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.

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 no ‘open to all’ Visa or Mastercard products which earn hotel points. The HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard offers Wyndham Rewards points but this card has strict income and investment requirements.

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 80.1% APR variable based on an assumed £1,200 credit limit and £20 monthly fee.  Interest rate on purchases 29.9% 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 completely changed the Visa and Mastercard market. It isn’t just the most generous travel rewards Visa or Mastercard – it is the most generous Visa or Mastercard credit card of any sort in the UK.

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 29.9% 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 23.9% 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 10 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 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 one of the other travel partners:

  • Asia Miles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Finnair Plus
  • Flying Blue (Air France KLM)
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • TAP Miles&Go
  • Wyndham Rewards

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 10 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 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 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
  • Annual fee: Free

Representative 26.9% 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 +

When you spend £20,000 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.

For elite members, Virgin Clubhouse lounge passes (require a same-day Virgin Atlantic or Delta Air Lines flight) – one pass if you are Silver, two passes if you are Gold

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’.

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 Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

Bonus: 15,000 points and 3 points per £1 spent until 14th April
SPECIAL OFFER

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
  • Annual fee: £160

Representative 69.7% APR variable based on an assumed £1,200 credit limit and £160 annual fee.  Interest rate on purchases 26.9% APR variable.

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

You receive a bonus of 15,000 Virgin Points after your first purchase, however small.

Apply by 4th March and you will receive double Virgin Points on all spending until 14th April, up to a maximum of £5,000.

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.  You are free to apply if you have any other Virgin Money credit card.

Learn more about the card benefits +

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.

For elite members, Virgin Clubhouse lounge passes (require a same-day Virgin Atlantic or Delta Air Lines flight) – one pass if you are Silver, two passes if you are Gold

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’.

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.

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. 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.

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