Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What is the best Visa or Mastercard to get?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

I get a steady stream of reader emails looking for advice on the best Visa or Mastercard credit card for earning Avios, airline miles or hotel points.  

The comprehensive Head for Points reward credit card guide covers many different Visa and Mastercard products.   In this article I want to run through the list and suggest possible reasons for getting each of them.

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.

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

Visa and Mastercards earning Avios and hotel points:

I am bundling the Avios and hotel cards together because most people have both an Avios account and an account with the major hotel chains and may be ambivalent between them when it comes to points earning.

With the Lloyds Avios Rewards Mastercard now closed to new applicants, your Avios options are limited.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (but high income needed):

HSBC Premier Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Only available to HSBC Premier account holders
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 18.9% APR variable

See if you qualify for the sign-up bonus +

There is no sign-up bonus on the HSBC Premier Mastercard.

There is a bonus on the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard.  This is worth 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.

Learn more about the card benefits +

The points earned with the HSBC Premier 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 a fee of £20 per visit.

You need to have a free HSBC Premier current account to get these cards.  If you’ve got the money behind you to get Premier, the cards are great.  The standard Mastercard is FREE, has no sign-up bonus and earns 0.5 Avios per £1.

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.

The World Elite card has a £195 annual fee but comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Avios for spending £12,000 in your first year, free airport lounge access and pays a generous 1 Avios per £1 spent.

Best long-term card for the Avios collector (no annual fee)

Tesco credit card

Tesco Clubcard Mastercard

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Most generous free Visa or Mastercard for earning Avios
  • Card can be used in Tesco stores instead of a Clubcard
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 19.9% APR variable

See if you qualify for the sign-up bonus +

There is no sign-up bonus on the Tesco Clubcard Mastercard

Learn more about the card benefits +

The Tesco Clubcard Mastercard comes in a number of variants.  The core version is the ‘Purchases’ card but other versions with different features are available.  Full details can be found on the Tesco Bank website.  All variants are free and earn Clubcard points at the same rate.

Tesco Clubcard points are very flexible and can be used with a wide range of partners apart from Avios and Virgin Flying Club.  Other travel partners include Hotels.com and Hilton, where you can redeem your points for 3x face value.

You get 1 Clubcard point per £8 spent which translates into 0.3 Avios per £1.  However Tesco rounds down each transaction to the nearest £8 which means your actual earning rate is lower.  You get extra value because Clubcard points have many uses – as well as Avios, you could send them to Virgin Flying Club or a totally different Clubcard partner altogether. 

Worth considering as a hotel card (no annual fee)

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.

This card comes with 10,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I would value at £40.  As an added bonus, you receive permanent Gold Elite status in IHG Rewards Club.  For a free card, the earning rate is pretty good.  You receive 1 IHG Rewards Club point per £1 spent which is worth around 0.4p, with double points on foreign spend and spend in IHG hotels.

Visa and Mastercards earning Virgin Flying Club points:

Best long-term card OVERALL as long as you can use the miles

Virgin Rewards 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 £20,000 in a year
  • Alternatively, claim an upgrade voucher or Clubhouse lounge passes
  • Get free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 22.2% APR variable

See if you qualify for sign-up bonus +

There is no sign-up bonus on the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard.

You may want to consider applying for the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard instead.  This comes with a £160 annual fee but you receive a bonus of 15,000 points with your first purchase.  You also receive a higher earning rate of 1.5 miles per £1 spent.

After the first year, you could downgrade to the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard.

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 £20,000 per year on the free 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 a Virgin Flying Club redemption, in Upper Class, Premium or Economy

A return upgrade – on either a cash or miles 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 miles 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

Without a doubt, the two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards are the most generous Visa or Mastercard products available.  You get 0.75 points per £1 on the free card …….

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

……. and 1.5 points per £1 on the paid card.  This is FAR better than any Avios or hotel card.  You also get a 2-4-1 or upgrade redemption voucher for hitting spending targets.  The only downside is that, with no short haul routes, you are unlikely to earn enough points purely from the credit card to get a good redemption so the cards are best suited to regular Virgin Atlantic flyers.

You can apply for the free Virgin Atlantic Mastercard is here – it has no sign-up bonus.  You can apply for the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard is here.  The paid card comes with a 15,000 points sign-up bonus.

Other airline Visa or Mastercards:

Worth considering if you fly Star Alliance (£79 annual fee)

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.

The Lufthansa has a generous earning rate of 1.25 Miles & More miles per £1 spent.  Miles & More miles are difficult to collect in the UK and are only useful when redeemed for Business or First Class redemptions, due to high taxes on Economy flights.

What is the best Visa or Mastercard for earning points and miles?

Conclusion

These are not vintage times for anyone looking for a new Visa or Mastercard with travel rewards.  However, I hope I have been able to show here that there are some decent deals about and hopefully one will suit your miles and points goals.

Further reading: click here for our full directory of the best airline and hotel credit cards and click here to see all of our airline and hotel credit card reviews.

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.