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 1st December 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 19.9% 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 22.9% 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 45.1% variable including annual fee based on a notional £1,200 credit limit.

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 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 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


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. OT as no bits:

    I will be away for most of August so want to book the hotel part of my Cat 1-5 Marriott Package before I leave, as per general advise to book before 18/08. I have already used the miles that came as part of the MTP however, I’m quite new to Marriott. If I book, say a Cat 5 hotel now, do we know if I can cancel at a later date and rebook another hotel? I will also be getting the SPG Amex soon but there won’t be time to transfer and upgrade the category (not sure if they are allowing anyway). However, at a later stage, I would want to use those to either upgrade the room or try and rebook a better hotel. Any advise re what I should do? I understand I need to call and book the hotel? Wanted to book an SPG hotel but I guess it’s safer to just book a Marriott hotel before 18/08. Thanks.

    • Ian M says:

      No body knows yet what will happen if you book a 7 night stay with your TP voucher now and then cancel it after 18th August. We can only guess that what will happen will be the same as what will happen with 7 night vouchers that have not been redeemed yet (on 18th August), but no one knows what that is!

  2. Niall says:

    Tempted to apply for the HSBC cards, but to ensure both myself and OH benefit would need to open a joint current which I’m wary of. Also any experience how closely they police the “main current account” rule. IME HSBC are nightmarish to deal with, customer service and policies that makes Ryanair look like Fortnums so done want to be too committed just in case Premier is as bad as their business service.

    • Polly says:

      If you can both meet the criteria individually, then both get the bonus avios. You will be grilled the same for one account as for two. So may as well go for it. Good earning as Rob says.
      Their cs is still appalling. One dept does not know what the other dept says. If you do call them, take name, time.. ask them to make notes of the call and record it, and the substance of said call on your account. Otherwise there is hell to pay if you have to phone up again. Don’t deal with your RM (relationship manager), usually a junior Csa assigned. Ask for a manager. Totally useless my RM. I had to request that he didn’t ever contact me again, he was so bad. I actually had to explain the t and c of the Elite to him! As it was so new! Not a clue.
      If you still think it’s worth it, go ahead, sounds like you have already experienced their wonderful cs.

    • Ian M says:

      In my experience they don’t police the main current account rule at all. Once you’ve got the account open that seems to be that. I have deposited any money into mine for many months..

      • rams1981 says:

        Whilst I had to he interviewed to get the hsbc premier account and said I would deposit a large sum of money (deposit for my Flat) in there to keep the account active, since we bought our flat, my balance has never been more than £500.

        I used a similar ploy to get Barclays premier banking and their rewards which is decent enough – free daily coffee for example.

        • I phoned up to open one..they told me I couldn’t. Told me the easiest way was for me to take out an HSBC Advance account, keep it for 3 months to ‘prove’ I’ll pay the right amount of money in, open an investment account (I don’t have one yet) and then they’ll upgrade me.

          I pushed them on other routes to open a Premier and they said they could upgrade me sooner than 3 months, but it would help if I already had an investment account. I want to open one with their Investment Centre, where there is a requirement to have a current account.. bit chicken and egg! Anyway, I ended up applying for the Advance account online. I’ll then open the Investment Centre account…and then go back to the Premier team to get them to sign me up. Then I’ll get the credit card…

          By contrast, I just opened a Monzo account in 2 minutes on my phone. They told me my card will arrive on Tuesday. No faffing. Gotta love legacy banks..let’s hope this Premier card is good!!

  3. With the IHG card free night voucher, does there have to be points availability to use it?

  4. rams1981 says:

    Rob have you done an article before about redeeming on Singapore/etihad airlines and any seeet spots? Reason I ask is rather than using miles from hsbc card for ba you could use for either of those.

    Does anyone have tips for good deals/availability for redeeming on those?

  5. Pierre says:

    Slightly O/T: Does anyone know if the Lloyds Avios cards have a firm closure date yet, for current holders? I’m wondering if I should be rushing to earn the upgrade voucher before a certain date?

  6. Londonbus says:

    Off topic: HfP is showing on my Norton security software as a phising site.

    Not sure how it got there…

  7. Mr Dee says:

    You can still convert points with Virgin to Hilton and a Virgin gift card so there are some options.

  8. Benylin says:

    OT: I’ve maxed my C0rve card £10k limit paying my Amex bill with one of these listed cards above. Anyone been successful in upgrading their limits?

    • Polly says:

      Yes send them an email. Very helpful. Got mine rained to 50k recent;y…may need to go back for more tho..

      • Genghis says:

        £50k is MC imposed. But let us know if you’re successful.

        • Roger says:

          50K is max at the moment but may increase in future!
          Is cancelling and reapplying after few weeks / months an option?

        • Polly says:

          Thx, didn’t realise that.. so won’t be pushing it then!

    • Ian M says:

      If they see you’ve paid your Amex bill with it they won’t be upgrading you, they’ll ban you.

      • Roger says:

        Hahaha 🙂

      • Brian S says:

        I regularly pay mine this way, I even confirmed with Curve that I could do it and they didnt seem to have a problem with it. The biggest thing they appear to have an issue with is cash withdrawals on Credit Cards.

        • Gareth says:

          So with curve I could link it to say an IHG Mastercard and use that to pay my Amex bill as a debit card, thus getting MR from Amex and Ihg from creation or virgin money card. Would this transaction go through as a cash advance or purchase? Thanks

        • Brian S says:

          It goes through as a purchase. Yes it’s basically double dipping on points.

      • Mark2 says:

        If they wanted to stop payments to a particular merchant (as they probably have for bookies, bitcoin etc.) it would take a few minutes.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        They may not but if you are going to do this atleast use it for purchases.

        Personally I use it for most places where I don’t care about S75 protection or have no AMEX bonus to hit i.e. food/drink/travel

  9. Regarding the IHG 10k night certificate. How do you receive one? Do they send it by email, do you see it on the IHG account somewhere? How long do you have to wait after anniversary date?

    • Just turns up on your IHG account after the year end, relatively quickly (couple of weeks).

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Not even that had mine with my points a couple days after statement. Already booked and used it aswell.

    • Mr Dee says:

      Shows up on the new statement year start date (23rd in my case) I know because I just received it and booked as was waiting for it, quite impressed how easy it was to received and use.

    • @mkcol says:

      It should show up on your anniversary date, or within a month thereafter. I say should as I took ~3 months chasing both Creation & IHG (and they were chasing each other) to get it applied.

      Although I quickly breached the £10K again I’m reticent about bothering to continue with the card as the faff to get what I’ve been entitled to, plus (separately) having all my IHG points stolen due to their woeful security, just doesn’t seem worth it.

    • IHG and/or Creation IT seems much improved now in that respect – it posted for me this year with my points from my annual statement – shows as a line on IHG activity and as a free night award in the side panel. A bit like Accelerate now seems to post promptly too – 82,800 successfully posted for this quarter, only one I had to chase was credit card one, they sorted it within a few hours.

    • Thanks a lot for all of your input!

  10. 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

  11. 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…

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