Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What are the most valuable credit card sign-up bonuses?

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I am in The Sunday Times today as part of an article discussing how to earn miles and points from credit cards.  It is the Money section if you have a copy – the link is here but there is a paywall.

As the article will bring across a few new readers, I thought I would update our annual rank of the best UK travel credit card sign-up bonuses in terms of cold hard cash.

This article was updated on 24th September 2020.

UK Rewards credit and charge cards

How do I value my miles and points?

The biggest question mark is over the value of the sign-up bonus.

For hotel points, I have used my standard valuations (0.5p per Marriott point, 0.4p per IHG point)

For airline miles, I assume they are worth 1p each.  Of course, for airlines where short-haul redemptions are bad value, a small amount of miles can be effectively worthless. In some programmes, you would need to already have a decent balance to get full value from the bonus miles.

I have valued American Express Membership Rewards points at 1p since they transfer 1:1 into airline miles and I am valuing those at 1p

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Experian Credit Score.

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.

It is important to remember that annual fees on American Express cards are refundable pro-rata if you cancel.  Cancel a card after three months, for example, and 75% of the fee will be refunded.  You will keep any sign-up bonus you have earned.

Bring on the winners!

OK … here we go! Remember that full details on all the cards can be found on our airline and hotel credit cards directory, which is updated monthly.

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Only available to HSBC Premier account holders
  • Receive free airport lounge access with LoungeKey
  • Annual fee: £195

Representative 59.3% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £195 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 18.9% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the sign-up bonus +

The sign-up bonus on the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard is 80,000 points.

This is paid in two parts.  You receive 40,000 HSBC points (worth 20,000 Avios or other airline miles) for spending £2,000 within three months and a further 40,000 HSBC points (=20,000 miles) for spending £12,000 within twelve months.

The annual fee is £195 and you need to pay the fee for the second year in order to receive the second half of the bonus.

There is no restriction on receiving the bonus if you have previously held the card or are upgrading from the free HSBC Premier Mastercard.

Learn more about the card benefits +

The points earned with the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard can be transferred to four airline frequent flyer schemes – British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Guest or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.

They can also be redeemed for other items including retailer gift cards.

Cardholders can access any airport lounge in the LoungeKey network for free.  No guest are allowed, but you can get your partner a supplementary credit card on your account for an annual fee of £60.  Children would be charged at £20 per visit.

You need to be a HSBC Premier current account holder to apply for this card.  HSBC Premier comes with a range of additional benefits including comprehensive travel insurance.

GOLD!  £400 of value – HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

You get 80,000 HSBC points (which convert to 40,000 Avios or other airline mile) which I value at £400. You need to spend spend £12,000 in your first year.  You need to pay the fee for the second year in order to receive the full bonus.  Note that HSBC Premier has strict eligibility criteria and most people will not qualify.

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Two Priority Pass cards, each allowing two people into 1,300 airport lounges
  • Elite status in five major hotel loyalty programmes
  • Comprehensive travel insurance
  • Annual fee: £575

This is a charge card, not a credit card. You must clear your balance in full each month.  Annual fee £575.

See if you qualify for the 30,000 points sign-up bonus +

You will receive 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card if you spend £4,000 within 90 days of signing up.

Membership Rewards points are hugely flexible.  You can transfer them into Avios, Virgin Flying Club or other airlines (at 1:1) or into various hotels schemes, into Club Eurostar or use them for shopping vouchers.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card which earns Membership Rewards points.  This includes The Platinum Card and Preferred Rewards Gold.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held any other American Express card, including the British Airways, Marriott and Nectar cards.  Holding a British Airways American Express card does not disqualify from the Platinum bonus.

If you cancel The Platinum Card at any point, you will receive a pro-rata refund of your membership fee.  You will not lose your sign-up bonus.

For clarity, you can still apply for The Platinum Card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the long list of other benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with an unrivalled list of benefits for the keen traveller.

Your personal travel patterns will determine which of these is the most valuable.  The key benefits are:

Full comprehensive travel insurance for you, your family and the family of up to five supplementary cardholders, subject to enrolment

Two Priority Pass cards, each of which allows the holder and a guest unlimited free access to 1,300 airport lounges

Elite status in five major hotel loyalty schemes: Marriott Bonvoy (Gold Elite), Hilton Honors (Gold), Radisson Rewards (Gold Elite), Shangri-La Golden Circle (Jade), MeliaRewards (Gold)

Access to Eurostar lounges, irrespective of travel class

£10 per month of Addison Lee taxi credit

GOLD!  £300 of value – The Platinum Card from American Express

You get 30,000 Membership Rewards points (worth £300 as they convert to 30,000 airline miles, assuming 1p per airline mile) when you spend £4,000 in three months.  Annual fee refunded pro-rata if you cancel.

Most importantly, though, you will retain your Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite card, Radisson Rewards Gold card, MeliaRewards Gold, Shangri-La Jade and Hilton Honors Gold cards for a full 12 months, even if you cancel.  This adds substantial extra value to the package. Apply here.

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive a companion voucher, letting you book two flights for the Avios of one, when you spend £10,000 in a card year
  • Annual fee: £195

Representative 74.7% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £195 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 22.2% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 25,000 Avios sign-up bonus +

You will receive 25,000 Avios as a sign-up bonus on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card if you spend £3,000 within 90 days of signing up.

To qualify for the bonus, you must not have held the British Airways Premium Plus or the free British Airways American Express cards in the previous 24 months.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s British Airways American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held any other American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the British Airways Premium Plus card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the companion voucher and all of the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £10,000 on the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card, you receive a companion voucher entitling you to book two Avios redemption flights for the miles of one.  This voucher is valid for two years.  (Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets.)

This voucher is the most valuable perk available in the UK airline and hotel credit card sector in my view. It could save you 150,000 or more Avios when used for a long-haul redemption in a premium cabin.

The voucher with the Premium Plus card is far more powerful than the voucher given with the free British Airways American Express card.  You only need to spend £10,000, instead of £20,000, in a card year to receive it.  More importantly, the Premium Plus voucher is valid for two years.  The voucher on the free British Airways American Express card is only valid for one year.

You receive your voucher within a few days of reaching the spending target.  You need to fly the outbound leg of your 2-4-1 flight before the expiry date of the voucher.

SILVER!  £250 of value – British Airways American Express Premium Plus

You get 25,000 Avios points (worth £250 assuming 1p per Avios) when you spend £3,000 in three months.  Annual fee refunded pro-rata if you cancel. Apply here.

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Get a ‘2 for 1’ voucher, valid on cash or points tickets, when you spend £10,000 in a year
  • Alternatively, claim an upgrade voucher or Clubhouse lounge passes
  • Get free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • Annual fee: £160

Representative 63.9% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £160 annual fee.  Interest rate on purchases 22.9% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 15,000 points sign-up bonus +

You receive a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin points with your first purchase.

There are no restrictions on earning the bonus if you are accepted.  However, you cannot apply for a card if you currently, or in the previous six months, had a Virgin Money credit card.

Learn more about the card benefits +

All Virgin Atlantic credit card holders receive free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK.  A list of sites is here.

When you spend £10,000 per year on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard, you can choose a benefit.  This is what you can pick from:

A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Atlantic cash flight or Virgin Flying Club redemption, in Upper Class, Premium or Economy

A return upgrade – on either a cash or points ticket – from Premium to Upper Class, or from Economy Delight/Classic to Premium.  You can either upgrade 1 x return flight if travelling alone or 2 x one-way legs of two return flights if travelling with someone else.

A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic, Delta, KLM or Air France flight)

Here’s the small print:

If you are a Red (no status) member, you need to pay 50% of the points for your 2nd ticket if you redeem your 2-4-1 voucher in Upper Class.  This means that, for Upper Class redemptions for Red members, it is effectively a ‘2 for 1.5’ voucher. For Economy or Premium redemptions, it is a genuine ‘2 for 1’.

If you are a Gold member, you would receive two Clubhouse lounge passes instead on one if you chose that option

Taxes and charges need to be paid on the ‘free’ ticket as part of your 2-4-1 booking

Vouchers are valid for two years and you must fly the outbound leg of your trip before the expiry date

BRONZE!  £150 of value – Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

You get 15,000 points (£150 based on achieving 1p per point) bonus with your first purchase.  £160 fee. Apply here.

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Amex Gold is our recommended ‘first card’ for a miles and points beginner
  • You receive two free airport lounge passes when you sign up, and a further two passes each year if you renew
  • After your two free passes, you can visit further lounges for a small fee
  • Annual fee: Free for the first year, £140 from Year 2

Representative 56.6% APR variable, from Year 2, based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £140 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases and in Year 1 22.2% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 10,000 points sign-up bonus +

You will receive 10,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonus on the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card if you spend £3,000 within 90 days of signing up.

Membership Rewards points are hugely flexible, which is why we recommend this as the best choice for your first miles and points card.  You can transfer them into Avios, Virgin Flying Club or other airlines (at 1:1) or into various hotels schemes, into Club Eurostar or use them for shopping vouchers.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the two free airport lounge passes and the ‘no fee in Year 1’ offer.

Learn more about the card benefits +

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold comes with two free airport lounge passes.  These allow either you and a friend, or yourself twice, to visit any lounge in the Lounge Pass network.  You make additional lounge visits for £20 per person.  You receive an additional two free passes each year.

You earn double Membership Rewards points on all airline spend (made directly on an airline website) and all spend made outside the UK.

If you spend over £15,000 in a card year, you will receive an additional 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you renew.

Other benefits include a 10% discount on Hertz car rentals and special deals at 350 selected hotels worldwide, where Preferred Rewards Gold cardholders receive a $75 in-hotel credit per stay.

BRONZE!  £100 of value – American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

You get 10,000 Membership Rewards points. These convert 1:1 into Avios so I have valued them at £100, assuming 1p per miles. You need to spend £3,000 in three months.  No fee in the first year.  Apply here.

American Express Marriott Bonvoy credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

Read our full review

Other information:

  • 15 elite night credits per year which gets Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status
  • Free night, up to 25,000 points, when you spend £25,000 per year.
  • Upgrade to Gold Elite status when you spend £15,000 in a card year
  • Annual fee: £75

Representative 38.8% APR variable based on a notional £1,200 credit limit and £75 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 22.2% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 20,000 points sign-up bonus +

You will receive 20,000 points as a sign-up bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card if you spend £3,000 within 90 days of signing up.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the 15 elite night credits per year, the free night (up to 25,000 points) for spending £25,000 and Gold Elite status for spending £15,000.

Learn more about the card benefits +

You will receive 15 elite night credits per year in Marriott Bonvoy.  The first batch will arrive within 60 days on applying and then in Spring in each subsequent year.

15 elite nights will automatically get you Silver Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy and put you nearer to Gold Elite and higher tiers.

If you spend £15,000 per card year, you will be upgraded to Gold Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy.

If you spend £25,000 per card year, you will receive a free night voucher, valid at any hotel where reward nights cost up to 25,000 points.

BRONZE!  £100 of value – Marriott Bonvoy American Express

You get 20,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, valued at £100 as I value Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.5p each. You need to spend £3,000 in three months.  Annual fee refunded pro-rata if you cancel. Apply here.

Miles & More Global Traveller Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • You receive both a Mastercard and a Diners Club card
  • Your Miles & More miles will not expire if you use your card monthly
  • Annual fee: £79

This is a charge card, not a credit card.  You must clear your balance in full each month.  Annual fee £79.

See if you qualify for the 5,000 miles sign-up bonus +

The sign-up bonus is 5,000 Miles & More miles, received with your first purchase.

You will not qualify for the bonus if you have previously held this card and are re-applying.

Learn more about the card benefits +

The Miles & More Global Traveller Cards come as a double pack of a Diners Club card and a Mastercard.

Technically, the Mastercard element is a prepaid debit Mastercard.  This means that you can use it in some places which do not accept credit cards, such as HMRC.  It should only be used for personal and not business tax.

For most people, there is no reason why you would want to use the Diners Club card instead of the Mastercard.

Diners Club has an agreement with 800 airport lounges to allow you access, on sight of your Diners Club card, for £15 per person.

Holding this card stops your Miles & More miles from expiring as long as you spend at least £1 per month.  This benefit takes three months to activate.

£50 of value – Miles & More Global Traveller Diners Club and Mastercard

You get 5,000 miles, worth £50 based on achieving 1p per mile.  The bonus posts with your first purchase.

Amex Reward Credit Card ARCC

American Express Rewards

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Your best choice if you want a ‘free for life’ card which earns Membership Rewards points
  • A good choice if you want to close a Gold or Platinum card but keep your points intact
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.2% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 10,000 points sign-up bonus +

You will receive 5,000 American Express Membership Rewards points as a sign-up bonus on the American Express Rewards card if you spend £2,000 within 90 days of signing up.

Membership Rewards points are hugely flexible. You can transfer them into Avios, Virgin Flying Club or other airlines (at 1:1) or into various hotels schemes, into Club Eurostar or use them for shopping vouchers.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the American Express Rewards card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You may want to do this if you are thinking of swapping your Preferred Rewards Gold or Platinum card for a free alternative, and would prefer to keep your existing Membership Rewards points balance alive.

Learn more about the card benefits +

American Express Rewards is the only ‘free for life’ American Express card which lets you collect Membership Rewards points.

We do NOT recommend this card if you would also qualify for the sign-up bonus on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold.  The Gold card is free for the first year, comes with two free airport lounge passes and has a higher sign-up bonus of 10,000 points.

The best reason to get American Express Rewards is if you are coming to the end of your free first year with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, or no longer want to pay the fee on The Platinum Card, but want to keep your Membership Rewards points intact.

£50 of value – Amex Rewards Credit Card

You get 5,000 Membership Rewards points, worth £50 as they convert 1:1 into Avios, assuming 1p per airline mile. You need to spend £2,000 within three months. No annual fee. Apply here.

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive a companion voucher, letting you book two flights for the Avios of one, when you spend £20,000 in a card year
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.2% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 5,000 Avios sign-up bonus +

You will receive 5,000 Avios as a sign-up bonus on the free British Airways American Express card if you spend £1,000 within 90 days of signing up.

To qualify for the bonus, you must NOT, currently or in the previous 24 months, have held any other personal American Express card.

You are OK if you had a supplementary card on someone else’s British Airways American Express account.

You are OK if, currently or in the previous 24 months, you have held a Business American Express card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the British Airways American Express card even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the companion voucher and the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £20,000 on the British Airways American Express card, you receive a companion voucher entitling you to book two Avios redemption flights for the miles of one.  This voucher is valid for one year.  (Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets.)

This voucher is the most valuable perk available in the UK airline and hotel credit card sector in my view. It could save you 150,000 or more Avios when used for a long-haul redemption in a premium cabin.

You receive your voucher within a few days of reaching the spending target.  You need to fly the outbound leg of your 2-4-1 flight before the expiry date of the voucher.

If you want more flexibility, the voucher issued with the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card is valid for two years and only requires 10,000 of annual card spend.  The Premium Plus card also has a higher earning rate of 1.5 Avios per £1 on general spend and 3 Avios per £1 on spend with British Airways and BA Holidays.

£50 of value – British Airways American Express

You get 5,000 Avios, which I value at £50 based on achieving 1p per mile, when you spend £1,000 within three months.  No annual fee. Apply here.

IHG Rewards Club credit card free

IHG Rewards Club Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club
  • Points from spend count towards elite status
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.9% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 10,000 points sign-up bonus +

You receive 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points as a sign-up bonus when you spend £200 within 90 days.

There are no restrictions on receiving the bonus if you have previously held this card or the (no longer available) IHG Rewards Club Premium Mastercard.

Learn more about the card benefits +

All IHG Rewards Club cardholders receive Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club for as long as they hold the card.

This is the only UK travel card where the points you earn from spending count towards elite status.  The 10,000 points you receive as a sign-up bonus do not count towards elite status, however.

£40 of value – IHG Rewards Club Mastercard

10,000 IHG Rewards Club points, worth £40 as I value an IHG point at 0.4p, when you spend £200 in 90 days.  No annual fee. 

What is the most valuable visa or mastercard credit card bonus?

The HSBC Premier credit card, Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard and Tesco Clubcard Mastercard currently have no sign-up bonus.

Summary

If there is anything to learn from this bit of fun, it is this:

If you and your partner took out the best three credit cards each, you could get over £1,900 of value from the sign-up bonuses between you based on my valuation model. This is certainly nothing to be sniffed at!

Do not underestimate the value of the hotel cards. Whilst a small number of airline miles has little value, a small number of hotel points can get you one night somewhere, and one night is often all you need.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards directory or use the ‘Credit Cards’ 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 (35)

  • JImbob says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to calculate value after accounting for annual card fees?

    And value perhaps should take into account the value of the 2 for 1 voucher from the BA Amex card, although this would vary according to how it’s used.

    • Rob says:

      It used to be done that way but the article got too complex because you also had to factor in pro-rata on Amex fees (and over what time period?) with the lack of refunds on other cards. You ended up needing a maths degree to understand what it meant to be an introductory article.

  • Matthew says:

    Plat card need £4K spend IIRC for the bonus points…

  • zark says:

    Rob, it should be pointed out that the Starwood card is being replaced by Bonvoy & sign up bonus falls to 20K & spend target rises to £3K.
    Still Bronze, I suppose.

  • John says:

    Rob, re Virgin “ 5,000 miles (£50 based on achieving 1p per mile) bonus.” isn’t this 0.75p per £1 spent?

  • Pete C says:

    Given that HSBC runs reliable 25% Avios conversion bonuses once/twice a year, would it not be fair to view the ‘real’ card sign-up bonus as 50,000 Avios and the ‘real’ earning rate as 1.25 Avios / £?

    • Peter K says:

      But it’s not guaranteed. Past performance is no guarantee of future results and all that.

  • Secret Squirrel says:

    Is the amount of points earnt via the Virgin card being capped Monthly for everyone or just those who received a letter / email?

  • Fola Akingboye says:

    O/T. I have cancelled my British Airways Amex Premium card. I would like to apply for the Amex Gold Business Card. I have not held any reward card(s) in the last six months. I want to my wife to refer me from her Amex Preferred Gold, would she have any problem receiving the referral bonus?
    Also, is it possible to have multiple Amex Gold Business Card for different businesses?

  • Will says:

    *Amex Platinum £4k spend in first 3 months