Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What are the best credit card sign-up deals for January? – plus news round-up and a look ahead

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It is time for our regular round up of what is coming and what is going in the world of UK airline and hotel credit card sign-up deals.

Our directory of the 16 main UK travel credit and charge cards can be found by clicking the ‘Credit Cards’ tab at the top of the site or – for email, Flipboard, Apple News or mobile readers – by clicking here.

What was new in December and early January?

HSBC launched a sign-up bonus for its HSBC Premier Mastercard

This week HSBC launched a 10,000 point sign-up bonus for its free HSBC Premier credit card.

This is worth 5,000 Avios.  You could also credit it to Asia Miles, Singapore KrisFlyer or Etihad Guest.  The deal runs to 2nd March.

The snag is that you need to have a HSBC Premier current account to get the HSBC Premier credit card.  Full details of the tough eligibility criteria are in our article here.  The upside is that you have a free Mastercard earning 0.5 miles for every £1 you spend.

HSBC Premier credit card Avios sign-up bonus

You have three weeks to get a sign-up bonus on the free Tesco credit card

Until 31st January, you will receive 1,000 Tesco Clubcard points if you apply for this version of the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard.  This converts into 2,400 Avios or 2,500 Virgin Flying Club miles.

Whilst there are many different versions of this card – different interest rates, balance transfer periods, interest free periods etc – you only get the bonus via the one I link to above.

My full review of the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard is here.

The sign-up bonus dropped on the Miles & More Diners Club / Mastercard

The bonus on the new £79 Lufthansa Miles & More Diners Club and Mastercard charge card package dropped to 5,000 miles on 1st January.

This will be the long-term bonus.  The 10,000 points offered in 2018 was only designed an incentive to promote its launch.  I now have this card and, whilst it is odd, it is working OK.  You can find more thoughts about the Miles & More Diners Club card in this article.

Lufthansa Miles and More Diners Club charge card

American Express launched a 30,000 point bonus on the DOLLAR / EURO versions of the Platinum card

For the first time in a while, Amex is running a sign-up bonus on its Dollar and Euro Platinum charge cards – 30,000 Membership Rewards points to be precise.

The good news is that you can get this bonus even if you already have a UK Platinum or Gold card.  The bad news is that this is a complicated product with poorer transfer rates to most airline schemes than the UK cards.  I wrote about the pros, cons and sweet spots in this article.

If you missed it, I also published an article this week on ‘Which low interest rate credit cards also earn miles and points?‘.

What can we expect from the travel credit card market in 2019?

2018 was, to be honest, a more positive year than I expected.  Both Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa Miles & More returned to the market with non-Amex products, and both were generous:

Here are two things I know will happen in 2019:

  • An attractive new SME card is coming to the market soon
  • Curve will move its Amex acceptance out of beta mode, allowing all of us to recharge Visa and Mastercard purchases to most American Express cards

Here are some questions I can’t answer at the moment:

Will the new version of the Lloyds Avios Rewards credit card being rolled out to existing customers be re-opened to everyone?

Will the new version of the Tesco Premium credit card being rolled out to existing customers be re-opened to everyone?

Will Hilton find a new issuer for their Hilton Honors card?

Will Creation ever get around to putting the Marriott Rewards card back on the market?

What will happen to the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card, given that the Starwood brand disappears in March?

Will we see major changes to the co-brand American Express cards (BA, Nectar, Starwood, Harrods, Costco) now that they have had their retailer fees capped?

Will we will see more aggressive action from American Express to persuade people to move from its co-brand cards to Gold or Platinum, which have not had their retailer fees capped?

Will Flybe, Etihad, Emirates, American or United find a way back into the UK credit card market?

And, more of a wish than anything else as I am 99% sure it won’t happen, will Hyatt ever sign up as an American Express Membership Rewards partner?  (It would make sense, for Europe only, as I doubt Hyatt will ever launch its own co-brand card here.  There would be no cannibalisation.)

I will keep you up to date with the answers to these questions as I get them!  In the meantime:

You may also want to read our ‘Top 10’ series:

What are the top 10 reasons to get American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (Amex Gold)?

What are the top 10 reasons to get American Express Platinum (The Platinum Card)?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the American Express Rewards Credit Card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the British Airways American Express (BA Amex)?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the HSBC Premier Mastercard?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the free IHG Rewards Club credit card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the Lufthansa Miles & More Diners Club and Mastercard?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the Marriott Bonvoy American Express credit card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard credit card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard credit card?

What are the top 10 reasons to get the Virgin Atlantic Reward Plus Mastercard credit card?

What are the best travel credit card sign-up deals for January?

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are my top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.   The British Airways offer is a special deal, the Virgin Atlantic cards are new this year whilst the IHG and Amex cards are consistently strong offers.

These deals are listed in no particular order and their position on the list is not a sign of how good or bad the offer is.

British Airways American Express

For an unspecified period, the bonus on this free card increased from 3,000 Avios to 5,000 Avios.  My full review of the card is here.  You can apply here.  Representative APR 22.9% variable.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

For an unspecified period, the bonus is increased from 18,000 Avios to 25,000 Avios.  I wrote a full review of the British Airways Premium Plus card here.  You can apply here.  Representative APR 76.0% variable including the £195 annual fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

American Express Platinum

The sign-up bonus on this card is 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.  You need to spend £2,000 in 90 days to trigger the bonus.

Your points can be transferred into various airline and hotel programmes.  You could get 30,000 Avios, 30,000 Virgin miles, 60,000 Hilton Honors points, 90,000 Radisson Rewards points, 2,000 Club Eurostar points etc etc.

You receive a pro-rata refund on the £450 fee when you cancel the card and you will retain most of the benefits – Starwood / Marriott Gold, Radisson Gold, Hilton Gold, Melia Gold and Shangri-La Jade – for the rest of the year even after you cancel. The Amex Platinum benefits package is extensive, though, and once you’ve got it you might find the numbers add up for you. I have had one for 15 years.

My full review of the Amex Platinum card is here. Amex’s own home page is here.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

This is currently an outstanding deal which is showing no signs of going away. You pay no fee for the first year and earn 20,000 Membership Rewards points (see here for what 20,000 MR points can get you – 20,000 Avios points for a start!).  You need to spend £2,000 in 90 days to trigger the bonus.

If you are new to this hobby, I would make this your first American Express card.  One benefit of earning American Express points is that you only need to transfer them to an airline or hotel scheme when you are ready to redeem – there is no risk of being caught out by devaluations!

My full review of Amex Gold is here. The Amex home page to apply is here.

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.

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

This is my preferred hotel Visa / Mastercard because of the strong overall package.  Whilst there is a £99 annual fee, this is offset in Year 1 by the 20,000 bonus IHG points you receive.  You get IHG Rewards Club Platinum status for as long as you hold the card.  You will also receive a voucher for a free night at any IHG Rewards Club property when you spend £10,000 per year.  Representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

Virgin Atlantic Reward and Reward+ Mastercard

The two new Virgin Flying Club credit cards are the most generous Mastercard or Visa cards for day to day spending.  The free Reward card (with a 5,000 miles sign-up bonus) earns 0.75 miles per £1 whilst the annual fee Reward+ card (with a 15,000 mile sign-up bonus) earns 1.5 miles per £1.  The bonus triggers with your first purchase.

Reward: representative APR 22.9% variable.  Reward+: representative APR 63.9% variable including £160 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit Interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable.  The application page is here.

Bonus on small business cards  

Head for Points focusses primarily on personal cards. However, if you are a sole trader or run a very small business, you may also want to check out the American Express Platinum Business Card (click here) and the American Express Gold Business Card (click here).  There is currently a 20,000 points (= 20,000 Avios) bonus on the Gold Business card and a 40,000 points (40,000 Avios) bonus on the Platinum Business card.

(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.

Comments (146)

  • Thywillbedone says:

    Re IHG, I had heard that Creation (who operate it) were a mess but I wasn’t prepared for just how bad they are. I applied for the premium card on 30 Nov and despite several long follow-up calls, it took until yesterday for them to tell me that somehow my application fell during a period where they were changing the rules and thus my application had not been considered at all (despite telling me in late December that a decision had been physically posted out to me). It is now in the hands of the Head of Underwriting (I am told) to remove the application from my credit file and over to me to submit a new application. They wouldn’t tell me what criteria had changed. They aren’t ever able to give you a decision over the phone and are never able to contact other departments to discuss an ongoing application. Complete mess.

    I have asked them to log a complaint – anyone know what my chances of getting compensation are even though I am not an on-boarded customer (treating customers fairly etc)? (note: I spent a cumulative 2.5-3 hours pursuing the application which has failed due to their fault entirely)

    • Nigel the pensioner says:

      Zero! Creation are a shambles as I have previously reported. I gave up my Flybe card when the replacement card came through after the first expired and the lad on the phone who was activating it asked for my complete password!!! So clearly it was on his screen along with my 16 digit card number!
      I think you would need to be pretty desperate for points to get anything run by creation. They certainly seem to create havoc.

      • Thywillbedone says:

        Interesting, thanks Nigel. The only reason I went for this card is I plan to stay in some IHG properties at the Rugby World Cup later this year as all hotels have very expensive cash rates…so I bought some IHG points in the recent sale and wanted some extra through the card. Seems like I might be wasting my time!

      • Mark2 says:

        We are extremely happy with Creation and have had excellent service from them.
        We am looking forward to getting a Marriott card each when available.

      • RussellH says:

        Clearly you have been poorly treated, but any business can make the occasional severe cock-up.
        I have kept the Marriott Card since it first came out. It has to be one of the best free cards around.
        The only problem I have ever had with it was entirely down to me not having read the Ts+Cs carefully enough (they use the weird Amex scheme of calculating points per transaction, rather than on the monthly billed amount as everyone used to do at the time).
        I also have an IHG white card.
        When I have phoned them I am clearly dealing with someone in the UK.
        Their on-line log-in procedure is clearly far more secure than Amex.
        In my experience, for really poor CS, try Barclaycard. This used to be compensated for by regular goodwill payments into the a/c, but no longer.

    • Roger* says:

      I must be doing something wrong.

      I have no issues with my three Creation cards (two in regular use).

      • Matt says:

        I’ve only had to call them twice after having the card for two years. No issues from my perspective.

        • Alan says:

          Ditto – charged interest on a couple of transactions for no clear reason. Although their back end data wasn’t as clear as I would have expected they refunded the fees no problem. Points post to IHG pretty reliably every month by the time statement is generated, albeit with the odd slight blip of a few days. Happy with the earnings rate and voucher. Website not the prettiest but fast to login to and shows pending transactions clearly and immediately.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      I second Nigel’s comments on the whole, Creation are a right shower, their customer service is awful and their management of the cards is terrible.

      The opening of the Black IHG card was a proper PITA though, it was approved, sent out and used, then immediately blocked for further transactions, at which time they decided I needed to prove my ID and address (this is despite being an existing cardholder of many years). Fine, all good, though I had to keep calling daily to eventually get the card reinstated, if I hadn’t called I suspect it would never have happened off their own back.

      Then there was the IHG Platinum status and posting of points. Naturally that didn’t work properly, and I spend ages on the phone trying to sort it, only for their CS to point blank refuse to believe their card offered any such benefit. No idea how they sorted it, but after around three months it did magically rectify itself. At one point they even changed my IHG rewards club number (which you can see in your online account, and which had originally been correct) to something completely random, which took weeks to fix too.

      However, I keep the IHG cards, because they are good products, if you can get them to work as intended, and despite Creation’s best efforts. Creation cards do have their place in this hobby.

  • TripRep says:

    Time for a wee update?

    “Virgin Atlantic Reward and Reward+ Mastercard

    The two new Virgin Flying Club credit cards are the most generous Mastercard or Visa cards for day to day spending. The free Reward card (with a 5,000 miles sign-up bonus) earns 0.75 miles per £1 whilst the annual fee Reward+ card (with a 15,000 mile sign-up bonus until Friday 14th December) earns 1.5 miles per £1.”

    I’m guessing the decent 30k+ bonus will also come back at some point. Be interested to hear if it’s being offered in VS Clubhouses.

  • Nigel the pensioner says:

    The curve metal card is going to be the big winner if it lives up to its promises – buying BA ex EU tickets on it and charging to BAPP card without Fx fees and at the MC exchange rate……But… depends what its monthly charge is. There is no point in paying a significant monthly charge as it will likely exceed the Fx charge anually using BAPP directly! I expect unfortunately this probably turn out to be the case 😐.
    Have you any advance news on monthly fees Rob as you can’t evaluate it without knowing its ongoing charges?

    • Genghis says:

      Despite Curve’s earlier MCC changes, under the current Amex top up model none of the specific earning benefits would be passed through (eg 3 avios/£ on BA on BAPP, 6 MRs / £ at Marriott on SPG, till YE) so might need to be factored in.

      • MDA says:

        Good point. Earning double MR points with airlines directly on Amex gold preferred may be better than using Curve and earning half the number of points with no real added benefit (most airlines already accept Amex)

      • Alan says:

        It’s pretty definite, Nigel – it works by topping up a ‘pot’ in Curve from your Amex, whatever you then spend comes from the pot, Amex don’t see what the spend is on. Even if it went through directly as a transaction (as per other Curve purchases) you wouldn’t receive increased points as it has gone through Curve so the charge comes from them (just like using any other intermediary such as PayPal).

      • Alan says:

        Although even if they moved to non-pot model it’d still be ineligible for underlying benefits as not charged direct to Amex but via Curve.

        • Genghis says:

          But isn’t that the purpose of the MCC changes, I guess to some extent?
          “Another benefit is that your purchases with Curve may earn you card rewards for certain eligible payment cards”

          • Alan says:

            I thought that was only for cards that offer spending category bonuses – e.g. supermarket, etc. Seems to be more common outwith the UK. Can’t see it activating retailer-specific ones such as BA, SPG/Marriott, IHG, Amex Offers, etc?

        • Alex W says:

          Since Curve changed the MCC pass-through I’ve definitely been earning double IHG points on IHG stays paid with IHG creation card via Curve.
          It will be a shame if these category bonuses are not possible on Amexes due to the top-up system. I was hoping to double-dip with 3% Curve rewards and double points from SPG card for Marriott bookings.

          • Alan says:

            Wow interesting – didn’t expect them to do that. Wonder if it’s a combo of MCC and looking for some key words in the text that come across? I thought they’d only do it if they had a precise retailer match – unless of course the MCC provides that but I thought it was only the category ( Wonder if something more than MCC is being passed across?

      • Simon says:

        Surely the best approach is to pay with the AMEX card and pay off with another card via Curve? Or does the new model mean this won’t work?

    • MDA says:

      Speculating the curve card will cost between 9.99-14.99 per month with mobile phone insurance etc as extra benefits

      and that it only makes sense if you’re going to spend 20k (no less) on the card for the year. That is 20k spend without section 75 protection and if Curve go bust with you’re money topped up then you will lose it unless they’re registered by the FSCS.

      • Genghis says:

        There’ll still be a segregated client money account under CASS

        • Mr(s) Entitled says:

          Genuine question, are you sure?

          WDCS is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to conduct electronic money service activities under the Electronic Money Regulations 2011. Glancing over Cass it’s not apparent if this fall under it’s remit or not.

          I’d also go slightly further to highlight that what should be done, and what is done, can be two different things. Not to cast that aspersion at Curve but the FCA have said themselves that with limited resources their focus is on firms with greater than £100bn in assets of £1bn in client funds.

          I think MDA’s assertion that there is credit risk is valid. It might be mitigated, but it is there.

        • Genghis says:

          Good challenge. I’m not as CASS expert, you can probably tell!
          The top up functionality of Curve operates very similarly to Revolut and so I’d suspect is under the same framework of requiring segregation (but not under CASS)

          No mention in the Curve additional terms, however,

    • Ben says:

      Have Curve indicated any timeline for the launch of new products and/or full Amex capability do you know?

      • MDA says:

        Poor comms from Curve tbh and they let alot of customers down last year. Unless anyone knows of a confirmee timeline for a public release

      • Alan says:

        Still not confirmed. I’d say they need to do more work on the beta first though.

        • Stuart says:

          My guess is February, but like everything with Curve – nothing is certain until you physically see it.

        • Dan says:

          Still tons of bugs in the beta version that need ironing out. I’d say Summer 2019 feels about right!

          Agree on the comms though. Even though I’m part of the Amex closed Beta – curve definitely implied that Amex functionality was coming back for all customers in December 2018….

  • Liz says:

    I took out the free Virgin card just before the mid Dec deadline so waiting for my first statement to hit – I remember lots of chat about the sign up bonuses and 1st 3 months spend bonuses but didn’t take notice of when these will post to the Virgin accounts – can someone please remind me when the bonuses will likely hit my Virgin account. I have the offer of 5000k for first transaction and 3x 2000 for £500 in first 3 months.

    • Neil says:

      Morning Liz – You you will receive the signup bonus of 5,000 in your first statement. Provided you spend £500 for the first 3 months, these points will then be manually added at the end of month 4. You may have to call them to chase it up from my experience.

      • Liz says:

        Ok great thanks Neil – I’ll make a note. Champing at the bit for my first statement to trigger so I can put the next £500 on for month 2 – holding some spend back – getting impatient!

        • Neil says:

          I know the feeling. I currently hold the paid version and free version of the card. My 2nd month is due to roll over in 3 days and the spending begins all over again!

        • Liz says:

          Not sure when the first statement date will be – I am past the date of when I took the card out ie 9th, I did the first spend on the 14th – so far no statement generated. Patience, patience …..

  • Simon says:

    Rob, what are the other 2 cards you keep in your wallet?

    • Rob says:

      At the moment, my SPG Amex and the card for my club ….

      • LB says:

        Stringfellows ;).

        • RTS says:

          Are they even still around?! Thought they went bust?

          Griffin – can stick all the loose change in the pint pot instead of starbucks! ha!

        • Genghis says:

          🙂 You’d expect them to have moved onto contactless payment by now.

      • MDA says:

        Out of curiosity why the SPG card? – I am not using mine enough so I am looking for inspiration.. but then again I haven’t stayed in any SPG/Marriott hotels yet…currently using Hilton as my to go chain

        • Rob says:

          1.5p of hotel value per £1, option to convert to obscure airlines if needed, 241 triggered for the year and don’t need any more Avios or Virgin miles at present.

    • Brian P says:

      Just to be clear, I’m expecting numerous key fob style barcodes? Mywaitrose / Nectar / Clubcard etc…?

      And for full disclosure are you using Google Pay / Apple Pay?

      God -this sounds like stalking!! But we all want to know 🙂

      • Rob says:

        Clubcard is on my phone. Never use my Nectar card. The nanny has the MyWaitrose card so I never see it. Only used Apple Pay once!

  • Matt says:

    It’s a little optimistic to say Curve metal is coming in 2019 given that we’re still waiting for the Amex support that started in November 2018 according to the announcements

    • Nate1309 says:

      Amex support is on beta testing. It needs more testing IMO I am on the beta and managed to stop all transactions from processing and haven’t been able to use my card since early december. It is hopefully sorted today. We will see.

  • jc says:

    Re Virgin Atlantic “You need to spend £1,000 to get the full bonus on the free card and £1,500 to get the full bonus on the paid card.”

    Is that true? The website says the bonus is triggered on first purchase.

  • Aliks says:

    Re the HSBC World Elite card – is this churnable?

    I had the card for a year then cancelled in Nov 2017 – can I get the bonuses again?

    • Genghis says:

      Yes and yes
      1. To be eligible for the Introductory Bonus
      Reward Points described below, the following
      requirements must be met:
      a. you must successfully apply for an HSBC
      Premier World Elite MasterCard Credit Card;
      b. you must not have not held an HSBC
      Premier World Elite MasterCard Credit Card
      within the six months prior to you applying; and
      c. You have made eligible purchases of at least
      £2,000 within the first three month period of
      card membership

      1. To be eligible for the First Anniversary
      Bonus Reward Points described below, the
      following requirements must be met:
      a. you must successfully apply for an HSBC
      Premier World Elite MasterCard Credit Card;
      b. you must not have not held an HSBC
      Premier World Elite MasterCard Credit Card
      within the six months prior to you applying; and
      c. You have made eligible purchases of at least
      £12,000 within the first 12-month period of
      card membership;

      • James M says:

        So theoretically you wouldn’t need to churn it, for year 1 signup and get the initial bonus, keep for year 2 (with the anniversary bonus), just before the beginning of year 3 downgrade it to the non WE premier card and then 6 months after upgrade and get the initial bonus etc.

        • Genghis says:

          Does “upgrading” and “downgrading” exist for these cards though? It looks like they’re discrete products (à la Creation IHG and VM’s Virgin cards).