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.

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  1. Jimbo says:

    How long until the free BA Amex gets pulled?

    • There is a contract in place so I’d be surprised if BA doesn’t force Amex to see it out. Some deal may also be done – this is a HUGE contract, one of the biggest credit card contracts in the UK (over £1 billion of monthly billings) and would be a game-changer (good or bad) for everyone involved if it changed issuer.

      • Jimbo says:

        Sorry, what I meant was, when does the contract run until?

        • Not sure. The last renewal was announced in March 2015. However, that announcement also included the launch of an Iberia card (which ended up being a Visa) and an Aer Lingus card (which never happened) so who knows why ‘sticky’ it is.

      • So if someone had Amex Platinum already and received en fools fire silt to BAPP should they get one?

  2. since the Tesco credit card awards points in multiples of £8 per transaction – you mention that the points awarded will be lower than the headline 0.3 avios per gbp spend – but i think it will be more like 0.03 avios per gbp.

    if you download a month’s transactions from your existing credit card, and apply the excel formula listed below (excluding spaces), and sum the total – you will get an idea what your earning rate will be

    = 0.3 * rounddown (reference cell / 8 , 0 )

    • I tried this on my credit card transactions for the past 6 months and get 0.035 Avios per gbp. It turns out that 40% of my transactions are less than £8.

      • glad i’m not the only one with a dramatically different potential earning rate to the headline !

        one to avoid 🙁

  3. Since earning Skywards is hard on a Visa/Mastercard (non-amex), what is the best card out of Hilton Visa & IHG mastercard (basic)?
    I need to stick to a main non-amex card to use for the next few months, not interested in hitting the Hilton status upgrade for 10k (Does this expire by calendar year end?)

    I find IHG account webpage design clunky (there isn’t a mobile banking app?)
    Also I think Barclaycard give out offers, such as the Apple store gift card one last summer.

    Could someone confirm if the IHG card works with Curve withdrawals? I read some people having issues.

    • Unless you have substantial Visa / MC spend then you won’t get enough points just off the credit card for decent free nights so you should see this as part of a bigger strategy. My personal choice is IHG Premium – as long as you can hit £10k to trigger the free night voucher then you can’t beat 2 points per £1 (worth 0.8p in my book) and you get Platinum status AND 20k sign-up bonus.

      • Ah good news. I am 25% away from £10k trigger for the Hilton Gold status.
        Rob, do you know if it will it be valid for the lifetime of the card?

      • Sundar says:

        Yes, I also think that a his-n-hers IHG Premium card spend of 10K each in a year is best. If someone has more than that, then the others can be looked at.
        Horizon gives £50 for 10K spend in a year, which is less compared to the IHG free night which can go upto say 200-250 atleast.

        • When booking the free night, are there any terms and conditions? E.g normal room / breakfast not included? / blackout dates?

    • Mark2 says:

      I have used the IHG card a lot through Curve with no problems.
      I like the IHG web site although it is clunky.

  4. Simon says:

    I’m away travelling and haven’t seen the letter yet. Is there any mention of refund of the annual fee for the Elite card? Presume also losing the “benefits” of the card such as discounts for travelling with Emirates and additional biz seat?

    • Yes, my letter states on my Elite card that I will receive a partial refund on my annual fee, payable in August. We will also lose any additional benefits like Business Check-in for Economy flights etc etc.

  5. William Squires says:

    Why are Tesco closing the premium card? Deluge of complaints regarding Curve?

    • Genghis says:

      Where’s the announcement?

    • No. I think it is because, with Tesco Direct closing, it will harder for a lot of people to hit the £5000 Tesco spend target. I think a lot of people who got the card were people who were putting a lot through Direct, often self employed people picking up IT equipment or people buying TVs and other household good that way.

    • Ralph says:

      It seems extraordinary that they are closing it when they still have the offer until 11 July with the 5,000 point sign up bonus and I think that offer only came out after the announcement of the Direct closure. My renewal was last and they billed the new annual fee on the statement that came out three days later.

      • Genghis says:

        Potential for some cheeky (almost free) points if a refund is on the cards? Rob, when is it closing?

        • Ralph Hely Hutchinson says:

          Yes, it is a bit messy to close a card when it has annual travel insurance attached as well, unless they continue that for the remainder of the policy. Also, once the card is auto-renewed, one has a reasonable expectation of getting the 5,000 renewal bonus at the end of the year.

          • I was told it would close ‘by tomorrow’. That could mean tonight or it could mean tomorrow night, or somewhere inbetween.

        • Tonight or tomorrow. May not close for existing cardholders though.

  6. Just had the letter from MBNA telling me that the Miles and More card is closing on 28 July 2018 and turning into the MBNA Horizon credit card.

    So now how do I maintain my Miles & More balance as I rarely use Lufthansa any more?

    • Bigglesgirl says:

      You beat me to it! Just had my letter about the Miles & More….good job I have just managed to get enough miles in the account to get me a decent one-way in J back from SE Asia…..best I use them and then ditch M&M

      • Just got one too for M&M. Last day to earn is 27 July (the transaction must be posted by then). Shame. At least I think I have a bit more to use my miles as most of my miles are from the last 2 years.

    • @ PT There is no other way to prevent them from expiry unless you have a credit card. I am looking at getting a foreign M&M card where I have property. If I can’t get it, I’ll be looking at spending my miles on some flights in the next year. There are some sweet spots including short-haul business/economy for little taxes. You can also reedem for Heathrow Rewards voucher, but is such a poor value.

      • But …. technically, we could looking at a massive mileage expiry at the end of September. You don’t use your card for a month so suddenly all of your +3 year old miles disappear at the next quarter-end. That is hardly fair is it?

        • True. But, do they care? If they do, they’ll launch another card or give us a longer period to redeem. But honestly, I don’t think they do.

          • Lufthansa is a bit sensitive about the UK because it knows M&M plays 3rd fiddle to BA and Virgin. We might do OK. Perhaps we all get given status 🙂

    • Just had the same letter. I’m sitting on 260,000 miles which I’d been saving up to use for a first class redemption at some point. Flying less for work at the moment and as they’ve now cancelled the Aberdeen-Frankfurt route there’s no chance of me getting any Lufthansa status. Have just sent Miles & More a message to ask about expiry when the credit card closes.

    • New Card says:

      My letter had a cryptic sentence saying that Miles & More would be in touch with me separately about the miles expiry benefit.

    • Anthony says:

      In the same boat, Just got the letter MBNA are no longer with Miles & More, I have 165,457 points, some of which are quite old I think….. worried !
      was about to chuck the glossy Credit Card letter in the bin like normal!

      I hope they have an answer.

      Is there another alternative, another airline to move the points to maybe

      • No. By far the best use is a Business Class redemption or (less in terms of value, more in terms of experience) a Lufthansa First Class redemption with a couple of hours chilling in the Frankfurt First Class Terminal beforehand.

        • Anthony says:

          Thanks, so if not booking flights, the only realistic use of expiring points with short notice would be heathrow reward vouchers?
          Hotels and cars section is not even currently working and you have to phone in.

          • Yes, but hopefully it won’t come to that. Or you can buy some tat from the WorldShop!

        • Gulliver says:

          Received today:
          – letter from MBNA detailing the Lufthansa card closure;
          – a postcard from M&M giving details of a 10% discount offer for M&M World Shop (code: PoKa2018 in case anyone is interested)

    • RussellH says:

      Me too. They say they are converting both my Visa (dating from 2005) and my Amex (dating from 2008) into Horizon Visa cards, even though I barely put £5 per month through each card.

      And I am intrigued by the IT behind the process of using an Amex card, which processes through Amex, into a completely new Horison Visa a/c.

      Or will they link the two cards somehow? They long pre-date the double pack M+M cards that my partner got a couple of years ago.

    • Doubt they would do that, but it is also totally clear that this product is a huge money loser and cannot continue long term.

  7. I’ve had the Horizon letters for both the Emirates card and the Virgin card. Does anyone know what happens with multiple cards closing? Will we get multiple Horizon cards? Will new credit checks be conducted? Is there a risk of multiple Horizon ‘applications’ damaging a credit report?

    • MBNA said on twitter that the transfer from existing card to Horizon will NOT include any credit checks – so no impact on credit report.

      • If they giving you a new card they wouldn’t be allowed to do it without your permission and that is the last thing they want.

    • Genghis says:

      It’s not a new card account as such. No new searches will be performed.

    • Yes we will get multiple Horizon cards. Confirmed yesterday on the phone by MBNA

    • Looks like you will end up with several identical cards

  8. O/T (kind of) RE: Tesco: Any idea when they will close the card down?

  9. Dominic says:

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

    • 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.

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