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.

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.

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 21st March 2019 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.  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 around 0.4p.  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.  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 around 0.8p.  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 5,000 miles as a sign-up bonus.  My review of the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard is here.  The paid card comes with a good 15,000 miles sign-up bonus.

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. 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.

  2. 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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