Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

What is the best Mastercard or Visa credit card to get?

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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.

visa mastercard

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 cards without a foreign exchange fee. (The Virgin Atlantic Rewards cards are free in the Eurozone but not elsewhere.)  One 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.

Unfortunately, with the IHG One Rewards Mastercard closed in December 2021, there are now no Visa or Mastercard products which earn hotel points.

The HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard will be adding hotel partners in July 2022 but we don’t yet know which schemes will be involved.

Visa and Mastercards earning air miles:

Easily the best long-term card for the Avios collector:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Bonus: 25,000 Avios

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive an Avios upgrade voucher when you spend £10,000 in a card year
  • Upgrade a return BA flight for one person or two one-way flights for a couple
  • Annual fee: £240, charged at £20 per month

Representative 72.4% APR variable based on an assumed £1,200 credit limit and £20 monthly fee.  Interest rate on purchases 23.9% 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 Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard credit 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 six months, have held any other Barclaycard credit card.

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

You are OK if, currently or in the previous six months, you have had a British Airways American Express credit card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the upgrade voucher and the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £10,000 on the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard, you receive a voucher entitling you to:

  • book a return Avios flight for one person, paying the Avios of the next lowest cabin (ie book Club World but only pay the World Traveller Plus Avios requirement)
  • book a one-way Avios flight, or one leg of a return flight, for two people, paying the Avios of the next lowest cabin

The voucher is valid for two years.  Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets, based on the cabin you fly.

The voucher cannot be used to fly in First Class.

The voucher can be used for anyone, as long as the booking is made from the Avios account of the cardholder.

You receive your voucher within five days of reaching the spending target.

Launched in February 2022, the Barclaycard Avios Plus card has massively changed the Visa and Mastercard market.

You receive a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Avios if you spend £3,000 in three months.

Earning 1.5 Avios per £1, along with a British Airways upgrade voucher for spending £10,000 per year, this is a great product. You can apply here.

If you don’t want to pay a fee, and are simply looking for a free Visa or Mastercard to use alongside your British Airways American Express card, there is also a free version:

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

Bonus: 5,000 Avios

Read our full review

Other information:

  • Receive an Avios upgrade voucher when you spend £20,000 in a card year
  • Upgrade a return BA flight for one person or two one-way flights for a couple
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 23.9% 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 Barclaycard Avios Mastercard credit 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 six months, have held any other Barclaycard credit card.

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

You are OK if, currently or in the previous six months, you have had a British Airways American Express credit card.

For clarity, you can still apply for the Barclaycard Avios Mastercard even if you do not qualify for the bonus.  You would still benefit from the upgrade voucher and the other card benefits.

Learn more about the card benefits +

When you spend £20,000 on the Barclaycard Avios Mastercard, you receive a voucher entitling you to:

  • book a return Avios flight for one person, paying the Avios of the next lowest cabin (ie book Club World but only pay the World Traveller Plus Avios requirement)
  • book a one-way Avios flight, or one leg of a return flight, for two people, paying the Avios of the next lowest cabin

The voucher is valid for two years.  Full taxes and charges need to be paid on both tickets, based on the cabin you fly.

The voucher can be used for anyone, as long as the booking is made from the Avios account of the cardholder.

The voucher cannot be used to fly in First Class.

You receive your voucher within five days of reaching the spending target.

You can apply for the free Barclaycard Avios Mastercard here. It comes with a sign-up bonus of 5,000 Avios.

However, I do not recommend getting the free card. It makes more sense to apply for the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard, with its 25,000 Avios sign-up bonus, and then downgrade to the free card when you have secured the bonus.

An alternative for the Avios collector who wants the option to transfer to other frequent flyer schemes (but high income needed):

HSBC Premier Mastercard

Bonus: None

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 or hotel points) for spending £2,000 within three months and a further 40,000 HSBC points (=20,000 points) 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 11 airline and hotel loyalty schemes – Asia Miles, British Airways Executive Club / Avios, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Finnair Plus, Flying Blue (Air France KLM), Qantas Frequent Flyer, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, TAP Miles&Go, IHG One Rewards and Wyndham Rewards.

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. The standard Mastercard is free, albeit with no sign-up bonus, and earns 0.5 Avios per £1.

There is no point getting the HSBC cards if you want to earn Avios. The Barclaycard Avios Mastercards offer far better value with a higher earning rate per £1. The HSBC cards are only worth getting if you think that you may want to convert to Etihad Guest, Asia Miles or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer instead, as these schemes are also HSBC partners.

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

Bonus: 80,000 points

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 an assumed £1,200 credit limit and £195 annual fee. Interest rate on purchases 18.9% APR variable.

See if you qualify for the 80,000 points 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 or hotel points) for spending £2,000 within three months and a further 40,000 HSBC points (=20,000 points) 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, as long as you cancelled it over six months ago, 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 11 airline and hotel loyalty schemes – Asia Miles, British Airways Executive Club / Avios, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Finnair Plus, Flying Blue (Air France KLM), Qantas Frequent Flyer, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, TAP Miles&Go, IHG One Rewards and Wyndham Rewards.

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 1 Avios per £1 spent. This is 33% less than the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard.

Best long-term card for earning Virgin Points:

Virgin Rewards credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

Bonus: None

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 22.9% APR variable

See if you qualify for the 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 has a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points.  You also receive a higher earning rate of 1.5 miles per £1 spent.

Learn more about the card benefits +

All Virgin Atlantic credit card holders receive free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK.

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

The two Virgin Atlantic Mastercards compete with the Barclaycard Avios Mastercards. 

The free Virgin Atlantic card is worse than the free Barclaycard Avios Mastercard (0.75 Virgin Points per £1 vs 1 Avios per £1) …….

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

Bonus: 15,000 points

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 an assumed £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 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 have, or in the previous six months have had, a Virgin Atlantic credit card.

Learn more about the card benefits +

All Virgin Atlantic credit card holders receive free access to Virgin Money lounges across the UK.

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

……. but the paid cards are equal, each earning 1.5 Virgin Points or Avios per £1.

The premium Virgin Atlantic card has a lower fee than the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard (£160 vs £240) but Virgin Points are far less flexible than Avios given the small Virgin Atlantic network.

You can apply for the free Virgin Atlantic Mastercard here.

You can apply for the £160 Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard hereThe paid card comes with a sign-up bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points.

Conclusion

After a few thin years, these are vintage times for anyone looking for a new Visa or Mastercard with travel rewards.

The two new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards are EXCELLENT products and you are very likely to want to add one to your purse or wallet. The Virgin Atlantic cards also offer good value to anyone who is confident that they know how to maximise the value of Virgin Points.

We strongly recommend looking at the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard – click here – with its bonus of 25,000 Avios.

Whilst there are currently no Visa or Mastercard products offering hotel points, we are looking forward to seeing what hotel programmes HSBC Premier will add in July.

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 responsibly to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points. The site discusses products offered by lenders but is not a lender itself. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as an independent credit broker.

Comments (74)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Bobajob says:

    Some of us do read the small print, Rob. Went through the verification process only to be told £200 limit remained. This despite excellent credit score; high 4 figure credit limit on Amex and my bank Visa card. No manual override process available said embarrassed customer service agent … just wait until a future ‘computer review’. Why on earth would I want to continue paying £20 a month for a card that couldn’t deliver the introductory bonus? Complete waste of time and effort. Cancelled card.

    • KVNMCDD says:

      +1 to this

      Rejected on application – excellent credit score(offered to send them evidence of same), 5 figure credit on a number of other cards.

      Contacted them on rejection, stonewalled.

      • Rob says:

        If a company is willing to launch a loss-making product you can’t blame them for restricting who gets access to it. You sound like someone who is likely to spend a lot of money on the card, and therefore lose Barclays so much money that they could never recoup the losses even with an average level of cross-selling.

        • dougzz99 says:

          If this is true the right thing to do is to not offer the card. Offering the card on a basis by which a key benefit is unavailable says much.

          • JDB says:

            What key benefit are you saying wasn’t/isn’t available?

          • dougzz99 says:

            Hard to spend £10K with a £200 credit limit. Not impossible, but practically so. Also, unless the offer has changed the bonus wasn’t for signing up, but for spending £3K in 3 months. Again silly trying to do that in £200 lumps and continually paying the balance off.

        • Mikeact says:

          So who is it aimed at…obviously those that may struggle with monthly payback, despite any excellent credit scores (Not that that need have a significant impact on application. )

          • Rob says:

            I am guessing those spending a couple of grand – modest loss, easily offset with a cross-sale down the line.

  • Paul says:

    What am I missing.

    After a few thin years, these are vintage times for anyone looking for a new Visa or Mastercard with travel rewards.

    Which Visa card provides any benefits?

  • aceman says:

    Tried to “change to a different card” on the app (have the hilton barclaycard) was told I have no options available…
    If i get round to calling in, to those that have managed to change cards:
    did you keep your credit limit?
    did you get the sign up bonus?

    • Blindman67 says:

      Yes
      Not yet…

    • G says:

      Yes
      Yes, but the reduced 5k not full new customer bonus

    • Nick says:

      Not managed to downgrade my card, was told to do this in card offers but nothing shown. Yet Rob’s offer did state you can swap cards. No paying £20 per month for nothing as already have the voucher in my account. Disappointed with the set up!

  • Mij says:

    Hi Rob

    Slightly off topic but I’ve just noticed Barclays Avios card can now be added to Apple Pay! Happy days. I did it through the Barclaycard App

    • Rob says:

      Been working for a month but still beta so we’ve been asked not to push it.

  • Rob says:

    Do you mean IHG Mastercard closing to new applicants? I have this card and it’s still earning points. Pls can you clarify. Will I have to stop using this card?

    • Rob says:

      You’re fine for now. No-one knows if Creation will close it.

  • RichW says:

    Curve using Virgin in background not going through to make HMRC payment , not sure if I have missed something?
    Trying to start topping up for the July payment due.
    TIA if any help out there

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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