How to plan your UK credit card portfolio

Dec 30, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

My wallet always has a few different cards — both credit and debit. Each has a different purpose and I regularly review this collection of cards to make sure they’re the correct ones for my personal situation.

But in order to understand what you should be looking for, I want to talk you through how you can plan your own credit card portfolio to ensure you are maximising your rewards.

Related: The best U.K. miles and points credit cards of 2020

Step one: A solid American Express product

American Express U.K. tends to have the most lucrative offers of any credit cards in the U.K. Because of that, its cards are a good place to start when considering a credit card portfolio. I would look for a card that has both a generous welcome bonus as well as a strong ongoing per £1 spent earn rate.

Right now, some of the best Amex offers include:

  • The Platinum Card from American Express, which offers a huge welcome bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending £4,000 in the first three months of cardmembership, which TPG U.K. considers to be the most valuable points because of their flexibility, as well as a decent ongoing earn rate of 1 point per £ spent.
  • The British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card, which offers 25,000 British Airways Avios points as a welcome bonus after spending £3,000 in the first three months. This card earns an excellent 1.5 Avios per £1 spent with double points for spend directly with British Airways.
(Photo by Josh Gribben / The Points Guy)

Step two: A points-earning Visa or Mastercard for where American Express is not accepted

Although there’s good acceptance of American Express across the U.K., it’s not accepted everywhere. If you still want to earn points for each £1 spent but the retailer only accepts Visa or Mastercard, you could consider adding one of the following cards to your portfolio:

  • Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card, which is offering 15,000 Virgin Points for making your first purchase in the first 90 days. The card also offers a very decent 1.5 Virgin Points per pound spent with double points for spend direct with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays.
  • Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card, which has no annual fee but no sign-up bonus. The card offers a lower earning rate of 0.75 Virgin Points per pound spent, which is still respectable.
(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

Step three: A card for foreign purchases

Unfortunately, virtually all U.K. credit cards that earn loyalty points charge a foreign transaction fee for purchases in currencies other than GBP. This fee is usually around the 3% mark. Depending on the earn rate of the card, this fee can be more than the value of the points earned for using it. To compare, you can look at our monthly points valuations to see just how valuable we consider different points to be.

There is one trick to continue earning loyalty points by using a U.K. credit card for foreign purchases (and cash withdrawals), and that is to consider the Curve card products. There is a full review and explanation of how Curve works here, although note the card currently does not support American Express.

Otherwise, if you simply want to avoid fees if you’re making purchases and cash withdrawals in currencies other than GBP, whether that is for travelling or online purchases, consider the third card in your wallet to be a debit card that does not impose any fees.

Related: How to avoid hidden costs when travelling

There are a number of different and innovative debit cards available right now — here’s a full review and comparison of the best four. Right now, we consider Starling to be the best all-round option, as it does not impose any fees for foreign ATM withdrawals (as well as foreign purchases using the card), which is an enormously valuable benefit if you are visiting destinations that still rely on cash transactions.

(Photo by Josh Gribben / The Points Guy)

Bottom line

The key to a smart credit card portfolio is a balance between value and simplicity. I don’t keep 10 cards in my wallet and would not suggest you do either — nobody wants to have that many numbers and offers flying around their head every time they go to make a purchase.

Related: 5 reasons I no longer carry cash on me in the UK

But a few smart cards in your wallet with a simple strategy of what to use when can both maximise your rewards everyday and avoid those dreaded transaction fees.

Featured image by Josh Gribben/The Points Guy UK.

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.

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