The best UK miles and points credit cards of 2021

Jan 1, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

When it comes to earning points and miles, one of the easiest ways to do so is through credit cards. As long as the products suit your circumstances, credit cards offer a way to increase your point balances quickly in order to get you on your way to travelling for (almost) free. There are some great cards out there, with exciting benefits available in the U.K. market, and here are my four personal favourites.

Before making your choice at which to apply for, I strongly recommend checking out the full reviews of each of the cards below. And it’s also key to fully understand American Express’ new welcome bonus restrictions, which may influence your Amex strategy. But without further ado…

The best UK credit cards for rewards and miles of 2021

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card

Welcome bonus: 20,000 Membership Rewards points after spending £3,000 in the first three months

Earning rate: 1 Membership Reward point per £1 spent on all purchases, 2 Membership Rewards points per £1 spent directly with airlines or in a foreign currency (though you’ll have to pay a 2.99% foreign transaction fee), 3 Membership Rewards points per £1 spent at American Express Travel

Other key benefits: Two annual lounge passes to make your airport experience more enjoyable. The visits must be made in the Priority Pass network, which includes more than 1,200 lounges worldwide.

Representative example and annual fee: This card has a representative APR of 56.6% variable and a purchase rate of 22.2% variable with an assumed credit limit of £1,200. There is an annual fee of £140, which is waived for the first year.

Why it’s great: The American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card is my top pick for the beginner to the miles and points game. A 20,000 Membership Rewards-point welcome bonus, no fee for the first year and great point-earning structure make this card a no brainer. Plus, you’re earning Membership Rewards points, which are a transferable currency, allowing you to shift your points to any of Amex’s 17 partners. For example, with one-way flights starting at 4,000 points, 20,000 MR points can be transferred to British Airways Avios for two return flights to many destinations in Europe using its excellent Reward Flight Saver option.

Further reading:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card

Welcome bonus: 25,000 British Airways Avios after spending £3,000 in the first three months

Earning rate: 1.5 Avios per £1 spent on all purchases, 3 Avios per £1 spent directly with British Airways or BA Holidays

Other key benefits: 2-for-1 Companion Voucher earned after £10,000 in annual spend on the card. The Companion Voucher is the most valuable credit card benefit out there,  allowing you to take a companion with you on the same flight and in the same cabin when you redeem Avios for a BA reward flight. Of course, taxes, fees and other carrier charges still apply to the companion. When earned with this card, the Voucher is valid for two years although keep an eye on extensions, which rolled out in 2020. Don’t miss all the details of this fantastic perk — check out our ultimate guide to the British Airways Companion Voucher.

Representative example and annual fee: This card has an APR of 74.7% variable and a purchase rate of 22.2% variable with an assumed credit limit of £1,200. There is an annual fee of £195.

Why it’s great: The 2-for-1 Companion Voucher is the most valuable benefit in the U.K. reward credit card market. And subject to various rules, it gives you a free ticket when you make a redemption using your Avios, effectively doubling the value of your pool of Avios if used correctly. Plus, the 25,000-Avios welcome bonus can get you an upgrade from World Traveller Plus to Club World or three return flights to many destinations in Europe.

Further reading:

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard Credit Card

Sign-up bonus: 15,000 bonus Virgin Points after making your first card purchase within 90 days of account opening

Earning rate: 1.5 Virgin Points per £1 spent on everyday purchases; 3 Virgin Points per £1 spent with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays

Other key benefits: You’ll unlock a ‘Virgin Atlantic reward’ after spending £10,000 annually, including using the reward as a companion voucher redemption flights. Virgin has also announced improvements to this reward that widen the scope of what is on offer.

Representative example and annual fee: This card has a representative APR of 63.9% variable and a purchase rate of 22.9% variable with an assumed credit limit of £1,200. There is an annual fee of £160.

Why it’s great: Because this is a Mastercard, you’ll have a back up in situations where Amex may not be accepted. With a good sign-up bonus and ongoing earning rate of 1.5 miles per £1 spent on everyday purchases and double that for purchases made directly with Virgin or Virgin Holidays, you’ll have an expedited way to getting an Upper Class redemption. The new Virgin Red scheme also opens up many more ways to rack up and spend Virgin Points to supplement what you earn on this credit card.

Further reading:

The Platinum Card from American Express

Welcome bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending £4,000 in the first three months

Earning rate: 1 Membership Reward point per £1 spent on all purchases; 2 Membership Rewards points per £1 spent at American Express Travel

Other key benefits: The benefits are incredibly comprehensive and include: complimentary Priority Pass, Centurion Lounge access, access to Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts programme, purchase protection, worldwide annual travel insurance, concierge services, Addison Lee credits, elite status at a number of hotel chains including Hilton, Marriott and Radisson, elite status at Avis and Hertz for car hire and a supplementary cardholder for free gets all the benefits, too.

Representative example and annual fee: This card is a charge card, rather than a credit card, so it has no spending limit or APR, but you must pay off the balance in full each month. There is an annual fee of £575.

Why it’s great: The American Express Platinum Card is my top pick for those wanting to take their card benefits to the next level. The 30,000-point welcome bonus is great, but not enough for everyone to go for this card. Looking fully into the benefits, however, and for the right person, they have huge value, which may significantly outweigh the annual fee. The sexy metal card is a great feature, too. 2020 saw a wide range of credits offered like £400 back on £400 Marriott spend, meaning this card still provided great value even when some of the benefits were less useful due to the slowdown in travel.

Further Reading:

Frequently asked questions

What are points and miles?

Points and miles are a type of currency. Here at TPG, we focus most of our time on the currencies issued by credit cards, airlines and hotels to keep you loyal to them — so these are called loyalty programmes. When it comes to loyalty programmes and travel points, there are two types of rewards that you work toward: points and status. Points are earned every time you take a trip and can be redeemed as travel rewards. The industries of credit cards, airlines and hotels are closely intertwined, and the whole point of the points and miles hobby is to use these currencies to travel the world. This can take a variety of forms, but the simplest ways are:

  • Using airline miles for airline tickets: For example, if you have Virgin Atlantic Virgin Points, you can use those points for flights with Virgin Atlantic and its partners.
  • Using hotel points for hotel stays: Likewise, if you have Marriott points, you can use those earnings for free nights at the dozens of brands under the Marriott umbrella.

Where do I start if I’m a beginner?

This article is a good place to find the best credit cards available right now but if you want to take a step back and understand the basics of how to collect points and miles (credit cards are only one step, albeit an important one!) our nine-step guide will walk you through the following:

1. Stay informed
2. Know which credit cards are right for you
3. Sign up for loyalty programmes
4. Get a Tesco Clubcard
5. Shop online through shopping portals
6. Stay on the lookout for deals
7. Learn to use miles and points strategically
8. Consider earning status
9. Set goals for yourself

Do I need more than one card?

That’s completely up to you. In general in the U.K., American Express credit cards have higher welcome bonuses but may also have higher annual fees as a result. Also, American Express cards are accepted at a lot of places, but not everywhere. You may wish to consider a high-earning American Express card, coupled with a points-earning Mastercard or Visa, and maybe even a card to use in foreign currencies or when you’re abroad. You can read our guide to planning your credit card portfolio here.

What’s the difference between credit cards, charge cards, cashback cards and rewards cards? Are they all the same thing?

Not quite. Credit and charge cards are similar in that you can make purchases on the cards and those purchases won’t be due until a later date like the end of your statement period. The difference between these two cards is that credit cards allow you to either pay your whole balance at once or over time (with interest charged), whereas charge cards require the entire balance to be paid at the end of the statement period (not over time).

Rewards cards and cashback cards both offer you an incentive for using the card. Rewards cards will usually offer a ‘reward’ like points or miles, while cashback cards offer just that — a small amount of cash for each purchase by way of a discount off your balance owing at the end of the statement period.

Related: Should you choose a rewards card or a cashback card?

Will I be approved for a credit card?

This will depend on whether you meet the eligibility requirements set by the card issuer, and these will differ from card to card. You will likely need to be over 18, a resident of the U.K. and there may be minimum income requirements. These will be clearly described by the card issuer at the start of the application process.

Can I apply for a card I’ve already held in the past?

The answer is usually yes, though you may not be eligible for the welcome or sign-up bonus if you have held the card in the recent past. For Virgin Atlantic cards, you cannot have held or cancelled the card in the past six months, for American Express it’s much more complicated and restrictive — read all our details here.

What is a Representative APR?

APR stands for annual percentage rate, which is the rate of interest charged on your purchases per year plus any additional fees and charges. However, note that the rate may vary from customer to customer for the same card depending on their eligibility and financial circumstances. Representative APR is the most common/likely APR to be given as the card issuer must provide the representative rate to at least 51% of successful applicants.

Bottom line

If you’re looking to earn your way to a redemption in the near future, credit cards are your best way of getting there. This set of cards — highlighted by the fact that you’re earning three different and important point currencies — will cover the needs of most U.K. miles and points collectors, and have you well on your way to maximising your returns.

Additional reporting by Ben Smithson

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.