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What are the best cards for long term spending?

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Many of the credit card articles on Head for Points are focused on sign-up bonuses.  Get a card, spend the minimum required to trigger the bonus and potentially move on.

However, if you are a high to medium spender, the few thousand pounds of card spend required each year to hit your sign-up bonus targets is not a stretch.  You need to consider where to put the rest of your annual spend.

This article can help you.

What are the best cards for long term spending?

All of these cards add a 3% foreign exchange fee so you might want to get a separate free credit card to use abroad.   Unfortunately there are no travel rewards card without a foreign exchange fee.  One option is to get a free Curve Card – see this HfP article – and link it to a miles-earning Visa or Mastercard.

Another option is to get a free card from Currensea. Currensea is a simple but clever idea. You pay abroad with your Currensea Mastercard debit card. Currensea translates the cost to Sterling with just a 0.5% fee (83% less than usual) and withdraws the money from your bank account. You can find out more by clicking here. Currensea is free so there is no risk in giving it a try.

This article was updated on 1st April 2021, and all of the information is correct as of that date. Ignore the original publication date shown.

What are the best UK card bonuses for long term spending?

Many travel credit cards offer incentives if you spend £10,000+ per year on their cards.  The value of these perks is often underestimated – they are often worth far more than the points for your normal spend.

In order of value, lets take a look at what is out there.  This analysis ignores the value of any sign-up bonus or ‘first year free’ deal – I am looking for the best long-term solution.

Excluding the Virgin credit cards, the results summary is, based on spending just enough to trigger the relevant long-term bonus:

  • British Airways American Express Premium Plus – 10.1% back on first £10,000
  • British Airways American Express (free version) – 6.1% back on first £20,000
  • Generic cashback Visa or Mastercard – 0.2% to 0.5% back, usually in vouchers

Your return on the free Virgin Money Reward card varies by status:

  • Base Virgin Flying Club member – up to 2.4% on first £20,000
  • Silver Virgin Flying Club member – up to 3.4% on first £20,000
  • Gold Virgin Flying Club member – up to 6.4% on first £20,000

Your return on the £160 Virgin Money Reward+ card also varies by status:

  • Base Virgin Flying Club member – up to 3.3% on first £10,000
  • Silver Virgin Flying Club member – up to 5.1% on first £10,000
  • Gold Virgin Flying Club member – up to 11.4% on first £10,000

I will explain the basis of my calculations below.  The BA and Virgin calculations are based on using the 241 voucher for San Francisco or a flight of similar length.

John Lewis Partnership Card

Our base comparison –  The John Lewis / Waitrose Partnership Card or similar

This is typical of the best free Visa or Mastercard cashback cards currently available, giving you 0.25% of your general spending back in the form of shopping vouchers.

Why are we featuring a card which does not give travel rewards?  Because if your travel rewards credit card doesn’t clearly beat the return from a cashback or shopping vouchers card, there is no point having it.  You are better off with the cash.

Representative APR 18.9% variable.

What are the best travel cards for long term spending?

Best rewards credit card for long term spending

The winner British Airways American Express Premium Plus card

This is not exactly a surprise.  After all, you voted the British Airways Premium Plus card your ‘Best UK Travel Rewards Credit Card’ in the 2019 Head for Points Awards.

 Spend £10,000 on this card and you get a voucher which gives you two Avios redemption tickets (on BA planes, ex-UK only) for the miles of one.  On a typical redemption (two Club World tickets to San Francisco on a peak day), this saves you 150,000 Avios points!

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Avios point valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £1,100.  You also earn 15,000 Avios for spending £10,000 (worth £110 assuming 0.75p per Avios) with an annual fee of £195.  The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £1,015 (£1,100 + £110 – £195) or 10.1% of spend.

Representative APR 74.7% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit Interest rate on purchases 22.2% variable.

Best credit card to get for the long term

Runner-upBritish Airways American Express card

The standard, free, British Airways Amex gives you a 2-4-1 voucher when you spend £20,000, and a lower 1 mile per £1 on your spending.  Using the same maths as above, £20,000 of spend gets you £1,100 of 2-4-1 benefit plus 20,000 Avios for your £20,000 of spending, worth £150.  There is no fee.  The net benefit for spending £20,000 = £1,250 or 6.1% of spend.

However, if you plan to earn the 2-4-1, the British Airways Premium Plus Amex is more attractive.  The card has a higher earnings rate and the 2-4-1 voucher lasts for two years instead of one.

I wrote this article explaining why I don’t recommend that anyone gets the free British Airways credit card.

Representative APR 22.2% variable.

What is a good long term credit card to kee

Honourable mention, airline category Virgin Money Reward Mastercard 

The new Virgin credit cards are very hard to value because you have a choice of rewards which are determined by your Virgin Flying Club status.

Spend £20,000 on this card and you can get:

  • A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Economy (base members), Premium (Silver members) or Upper Class (Gold members) or
  • A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to fly to San Francisco on a peak day:

  • a base member redeeming in Economy will save 50,000 points
  • a Silver member redeeming in Premium will save 75,000 points
  • a Gold member redeeming in Upper Class will save 155,000 points

Someone using the upgrade voucher to redeem in Premium rather than Economy will save 25,000 points.

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Virgin Flying Club point valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ between £375 and £1162.  The upgrade voucher would be worth £187.50.  You would also earn 15,000 points for spending £20,000, valued at £112.50. The card itself is free.

The low end valuation is a base member using the upgrade voucher: £187.50 value from the voucher plus £112.50 of value from points earned, total £300 back on £20,000 of spending.  This is a return of 1.5%.

The high end valuation is a Gold member using the 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class, assuming a flight to San Francisco:  £1162 value from the voucher plus £112.50 of value from points earned, total £1273 back on £20,000 of spending.  This is a return of 6.4%.

Representative APR 22.9% variable.

Virgin Atlantic Rewards Plus Credit Card good for long term spending

Honourable mention, airline category Virgin Money Reward+ Mastercard 

This card is equally hard to value.  Spend £10,000 on this card, which has a £160 fee, and you can get:

  • A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in Economy (base members), Premium (Silver members) or Upper Class (Gold members) or
  • A return upgrade to Premium when you book an Economy reward flight (requires reward availability in Premium)

The maths is the same as with my analysis of the free card.  With a 2-4-1 to San Francisco on a peak day, a base member redeeming in Economy will save 50,000 points; a Silver member redeeming in Premium will save 75,000 points and a Gold member redeeming in Upper Class will save 155,000 points.

Someone using the upgrade voucher to redeem in Premium rather than Economy will save 25,000 points.

Based on my very conservative 0.75p per Virgin Flying Club point valuation, the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ between £375 and £1162.  The upgrade voucher would be worth £187.50.  You would also 15,000 points for spending £10,000, valued at £112.50. The card has a £160 annual fee.

The low end valuation is a base member using the upgrade voucher: £187.50 value from the voucher plus £112.50 of value from points earned, total £300 back on £10,000 of spending, less the £160 fee.

The high end valuation is a Gold member using the 2-4-1 voucher for Upper Class, assuming a flight to San Francisco:  £1162 value from the voucher plus £112.50 of value from points earned, total £1274 back on £10,000 of spending, less the £160 fee.

This means the net benefit for spending £10,000 = between £140 and £1114, or 1.4% to 11.1% of spend.

Representative APR 63.9% variable including £160 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.  Interest rate on purchases 22.9% variable.

Cards with poor bonuses for long-term spending

I also considered the value of the long-term spend bonuses on these other cards, but dismissed them as poor value:

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 points sign-up bonus and 15 elite night credits Read our full review

The Marriott Bonvoy American Express offers an upgrade to Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for spending £15,000 and a free night voucher for spending £25,000. 

It sounds good on paper, but Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite has only modest benefits and is often available for free, eg as an Amex Platinum benefit.  

The free night is valid only at hotels costing up to 25,000 points, which limits its use considerably. The value of such a free night (generally around £100) is a small reward for £25,000 of spending.

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold offers 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend £15,000, paid when you next renew.  

I would value the 10,000 points at £100 (assuming you transfer to airline miles and achieve 1p of value).  You also receive two additional Priority Pass airport lounge passes with each renewal.  Given the £140 annual fee after the first year, your net return is low.

Finally, a special mention for …..

Lufthansa Miles & More credit card for long term spending

I also feel that the Lufthansa Miles & More Diners Club and Mastercard package deserves a mention.  

Please note, however, that this card is suspended to new applications until Summer 2021. It will relaunch as a Visa card at that point.

Whilst there is no long-term spend bonus, the day-to-day earning rate of 1.25 miles per £1 is very strong.  You need to be a high spender to maximise value due to the £79 annual fee, although the 5,000 mile sign-up bonus offsets much of it in the first year. 

For something spending £10,000+ per month, however, you could do very nicely with this product.  It is especially helpful if you have children since Lufthansa and SWISS will often have reward availability during UK school holidays – which do not match German and Swiss ones, even in Summer – when BA and Virgin do not. Keep an eye out for it in mid-2021.

I am happy to hear arguments for and against my views here.  Many of these rewards are subjectively valued, dependant on your travel patterns.

(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 Card Offers’ 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 (100)

  • jms28 says:

    What about the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard? Main benefits for GBP £195 include:

    – 20,000 Avios if you spend GBP £2,000 in the first 3 months
    – Another 20,000 Avios if you spend GBP 12,000 in first 12 months
    – Unlimited airport lounge access

    Worth pointing out as well is the decent earning rate of 1 Avios per GBP spent, as well as the high(er) acceptance of Mastercard.

    Currently have the BAPP (about to earn my 2nd 2-4-1 voucher) and held the Platinum Amex within the past 24 months, so this makes the above my preferred choice… or am I missing something?


    • Rob says:

      This article doesn’t look at introductory bonuses – the £12k bonus is a one-off, not repeating. Good deal though. Stick £500k into HSBC and they waive the £195 fee too 🙂

  • Aaron says:

    Is there any likelihood of BA / Avios ending their arrangement with AMEX and switching their card programme across to MasterCard? Or possibly even operate both an AMEX AND MasterCard programme?

    • Rob says:

      Yes, I think so. If Amex cannot escape the EU interchange fee caps then what’s the point? If BA switched to a Visa / MC it would get 100% share of wallet. At the moment, every BA Amex cardholder carries a 2nd Visa / Mastercard credit card. This not only dilutes revenue but also dilutes the marketing impact of having the card in the wallet.

      • Lev441 says:

        An interesting data point to take into consideration that may/may not have anything to do with the reduced interchange fee ruling, is that I’ve now found the large majority of my suppliers (over 90% I reckon) now accept Amex whereas these same suppliers and retailers when I first started seriously spending money for business expenses did not – more like 50%

        I find in a personal capacity that Amex acceptance has got better although mainly smaller independent cafes/shops are the ones that still only accept visa/MasterCard. Interesting to see if this trend continues..

      • J says:

        I work for a large retailer with responsibility for payment provider fees and we pay the same discount rate (Amex nomenclature for fee) for every type of card. When terms were being negotiated recently, our lawyers specifically asked why there was one uniform rate and why co-branded cards were subject to the same fees. Amex replied that they were comfortable their fee structure was compliant with all regulations…

  • mark2 says:

    Here is a list of the hotels where you can stay for 25,000 Bonvoy points:
    The country selector is at the bottom left corner. I can particularly recommend the University Srms in Cambridge.

    • Rob says:

      On peak days, Category 4 hotels are now 30,000 points and so the voucher won’t be accepted, unless it is technically a Category 4 voucher and they just called it a ‘25,000 point’ voucher for simplicity.

      • memesweeper says:

        some decent looking redemptions in France — thanks for that link. I’m likely to get the voucher through ‘natural spending’ anyway so a genuine bonus if I find somewhere nice to use it!

  • Billy T Fish says:

    On this theme, my wife and I travel a fair bit for work and when combining personal and work spending, it can add up to a fair amount – I’m sure we hit around £60,000 last year. We’ve used the Costco AmEx card up until now but that’s ending this month.

    I’m thinking of getting the BA Premium Plus AmEx card, is it worth us getting one each or would you recommend one BA card and something else?

    I fly BA for work, she doesn’t fly at all, other than on holidays.

    • Jon says:

      Had the same question. I need to check what i’ve put through Amex this year but it must be approaching £50k.

      • Freddy says:

        I’d say no real benefit of having two BA premium cards unless you need 2 X 241 per year. May as well save the 2nd card fee and just add the other person as a supplementary.

    • Jonathan says:

      its certainly worth (if you’re both eligible) both getting a BAPP for the bonus and referral points alone. You’ll get two 241 vouchers and 70-80k Avios’. Then cancel one for a pro-rata refund and just have one account for long term spending. But start off with the SPG Amex first each and get those bonuses first. These can be used for hotel stays, transferred to airlines or spent on moments such as events at the O2. Similar with the gold reward card which is free for the first year.

      Diversity is the key to success in the points game.

      I personally have the BAPP, SPG and IHG cards and kicking myself for not getting the Hilton card before it was stopped.

      Whether you do these applications at the same time or stagger the applications is down to your personal circumstance and how quickly you can spend the amount.

      Remember Amex have a 3% fee on overseas spend so you might want a specialist card for this purpose.

      • Freddy says:

        Good point, get the initial bonus for you and partner but for the purposes of long term spending I’d still get just keep the one BAPP card.

        Probably not eligible for the SPG bonus if you currently hold the Costco amex

      • Roy says:

        I *still* don’t get why the Hilton card was so good. The earnings rate was no different to an MR card (which is more flexible( and the other benefits don’t seem that compelling. Ok, you can use it for non-Amex spend…

        But I still think there must be sure aspect of this card I’m missing.

        • Rob says:

          No! It is a decent return (0.66p per £1 at 0.33p per HH point) for a free card but not life changing. Gold for £10k was decent but that was before Hilton Gold returned to Amex Plat. Most people churned it because the sign-up bonus was a free night anywhere for spending £750.

        • Lady London says:

          Some promotions have given extra benefits when the room is paid on the card.

  • Jay says:

    For someone who spends a decent chunk but doesn’t get much Avios, what’s a good card to sink day to day spend on? I’m considering the BAPP but given that I only have about ~40k Avios, I can’t see myself being able to afford a 150k CW ticket. I can easily hit 10k/yr but given that I can’t efficiently spend the 241 voucher, I don’t know if it still makes it worth it.

    • Freddy says:

      The BAPP doesn’t make sense unless you have the high avios balance to make use of the 241. You’ll be spending £195 card fee to generate 15000 avios per year. If you wanted to continue with avios you may wish to with a gold amex rewards card (free for first year) or a free amex rewards card or even the free BA card.

      I’d personally get the BAPP card for the initial bonus, cancel and thereafter get one of the amex reward cards to continue spending on

      • Shoestring says:

        It could EASILY still make sense to buy (say) 300K Avios @1p/ point in the regular bonus sales

        —> if the 2-4-1 saves you £2-3000 for example

        150K/ 300K were available on Iberia @ under 1p/ point just a couple of weeks ago

        • Lady London says:

          Idiot question from someone who will never have a 241: can it not be used for cash tickets, or perhaps avios-with-money tickets?

    • Roy says:

      A mix of the IHG Rewards Club Premium card and an MR card (maybe the free one if you’re not interested in the benefits of the other MR cards – although I have Plat)?

      All depends what’s useful to you – I find it easier to use hotel points than miles – even if just on a boring overnight Holiday Inn stays that I world otherwise have paid cash for…

  • Mark says:

    I think, for many, the return of £1100 241 voucher value is significantly overstated for several reasons:

    1. It assumes that you would pay ~£1800 each, including taxes and fees, for two return CW flights to the west coast (or somewhere within that band). That may be a reasonable if not spectacular sale deal (currently AF/KLM are offering business class cash fares around that to LA though obviously not direct from LHR, and without the flexibility), but for anyone flexible about where/when they go and able to book when the best deals come up you can do better. It also ignores that even discounted cash fares generally earn something in miles (and may also contribute towards gaining status), whereas redemptions do not.

    2. In order to get to that price it associates a very low (0.75p) valuation to the Avios. Some who fly a lot on business may be happy with that, but anyone who doesn’t is going to have to obtain the additional 135K avios (150K less the 15K from the card spend) through other means. A valuation that low means opportunities to buy at that price are virtually non-existent, and any conversions to avios are likely going to be worse than alternative opportunities. e.g. for most of us that values a Tesco Clubcard point at 1.8p; better than spending the vouchers on your shopping but much worse than, say, exchanging them for credit.

    3. Even if you already have the avios there are ways of using them that drive out much better value, e.g. Iberia longhaul, BA shorthaul redemptions, probably also using avios for upgrade from WTP in many cases. Again you may not care so much about the avios valuation if you are avios rich and they’ve cost you little to nothing, but in some cases you’re also talking about a significant cash saving.

    Not saying it isn’t a valuable perk, I’m just disagreeing that it’s *that* valuable to most people.

    Personally I set a threshold of 1p/avios and will only redeem where I can achieve better than that against what I would be willing to pay. For me that means using a 241 on BA longhaul (or a now defunct Lloyds upgrade voucher) and it’s still worth paying the annual fee and putting £10K spend through to do that.

    • Jonathan says:

      I calculate it differently in that I would never pay for first or business. This voucher enables me to fly those classes for effectively the cost of economy seats. One it’s a mindset thing and two I’m Avios rich and can easily generate 200K plus per year currently. Therefore I calculate the 241 voucher and Avios significantly higher than most because it allows me to fly and experience something I otherwise wouldn’t.

      • Shoestring says:

        +1 Jonathan – up to a point – as I never fly Business LH these days lol or use 2-4-1s at present (I did fly Business homeward on Sunday as we already had the 4 Economy Avios tickets and it was cheaper to buy 1 Avios Business ticket than pay cash for another Economy ticket, that was SH though)

        But I see it more as enabling value for money, exactly as you have said, really. So whilst I wouldn’t actually pay cash 2x £1800 for a rtn Business LH flight (in theory! roll on 2023), I would do it on points & 2-4-1 & consider I’d saved one lot of £1800/ got £1800 of extra value (or more, given the value you can get from the Avios in the first place & the price I acquired them).

        • Mark says:

          Except you need to factor in that over 1/3 of that £1800 is taxes and fees, which you have to pay anyway in cash.

      • Harry T says:

        How are you generating 200k Avios a year if you don’t pay for business or first flights?

      • Mark says:

        But would you still book a redemption (with £600+ of taxes and fees per ticket) if, say, you could had the opportunity to buy deeply discounted sale fares where you wanted to go at £1000?

        You may not, in principle, especially if you have a lot of avios to burn, but that actually implies quite a low valuation on the avios (in that case probably lower than you’d get for a hotel redemption, even with the 241 voucher).

        I tend to be of the mindset that if I have a voucher use I don’t want to waste it, which I’m sure has probably resulted in our booking something (usually a way in advance to ensure availability) where we ultimately might have been better off booking a sale fare closer to the time.

    • James says:

      I agree with 1 and 3, but surely with 2, valuing Avios at a higher rate (i.e. 1p) would only drive up the value of the 241 voucher?

      E.g. Saving 100k Avios @ 0.75p/p = £750
      @ 1p/p = £1000

      • Mark says:

        It would, but if you apply that logic it would also drive up the equivalent cash price. 150,000avios (which is what we’re talking about for peak CW redemptions to the US west coast) at 1p each = £1,500. If you’re saying that’s the value of the voucher as well then your return on £10K spend jumps to:

        £1500+£150-£195=£1,455 or 14.55%.

        However by the same logic, the “price” of your return flights, including £600 taxes and fees jumps to £2,100 each.

        So you can only value it at that if you would otherwise pay that in cash for the flights, within the validity period of the voucher.

        The point I’m trying to make… It’s tempting to think on the one hand that we’re getting massive returns on the card spend, whilst on the other hand also thinking that we’re getting really cheap business class flights (that we might not otherwise take, or at least not take in business class). In reality though that’s double counting, leads to an over inflated sense of value and may result in our passing up better opportunities.

  • Michelle says:

    I started off with the Amex Gold, then AMEX Premium plus (got my 2-4-1). both cancelled now. At the same time my partner was on premium plus and now he’s on the AMEX Gold and almost reaching his bonus points. We’ve pretty much received bonus points for all 4 cards over the last 2 years. we’re definitely not eligible for any new bonus points as it’s probably only been 6 months since I’ve cancelled any cards. So this post has helped. So looks like I should go for the AMEX premium plus again and start looking at earning another 2-4-1 even though no bonus points? Or do you have another card you’d recommend.

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