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What is the best replacement for the UK Emirates Skywards credit card?

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MBNA wrote to holders of the Emirates Skywards and Emirates Skywards Elite UK credit cards on Monday to tell them that they are closing on 21st July.

(They also wrote to United cardholders yesterday with the same news, and I will look at the remaining Star Alliance miles earning options tomorrow.)

This is an earlier closing date than for the Etihad Guest and American Airlines cards, which run until the 27th.  I can only assume that letters will be heading to holders of the Lufthansa credit card too.

Quite a few of you may have these cards as there were some VERY generous sign-up bonuses over the years – as high as 25,000 miles at times on the Elite card.  You could also apply for the free standard card too, which often had a 12,000 mile sign-up bonus!

Today I thought I would run through the options if you still want to collect Emirates Skywards miles from a credit card, or want an interesting alternative from another airline.

Emirates Skywards credit cards to close

Why did this happen?

You should NOT assume that these cards will return under a new issuer, although I know that Emirates did hire a consultant last year to research potential options.

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 Emirates Skywards cards.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

What is your best alternative to the Emirates Skywards UK credit cards?

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 Emirates Skywards miles at a decent rate

The good news is that there are still ways to earn Emirates Skywards miles from a credit or charge card in the UK.  The earning rate is OK too.

The highest miles earning option is the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card.   You earn 3 points per £1 spent, and these convert at 3:1 into Emirates Skywards 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 Emirates miles per £1 spent.

It isn’t as generous as the MBNA credit card, which gave a whopping 2 miles per £1 on the American Express element on the Elite card, but it isn’t bad.

The annual fee on the SPG card is £75 and you get a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points (10,000 Emirates miles).  This makes the card well worth getting for the first year at least.

Your other option is one of the two Membership Rewards cards – either American Express Preferred Rewards Gold or American Express Platinum.

These cards give you 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent, and they convert at 1:1 into Emirates Skywards.  This means that you are getting 1 Emirates Skywards mile for every £1 spent on Amex Gold or Amex Platinum.

These cards come with excellent sign-up bonuses.  Amex Gold comes with 20,000 points for signing up, whilst Amex Platinum comes with 30,000 points.  Amex Gold is free for the first year.

In the short term, taking out a ‘free for a year’ American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, banking 20,000 Emirates Skywards miles from converting the sign-up bonus and earning 1 mile per £1 spent – with no fee for 12 months – is probably your best deal.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

Scenario 2:  You specifically want a Visa or Mastercard to collect Emirates Skywards miles

Earning Emirates miles from a Mastercard or Visa now is trickier and less lucrative.  You can’t get anywhere near the 1 mile per £1 that the MBNA Emirates Elite Visa card offered.

The only slightly 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 Emirates Skywards miles.  The £99 Premium card comes with 20,000 IHG points, worth 4,000 Emirates miles.

Best American Airlines UK credit card replacement

Scenario 3:  You want a high-earning Visa or Mastercard and are willing to move away from Emirates Skywards

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.  The free Virgin Atlantic card equals, at 0.75 miles per £1, what you were getting for non-Amex spend from your old free Emirates Skywards credit 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.

The best long-term cards for an Avios / Asia Miles / Etihad Guest / Singapore Krisflyer collector (if you have a high income) are the HSBC Premier Mastercard or HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard There earn 0.5 miles per £1 on the free card and 1 mile per £1 on the £195 World Elite card.  You need to open a HSBC Premier current account and meet their strict income and investment criteria, however.

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:

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – review, apply 

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – review, apply 

American Express Platinum – review, apply 

HSBC Premier Mastercard – review, apply 

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard – review, apply 

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard – review, apply 

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – review, apply 

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard – review, apply 

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – review, apply 

Tesco Clubcard Mastercard – review, apply 

Please read this important interest rate information:

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – representative APR 39.7% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – representative APR 57.6% variable including the annual fee (free in year 1) based on a notional £1,200 credit limit, interest rate on purchases 22.9% APR variable.

HSBC Premier Mastercard – representative APR 18.9% variable

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard – representative APR 59.3% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard – representative APR 18.9% variable

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard – representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard – representative APR 22.9% on purchases

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard – representative APR of 63.9% including the fee, assuming a £1200 credit limit

Tesco Clubcard Mastercard – representative APR 18.9% variable

(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.

Comments (59)

  • Dominic says:

    As a side note, my Etihad letter said 21st July, too – not the 27th as widely reported here.

    • meta says:

      I think different airlines have different dates. For M&M, it’s 27th. They have to give almost last day as there are really no other direct options to earn in the UK.