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Which airline credit card is best 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?

This updated article reflects three major changes from the previous version:

Here are the results

For people without Virgin Flying Club elite status:

This analysis ignores the value of any sign-up bonus – I am looking for the best long-term solution.

Because this is quite a long article, I will give the results first. The maths is below if you want to look into how we got to these numbers.

  • WinnerBritish Airways American Express Premium Plus – 10.7% back on first £10,000
  • Runner-up – the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card – 6.2% back on first £10,000
  • Well behind – the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card – 4.0% back on first £20,000
  • Bringing up the rear – the free British Airways American Express – 2.1% back on first £12,000
Virgin Atlantic credit cards

For people with Virgin Flying Club elite status:

If you have Silver or Gold status in Virgin Flying Club, however, the results are different because you get a better deal when using the 2-4-1 voucher:

  • Winner – Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card – 12.0% back on first £10,000
  • Runner-upBritish Airways American Express Premium Plus – 10.7% back on first £10,000
  • Well behind – the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card – 6.8% back on first £20,000
  • Bringing up the rear – the free British Airways American Express – 2.1% back on first £12,000

How did we get to these numbers?

Our base assumption is that you want to redeem for a Business Class flight to San Francisco on a peak date.

If you don’t redeem in Business Class or tend to redeem for shorter flights (US East Coast, Middle East) then the maths will be different.

You need to make some assumptions, though, and I think this is a fair base case for a HfP reader.

Best rewards credit card for long term spending

The winner (if you don’t have Virgin elite status) – 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) 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 0.8p per Avios point valuation, which is what they are worth if converted to Nectar points:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £1,200 (150,000 Avios saving x 0.8p), and
  • you also earn 15,000 base Avios for spending £10,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £120 @ 0.8p), but
  • you pay an annual fee of £250

The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £1,070 (£1,200 + £120 – £250) or 10.7% of spend.

Representative APR 74.7% variable including £195 fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit This will increase when the annual fee becomes £250 in September 2021. Interest rate on purchases 22.2% variable.

You can apply here.

Virgin Atlantic Rewards Plus Credit Card good for long term spending

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard 

The value of the annual voucher you earn from the Virgin Atlantic credit cards is very hard to value because:

  • there are multiple ways of redeeming your annual voucher – for a 2-4-1, to upgrade a cash ticket or to upgrade a Virgin Points ticket
  • members with no elite status in Virgin Flying Club get a poorer deal if they go for a 2-4-1

Spend £10,000 on this card and you can choose from:

  • A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in any class
  • A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic, Delta, KLM or Air France flight)
  • A return upgrade – on either a cash or points ticket – from Premium to Upper Class, or from Economy Delight / Classic to Premium (requires reward availability in the higher class)

There is a little bit of 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.
  • If you are a Gold member, you would receive two Clubhouse lounge passes instead of one if you chose that option

For obvious value reasons I am not looking at the Clubhouse lounge pass vouchers.

There are three ways you can redeem the vouchers. Let’s take a look at typical examples, using the same San Francisco redemption that I used for the British Airways American Express Premium Plus example:

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to fly to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for couples):

Based on a conservative valuation of 0.8p per Virgin Point, to match our Avios valuation:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £1,240 (155,000 Virgin Points saving x 0.8p) and
  • you also earn 15,000 base Virgin Points for spending £10,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £120 @ 0.8p)

The net benefit for a Silver or Gold member spending £10,000 = £1,200 (£1,240 + £120 – £160) or 12.0% of spend.

However, a base Red member of Virgin Flying Club has to pay half of the points required for the second flight if it is in Upper Class. This means:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £612 (half of the value of a true 2-4-1, since a Red member has to pay half of the points needed if you redeem in Upper Class)
  • you still earn £120 of base Virgin Points

The net benefit for a Red member spending £10,000 = £732 (£612 + £120 – £160) or 5.7% of spend.

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to upgrade to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for solo travellers):

A return Upper Class flight to San Francisco is 155,000 Virgin Points. A return Premium ticket is 75,000 Virgin Points. The voucher saves you 80,000 Virgin Points.

Based on a conservative valuation of 0.8p per Virgin Point, to match our Avios valuation:

  • the upgrade voucher is ‘worth’ £640 (80,000 Virgin Points saving x 0.8p) and
  • you also earn 15,000 base Virgin Points for spending £10,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £120 @ 0.8p)

The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £600 (£640 + £120 – £160) or 6.0% of spend.

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to upgrade a CASH ticket to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for solo travellers):

A unique feature of the Virgin Atlantic credit card annual voucher is that you can use it to upgrade a CASH ticket.

For example:

  • you buy a Premium Economy flight to San Francisco for £800 in a sale
  • you use the credit card voucher to upgrade it to Upper Class (there must be Virgin Points reward availability in Upper Class to do this) – let’s assume that this would cost £1,500 in a sale

The credit card voucher has saved you:

  • £700 for the value of the upgrade to Upper Class, plus
  • £120 of base points for spending £10,000 as per the calculation above

The net benefit for spending £10,000 = £660 (£700 + £120 – £160) or 6.6% of spend.

Which option is best?

As you can see from the maths above, if you have Silver or Gold status in Virgin Flying Club, the 2-4-1 redemption route is by far the most valuable.

However, if you are a base level Red member and only get ‘2 for 1.5’ on Upper Class redemptions using the voucher, the three options:

  • a ‘2-4-1.5’ redemption in Upper Class
  • upgrading a Premium ticket booked on points to Upper Class
  • upgrading a Premium cash ticket booked on points to Upper Class

…. will all give you the same return of around 6.2%.

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

You can apply here.

What is a good long term credit card to kee

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard 

Spend £20,000 on this card and you get the same options that you get from the Reward+ card:

  • A 2-4-1 voucher, valid for two years, for a Virgin Flying Club redemption in any class
  • A Virgin Clubhouse lounge pass (requires a same-day Virgin Atlantic, Delta, KLM or Air France flight)
  • A return upgrade – on either a cash or points ticket – from Premium to Upper Class, or from Economy Delight/Classic to Premium (requires reward availability in the higher class)

There is the same small print too:

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

There is an important point here. Unlike British Airways, the Virgin Atlantic credit card vouchers are identical across both cards. The only difference is the spending required to trigger them.

Let’s take a look at typical examples, using the same San Francisco example:

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to fly to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for couples):

Based on a conservative valuation of 0.8p per Virgin Point, to match our Avios valuation:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £1,240 (155,000 Virgin Points saving x 0.8p), and
  • you also earn 15,000 base Virgin Points for spending £20,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £120 @ 0.8p)

The net benefit for a Silver or Gold member spending £20,000 = £1,360 (£1,240 + £120) or 6.8% of spend.

However, a base Red member of Virgin Flying Club has to pay half of the points required for the second flight if it is in Upper Class. This means:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ £612 (half of the value of a true 2-4-1, since a Red member has to pay half of the points needed if you redeem in Upper Class)
  • you still earn £120 of base Virgin Points

The net benefit for a Red member spending £20,000 = £732 (£612 + £120) or 3.7% of spend.

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to upgrade to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for solo travellers):

A return Upper Class flight to San Francisco is 155,000 Virgin Points. A return Premium ticket is 75,000 Virgin Points. The voucher saves you 80,000 Virgin Points.

Based on a conservative valuation of 0.8p per Virgin Point, to match our Avios valuation:

  • the upgrade voucher is ‘worth’ £640 (80,000 Virgin Points saving x 0.8p), and
  • you also earn 15,000 base Virgin Points for spending £20,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £120 @ 0.8p)

The net benefit for spending £20,000 = £760 (£640 + £120) or 3.8% of spend.

Let’s assume you use the 2-4-1 voucher to upgrade a CASH ticket to San Francisco in Upper Class on a peak day (ideal for solo travellers):

A unique feature of the Virgin Atlantic credit card annual spend voucher is that you can use it to upgrade a CASH ticket as well.

For example:

  • you buy a Premium Economy flight to San Francisco for £800 in a sale
  • you use the credit card voucher to upgrade it to Upper Class (there must be Virgin Points reward availability in Upper Class to do this) – let’s assume that this would cost £1,500 in a sale

The credit card voucher has saved you:

  • £700 for the value of the upgrade to Upper Class
  • £120 of base points for spending £20,000 as per the calculation above

The net benefit for spending £20,000 = £820 (£700 + £120) or 4.1% of spend.

Which option is best?

As you can see from the maths above, if you have Silver or Gold status in Virgin Flying Club, the 2-4-1 redemption route is by far the most valuable.

However, if you are a base level Red member and only get ‘2 for 1.5’ on Upper Class redemptions using the voucher, your three options:

  • a ‘2-4-1.5’ redemption in Upper Class
  • upgrading a Premium ticket booked on points to Upper Class
  • upgrading a Premium cash ticket booked on points to Upper Class

…. will all give you the same return of around 4.0%.

Representative APR 22.9% variable.

You can apply here.

Best credit card to get for the long term

Bringing up the rearBritish Airways American Express card

This card used to be our runner-up. The September 2021 changes, however, strip it of its value.

The standard, free, British Airways Amex will give you a 2-4-1 voucher when you spend £12,000, and a lower 1 mile per £1 on your spending.  

The snag is that the companion voucher will only be valid in Economy. There is, in most cases, zero value in redeeming Avios for long-haul Economy flights. The taxes and charges destroy the value.

I am assuming that the very best use of the 2-4-1 voucher will be for an Economy flight in Europe using Reward Flight Saver. The maximum possible saving here is 21,500 Avios based on a long European flight to, say, Athens on a peak date.

Based on my very conservative 0.8p per Avios point valuation, which is what they are worth if converted to Nectar points:

  • the 2-4-1 voucher is ‘worth’ a maximum of £172 (21,500 Avios saving x 0.8p), and
  • you also earn 12,000 base Avios for spending £12,000 to trigger the voucher (worth £96 @ 0.8p)

The net benefit for spending £12,000 = £268 (£172 + £96) or 2.2% of spend.

With such a massive reduction in value from the September 2021 changes, any serious Avios collector should be switching to the British Airways Premium Plus Amex so you can redeem in Premium Economy, Business or First. This is where the real value sits.

Representative APR 22.2% variable.

You can apply here.

Why are we only focused on airline cards?

In the past, this analysis has also included hotel credit cards.

With the closure of the IHG Rewards Premium Mastercard, however, there are no hotel credit cards which give a meaningful return for long-term spending.

We do not include the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card, because a Category 1-4 free night (worth £100) for spending £25,000 is frankly negligible.

We also exclude the 10,000 bonus points you receive for spending £15,000 per year on American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, because the value does not even cover the £140 annual fee.

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

Comments (69)

  • Alan says:

    The big selling point for me with the VS card is the way it gives a choice of 241 or upgrade voucher – great to have that flexibility depending on who’s travelling.

  • Adrian says:

    I think TeesTraveller makes a lot of sense. The constant YQ hikes have eroded the value of the 2-4-1 as the taxes charges and fees are now eye watering. There is still some value when cash prices are high (I’ve found higher USA west coast prices from Sept-Nov traditionally than at other times of the year). I have the Avios and a 2-4-1 but for Feb when I can book a cash ticket to LAX for £1562 pp, with the Avios earned with the flights it’s a no brainer for me to pay cash and “save” the 2-4-1 for a higher price time. If it goes unused then I’m ok with that, I’d rather that way than use it and get terrible value.
    I’ll be interested to see what additional I class availability BA comes forward with and on what routes, I’m hoping this is a genuine improvement.
    Like most people on here, with my latest flights cancelled, I’d appreciate the chance to fly to the USA at all this year!

    • lev441 says:

      Agreed with regards to the YQ – My first business class redemption to NYC was around £375 (I think it was in 2016).. Now it’s almost double that.. That’s what really has eroded the value of avios tickets..

      Would people here prefer higher avios cost (Within reason) & just taxes only? I certainly would as the carrier surcharges are almost at silly levels…

      Aeroplan/air canada just made this change when they relaunched their frequent flyer program in Nov…

    • JDB says:

      The fees and charges are annoyingly high, but overall the BAPP card and companion voucher offer fantastic value. Obviously different things suit different people, but we have two BAPP, two PRG & one WE card, so c. £900/annual fees. Pre-covid we did two long haul first class redemptions every year with 241 voucher, so with BA taxes/charges + the card fees, at a cost of £4,000 (and c. 350k Avios) we had four fairly flexible First class tickets; I think that’s a good deal. It certainly helps that we aren’t too interested in ‘fashionable’ redemptions, so availability not a real issue. Now we just have a pile up of vouchers and bookings that may or not happen…

      • Harry T says:

        The value depends on if you would pay the going rate for first class revenue tickets… if you wouldn’t, then any valuations of Avios in that context could be considered erroneous or contrived.

        • JDB says:

          I wouldn’t want to pay the fully flexible F price, but I also want a degree of flexibility whichever class I book, and the cost of F vs J in Avios required has shrunk and, in my opinion, First is a vastly better product, albeit that only takes it to the J of some other airlines. Even in J it is an OK deal.

  • The Hunter says:

    I’ve just taken the BAPP card – am I right in thinking that I’ll receive additional avios by now adding a supplementary..?

    • Justin says:

      That’s correct:
      “You’ll receive a 3,000 Avios bonus for the first approved Card”

  • mutley says:

    Paying a VAT bill, is the best route Curve metal/COT?

  • TM says:

    Does this article still hold true for actual high spends e.g. £10k+/month?

  • AJA says:

    It’s a small point but it depends on what you are spending that £10k on to achieve the 2-4-1 voucher. At the very least if you paid for the taxes and fees for the redemption to SFO you’d receive an extra 2k Avios on the BAPP (BA spend = 3 Avios per £1) which is worth an extra £16 (@0.8p) – return works out to be 10.86%

    If you spend £2,500 per annum on BA cash fares and pay the TFCs (~£1,350) on the 2-4-1 redemption then the return jumps to 11.16%.

    Plus I thought one of the benefits of the new £250 BAPP is going to be extra reward seats which increases the flexibility on booking.

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