus on the Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club and Mastercard is worth less than the £79 fee.)


If there is anything to learn from this bit of fun, it is this:

If you and your partner took out the best 3 credit cards each, you could get over £1,200 of value between you based on my valuation model. That is certainly nothing to be sniffed at!

Do not underestimate the value of the hotel cards. Whilst a small number of airline miles has little value, a small number of hotel points can get you one night somewhere, and one night is often all you need.

(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.

Bits: new Accor / Avios promo now live, Radisson and Park Inn sale on, triple Shangri-La points
Avios Redemption University – Lesson 15 - How to earn and redeem Avios points on Flybe
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  1. For the HH Barclaycard, is the 6 month voucher validity to use the use and stay somewhere or just to make the booking for it? i.e. would I need to make the a booking to stay in a hotel within 6 months, or can I make a booking within the 6 months for a stay after the 6 months?

  2. Was wondering what their changes were in the t’s and c’s in the email this morning.. couldn’t be bothered to read through it…

  3. OT but card related. We recently upgraded from Gold to Plat but after a week still have not received our new Plat cards. Just called Amex who said you don’t get new cards – just continue to use the Gold ones. We Upgraded a couple of years ago and got new cards automatically. He has now issued new cards but wondered what others have experienced when upgrading.

    • You do get Platinum cards but the golds work as the plat until they arrive – a week sounds similar to what we experienced about 3 months ago.

      • Thanks Harpo. The guy we spoke to insisted you don’t get new cards and that new cards had not been issued. All a bit weird I thought!

        • Graham Walsh says:

          When I upgraded BA Blue to BAPP, I was able to use the blue card until the black card arrived. As long as your online account is upgraded, you are good to go. I would have thought Amex would want to send you a new card so it is seen in shops etc when paying.

        • Well yes that’s what I thought – I said the Platinum card has upgrade benefits etc when you hand it over or access to lounges etc but he was adamant you don’t need a platinum card. I was adamant I wanted one!

        • Liz
          My wife has more recent experience than Harpo given she upgraded at the end of last month. New Platinum cards were issued – took about a week for them to arrive. PP cards arrived separately a few days later.

        • He was just being a PITA, call again later.

        • @James – we did call again as we realised we wouldn’t have the pack and the insurance documents. Got someone who knew what they were talking about the 2nd time. Will probably end up with 2 sets of cards now!

        • New cards issued within a week.

    • I upgraded PRG to plat last week Monday and waiting for my new plat card to arrive but been using my gold card until then. It’s all upgraded online and on the app. PP card arrived very quickly, within 3 days. Hoping it’s in my porch when i get home tonight.

    • I just upgraded as well. Got a new card a couple days after applying.

  4. OT but Amex related – is the 90k referral points limit on Plat per card year or calendar year?

  5. TGLoyalty says:

    Sneaky! Buried that rather than pointing it out in the actual email.

    Looks like amazon top up in the future.

    • Hsergio10 says:

      @TGLoyalty Nice.

      How do you top up your amazon account for curve rewards? have £35 ready for Amazon gambling 🙂

  6. That is annoying as I was saving for the next 19 Euro Groupon Avios voucher. Only got about £15 at the mo!

    • Why not use that money towards something else you need to pay, like your council tax (my preferred choice) or utilities bill etc so you can use up the full amount. Then make a note of that amount and use it towards the €19 Avios later.

  7. Get well soon Rob!!

  8. KBuffett says:

    I have the Platinum card and wanted clarification on referrals.. If I give my referral link to someone, and they opt for the PRGC, will I still get a referral bonus? The link suggests that I am only referring them to a Platinum Card.

  9. Assuming a 2 night stay in europe, which would be the best hotels to use the free Hilton nights?

  10. Isn’t the fee refund on BA AmEx Prem+ £130 leaving a net cost of £65 rather than £45 (£65 being 4/12 of £195)?

  11. Hi
    I upgraded from gold to plat and have hit the sign on bonus. I referred a mate who now has the plat card but I haven’t had any referral bonus. Normally the bonus is super quick at landing in my account. Not this time. Its been 4 weeks. Contacted amex who state it can take up to 10 weeks. I don’t want to miss out on the 18k MR referral but at the same time I want to cancel card for pro rata refund (although annual fee hasn’t been charged to me either). Is it worth hanging on for 6 weeks? Or has the referral failed?

  12. KBuffett says:

    Totally OT but:
    My accountant is giving me a hard time about using my personal cards for my Limited Comapany expenses. He is saying HMRC could argue that I am self employed as opposed to Limited if I keep using my personal cards. I have been using my Amex Plat AC card to keep within guidance I have read stating that HMRC say a separate card should be used if a personal card is used for Ltd expenses.
    Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    • I would think HMRC have more pressing issues than who the card belongs to and in what name it maybe, they are more interested that the figures match up and your not over claiming for anything they would however be interested if you were to claim the annual fee and then use it for personal purchases.

      An accountant often like to do some scaremongering when things are not so simple.

    • Rubbish. Your trade is through the ltd co. As an employee I pay for hotels for work on my card. The company then reimburse me. Similar principle here but with a directors loan account say going into a debit balance. No extra taxation etc.

    • Total cobblers.

      • KBuffett says:

        OK thanks guys. We are talking not insignificant numbers here (over £100k per annum, buying fair amount of goods for resale, IT equipment etc). I think my accountants concern is that as my affairs are quite complex and not insignificant, he doesn’t want to give HMRC a clear and easy reason to poke into my personal affairs. A quick google brings up discussion on a UK Business Forum where people are in two camps. Naturally, there will never be a clear cut answer to this, but this is not the case of just travel expenses, hotel bookings etc.

  13. Does anyone know….I currently have the BA card but have hit my spend for the 2 for 1 deal. If I now want to get the Platinum Card (and the join up bonus) will I have to cancel the BA card? Also can AMEX just upgrade me to the Platinum?

  14. KBuffett says:

    Can I refer someone to BAPP if I have a Platinum Charge Card and get bonus?

  15. note that you do not get the cash back until the end of the card year, but can be worthwhile for the referral points.

  16. Some advice needed please: I currently have a blue BA Amex and Lloyds Avios Amex/Mstrcard. I’d like to start collecting for the BA 2-4-1 voucher (in addition to the Lloyd’s upgrade voucher, which I’ve had for the last two years running). April is the start of my collecting year on both cards.

    Would I be better off cancelling my free blue BA Amex now and reapplying in Sept to get the sign-up bonus; or just upgrading in April to the £195 Premier BA Amex, benefiting from the higher 1.5 per £1 Avios collecting rate, the lowered 2-4-1 voucher threshold, and the extended voucher expiry, but missing out on the sign-up bonus, (given that it might not even be around in 6 months’ time)?

  17. Horst says:

    Does anyone have a view on the combination of Amex Plat, HSBC World Elite and IHG Premium and how to allocate spend? I had the former two for a while, using the Amex as my main card and the HSBC as the backup for situations when Amex isn’t accepted. I now applied for the IHG in order to get the sign on bonus but I’m wondering whether it makes sense to keep all three cards at all.

    • I would put your decision on hold until you see the new Virgin non-Amex in a few weeks.

      • Any idea when we can expect to see those new Virgin cards Rob?

        MBNA have now written to say that as of next billing period the VA Black Card will become a cash back card…

  18. Horst says:

    Okay, thanks!

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