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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.

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 21.9% 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 17th September 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 7,000 miles as a sign-up bonus.  My review of the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard is here.  The paid card comes with a 25,000 miles sign-up bonus.  The Virgin Atlantic sign-up bonuses are special offers which run until 31st October.

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


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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  1. Jolly says:

    OT: if I cancel an Avios redemption made on BA (for a flight flying with Qatar Airways), would I get all the money (taxes) and Avios back?

  2. Gareth says:

    Worth mentioning the 241 on virgin is rubbish as restricted to economy unless you have Virgin status.

    • +1

    • I don’t think its rubbish but it isn’t as valuable as the BA one. Given that fees are lower on VS economy redemptions it does make them more viable than BA long haul economy as an option for using points. If I earned one I would be able to use it but I don’t feel that the fee for the Reward+ card is worth paying and I may or may not make the £20,000 spend on the free card to earn the 2-4-1

      • Forgot to say that the 2-4-1 can be used as upgrade voucher for economy to premium instead.

    • I agree, we fly almost exclusively BA 3 times a year short and long haul and have been stuck in blue forever. The Virgin cards for us are out of the question considering I haven’t flown with them in over 8 years.

      • Bonglim says:

        I agree, for the same reason the virgin card is not for me.
        I absolutely 100% would get the virgin card if I could use the 241 voucher in upper class. Virgin would then get my 70k+ transactions that go through my non-amex card.

        Although I do see why they have put the restrictions in place (to protect the core airline customers).

        • Bonglim says:

          I wonder if they had an extended reach target that would allow people to get status.
          i.e. 10k spend to get the voucher with the same terms and conditions.
          And a higher amount of spend (somewhere between 20k and 50k) to automatically get you status – and the ability to use the above ticket on upper class.

          That would mega me switch.

  3. Linda says:

    Both myself and OH have been declined for the new Virgin money cards. We both have good credit records OH is excellent we cannot be bothered to query VS moneys decision. It seems we are not the only ones being turned down, on the V Flyer site there are a few in similar situation.

    As Virgin earning was only a back up its not a huge loss just annoying, we still have our Tesco cards if desperate .

    • Send Rob an email and he can appeal for you, apparently

    • Mark2 says:

      I sent them a letter and they gave me a card.
      But I am retired!

    • Louise says:

      Was this an instant decision? I applied last week and they told me it’s gone to the underwriters and takes 10 working days to hear back

    • Andrew says:

      When you say you’ve got “good credit records” – what do you mean by that?

      It happens so often that people claim to have “good credit records”, but then you find that they perceive they are good because they’ve never borrowed money – in reality that gives them a terrible credit record.

  4. Roger says:

    OT- Amex BAPP

    Is downgrading from BAPP to BA Blue considered as a new application and therefore likely a new credit search?

    • Genghis says:

      There is no “upgrading” and “downgrading” as such. Each move is a new application where Amex have the right to perform a credit search. I’ve had it where they have checked and where they haven’t. I don’t do the BAPP / BA Blue dance for that reason.

      • Roger says:

        I might as well cancel.
        Might have small amount of spending to do before I can cancel, due to a small refund.

        Next one, either Costco or Nectar.

        • the real harry1 says:

          Nectar card is a lovely shade of purple – been attracting lots of admiring glances/ comments from the girls on McD’s checkout and in the local baker’s when I go for daily fresh bread etc.

          Bit like choosing your kid’s school based on how attractive the school uniform is – but hey, I can be shallow at times 🙂

  5. Has anyone else received their horizon card yet? I have an American Airlines MBNA card which was surprisingly useful (can redeem on Etihad plus one world) and haven’t received a replacement yet.

    Maybe I’m an unprofitable customer so they aren’t bothering?

    • Yep received my VS Black one a couple of weeks ago. Not had AA one yet but account has switched. Until about October (IIRC) or the new one arrives (and is activated) you can keep using old card anyway so there’s no real rush.

      0% for 12 months on purchases on my account as mentioned in Bits comments yesterday, which is quite good, plus instant consolidation of credit limits.

      • Matt B says:

        Got 0% for 6 on one of our horizon cards, perfect for the upcoming honeymoon where we were planning to use it for the no fx and no cash fee benefits.

    • Rob H says:

      Got my Horizon one last week – very handy for a week in Vegas.

    • Your AA card IS now a Horizon card. Log in and it shows. You get the benefits now.

    • My wife has received her replacement for her White Virgin card but mine hasn’t turned up yet.

    • Graeme says:

      My Virgin White replacement arrived in the week, my girlfriend’s hasn’t. We’re definitely not profitable customers.

  6. Genghis says:

    Each to their own. I disagree though for the times points are much cheaper than cash when applying my nominal rates. If you don’t have the points then you pay cash or find an alternative.

  7. I take if the HSBC card still requires 2nd year fee to be paid before points available? Is it only Avios or any other options with it?

    • Polly says:

      Varying experiences with this card. Some got the bonus after the actual spend hit. Others like me had to pay the 2nd year fee, then 4 months of hell until l got a sensible manager who agreed the “t and c were unclear” and refunded the fee. They have tightened up the t and c now. But at one point not even their own staff knew the rules around the card! The 2nd card for £60 is good if you don’t have amex Plat and PP. for lounge key access.
      Check the list of airline options yourself. Can’t remember, only use the avios ones.

      • Thanks – have Amex Plat already so with all that confusion at their end doesn’t sound like that great a deal.

    • Ian M says:

      Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and Etihad are options. I use my HSBC card to transfer to Krisflyer. Flew Suites Class SYD-SIN last year, best flight of my life! Got another one booked for December and hoping a waitlist clears for one in a couple of weeks as well!

      • Yep, Suites is fantastic! I flew it using Amex MR points transferred to KrisFlyer via ICC Dollar card when exchange rate was closer to $1.50 🙂 BA F using GUV2 next year, will be a bit of a step down but at least retain Silver with that one trip!

  8. BTW totally unimportant I know, but if using the updated Mastercard logo should prob update the Visa one now too 😉 (no two tone colour just the stylised logo)

    • Mark2 says:

      True, after a search.
      Since I had one of the first Barclaycards before most of you were born, it looked right to me. I believe it was a copy of the BankAmeriCard.

      • Haha a few years on but I still remember my Dad having an ‘Access’ card and how big they were for years.

  9. Wally1976 says:

    OT – sorry no “bits” article today – we’re Midlands based and trying you decide whether to go direct LGW-MCO on BA or BHX-DUB-MCO on Aer Lingus. (Both Avios redemptions.) The latter would be far more convenient, cheaper and has the pre-clearance in Dublin on the way out. However there’s only 1 hour 45 minutes transit time – is that enough? I fear missing the DUB-MCO and having to wait two days for the next one (maybe even longer if the next flight’s full (August))!

    This is a once in a lifetime to trip for us (have never taken the kids long haul) only possible by using Avios and hotel points. We could get the early BHX-DUB flight instead but then there’s a lot of hanging around (with kids) and this reduces the convenience of using our local airport and we might as well go down to LGW! Thanks for any advice.

    • Wivus says:

      I have done the US via Dublin a few times now and the 1.45 would usually be ok. Pre-clearance in Dublin is quick. Still, if it is a once in a lifetime trip a delay in the BHX flight, child needing facilities etc may be a factor you need to look at. For peace of mind on what is usually an anxious part of the journey maybe leave yourself more time and fly from LGW.
      Clearance Stateside is now so much quicker with the electronic system so it is not too arduous for the family.

    • Polly says:

      Once in lifetime trip.. go direct.. too many delays these days. Just not worth risking missing out for the sake of more clearance. Btw, queues are getting longer in school holidays in Dublin. I disagree, and think 1.45 is too short for transfer. Go direct…from LGW. Find cheap car parking off LGW.

    • Driving to LGW I find a real pain (especially in August). If it were me (and it isn’t) I would book the earlier flight from BHX giving myself a longer stopover. Remember, you will be coming back in to LGW so you have a drive home after a, presumably, night flight. They are never fun and with young kids I can imaging it would be even worse. Much better to land at BHX and have a quick drive home.

      Of course, this is just what I would do and is not a recommendation as everyone is different.

    • Richard says:

      You will be fine. Pre-clearance doesn’t take long at all.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      If there’s is any doubt doubt the longer connection.

      If you are really near to BHX then the drive down and up from Gatwick isn’t a pleasure either if there are any issues on the M25.

      I don’t know what Dublin’s like but any reason you couldn’t kill the extra time with a nice meal in a restaurant before relaxing in a lounge with a G&T reading a book/paper etc?

    • fivebobbill says:

      I’ve done pre-clearance in Dublin 6 or 7 times Wally, and can tell you that depending on how many US bound planes are departing it can take anything from 30 minutes to an hour and a half! First thing you have to do is scan your passport at a machine, if the scanner likes you you get a print out sheet with a large ‘0’ on it and sent to the short queue, if the scanner doesn’t like you you get a print out with a large ‘X’ and you’re directed to the long queue. Seems quite random as I’ve had both.
      One thing I have noticed though if in the long queue, is that staff continually go up and down the line calling for passengers on soon departing aircraft and bring them to the head of the line.
      However, even if your plane lands into Dublin on time you’ll be eating into that 1hr 45mins just departing the aircraft. Not sure I would risk it tbh…

    • Are you booking the bhx-dub on a different ticket than the dub-mco?

      the 1h45 would make me nervous, especially if booked on a separate ticket and any delays would be for my account and not the airline’s

      I am also Midlands based and I would rather do 5-6 hours in a pleasant lounge in dub than have to drive several hours to lgw… Especially on the way back!

      So for Me, take the early flight to dub, relax in a lounge instead of driving and save the taxes.

    • Wally1976 says:

      Thanks for all the replies, folks. Plenty to mull over! To answer Tom1’s question – I would book it all on one ticket.

    • Mr Dee says:

      Go Direct no points taking risks and that amount of time is too short

    • Wally have you considered TPA instead of MCO? Depending on where you are staying it’s not much further and Clearwater makes for a nice rest after the parks.

  10. Steven says:

    Any sign of a Hilton credit card coming back?

  11. OT as no bits.

    What fresh hell is this from BA? Looked at prices for flights to Chicago next July, I am getting a “basic” hand luggage only option and a not much better one where I can buy M & S food and take a bag – both are coming out at over £1200 for WT as well!

    • Polly says:

      One good use of avios in Y, if ness. At least you get a bag. If your dates are restricted, as l understand they are.

      • Hi Polly, I was trying to get a package deal quote but the system just kept saying there are no flights available so that’s why I was checking flight only. Based on what they quoted just then it was better value to book Club World which was around £1700 return!

        • Also this makes me suspect that free checked bags are about to disappear from redemption bookings!

        • It looks as though BA might be in the process of uploading this new style fare onto its systems – NYC and BOS are still showing the old style pricing but PHL is offering the same as ORD with basic and slightly less basic and stupid Y pricing.

    • Lewis King says:

      Sorry, M&S on board for long haul?

    • @mkcol says:

      Maybe you’re just a little too early looking for July 2019. I’ve often seen prices “settle down” a week or so after they’ve been loaded.

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