As we wrote yesterday, MBNA has written to holders of the American Airlines UK credit cards this week to tell them that they are closing at the end of July.
Today I thought I would run through the options if you still want to collect American Airlines miles from a credit card, or want an interesting alternative from another airline.
Why did this happen?
You should NOT assume that these cards will return under a new issuer.
Two linked events caused this. The core driver was the European Union cap on interchange fees. This restricted the fee that payment processors could charge retailers for accepting credit cards to 0.3%. It is very difficult to run a successful mileage card on this basis.
The second driver was American Express being caught up in the 0.3% cap, even though it was originally expected to be exempt. American Express decided to pull all of its licensed cards from the market, which means that MBNA, Lloyds, TSB and Barclays had to stop issuing Amex-branded products such as the American Airlines AAdvantage cards.
What is a little odd about MBNA’s decision is that it is also closing the Visa-only AA card pictured above. With a £70 annual fee I thought this may be sustainable. With 1.25 miles per £1 spent, it isn’t hugely different to the £160 fee / 1.5 miles per £1 spent deal on the new Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card.
What is your best alternative to the American Airlines AAdvantage UK credit card?
There are a number of ways of looking at this. Let’s run through them.
Scenario 1: You want a card which still lets you earn American Airlines miles
The good news is that there are still ways to earn American Airlines miles from a credit or charge card in the UK. The earning rate is OK too.
The best option is the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card. You earn 3 points (in the new combined Marriott / Starwood scheme) per £1 spent, and these convert at 3:1 into American Airlines miles. If you convert in chunks of 60,000 points you get a 5,000 mile bonus, meaning that you are actually getting 1.25 AA miles per £1 spent.
The annual fee is £75 and you get a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points (10,000 AA miles). This makes the card well worth getting for the first year at least.
The snag here is that you cannot convert directly from American Express Membership Rewards to AA. You need to route via Starwood Preferred Guest at the poor conversion rate of 2:3. This means that 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points gets you 1,500 Starwood / Marriott points which gets you 500 American Airlines miles (or 625 if you convert in chunks of 60,000).
At best, you are getting 0.625 American Airlines miles for every £1 spent on Amex Gold or Amex Platinum.
Scenario 2: You specifically want a Visa or Mastercard to collect American Airlines miles
This is trickier and less lucrative. You can’t get anywhere near the 1.25 miles per £1 that the £70 MBNA AA card offered.
The only half-decent Visa / Mastercard option is via the IHG Rewards Club Mastercard (0.2 miles per £1, assuming you convert 10,000 IHG points into 2,000 airline miles) or, with the £99 IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard, 0.4 miles per £1.
There is a sign-up bonus on these cards. The free IHG Mastercard comes with 10,000 IHG points, worth 2,000 American Airlines miles. The £99 Premium card comes with 20,000 IHG points, worth 4,000 AA miles.
Scenario 3: You want a high-earning Visa or Mastercard and are willing to move away from American Airlines
Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available – either the Virgin Reward Mastercard (free, 5000 miles bonus) or Virgin Reward+ Mastercard (£160, 15000 miles bonus).
You get 0.75 miles per £1 on the free card and 1.5 miles per £1 on the paid card. This is FAR better than any Avios or hotel card. You also get a 2-4-1 or upgrade redemption voucher for hitting spending targets. The only downside is that, with no short haul routes, you are unlikely to earn enough miles purely from the credit card to get a good redemption so the cards are best suited to regular Virgin flyers.
You need to have a (free) HSBC Premier current account to get these cards but these come with high income or savings requirements. If you’ve got the money behind you to get Premier, the cards are great. The standard Mastercard is FREE, has no sign-up bonus and earns 0.5 airline miles per £1. The World Elite card has a £195 annual fee but comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles for spending £12,000 in your first year, free airport lounge access and pays a generous 1 mile per £1 spent.
If you simply want a free Visa or Mastercard and collect Avios, the best option is the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard. You get 1 Clubcard point per £8 spent which translates into 0.3 Avios per £1. However Tesco rounds down each transaction to the nearest £8 which means your actual earning rate is lower. You get extra value because Clubcard points have many uses – as well as Avios, you could send them to Virgin Flying Club or a totally different Clubcard partner altogether, such as Uber or hotels.com.
Reviews and to apply
Here are my reviews of the cards mentioned above, which also explain the sign-up bonuses available:
Want to earn more points from credit cards? – January 2021 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our January 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending 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:
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review
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.