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Who won ‘Best UK Travel Rewards Credit Card’ at the 2019 Head for Points Awards?

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Over Christmas and New Year, we are unveiling the winners of the inaugural Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.  Today is Day 10 and we’re heading into the home straight!  This is the first of two awards for payment cards.  Today we are looking at which is the best travel rewards credit card?

The winner will not surprise you.  We decided we needed to give an Editor’s Choice award too to give everyone a chance!

The Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards 2019 are a great opportunity to recognise the cream of the crop when it comes to UK premium business and leisure travel. A lot of the areas we are covering, such as airport lounges and travel credit cards, are ignored by other awards because they are too niche – but for our readers, they are very important and appreciated.

Over 4,500 HFP readers voted over three weeks in November. There were 12 categories in total. As well as giving an award to each category winner, we are also giving out a number of ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards for products and services which we personally admire.

Each winner will receive a trophy which we will be presenting at a special dinner in January. You can catch up with all of the winners we have announced to date by clicking here.

What is the best UK Airport Lounge

Today we are announcing the winner of ‘Best UK Travel Rewards Credit Card’

And your winner is ….

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

The British Airways American Express Premium Plus card smashed it, if I’m honest.  This was the biggest winning margin of any of the 12 categories.

The BAPP card won a whopping 52% of your votes.  For a product that carries a £195 annual fee, that is pretty good going.

‘Best of the Rest’ was more good news for Brighton, with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold coming second with 17% and The Platinum Card coming third with 12%.

The top Visa or Mastercard product was Virgin Atlantic’s Reward+ Mastercard, followed by the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard, the free version of the Virgin Atlantic card and the Miles & More Global Traveller Card.

It was interesting to see the £160 Virgin Atlantic card get 50% more votes than the free version even though the rules for using the 241 and upgrade voucher are the same.  (Note that the free British Airways Amex card was not shortlisted, because we don’t see the point of having one.)  I thought that the Miles & More card would do better – it is currently my ‘go to’ Mastercard – but I accept that most people are unlikely to earn enough miles through card spend alone for a good redemption.

British Airways Premium Plus - best uk airline credit card

Why does everyone love the British Airways Premium Plus card?

Obviously the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card has a lot going for it:

1.5 Avios per £1 spent – this equals the highest earning rate available on ANY airline credit card

a decent sign-up bonus of 25,000 Avios

double miles on all your spending at British Airways and BA Holidays, which is a ‘not to be sniffed at’ 3 Avios per £1

Let’s be honest though.  The real value here is in the 2-4-1 voucher which you earn after spending £10,000 in a card year.

The 2-4-1 voucher on the BAPP card is the most valuable perk of ANY UK credit card.  If you want proof, I did the maths in this article.

If you use your voucher on, say, two Club World seats to New York – which is hardly the most ambitious Avios redemption – then you will save 120,000 Avios.  If you value an Avios at 1p, that’s a £1,200 saving.  This is a whopping 12% return on your £10,000 of spend.

More importantly, the 2-4-1 voucher is the only way that many people can stay in the game.  Earning 240,000 Avios for two Club World tickets to New York is tough going unless you are doing a lot of premium flying.

Earning 120,000 Avios, alongside a 2-4-1 voucher, is a different story.  Whilst it has got harder than it was, timing your Amex sign-up bonuses correctly, referring friends for cards and taking advantage of the Avios-earning offers we promote on Head for Points makes 120,000 Avios every 12-18 month a realistic target.  (You can still earn 185,000 Avios every two years by timing your Amex applications correctly.)

Long-term, there are clearly question marks over whether the card can continue in its current form.  It is probably reliant on Amex getting an exception from the caps on credit card interchange fees, although you would hope that British Airways would see the value in cutting its profits to retain the value in the card.  Well over £1 billion is currently spent on the BA Amex cards each month.

British Airways Premium Plus

We also decided to given an Editor’s Choice award in this category.  If we didn’t, no-one else would ever get a look in!

The Editor’s Choice winner is …..

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

If you are a regular reader of HFP then this will not surprise you.  We have often said that the IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard is about as close to perfect as you can get from a credit card rewards package.  What is smart is that many of the benefits are of low cost to IHG but are highly valued by cardholders.

For a £99 annual fee – which in Year 1 is virtually covered by the 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points sign-up bonus – you get:

2 IHG points per £1 spent – I value these at 0.8p, which is a great return for a Visa or Mastercard

The points count towards status – a very smart move, which oddly no other card has copied.  This means that you could acheive top tier Spire Elite status purely via card spend if you wanted.

You get Platinum Elite status for as long as you hold the card, which is the 2nd of the four tiers

You get a free night voucher, valid at virtually every IHG hotel, when you spend £10,000 in a card year.  This repeats each year.  If used at a top property in a big city this is easily worth £200.

I don’t think you can ask for more than a decent sign-up bonus, a strong day-to-day earning rate, points counting towards status and a free night each year.  It is a compelling package and one which is worthy of an Editor’s Choice award.

IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard

I look forward to giving American Express and IHG their awards at our winner’s dinner on 13th January.  Tomorrow we come to our second credit card award – who will win ‘Best Special Sign-Up Offer 2019’?

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Comments

  1. It’s a real shame that the Virgin card is economy only without status, I’ve earned enough for a particular redemption but I will be closing it before the second fee hits the account.

    • Lady London says:

      Maybe Virgin is only allowing redemptions from their card in Y because their amazingly high level of charges – no, its not taxes, Virgin it’s money that you keep – is so high that you are basically paying so much Virgin is not really giving you anything for your miles anyway?

      Virgin likes to market themselves as a special experience. We know Virgin Upper Class is an experience that can be aspirational. We are not hearing the same about Economy flying on Virgin and there is plenty, plenty of competition that costs same and less in Y. So I am wondering why Virgin doesn’t want big spenders to aspire to Virgin Upper Class.

  2. BAPP is becoming more difficult to generate the required Avios to use the 241’s, but I seem to manage it eventually. The lack of availability is less relevant to me as I’m pretty flexible and fly East or West as it is available which means that I never ring T-355, if its warm and sunny that will do me.

    I wish I could see value in all of the Hotel points mallarky, but there isn’t a suitable one for me I don’t think. I tend to go for more luxury hotels and don’t like the cookie cutter nature of some of the chains. But then I don’t use them for business just leisure and can’t rack up the loyalty aspect

    • I was the same re hotel cards but now I’m really glad I bothered with them. Having 2 x SPG Amex has meant we’ve now got a 5 night reward stay booked at the Westin Resort GCM which would have cost £3500 at Easter, and hoping to do the same at the similarly expensive Kimpton in 2021 via IHG (which also has InterContinental if you like luxury). Most of our stays however, are at Hiltons which suit our various needs, especially when we travel as a family and appreciate chains like Homewood and Embassy Suites. I generally get very good recognition as gold as well which make the travel experience that much more of a treat.

      • I used my Hilton Gold status (via Platinum) last year in the Millenium Bangkok which was pretty good actually for a one nighter.
        The Westin looks lovely, did it take much effort to rack up enough points for the stay?

        If I look at where I stay and where I could’ve stayed in a place the that might swing me in a certain direction, IHG or Bonvoy etc. But the points systems confuse me 🙂

        • Darren & JRC – OH and I both got SPG Amex last year, so got the sign up bonuses and then used the cards for our main spend after triggering OH’s BAPP companion voucher. I generated a few more points by booking trips through the Marriott moments page for the holidays we took in 2019. We also both bought some points when the 25% bonus offer was on so we had enough for 4 nights which then became 5 nights with the 5 for 4 offer. I secured it before peak pricing which would have hit us at Easter, so it’s 240,000 points in total for the stay. This being the Cayman Islands, they also whack you with a $65 per night “resort fee” but you can’t avoid it, unfortunately.

          The Westin is a lovely hotel, we’ve visited the premises a few times as OH sometimes dives from their water sports centre, and it’s also the pick up location for Avis hire cars. However, it’s definitely not worth the silly prices they charge at peak period so I was really chuffed to get the redemption nights!

      • Anna, how much spend and how long did it take to get enough points for WESTON GCM? I’ve always focussed on Avios but a new job means a bit more travel and hotel stays. Generally credit to Hotels.com plus double dip with Voldemort.com and everything goes on BAPP or other Amex. Thanks

  3. IHG Premium for me. BA Amex numbers not great for solo traveller, about to watch a 241 expire, completely so what about it. Ex-EU and some inventive routing has seen me paying around £1200 in business to USA, earning TP and often 30K Avios. Redemption makes little sense in comparison. With existing bookings I’m Gold until May 22, and then have the year at Silver. Decided to address my own carbon footprint and will switch to direct premium. Each to their own.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      I’ve had 2x 2-4-1 expire last couple years because cash fares have been better. Still a useful tool to have in your account though

      • A trip with a friend within Europe using RFS? E.g. something departing from T3 to enjoy the better oneworld lounges. Cash fares unlikely to beat that.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Im silver so minor difference really.

          It’s not that I couldn’t use them it’s just that the cash J fares were so good that using Avios wasn’t a good deal.

  4. the_real_a says:

    Unfortunately with the ban on holding the IHG card more than once in a lifetime – either by mistake or design – it loses a lot of shine especially when the gap is over a year. It would be interesting to get an official position on this as there seems to be no rules written down and customer service have no clue.

    • AndyGWP says:

      Agreed – it’s a card I cancelled because I didn’t want to churn it (I actually just needed a rest from the fee as didn’t know my plans at the point of renewal)

      Frustrating I can’t take it out again (although I haven’t tried because of all the failures, and someone has reported success recently). There are better ways of handling people who are churning for bonuses… as we all know 🙂

    • Is there a ban?

      Must have missed that gem of information.

      Thinking of cancelling the IHG premium, but with this info maybe not.

      • Lady London says:

        Lots of people report struggling to get it back again having had it before. And quite a few also reported they were declined trying to add the second IHG card type when they already had the other one.

        So its either by accident or they’d rather lose valuable extra spend by customers who might churn or concentrate their exposure. This is Creation we are talking about so could even be accidental on their part. Given all this I wouldn’t cancel right now.

        • Agreed. There appears to be no-one in the entire Creation organisation with an IQ higher than that of my underpants.

        • The Urbanite says:

          I had the IHG Premium first (with incentive having had the Barclaycard IHG Visa) and got the free card without a problem – in fact it came with a much higher credit limit. I haven’t had the issues others have had with Creation and wouldn’t dream of cancelling either card.

  5. Received my IHG Premium last May 2019 – completed the spend to receive Spire Elite Status and the bonus 25,000 points. I assume I will receive my free night certificate May 2020?

    Thinking of keeping the card after May 2020 as people seemed to be turned down if they re-apply i.e. try to churn. Will I receive a further free night certificate as part of my 2020 spend? What is the spend target £10k? Is this for my spend following Jan 2020 statement or after May 2020? Do I receive 25,000 points by re-qualifying for Spire Elite?

    • the_real_a says:

      Churning aside, it would be good to have a way to re-apply for the card even without the bonus… Travel patterns change in roles, and proffered choice of rewards cards reflect this. Its seems ridiculous to ban re-applications when there exists common sense alternatives to prevent loses from churn.

      All this points to losses on the cards from creation, it will be interesting to see how long it lasts in its current form.

    • My understanding is that you get a free night each year as long as you spend £10k and this is issued as a certificate in your IHG account at the end of your card year. How far you are towards the £10k is shown on your card account page, similar to the Amex progress bar.

      • Yes the bar restarts in the new card year.

      • Neil Donoghue says:

        How long does it take for the certificate to post in your IHG account please?

        • Posts onto your account the same day your point arrive, with the statement after your card anniversary. You might get an email informing you of the voucher a few months later!

  6. Virgin CC

    Finger in the air time.

    Thinking of applying for the fee based one, any idea if the bonus is likely to increase any time soon?

    • Shoestring says:

      yes – must be due a bonus month/ 6 weeks application window – last bonus period ended 31st Oct

      free or premium card? as one is worth waiting for a bit more than the other

  7. The IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard might have a favourable earning rate etc, but the systems and functionality of the card issuer (Creation) are atrocious, for example:
    – No Apple Pay
    – No smartphone app
    – No function to download transaction data in machine-readable format
    – Payments into the card account do not update in real time (only next day), possibly in breach of Regulation 89(3) of the Payment Services Regulations 2017.
    – No way to see pending transactions
    – Each card account needs a separate login.

    • There is an app. Look up ‘Creation’ in the app store.

      Amex is the only issuer I know who do real time payment updates. MBNA and Diners/Affiniture run substantially in arrears.

      • Faster payments to the Virgin Atlantic CC show within 2 hours.

      • Thanks Rob for the advice about the app. It was not obvious, not least as Creation doesn’t advertise it. It’s better presented than the web site, but still not perfect, in that it shows the additional cardholder’s card with the primary cardholder’s name printed on it, and it still fails to show pending transactions. The functionality to freeze a card is a good one, following the trend of Revolut and Barclays’ heavily-marketed functionality.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          The website and the app clearly showing pending transactions

          On the app it says pending next to it and on the website it’s slightly greyed out

    • I don’t care about any of that. I just want to speak to someone who isn’t an unmitigated imbecile if I have occasion to phone. Not too much to ask IMHO.

  8. I got the free Virgin CC last year with the enhanced sign up bonus. Just transferred the points to Hilton. Virgin miles no good to me as won’t earn enough for a decent redemption, plus without status can only redeem in economy which I’m not interested in.

    Love the BAPP card with the 2-4-1. Couldn’t have flown First without it for a couple of long haul holidays. I also love my Hilton Visa which I get Gold via as value the comp brekkie and had some decent redemptions. Combining use of both those cards works very well for me.

  9. Not me!

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