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The United Kingdom doesn’t have the plethora of credit card choices available in the US, a situation that was recently exacerbated by the European Union’s cap on credit card interchange fees, which is squeezing the market and forcing the withdrawal of a number of airline (and other) co-branded credit card products. However, there are still some fantastic options for British miles and points collectors who want to earn exciting rewards when spending their hard-earned pounds.
Many methods of earning and burning in the UK are directed toward Avios, with credit cards, supermarkets and online shopping portals offering ways to earn, and a wealth of redemption options across the Oneworld network and elsewhere (think hotels, car rentals and wine). British Airways and its partners can get you from the UK to most of Europe and the world in a way that other alliances simply can’t, especially after the 2012 disappearance of British Midland International (the UK-based Star Alliance member).
But Avios isn’t the only option, so as a Brit, which card should you get? Today I’ll delve into three of the best credit and charge cards on the UK market. In choosing the best cards, I’m looking for the best sign-up bonuses, the best ongoing earning rates, opportunities to diversify points and interesting extra benefits that come together to provide an all-around great product without outrageous fees.
Sign up bonus: 20,000 Membership Rewards points (spend £2,000 in three months)
Annual Fee: £140 (waived in the first year)
- Earn 1 Membership Reward point per pound spent
- Earn double points on airline and foreign spend
- Earn triple points on American Express Travel spend
- Two lounge passes annually
- 10,000 Membership Rewards points bonus for spending £15,000 each year
- $75 hotel credit on certain stays booked through American Express Travel
- Hertz car rental upgrades and discounts
Verdict: The generous (by UK standards!) sign-up bonus will kick start your stash, and with the first year’s annual fee waived, this card is a no brainer for all miles and points collectors. Diversity is key here — the Membership Rewards program in the UK is completely separate from the US one and has different partners, so you can transfer your points to airline programs like British Airways Executive Club, Delta SkyMiles, Etihad Guest, Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (all at a 1:1 transfer ratio), and hotel partners including Club Carlson (1:3 ratio), Hilton Honors (1:2 ratio) and SPG (2:1 ratio).
Sign up bonus: 25,000 Avios (spend £3,000 in 3 months)
Annual Fee: £195
- Earn 1.5 Avios per pound spent
- Earn 3 Avios per pound spent with British Airways
- 2-for-1 Companion Voucher for spending £10,000 in a year (subject to rules, e.g. tickets must start with a UK departure point, although open jaw is allowed)
- Travel Inconvenience and Travel Accident Insurance for trips booked with the card
Verdict: The annual fee feels hefty, but alongside the healthy 1.5x Avios earning rate, this card provides the most valuable benefit in the UK market. The Companion Voucher effectively doubles the value of your Avios by giving you a free ticket for a partner (though you still must pay the taxes and fees). An aspirational redemption — such as a first class flight from London to New York — will cost 160,000 Avios on peak days, so it’s very easy to see how the £195 fee suddenly becomes insignificant when you might gain such a valuable additional ticket each year. Interestingly, the £10,000 spending threshold to earn the Companion Voucher is much less than the $30,000 in annual spend required to get the same perk on the US version of this card.
Sign up bonus: None currently.
Annual Fee: £24
- Two separate credit cards are delivered on the account — an American Express and a Mastercard
- Earn 1.25 Avios per pound spent on the American Express card
- Earn 1.25 Avios per £5 spent on the Mastercard
- Earn double Avios for the first six months on all spend on the American Express card (£2,500 monthly spending cap)
- 0% foreign transaction fees
- Flight upgrade voucher for spending £7,000 each year
Verdict: This double pack of credit cards on the same account (two cards, one statement!) tackles the annoying issue of spending where American Express isn’t accepted. It isn’t the best Mastercard earning rate in the world, but the American Express rate is good, and the ability to earn Avios whilst paying no foreign transaction fees sets this card apart. I use this card for all spending abroad to avoid the usual 3% fees, and the upgrade voucher and initial double points on the Amex are a handy and welcome bonus. It is important to note that due to the EU cap on interchange fees, this card is no longer available to apply for online, but should still be available at Lloyd’s bank branches and over the phone.
These three cards provide a host of fantastic benefits with minimal initial outlay, and with some careful planning, just these cards alone can quickly set the average spender on a clear course to exciting redemptions.
Nicky Kelvin is a writer and the founder of Miles Mogul. Featured image by David Crespo/Getty Images.