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What is the best Visa or Mastercard travel loyalty credit card?

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I get a steady stream of reader emails looking for advice on the best Visa or Mastercard miles and points card.  With earning rates being cut following the EU cap on interchange fees, it isn’t easy.

The Head for Points credit card guide covers many different Visa and Mastercard products.    Today I want to run through them all briefly and suggest possible reasons for getting them.

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

(EDIT:  this article was updated on 1st December 2018 and all the information is correct as of that date.)

Avios and hotel cards:

I am bundling the Avios and hotel cards together because most people have both an Avios account and an account with the major hotel chains and may be ambivalent between them when it comes to points earning.

With the Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express & Mastercard now closed to new applicants, your Avios options are limited.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (but high income needed):  HSBC Premier Mastercard or HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard 

You need to have a free HSBC Premier current account to get these cards.  Read my HSBC Premier Mastercard review here for more details.  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 Avios per £1.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.  The World Elite card has a £195 annual fee but comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Avios for spending £12,000 in your first year, free airport lounge access and pays a generous 1 Avios per £1 spent.  Representative APR 59.3% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (no annual fee) – 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.  My full Tesco Clubcard Mastercard review is hereRepresentative APR 18.9% variable.

Worth considering as a hotel card (no annual fee) – IHG Rewards Club Mastercard

This card comes with 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I would value at £40-£50.  As an added bonus, you receive permanent Gold status in IHG Rewards Club.  For a free card, the earning rate is pretty good.  You receive 1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1 spent which is worth 0.4p – 0.5p.  My full IHG Mastercard review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Worth considering as a hotel card (£99 annual fee) – IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

This card comes with 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I would value at £80-£100.  As an added bonus, you receive permanent Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club.  A high spender would do well with this card.  You receive 2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1 spent which are worth 0.8p – 1p.  When you spend £10,000 in a card year, you receive a voucher for a FREE night at any IHG property – worth £250 at a top InterContinental.  My full IHG Premium Mastercard review is here.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

Virgin Flying Club cards:

Best long-term card OVERALL as long as you can use the miles – either Virgin Reward Mastercard (free) or Virgin Reward+ Mastercard (£160)

Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available.  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.  Representative APR 22.9% on purchases, the Reward+ card has an overall APR of 63.9% including the fee, assuming a £1200 credit limit.

My review of the free Virgin Atlantic Mastercard is here – it comes with 10,000 miles as a sign-up bonus until 14th December (5,000 miles thereafter).  My review of the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard is here.  The paid card comes with a generous 25,000 miles sign-up bonus until 14th December (15,000 miles thereafter).

Other airline cards:

Worth considering if you fly Star Alliance (£79 annual fee) – Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club and Mastercard.  This new card, launched in late 2018, has a generous earning rate of 1.25 Lufthansa Miles & More miles per £1 spent.  Miles & More miles are difficult to collect in the UK and are only useful when redeemed for Business or First Class redemptions, due to high taxes on Economy flights.  Unless you are a Star Alliance flyer or are a very high card spender, you are unlikely to earn enough miles from the card to reach a good value redemption.  Our review of the Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club card is here.

Credit cards

Conclusion:

These are certainly not vintage times for anyone looking for a new Visa or Mastercard with travel rewards.  However, I hope I have been able to show here that there are some decent deals about and hopefully one will suit your miles and points goals.

Further reading: click here for our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page summarising all the current offers, and click here for all of our ‘Credit Card Reviews’ articles.

(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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Comments

  1. Requesting urgent HFP advice – if I cancel redemption flights booked via BA.com but flying on American Airlines, do the same conditions apply as BA redemptions, I.e. return of avios and fees minus £35 pp?

    • pauldb says:

      Yes. If it’s shorthaul and the fees were under £35 you just lose what you paid.

      • What is classed as shorthaul? We’re flying Grand Cayman to Charlotte, fees were £61 pp then Charlotte to Boston, fees were £4 pp!

        • Both legs are under 3 hours.

        • pauldb says:

          Sorry shorthaul was incorrect shorthand for cheap. Whether short or long the cost of cancelling will be the lesser of what you paid or £35. So for GCM-CLT you’ll lose £35 and get £26 back. For CLT-BOS you’ll just lose the £4 so also no cost. That presumes it’s two bookings.

        • pauldb says:

          *almost no cost (the £4 one)

    • Yes

  2. Michael says:

    Now that HSBC world elite is annualising for most people, do we know the churn rules?

    Can we close and reapply in 6 months/1 year and trigger the sign up bonus again? Or do we downgrade to non-fee premier card? Or ideally, can we downgrade to premier and reapply for world elite after certain period of time and be eligible for sign up bonus?

    • rams1981 says:

      I churned after 8 months you I think and got the bonus again

      • Polly says:

        Wow, didn’t think it was possible…just currently dropping to premiere, so l guess after 8-12 months, re apply back up to elite. Or did you cancel completely and re apply?

        • rams1981 says:

          Completely cancelled

        • Polly says:

          Thanks Rams…will probably do the same then. Worth having that bonus. My OH can’t bear the grief of the hour long interview. Otherwise he could have one in my down time…

  3. Craig says:

    OT No Bits: With Amex MR to SPG being closed I have 2 options for a two night Marriott stay. Firstly, hope they open properly on the 8th Aug, do the transfer and book when it completes. Secondly, buy the points which would work out at £200 which is less than the cost of the 2 nights. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • FlyingChris says:

      Has it been announced that Amex MR points won’t be able to be transferred to SPG/Marriott in August? Just noticed the Transfer My Points option has gone from my Plat card. Hmm. Needed to top up my account for an upcoming redemption on the new rates…

      • FlyingChris says:

        Never mind, just saw that transfers are temporarily suspended until August 8. Panic over! Phew.

  4. ColinJE says:

    The Virgin MasterCard is even better at the moment. I signed up about six weeks to the Reward+ card and got the 15,000 miles on First purchase. Then my wife got an offer in the post that gave up to 33,000 miles in the first 3 months if she spent over £1000 each month for 3 months. Or 11,000 miles on the free card if she spent £500 for the first 3 months.
    Incensed that I hadn’t been offered this, I rang Virgin Money, whereupon they said I had the same offer on my account. My first month spend was £33 short of the target (grr), but my next 2 months will definitely be on target!
    If you’ve already got the Virgin card it is worth calling them.

    • This is only for existing MBNA Virgin cardholders. The reason you weren’t contacted is that you had set your marketing preferences to ‘leave me alone’!

    • Got an email offer on Virgin for the free one but nothing about the paid one. Then got a post offer for both so could have been clearer! Just need to find a use for the points but got good value out of Hong Kong to London in PE with old upgrade voucher after a long argument to reduce HK taxes.

  5. DaveA says:

    OT – I cancelled my AMEX Plat around the end of Jan (Being a newbie, I didn’t note the exact date for churning) I’ve just logged into my Priority Pass account and it said my membership expired on 26 Jan. Does that mean I should be able to reapply and get the sign-up bonus? I’d assume so.

    • Yes – but, really, why risk it? Wait a week.

      • DaveA says:

        Thanks Rob. I was hoping to get a Priority Pass ready for a flight with the family on the 9th – But I think I’ll err on the side of caution as it’s not worth risking the 35K MR points.

    • You should have received a letter from Amex giving you the exact date though? Alternatively You can ask the chat. I already asked them from which date I am entiteled to the sign up bonus again and they were happy to give it (then + 1 week to be quiet and you have written proof)

      • DaveA says:

        That’s a great idea. I’ll ask them on chat tomorrow and take it from there. Thanks Bach!

  6. OT – can you still upgrade Amex gold to platinum via the link now that the gold is a credit card (and obviously platinum a charge card)?

    • Jonathan says:

      Amex gold charge card to platinum charge card – yes

      Amex gold credit card to platinum charge card – no

  7. Mr. K says:

    OT, but also a bit relevant since I might have to use one of these non-Amex cards…

    I’m a non-EEA expat that moved to the UK in March. Got a BA Amex with a 10k credit limit after supplying Amex with identity verification and proof of salary. Now I’m almost hitting the 2-4-1, which I won’t need any time soon, so I decided to get an Amex Gold. Application denied! Letter says “in particular our decision was influenced by information in your credit report”. Got my credit report (thanks Rob for the free Equifax report tip) – it has nothing but the Amex and my bank account (since it has an overdraft that I’m not using). Before the Amex the rating was neutral, now it went down sharply and is now “poor”. I’m assuming this is due either to the high credit limit or due to credit utilization (I paid off the whole statement ahead of time to see if it helps).

    Called the New Accounts team – they were unable to help or even tell me what documents the Appeals team would like to see. The appeals team can’t be phoned or e-mailed, only physical mail. Anyone has any experience with this?

    Why, oh why did Amex discontinue the charge card…

    • TGLoyalty says:

      I would just appeal in writing and say you have an existing Amex which has been kept in good order and if they reconsider they could reduce your available credit on the BA card to allow them to offer you a gold.

    • Mr dee says:

      Appealed and no response from them at all after months even after spending 6 figures regularly on their business card. Super annoying.

      • Update: appealed in writing, supplied letter from employer, original bank statement showing that I have Premier with them, printout of HMRC payments. Received another form (or at least I assume it’s form) letter talking about my credit score. No reaction on the request to lower my credit limit.

        I’ll stop using the card for a bit, wait until the score jumps back up (if my assumption about why it went down are correct), and re-apply. Will see what happens.

  8. “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.”

    it’s worth making clear just how much lower your rate is likely to be. if you use the Tesco card for all your day to day purchases, small and large … your earning rate will be around one tenth of the headline rate.

    so an appalling card for anything but large purchases !

    • jim arnold says:

      Unless you have a hell of a lot of under £8 purchases how do you work out a tenth ?
      even a purchase of £15.99 would give you half the headline rate

      I’ve just done a spreadsheet of ALL of my CC purchases for the last 3 months and it works out at around 75% of the headline Rate
      On my actual Tescocard it was 115% – but I do try and put £32 of fuel in each time and I do have the grandfather rate of 800 avios per £2.50 ! Even on the standard rate its around 85%

      • Presumably anyone on here who has the Tesco card also has an Amex with a decent earnings rate that they use where possible. As most large retailers now take Amex, that means that a lot of people will just use it to plug the gap for small but regular purchases like their morning coffee which will all be under £8.

      • i do make a lot of purchases under £8 – i barely use cash at all

  9. My mortgage company is happy for me to pay by both debit and credit cards – but only issued by Visa or Mastercard.
    I’m therefore planning to pay off a big chunk of my UK mortgage in the next 3-4 months.
    Are there any UK cards out there that offer *bonus points on spend at financial services companies or should I go for the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard as mentioned above?

    * the US market often advertises bonus points for soend on e.g. travel etc

    • Genghis says:

      Who is your mortgage company?

      • Polly says:

        Yes l would like to know that too! I often thought to phone up and suggest paying it monthly from my elite, like sky do on direct debit..but not brave enough!
        John, go for elite if you can. But be prepared for bad customer service.

      • First Active
        – did my first small payment last week ysing my Hilton CC – just waiting to make sure the transaction generates HH points on my next statement.

  10. I’m not so sure about the new MBNA Horison Visa replacement for the Miles and More card. If you click through card benefits after logging to my account online and then to “learn more” in the “Using your card abroad” section, they state a 2.95% non-sterling transaction charge.

    Sounds like a dud, but happy to be wrong here.
    Rgds
    Rob

  11. Following the demise of the MBNA Miles & More cards, I had just switched a few days ago to using my existing IHG Rewards Club MasterCard. I’m delighted to see that you rate it as a top travel loyalty card. It’s just a shame that Creation doesn’t support Apple Pay and that its online account servicing is so poor, particularly the lack of functionality to export one’s transactions in machine-readable format. At least Curve’s planned support for Apple Pay later this year should solve one of those two problems.

  12. Excuse what could be a dumb question! If I hit Virgin spend targets and get a 2-4-1, can i use that with a points redemption, as opposed to a purchased flight. And supplementary question, if that IS the case, and I have enough points for Premium, the 2-4-1 would be a Premium ticket too – correct?
    Apologies to all for might appear blindingly obvious! – Thx

    • The 241 on the new Virgin credit cards is ONLY the miles redemptions. If you have Gold status with Virgin you can book Upper Class. If you have Silver you can book Premium. If you have no Virgin status you can only book Economy with the 241. I am not happy about this but ….

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